The Walking Dead

The Walking Dead


Reviewed by: Merlin Harries

The Walking Dead, based on the monthly black-and-white comic book series of the same name, was originally adapted for television by Frank Darabont (The Shawshank Redemption, The Green Mile), first airing in the US in October 2010. Since then, it’s gone on to receive near universal critical acclaim for its sharply written, nuanced portrayal of Rick Grimes’ struggle to survive an undead apocalypse alongside his family and group of fellow survivors.

In his opening notes to the first issue of The Walking Dead back in 2003, the creator of the comic, Robert Kirkman, pointed out, alongside the ‘utterly serious and dramatic’ nature of the story, that the story is very much all about Rick Grimes. It is not simply an exhibition of the grotesque but a taut and often poignant drama. For those new to the series, Grimes, played so ably by Andrew Lincoln, is very much the centre piece of the show once more. As the story continues, it is the small town sheriff's deputy’s sense of bewilderment, his desperate quest to preserve morality and order amidst the chaos, which the viewer quickly and readily clings to.

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In many ways, both seasons one and two have surpassed the yardstick of drama previously available on television, taking it to a level more akin to that of a major motion picture. Such has been the advancement of the small screen in recent years, following the departure of shows such as Desperate Housewives and 24; new forms of drama from more abstract genres have emerged, such as Spielberg’s Falling Skies. As Jack Bauer sits gathering dust atop a shelf, the ardent viewer is left to quest for thrills and spills from further afield; in season two, The Walking Dead delivers both with spleen-rupturing abundance.

The show remarkably exceeds the first in almost all respects, easily dodging the blood-soaked machete of the oft lamented second-season syndrome. The hallmark visuals, now very much enshrined idiosyncrasies, are in place, exemplified by an especially striking scene involving a ‘herd’ of walkers drifting en masse along an eerily desolate freeway. The incredible special-effects work of Greg Nicotero continues to startle and amaze, not least when the group stumble upon a walker trapped in a well.

Amid the revulsion and revelation, season two also brings with it an array of increasingly noteworthy performances from the cast. Shane, portrayed with fearsome energy by Jon Bernthal, engages in an increasingly vicious struggle with Rick over the direction the group should take in adapting to their new hostile surrounds. Lincoln, along with Bernthal, deserves special mention for his performance as the beleaguered Grimes, whose instincts lead the group to the relative sanctity of a farm, owned by series newcomer Herschel (Scott Wilson). Much of the season’s most pivotal episodes are played out within these sun-soaked surrounds, which only further heightens the lingering trepidation of the horrors that lurk beyond.

When experienced in tandem with the comic, it becomes clear how the writers’ profound understanding of this text informs key developments in the show’s story. Avid readers will no doubt already have noticed the subtle and occasionally significance deviations from the original story. The arc that is so central to season two encompasses an ethical polarisation between the group’s twin cadre, both struggling against feelings of love, guilt and betrayal that are arguably passé post-apocalypse. Both Lincoln and Bernthal deserve the highest accolades for what are among the most brutally moving scenes of drama witnessed on television. Rick’s moments of profound sorrow and reluctant leadership are uniquely juxtaposed by Shane’s likable yet loathsome foil.

As director John Landis (An American Werewolf in London) pointed out, during a recent BBC podcast, there are now more movies, computer games and comic books in production involving zombies than ever before. The Walking Dead has arguably marked a pivotal point of evolution in the horror genre; the discerning cinema-goer now shying away from the more pedestrian gore-fest, in favour of more meaningful character-driven narratives.

What can be said with absolute certainty is that, from the thirteen episodes in the series, it is impossible to isolate any weak link where the plot merely meanders along. The penultimate episode is, perhaps, the strongest of the season but, viewed in its entirety, season two represents a journey of immense growth for our survivors. The climactic scenes of season one reverberate seamlessly throughout the second outing of The Walking Dead.

Reviewed on: 15 Aug 2012
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Police officer Rick Grimes leads a group of survivors in a world overrun by zombies.
Amazon link

Director: Various

Writer: Various

Starring: Andrew Lincoln, Sarah Wayne Callies, Laurie Holden, Steven Yeun, Chandler Riggs & Norman Reedus.

Year: 2011

Runtime: 286 minutes

BBFC: 18 - Age Restricted

Country: US


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