The success of AMC’s “The Walking Dead” is an interesting dichotomy in that it is both a surprise and no surprise. Surprising that a series this well written, acted and produced has been allowed to flourish when major networks regularly kill (no pun intended) some of TV’s best shows is a surprise. The fact that a series so gritty, gory and readily eschews the ‘Hollywood Happiness’ syndrome has not been called disgusting or too gross for television audiences is a surprise. But since it is a show about zombies… and zombies have become de rigueur, accepted and even embraced by mainstream viewers…. it is no surprise at all.
Just a few short yuears ago a show like “The Walking Dead”, much like its theatrical and video counterparts, would have only been expected to attract those oddballs who thrive on watching horror. People like me, for example. But nowadays, zombies are more popular than ever. Cities across the country are hosting ‘Zombie Walks’, runners are competing in ‘Zombie Races’, normal everyday citizens are signing up for ‘Zombie Survival Camps’, and the list goes on. I even recently saw a zombie portrayed in a national car commercial.
Personally, I have somewhat of a love/hate relationship with zombies. If you’ve read my bio, you’ll know that I work for a large haunted attraction and primarily surround myself with fake corpses, monsters, skeletons, etc… Yet, I have a closet irrational fear of zombies. Irrational fears are the hardest ones to deal with because there is nothing to face, no way to get over the fear. With heights, you can go up on a tall building and attempt to kick your brain in gear. I’ll never meet a real flesh-eating zombie (or at least I’m relatively sure I won’t ever meet one), so the best I can do is deal with the fake ones.
I grew up watching horror films, and the ones about zombies were my favorites. Again I think I was attempting to face my irrational fear. But there may have been more to it. Perhaps subconsciously I was educating myself, planning for the day that I might find myself face to face with a real live (or undead as the case would be) corpse with the rather bothersome plan of eating my brain, and I would know exactly what to do. I’d know the rules, as it were. I really don’t know why I’m telling you this other than it’s rather cathartic to share… and give you the impression that I have my finger on the ‘pulse’ of the zombie phenomenon.
That said, I was first introduced to “The Walking Dead” a few years ago when I came across the graphic novel (a.k.a. – a comic book) written by Robert Kirkman. In it, I was introduced to Ric Grimes, a police officer who wakes up in a hospital and finds himself in the middle of a zombie apocalypse. I was immediately taken in by the artwork and storytelling, which was harsh, gritty and very realistic. The pacing was perfect and as I read each new edition I was continually shocked and appalled by the events as they occurred.
When I heard AMC was creating a TV series out of the books I was rather hesitant. After all, there was no way anyone would air something this brutal and shocking without a lot of censoring. When the first episode aired on Halloween night 2010, all hesitation disappeared and I learned for the first time on TV… all bets were off.
Much to my ‘morbid delight’, those first few episodes initially stuck pretty close to what I had read. There were some changes I wasn’t thrilled with, including a huge change during the season finale, but overall the series captured the horror and desperation that was so eloquently presented in the graphic novels.
The actors chosen for each role were perfect, and even if they did not physically look like their literary counterparts, they did bring to life the psychological makeup of each character. Their flaws, strengths, fears and actions were all brought to life. And here is where the series really hit the mark. As opposed to making the show all about zombie attacks and zombie fights, the producers opted to delve deeply and realistically into this psychological aspect of survival. The characters are as fully fleshed out as they are in the books and because of this viewers were able to identify with real people in a very unrealistic situation.
Getting ready to watch the second season on the Blu-ray edition, I was again hesitant. Not because I was concerned about the show not living up to the excellence of the first season, but more because I chose to listen to outside sources about how the first half of the season was really bad and it only took off in the second.
Once I began watching the episodes, I understood where these opinions were coming from but I had to disagree. I didn’t see any loss or gain of quality throughout the season at all. What I saw were a few less zombie sightings in the early episodes, and perhaps a lot more character development… but that is what I look for in a good series… good character development. Yes there was a different feel to the show about halfway through, which I understand came about by the departure of the show’s original producer Frank Darabont. But I enjoyed the entire season as a whole in spite of its continued departure from the original source material.
Anchor Bay’s Blu-ray release offers up all 13 episodes with a transfer sure to blow your mind. The 1080p image is presented in the original broadcast 1.78:1 aspect ratio and the color palette is startlingly bleak, as it should be. The image is often a little soft, but this is done on purpose and lends itself to the stark realism, but when detail is needed… it is there. The Dolby TrueHD 7.1 soundtrack has a perfect mix in which the dialogue is never lost, even in scenes that are alive with ambient sounds. The quiet moments offer sounds that surround the viewer, occasionally making one want to look over their shoulder to make sure there isn’t a zombie shambling up from behind the couch.
One area that Anchor Bay rarely shirks is the addition of special features. This release is no exception. Four of the episodes include commentaries by the cast and crew (for a listing see below) and all are very informative and entertaining to listen to. There are also eleven separate featurettes, focusing on everything from the costuming for extras and the music to tearing out a zombie’s guts and the differences between the TV series and the books. All are under ten minutes, but each and every one is worth watching.
Additionally, there are six ‘webisodes’ that were created for the internet and expand upon the story of the initial zombie outbreak, which you can watch with optional commentary by director and special FX artist Greg Nicotero (of KNB Studios). And finally, there are about thirty minutes worth of deleted scenes, which you can also watch with optional commentary by executive producer Glen Mazzara.
Make no mistake; “The Walking Dead” is not for the faint of heart and it is most certainly not for kids. But it is one of the best dramas to come around in quite a while and I highly recommend adding this set to your collection.
What Lies Ahead – (Commentary by Executive Producer Glen Mazzara, Executive Producer Gale Anne Hurd, Executive Producer/Writer Robert Kirkman, and Executive Producer David Alpert)
Save the Last One
Pretty Much Dead Already – (Commentary by Executive Producer Glen Mazzara, Producer Scott M. Glimple, Director Michelle Maclaren, and Editor Julius Ramsay)
Nebraska – (Commentary by Executive Producer Glen Mazzara, Co-Executive Producer Evan Riley, and Actors Scott Wilson and Steven Yeun)
18 Miles Out
Judge, Jury, Executioner – (Commentary by Executive Producer Glen Mazzara, Co-Executive Producer/Special Effects Make-Up Artist/Director Greg Nicotero, Writer Angela Kang, and Actor Laurie Holden)
Beside the Dying Fire – (Commentary by Executive Producer/Writer Glen Mazzara, Director Ernest Dickerson, Co-Executive Producer/Special Effects Make-Up Artist Greg Nicotero, Executive Producer/Writer Robert Kirkman, and Actor Norman Reedus)
Starring: Andrew Lincoln, Jon Bernthal, Sarah Wayne Callies, Laurie Holden, Jeffrey DeMunn, Norman Reedus
Extras: Audio Commentaries; All the Guts ; Live or Let ; The Meat of the ; Fire on Set ; The Ink is Alive ; The Sound of the Effects ; In the Dead Water; You Could Make a ; She Will Fight; The Cast on Season 2; Extras Wardrobe; Webisodes ; Deleted Scenes (1080p, 29:18): "What Lies Ahead;" "Save the Last One;"
Studio: Anchor Bay
Release Date: 8/28/2012
MPAA Rating: NR