'The Walking Dead' premiere review: AMC's new zombie mad-men; what did you think?

Any wistful Mad Men fan who turned on AMC Sunday night thinking, perhaps, that there might be an MM rerun, or perhaps an hour of Halloween outtakes in which Sally Draper takes a hatchet to her Mommy Dearest, may have been startled to come upon the opening scene of The Walking Dead: In an effort to communicate the kind of show you’re in for, Walking Dead had its hero, Sheriff Rick Grimes (Andrew Lincoln) shoot a little-girl zombie in the head. If you didn’t get drawn in by that splatter-shock, this was clearly not the show for you.

The Walking Dead, based on Robert Kirkman’s comic books, takes the standard modern zombie trope—urban survivors of a zombie invasion —and faces down the problem with turning that notion into a weekly series. The challenge was to make running away from zombies (called “walkers” here) engrossing every week. Under the guidance of executive producers Frank Darabont (The Shawshank Redemption) and Gale Ann Hurd (The Terminator), Walking Dead found a solution. The focus shifts to the various humans still extant, and folds in elements from TV shows ranging from Lost to Survivor, to make you care about who these people are and how they eke out an existence. (And the use of The Walker Brothers’ great 1966 version of “The Sun Ain’t Gonna Shine Any More” in the trailer gives me confidence that the filmmakers really know how to work a metaphor. In addition to the song itself… I mean, there’s a reason they chose the Walkers version, instead of Frank Valli and the Four Seasons.)

Thus Sheriff Rick is searching for his wife, Lori (Sarah Wayne Callies) and son, Carl (Chandler Riggs), who’ve found some approximation of safety with a group of survivors who include Rick’s former deputy, Shane (Jon Bernthal). Uh-oh: Believing Rick dead, Lori has taken up with Shane. There’s also a ragtag group of folks who’ll develop their own subplots.

There were striking images scattered throughout The Walking Dead, and, encouragingly, they weren’t simply lifted from the (fine, smart, despairing) Kirkman comic books. There’s Sheriff Rick riding a horse through a blasted Atlanta — the shot evoked old Westerns and old horror movies while adding a modern air of desolation. The other was the final, pull-back shot of the zombies swarming all over the tank in which Rick has found temporary safety. The distance in the camera placement reduced the zombies to even more inhuman proportions; they were more like ants swaddling a piece of food. Inside, we’d just seen Rick shoot a zombie who’d been sitting next to him. The combination of blood spray and the result of his unthinking reflex — that gun-shot made a terrible, vibrating noise that momentarily caused Rick to lose his hear — did a lot to make The Walking Dead thrillingly frightening.

Much as I enjoyed Walking Dead, I have a small prediction: I think the pilot will score very good ratings for AMC — first, because the show has lots of good hype; second, because it’s Halloween and what could be better programming, and third, because it doesn’t take a helluva a lot of viewers to qualify as a hit on AMC. (A couple million will be a roaring success.) But: I predict that ratings will fall after this week because many AMC viewers who like Mad Men and Breaking Bad will look at this and say, “Um, ick.” I think AMC has to import an almost entirely new audience to its channel for Walking Dead to be a long-running success. I hope my prediction is wrong; I also hope Walking Dead can sustain its quality.

Speaking of which, what did you think of the quality of the first episode of The Walking Dead?

Follow: @kentucker

Comments (309 total) Add your comment
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  • Carlos

    I just finished watching this series and I enjoyed it. I wished it could have been a 2 hour movie. I can watch this series weekly, since HBO’s “True Blood” is on haitus. I forget I have the AMC channel on Comcast. I never watch AMC since they went to having commericials.

    “The Walking Dead” will be a popular series on the AMC Channel.

    • Allobidallo

      I’m not typically a fan of the horror genre, but this was actually pretty darn good! If the rest of the season is anything like the first episode, it should play out good. It was great seeing the dude from Jericho again. (sorry not good with actors names) My DVR is set to record in case I forget to tune in.

      • Snsetblaze

        OMG – I was trying to place the dude from Jericho. Thanks.

      • Barry

        You mean Lenny James. He’s also on Human Target. Another excellent British actor.

      • Amanda Kiwinerd

        Ken Tucker blows it again! His prediction of 2 million viewers was nothing in comparison to the 8.1 who actually watched last night. Nice goin’, Sparky.

      • Pat

        @Amanda: Ken didn’t predict 2 million, he commented that “because it doesn’t take a helluva a lot of viewers to qualify as a hit on AMC. (A couple million will be a roaring success.) “. It was observation about AMC’s overall audience.

      • Onlymy

        dijo: dijo:che alguien va a poestar el debate? FUE UNA MIERDA EL CAPITULO DE ESTA NOCHE! queremos accion Lrpm.la unica accif3n que hubo fue shane con andrea Y se hacia la que no sabia manejar la pistola! alta toqueteada de amigo le pego a shane jaja.

