Dec. 16th, 2010

paleo: a beautiful full moon with clouds (moon)
I normally try to refrain from gushing over and trying to convert others to shows, but I'm feeling a void since the last episode of the first season of The Walking Dead aired, and am in the mood to squee.

I loves me some zombies. The Walking Dead had me ready to be hooked just because of its subject matter. Also, I have read most of the graphic novels it is based on which are smart and thought provoking. The idea behind the graphic novels is that the zombies are simply the situation. The real conflict and threats lies in the characters themselves, how their own personalities and fears often cause greater harm than the undead plaque they are trying to survive. It gets into some pretty deep stuff, way beyond "aaarrrr, braaaaiiiinnsss".

Being a bit (okay a lot) of a cynic, I really doubted that the show could capture the depth of character and bring forth the issues the comics did. TV producers have a way of latching on to literature as an excuse for creating a show but often have trouble translating it.

Happily, I was dead (punny!) wrong about that worry. The Walking Dead could have easily been a mere genre show, which I as a zombie fan would have been fine with. However, it ended up being one of the finest examples of drama I have seen to date. It is highly cinematic, more like a movie than television. The action is slick, the horror is sometimes unbearably visceral, and the two main characters are incredibly nuanced.

(semi-spoiler alert)
One character in particular, Shane Walsh, especially impresses me because it would have been so, soooo easy to turn him into a cliche. Pre-zombie-attack, Shane was the partner and best friend of Sheriff Rick Grimes, the main character who ends up shot in the line of duty and is hospitalized and comotose when the undead outbreak occurs. Shane ends up taking Rick's wife and son under his wing and ends up becoming a leader of sorts for a band of survivors fleeing the city. He enters into a sexual relationship with Rick's wife, which she breaks off and keeps secret once Rick is found alive and joins the group.

This, of course, causes Shane to become increasingly resentful and bitter towards Rick though he also keeps the secrecy and acts happy to have his friend back and alive. It is obvious from the start that Shane is probably being groomed to be an antagonist. Towards the end of the season, he starts a downward spiral into semi-fascist authoritarianism, uses more violence than needed to deal with problems, escape into drunkenness, and even attempted (possibly actual) rape of Rick's wife.

The writers could have easily made Shane into an mere asshole, the black hat to Rick's white hat. Someone we can all boo and hiss at. Shane is deeply flawed, but he isn't bad and certainly not evil. You can't really hate him even when he turns to heavyhanded and sometimes brutal tactics to keep order in the group. Or when you see the first chilling signs of a temptation to murder his friend. Or even when he tries to force himself on his former lover in a drunken attempt to literally take back the only thing that gave him purpose after civilzation collapsed and survival was uncertain. He is a tragic figure in the classic sense of the word. He is a human being trying to do right but breaking under extreme pressure. If he does end up becoming a villian, it won't be for simple reasons and watching his fall is sure to make the audience experience a bit of that conflict that the character is going through. The path he is going down is a bad one, but in a way you can't totally blame him.

I think there are many people who haven't given The Walking Dead a chance, mistaking it for "just" a zombie show. It really is much more than that. Like the comics, the zombies are the *environment* and the true conflict and tension arises from the surviors themeselves. This isn't a simple shoot-em-up-and-smoke-a-cigar-in-victory story.

And for those who *are* zombie fans...oh my! I've become so jaded and habituated to zombie flicks that I can't remember the last time I was truely scared by the undead. The Walking Dead changed that. This may seem like blasphemy, but I think George Romero's iconic undead have finally been topped. The make-up and effects are superb and uncanny. The gore is...hell I didn't know you could get away with that much blood on American television now. And the horror of infection, the fear of death, the sorrow of seeing loved ones turned into something *else* are brought front and center without ever seeming cheesy or forced.

The Walking Dead made me remember why I love zombies in the first place. Zombies wrap up all my fears into one fetid, rotting package. Disease, contamination, death, mob mentality, the collapse of the world as we know it. But unlike most zombie movies, The Walking Dead isn't a shoot-em-up where two hours of headshots and decapitations lead to a nice, tidy solution.

No, you are stuck with the zombies. And, worse, you are stuck with your fellow surviors.


paleo: Dire Wolf skull (Default)

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