In the past few years, vampire-themed programs have surfaced on television with True Blood, The Vampire Diaries and, recently, Being Human (both U.K. and the U.S. remake). Sure, there have been more across the board, supernatural fare with shows like Haven and, well, Supernatural, but up until now no one has attempted a zombie-themed program. Due to the graphic nature of most post-George Romero zombie films, it would be impossible to do a decent show (if you were going to have gore) outside of HBO or Showtime. However, thanks to channels like AMC and FX producing more challenging fare like Mad Men, Breaking Bad and The Shield, there is more leeway on what you can show.
The time was right for The Walking Dead, an adaptation of Robert Kirkman’s graphic novel series of the same name, about a small group of people trying to survive a zombie apocalypse. Director Frank Darabont and producer Gale Anne Hurd, no strangers to the horror genre, are the driving forces behind this show and wisely enlisted legendary makeup artist Greg Nicotero to create the gruesome carnage. His presence also gives the show additional credibility among horror fans. This isn’t going to be cheap, slapped-together gore effects, but realistically rendered stuff that nightmares are made of. The end result is an engaging tale of survival that isn’t just a bunch of gory set pieces but also about humanity on the brink of extinction.
After being seriously wounded by a gunshot, police officer Rick Grimes (Andrew Lincoln) wakes up from a coma in a hospital to find it in complete disarray and populated with the living dead. Driven to find out if his wife Lori (Sarah Wayne Callies) and his little boy are still alive, Rick arms himself and heads for the nearest large city – Atlanta – and quickly discovers that the world has been devastated by a zombie apocalypse. While the hospital scene recalls a similar one in 28 Days Later (2002), The Walking Dead quickly settles into a familiar Romero-esque tale of survival as Rick is reunited with his family and a small group of people that include his partner and best friend Shane Walsh (Jon Bernthal). The Darabont-directed pilot episode sets the tone for the rest of the series as our group of survivors encounters plenty of zombies and also living people who are just as dangerous as the undead.
The Walking Dead has the look and feel of a feature film as it starts off on an intimate level but by the end of the first season its scope has expanded considerably so that we get an idea of just how bad the epidemic has gotten. There are some powerful images throughout the six-episode season, like the parking lot full of dead bodies all tied up and bagged in the pilot, or Rick and another survivor covering themselves in blood and gore so that they can make their way through city streets populated by zombies in the appropriately titled, “Guts.” All of this horrific eye candy is juxtaposed with the interpersonal relationships between the group of survivors, in particular, the love triangle between Rick, Lori and Shane. Andrew Lincoln (previously known mostly for his role in Love, Actually) anchors the show with his portrayal of Rick Grimes. He’s a strong, stand-up guy that cares but over the course of the season, Lincoln shows the cracks that occasionally form on Rick's façade as he fears for the safety of his family and doubts his own leadership skills. It is also great to see Darabont regulars Jeffrey DeMunn and Laurie Holden as regular cast members who get some fantastic moments here and there that help define their characters.
It is the humanity the cast injects into their respective characters that makes The Walking Dead more than a simple gore fest and is perhaps the most Romero-esque aspect. However, where his stories were served in feature-length chunks, Darabont and his writers have the time to develop multi-episode story arcs and introduce characters that don’t make a significant impact until later on, possibly even in season two. This is one of the most interesting things about the show as we see what happens to these characters over time and how more of the nightmarish world they inhabit is revealed.
“The Making of The Walking Dead” is a 30-minute featurette on how the show came together. Darabont was drawn to the characters in Kirkman’s comic book and also the notion of a serialized zombie story. This extra takes us through the show’s genesis with the cast and crew talking about it with plenty of behind-the-scenes clips. Highlights include seeing Greg Nicotero applying zombie makeup.
“Inside The Walking Dead: Episodes 1-6” consist of five minute featurettes about each episode from the first season with cast and crew talking about their intentions for them.
“A Sneak Peek with Robert Kirkman” features the writer introducing more behind-the-scenes with clips from the show and the cast talking about it. There is some overlap from the Making Of featurette.
“Behind the Scenes Zombie Make-Up Tests” sees Greg Nicotero giving some insight into how they transform a person into a zombie. This is a fascinating extra as we see the process broken down for you to try if so inclined.
“Convention Panel with Producers” features highlights from the San Diego Comic Con with Kirkman, Darabont, Nicotero and others. They talk about how the show differs from its source material. The cast also join the panel and talk about their characters.
Also included is a trailer.
“Zombie School” shows how the extras are taught to act like zombies.
“Bicycle Girl” takes us through the genesis of a memorable zombie in the pilot episode.
“On Set with Robert Kirkman” features another location shoot from the pilot episode.
“Hanging with Steven Yeun” features the actor giving us a tour of another location and speaking fondly of his love for the comic book, which he was into even before the show was made.
“Inside Dave’s RV” features Jeffrey DeMunn taking us on a whimsical tour of his character’s Winnebago.
Finally, there is “On Set with Andrew Lincoln,” yet another tour of a location shoot as the actor takes a breather from filming.