    • Brian

      so far was great but what about the second half or is this on ever week now ?

      • erin

        It’s a weekly series, as has been advertised, and Ken stated.

      • lol

        What do you mean second half? It was an hour and a half for this episode. Did you skip that last half hour lol. Also there are 5 more episodes in season one.

      • Brian

        o lol my bad i just turned on the tv and started watching thought it was a movie i get it now im lookin thew this site i feel pretty dumb ha, so every week for 5 more and then what they might or might not continue the serires ?

      • Robert

        They announced that a second season (which will probably be 13 episodes) was not yet decided on, but given that the premier had 8 million some viewers for the first show and its encore, its a pretty safe bet that they probably will. I read somewhere that 2-3 million viewers would have been up there on the charts even.

    • Cal

      Jericho dude is Lennie James. Only reason I watched the first episode was because I heard he was in it. Playing the same type character too..cool!

      • Phoenix

        I loved it too- particularly as I watched Snatch the night before and kept picturing Sol in the role (lack of accent notwithstanding).

  • Alexandra

    I disagree that viewers of Mad Men and Breaking Bad won’t want to tune in past the pilot episode. The show is very well done and seems to be character driven. If anything, this is right up their alley.

    • Eric

      I especially think that fans of Breaking Bad will tune in. That show is pretty gory as well.

      • Alexandra

        That’s exactly my thinking. My boyfriend got me to watch Breaking Bad and it’s been my favorite show for awhile now. We are both fans of zombie/horror/post-apoc movies, so we were both excited to hear about something similar in TV-format.

    • MCS

      Mad Men and Breaking Bad are my favorite shows, and this looks to be heading that way also. Not everyone who watches Mad Men is over 40 and conservative.

      • aby

        I love Mad Men. Never saw Breaking Bad. I’m over 40, but definetly not conservative. I loved The Walking Dead and will be back next week with bells on.

      • zane kaften

        I’m 27 and also a conservative. Never watched mad men before, but I loved watching the premier of walking dead and will continue watching it as the series unfolds.

      • Johnavon

        BION I’m ipmresesd! Cool post!

    • Lucy

      totally agree!!

    • jayjay

      this was not a pilot episode. they made the show without that>

    • wino

      exactly, im a Mad Men fanatic and i loved the premier of the Walking Dead. good storytelling is just that…good. i dont care if its about advertising in the 60s or zombies in 21st century, i’ll tune in as long as I care about the characters. and so far, i do!

      • Robert

        I’ve been reading the comic book, and I would just like to warn you beforehand not to get too attached to any characters. The book is very realistic (right word?) in the sense that at any given time any person can die, not just the ones you want/don’t want to, you don’t see it coming either really. You will be shocked and probably crying many times throughout the show if it continues to follow the book.

    • ashlee

      I agree. Mad Man and Breaking Bad is tough watching but both shows have exquisite scripts. The Walking Dead is in the same catagory. I am looking forward to the next episode.

  • R E I

    I really enjoyed the first episode and I am looking forward to more in the future! Lets hope this takes off,I think it’s got a standing chance!!

  • k

    I absolutely loved it! Zombies are quickly becoming the new vampires and I think this will sustain the series. I hope so!

  • Jesse

    As an avid zombie fan, I think the show did exactly what you said. It brought a new audience to AMC. I never paid the network any attention aside from halloween because it actually shows..uh..halloween. I say bring it on. It was quality zombie horror with enough life breathed into it to make it amazing.

  • mario

    “that gun-shot made a terrible, vibrating noise that momentarily caused Rick to lose his hear”

    REALLY?! besides awful grammar, i enjoyed the pilot for The Walking Dead. was i scared the entire time? no, but there was a heightened sense of terror that worked for me. On a weekly basis i hope the series stays away from “jolt” scares. they dont need it, nor do i want anything like that.

    liking the characters so far but, they need to develop them so that they dont pull the whole “he’s sleeping with his wife” thing by the midway point of the season

    • Heath

      Yes the gun shot in a tank will make that noise.

      • D

        Thank you, but mario was saying there was a grammatical error, not a factual error

    • Jen

      So the guy forgets one gerund and suddenly the whole post has awful grammar? Let’s not overreact.

      • Steve

        Not to mention the irony of the fact that mario’s post is full of grammactical errors!

      • Julie Anderton

        Plus, Mario’s phrasing seems to imply that the pilot had awful grammar, but, despite that, he enjoyed it anyway.

    • D

      Hey Mario! You have to use capitol letters at the beginning of sentences.

      • Jon

        Be smart when you correct someone D…it’s capital*.

