AMC’s runaway hit ‘The Walking Dead’
blog by The Canisius Griffin • November 08, 2011 @ 9:31pm
The surprise success of AMC’s “The Walking Dead” proved not only that good horror television is possible, but that people will watch it, too. The show premiered last year to 5.3 million viewers and steadily rose to a series high with a finale that was watched by 6 million, two-thirds of whom were of the coveted 18-49 demographic that advertisers pine for like a zombie for brains. These numbers are virtually unheard of in basic cable, sans “The Jersey Shore,” but most of those viewers are zombies themselves. The network kept the first season short at six episodes but quickly began work on season two. It was the right move apparently, because on Oct. 16, Season Two premiered to an astounding 7.3 million viewers (11 million counting encore presentations), marking it the most watched drama in basic cable history.
Season One ended with the series’ hero, Deputy Rick Grimes (Andrew Lincoln), his wife and son and the rest of the survivors we followed throughout the season, escaping from the Center for Disease Control. It was promised to be a safe haven that turned out to be anything but, and they escaped with only seconds to spare as the building self-destructed and collapsed before their eyes. The second season opens just where the first left off. On the run again, our survivors are looking for a way out of Georgia.
Directionless and shorter on hope than ever before, the group hits the highway (the same highway that Grimes rode in on horseback in the series premiere a little less than a year ago). The outbound lanes are overrun with abandoned cars, while the city-bound lanes lay empty. This time the group is headed in the opposite direction: the direction that Atlanta’s population went when the zombies (or as the series dubbed them, “walkers”) showed up and panic set in. It’s not long before their caravan hits a snag. The lanes are simply too congested to move forward, and they have to double back.
Before they have a chance to regroup though, a herd of walkers shuffles its way down the highway. Their senses are weak, but they operate on sight and sound, so the survivors hide under cars in silence as the walkers pass by, unsuspecting of the potential meals that lie under their rotting noses. It’s one of the more intense moments in the series, amplified by the inclusion of children. Just as we think they’re in the clear, a walker moves in on one of the young girls. She makes a run for it into the woods, and the walkers follow shortly after. Grimes goes in after them and quickly dispatches the walkers, but in the process the young girl runs deeper into the woods.
The survivors regroup and form a rescue team to locate the girl and bring her back safely. Grimes and his young son, Carl, aid the attempts. More walkers interrupt their efforts, which is when the series really flexes its makeup and effects work. After taking down a walker, Grimes and another survivor perform an autopsy to confirm that it did not reach the little girl before they did. They tear its stomach open and pick its insides apart bit-by-bit. The show does a great job of selling dire situations like this. The tension mounts as they reach the zombie’s stomach and we realize it ate recently. Naturally, we assume they’ll find a piece of the girl that has yet to be digested. Fortunately, we learn it was just a squirrel and their search continues.
The group moves on until they come across a deer in the woods. It’s a monumental moment in the series because this is the first sign of real life that many of the characters have seen since walkers overran the world. The creature mesmerizes Rick’s son and he slowly moves in to get a closer look. It’s a beautiful shot, especially when compared to the gritty, desolate tone featured in the majority of the show. The show delivers a serious punch to the gut when a bullet from an unknown shooter blasts through the deer and into Carl’s stomach. He falls to the ground and the episode ends. It’s a cliffhanger if there ever was one, and its one of the reasons viewers can’t get enough of the show.
“The Walking Dead” transitions from high-tension zombie chase scenes to poignant monologues effortlessly. It’s not just a horror show or a character drama. It has a little bit of everything, which probably explains its rapidly growing popularity. It’s earned its spot in the zombie genre not just because of its subject matter, but because it truly is infectious. Once you start watching, you’ll be waiting impatiently for the next episode, which airs at 10 p.m. on Sunday. If you haven’t checked it out yet, the first season is up on Netflix Instant and AMC runs marathons regularly for Season Two, which will air its fourth episode this coming Sunday.
By Sam Scarcello