TV viewers bemoaning the end of addictive high-concept US imports such as Lost, Prison Break and 24 should make a bee-line for The Walking Dead, the brutal new zombie series inspired by the survivalist comic book saga by Robert Kirkman. Developed for the screen by director Frank Darabont (Shawshank Redemption, The Green Mile), the first series of The Walking Dead may have endured an uncertain genesis, but Darabont’s commitment to the show proved well-deserved, and the series has just ended its initial six-episode run on satellite channel FX -with incendiary results.
Originally conceived as a star vehicle for Thomas Jane (Punisher, Hung), who worked with Darabont on the unexpectedly gloomy 2007 horror movie The Mist, The Walking Dead was turned down by HBO, sending Darabont in search of another backer. In a shrewd move he shopped the idea to AMC -the previously anonymous cable TV channel that surged to prominence in recent years with iconic TV shows such as Mad Men and Breaking Bad. Inevitably, budgetary constraints forced Darabont to look elsewhere for a leading man, and English actor Andrew Lincoln -still best known to British viewers of a certain age as Egg in This Life -was the unlikely choice to star as Rick Grimes, the Southern cop who wakes up from a coma to find that his town has been overrun by zombies.
By following in the footsteps of fellow Brits abroad Hugh Laurie (House), Joseph Fiennes (FlashForward) and Damian Lewis (Life), Andrew Lincoln has unwittingly cast himself as a fearless all-American hero in the Jack Bauer mould. Armed with an unexpectedly plausible Southern accent and an array of shotguns and melee weapons Grimes embarks on torturous quest across Georgia in search of his missing wife and son. To say too much about the plot developments that follow would risk spoiling the gut-wrenching surprises on offer -suffice to say that the 70-minute pilot is a masterclass in brutality and tension, and was aired uninterrupted by adverts as a testament to its quality.
Andrew Lincoln arguably delivers the performance of his career as Grimes, and he is joined by a well-judged supporting cast that includes Lennie James (Snatch) as a fellow refugee who befriends Grimes; Sarah Wayne Callies (Prison Break) as Grimes’ wife; and B-movie veterans Michael Rooker and Norman Reedus who star as a pair of violent redneck brothers causing tension amid a band of intrepid survivors.
As the series progresses the zombie kill-shots get increasingly frenzied, leading to some of the most enjoyably violent scenes in television in recent memory. However, the gore-streaked carnage never overwhelms the human aspects of the story, and the survivors’ harrowing plight takes centre stage throughout. A second series, which will consist of 13 episodes, will commence filming in February, and the key cast members have all reportedly agreed multi-series contracts in anticipation of the show’s success. In a word: awesome.