      • Pete

        this was a great little thread…sorry *This lol

  • ken

    I usually loathe film/tv reviewers, I mean LOATHE. (AO SCOTT/EBERT Just complete morons) But man you hit it all right on the head, I can’t believe Im actually impressed with your article.

    Kudos

    • Robert Singleton

      I have to chime in in defense of Roger Ebert. You may not disagree with his opinions, but he is an articulate and very literate lover of film. We need to do something about this “I disagree with you, so you must be an idiot” way of thinking.

  • Debby

    I think it is great. I loved the first show. I really hope AMC keeps this one on the air!!

  • michelle

    Love Lennie James

  • Denise

    I LOVED it!

    • Brian

      yup me too! it would b crazy goin thew that, id go nuts the day this happens

  • Joanne Walker

    Isn’t this just a straight rip off of 28 Days Later??????????

    • ken

      lol pretty much the walking up in a hospital part is and then the rifle in the house, what does that remind you of, oh that’s right, ‘dawn of the dead’, oh yeah how ironic that showed before the Premier lol, all highly cliche and tell me how that is anything but original. However, all in all I thought it was well done, but then again look who’s directing. I wonder what the Romero salivating lemmings will think of this so far…

      • EricVT

        no actually 2 days the waking up from a coma is a rip off from the walking dead, Google the dates when the comic was written and when 28 was made,

      • Some Person

        No EricVT, 28 Days Later came out in theaters a year before The Walking Dead was first published. Then you factor in the writing/optioning time it takes for a film to get made and it would have been several years before The Walking Dead was first released. If you want to keep up with the “rip off” theme, 28 days later ripped off The Day of the Triffids with the hospital scene.

      • Steve

        If you read Kirkman’s reply in the letter column of issue #2 of the comic book, the hospital scene was simply one of those coincidences that happens sometimes in genre stories. That said, the rest of The Walking Dead goes in entirely different directions than 28 Days … so no worries there.

      • Rory

        Actually, both of them are ripping off the excellent John Windham book and BBC series “The Day of the Triffids”, look it up if you like apocalyptic sci fi.

      • Marzela

        Was tiiknhng the same as I passed the outdoor ad campaigns for the show. Didn’t see any of the on-air promos. I had an inkling that it would survive (maybe even thrive) based on the title and somewhat hot woman on the billboard.

    • hunt6

      No, it’s based off the comic book series with the same name.

    • Heath

      No it is a rip off of tje comic. The Walking Dead!

    • lol

      Considering that it came out at the same time at 28 days later… Not at all. Nice try though.

      • roy

        28 days later was released in 2002.

      • Salman

        your absolutely right about tv nteowrks needing to take into account the demand for online viewing due to peoples’ busy lives. I personally cannot afford to pay for satellite or cable along with my internet bill so I always watch everything online. not to mention the fact that I’m always at work when my favourite shows are airing. If it wasn’t for the fact that i could watch it all online I would have missed out on so many epic series that are coming out.

    • Sam

      No. 28 Days Later used a ‘rage’ virus. They weren’t classic ‘zombies’. And in that vein, can’t 28 Days Later be a straight rip off of ANY zombie movie, then?

    • C

      Nope, the walking dead was published around the same time 28 days later was released and the fact that both needed to be written years before the end product could be released, there’s no way to know which was written 1st. Great Show by the way.

      • James

        @Heath, it’s not ripping off the comic books: it’s based off the comic books. Kirkman, creator and writer of the comic series, is also involved with the writing of the show.

    • Bill

      No, it is not a rip off of 28 Days. 28 Days didn’t have zombies. 28 Days was a survival movie with crazy people as a catalyst. The infected were not the living dead. The did not have to die to become infected. They were just altered people who were crazy. All that said, 28 Days was one of the best movies in that genre.

  • Tracey

    What was the code I watched the whole thing and loved it but never caught the code and I dont want to stay up until 1:30

    • Heath

      survival

      • Tracey

        thanks

  • steve johnson

    How could I be in the next role of walking dead

    • wino

      catch an incurable fever

  • Jennifer

    I thought the show/mini movie series is great and a even greater time slot. I truly enjoyed it and was kept captivated. Great graphics as well. Kudos to you all

    Jennifer in Nj

  • steph

    i thought it was pretty good – i’m new to the horror genre as well, just watched my first zombie movie Friday!

    • Nicotine

      Good for you, Steph!

      I don’t know why people like Ken thinks that every single person fits squarely into a box. Just because someone is a Mad Men fan doesn’t mean they can’t enjoy a good horror show like this one. My television palate is very varied. I watch gory, suspenseful shows like Dexter & True Blood, but I still appreciate softer, drama-shows like One Tree Hill.

      • Joan

        It’s spooky how cleerv some ppl are. Thanks!

    • Enrico

      […] heart dasiese to erectile dysfunction, researchers have linked BPA to a whole host of problems, but the Bush administration assured […]

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