I first bumped into zombies about a decade ago with Danny Boyle’s 28 Days Later. I was little back then, scarcely able to fathom what was happening. But even then I had a thing about gore. And 28 Days Later had lots and lots of it, and thirteen years after its release, it is still considered one of the most sanguineous zombie films ever made. That is saying something, you know, as zombie films have been about how much gore you can display, as a rule.
I could understand only two things when I watched 28 Days Later: #1 That there were a kind of people who ate other people (I believed in their existence back then… even hoped, if I remember correctly; used to imagine my face-offs with them with melee weapons). #2 That you could become one of those people who ate others if one of that kind bit you. The subtler themes were beyond my immature mind. Since then, I’ve seen dozens of zombie films, played countless zombie games, but only two other things ever came close to the experience I’d had with 28 Days Later: Valve’s Left 4 Dead video-game series and AMC’s The Walking Dead TV show. I’ve already insinuated my immense affection for Left 4 Dead, and in this wish-list, and I’m going to relate my sentiments regarding The Walking Dead – the TV show I recently watched and currently in love with.
The Walking Dead is set in Georgia – its capital Atlanta and the surrounding countryside. The plot, initially at least, gave me 28 Days Later vibes. Sheriff’s deputy Rick Grimes, the primary protagonist, wakes up from a prolonged coma, half-conscious, in a hospital to a world infested by zombies, called “walkers” in the show.
And there, the 28 Days Later vibes vanished. Bumbling out of the hospital, Rick reaches his house to find his wife and son missing. In fact, the whole town is deserted. After much aimless wandering, he eventually meets two survivors – the distrustful father and son duo of Morgan and Duane Jones, who formulate to Rick what really has happened. After arming himself, a recuperated Rick bids adieu to them and leaves for Atlanta in the hopes of finding his family. He is told that the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) have set up a Safe Zone in the city, a center for refugees. Instead, Rick discovers that Atlanta is overrun with walkers and is surrounded by a horde before being narrowly saved by a group of survivors who were looking for supplies in the city. These survivors have a camp near the city and it is there Rick gets reunited with his wife and son.
Having an assertive disposition, Rick soon becomes the leader of the group, and most of the plot revolves around these struggles faced by Rick and company: the constant danger of the walkers, altercations with other groups of survivors – who are more often than not pretty hostile and at times turn out to be a lot more dangerous than walkers themselves – and finally, the struggles to fulfil the basic human needs (food, water and shelter).
If The Walking Dead were centred primarily on “walkers”, it would have been no better than those derelict post-apocalyptic zombie stories. The reason for that is when it comes to zombies themselves, The Walking Dead has nothing particularly new to offer. The walkers behave just like any zombies you may have seen in other TV shows, movies and games. They are attracted to sounds, and die only when their brain is destroyed. And so on. Nothing too groundbreaking. Walkers are reduced to a plot device here. This might sound like a downer, but actually it isn’t.
What distinguishes The Walking Dead with most of the other zombie-based entertainment is its downright humanism and realness. You will experience first-hand the trials of some extremely well-developed characters in a world that is falling apart even as they struggle to survive. The hero won’t be going with guns blazing to a walker herd here; he will hide in a barn with the rest of the group and let the walker herd pass.
The best thing about The Walking Dead is the simple fact that it is a TV show. This gives it ample time for detailed exploration of complex themes like humanism, sanity, hopelessness, betrayal, regret, religion and so on. The most dominant of all the themes is hopelessness. The show is peppered by bouts of despair engulfing the members of the group. Often, the characters would cling on to a tenuous thread of hope, only to get more disappointed more than ever before. The show emphatically asserts that hope is a trap – something I agree with.
Characters are brilliantly drawn in The Walking Dead, and these will keep your interest up even if the plot slackens. Andrew Lincoln leads the cast as Rick Grimes, and he makes for a pretty fantastic protagonist. A decent and likeable man, Rick finds himself with the responsibility of keeping safe an entire group including women and children, and not just his wife and son. With the infestation of the walkers, he tempers himself to confront the harsh world he wakes up to. Not having to fire a pistol before, he now does not balk at killing real, breathing people – if it means that a member of his group would get to live another day. His transformation is subtly done and is slightly similar to Walter White’s transformation in The Breaking Bad. But unlike Walter White, Rick Grimes has my complete sympathy. You can’t afford to stay a good-intentioned guy in the world of The Walking Dead. Intentions do not matter any more, only actions and consequences. This is a world where the dead who can walk are the least of the threats.
The only flaws – which I hasten to add are relatively minor – in this amazing show I can think of are some slight pacing issues and overarching gloominess. But these aside, The Walking Dead is simply superb. It has quickly ensconced itself in my ‘Top Five TV Shows’ list. The biggest achievement of the show is that “walkers” wandering in Georgia, who eat people alive, might have the moral high ground in comparison with some of the survivors.