TV Series Review
To say that The Walking Dead has been wildly successful on AMC is something of an understatement. From the moment of its 2010 premiere, when it scared up 5.3 million viewers, the post-apocalyptic thriller has been a cable ratings champ. And each successive season has drawn more viewers—almost as if the show were a viral infection itself, turning faithful fans into zombified couch sitters. About 17.3 million tuned in for the Season Five premiere—a non-sports cable ratings record—crushing every show on even broadcast television while eating cable compatriots alive.
So why is a show that's been advertised with the slogan "Spread the Dead" such a hit with the living? Because for some reason Americans love zombies—in all of their mindless, decaying "glory."
Maybe we can point a bony finger of accusation at film director George Romero. After 1968's Night of the Living Dead, zombies went mainstream, groaning and biting their way to our movie screens and comic book pages like never before. And The Walking Dead honors Romero's tradition, sending them shuffling onto our family room screens en masse, accompanied now by unprecedented levels of gore. Indeed, after visiting the show's set, horror film reviewer Jeff Otto of bloody-disgusting.com said, "This may well be the bloodiest show ever seen on television."
Based on the popular comic book series by Robert Kirkman, Tony Moore and Charlie Adlard, The Walking Dead focuses on deputy sheriff Rick Grimes as he tries to keep his son and a small band of survivors breathing in a zombie-strewn world. Humans are minorities in this new landscape, and the "walkers," as they're called, have but one purpose: kill and eat survivors, not necessarily in that order. The only way to avoid such a gruesome fate is to become real handy with a gun. Or a baseball bat. Or a screwdriver. Or whatever other makeshift weapon lands in your hand.
The Walking Dead isn't just about killing and re-killing, though: It's about rebooting a new civilization, even as the vestiges of the old one shamble outside the fences. It's about what sort of civilization that might look like—and what the horrors of a zombie-strewn world have done to those who survive. In truth, the most frightening characters on The Walking Dead are not the dead, but the living.
Zombies have always owed at least some of their popularity to the fact that through them society is able to contemplate and grapple with deeper issues. Romero used his zombies to satirize conformity and consumerism. The Walking Dead doesn't seem to have its mind on satire; instead, it's a sincere (if troubling and disgusting) examination of the human psyche. Themes of family, friendship and even faith rise up almost as frequently as the dead do. And it makes sense: Even the most secular among us would give an extra thought or two to life after death if they saw their dearly departed Aunt Betty shambling toward them.
In February 2013, relevantmagazine.com published an essay on the deeper meanings behind The Walking Dead—an examination of community and, by extent, the sort of community we should embrace. Writes Scott Elliott:
"It's a caricature of the dangers we face—underlining the reason we have to stick together. Because as in real life as much as The Walking Dead, there are two kinds of dangers: external forces and forces from within. We have to fight the pride, violence and injustice we see in the world as much as we have to fight internalizing these ugly powers ourselves."
But that depth can't dispel the blood and gore that so incessantly splatters across the screen. This is munching-on-entrails, stab-that-shambler-in-the-eye-socket violence. And it's turned into something of an illustration of just what you can and can't do on cable these days. The answer? While there are still some (fewer and fewer, but still) restrictions on sexualized content and language, there seem to be no such fences when it comes to gore.
The zombies have knocked them all down as they move relentlessly toward us.
Show producer/writer/director Frank Darabont told bloody-disgusting.com, "We can't say f---, but you can shoot a zombie in the head at point-blank range. I love this business." And when Slate columnist Tim Cavanaugh discussed The Walking Dead's envelope-incinerating approach, he wrote, "It would be ironic if basic cable TV, which remains so squeamish on sexual matters but so tolerant of violence, became the medium for the kind of cannibal holocausts that used to be found only in unrated grindhouse gut-munchers. But it would still be welcome."
Welcome? By whom? Us or the zombies?
Crude or Profane Language
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Andrew Lincoln as Rick Grimes; Jon Bernthal as Shane Walsh; Sarah Wayne Callies as Lori Grimes; Laurie Holden as Andrea; Jeffrey DeMunn as Dale Horvath; Steven Yeun as Glenn; Chandler Riggs as Carl Grimes; Norman Reedus as Daryl Dixon