The Walking Dead is an AMC original series based on the Robert Kirkman graphic novels that first appeared in 2003 as a monthly black and white comic book series authored by Kirkman and published by Image comics in the US. The comic book series is still running as of the date of this article. The AMC series parallels the main comic story to some extent, but has made some significant changes as well. The series stars Andrew Lincoln as Sheriff Rick Grimes, Steven Yeun as Glenn Rhee, and Chandler Riggs as Carl Grimes. Given the scope of this article, spoilers are present, although I have made an effort to keep them to a minimum.
Season One premiered, appropriately enough, on Halloween night of 2010. The first season consists of six episodes in the standard hour format, with the exception of the pilot episode Days Gone Bye, which ran for an additional 23 minutes. The story follows Sheriff Rick Grimes as he wakes up from a coma brought on by a gunshot wound received during an arrest. Of course, he wakes up to a radically different world in the form of a zombie apocalypse. The opening is a classic, one that we have seen before in movies like 28 Days Later and Day of the Triffids, which also serves as a convenient expository device as we learn about the new world order through the eyes of the main character. During these six episodes, Rick learns about the brave new world he has woken up in, both first hand and through his first encounter with another survivor named Morgan. Rick is searching to find his wife and son, and does reconnect with them through a group of survivors that he encounters in the city of Atlanta. Unfortunately, this otherwise joyous moment is tempered by the fact that his wife Lori is having an affair, which pre-dated the whole world falling apart thing, with his deputy and job partner Shane. With Rick out of the picture, the relationship has blossomed, and Shane isn't really the sharing type. Once the dead invade the survivor's camp, the decision is made to visit the CDC to see if any form of government order still exists. The short version is that it pretty much doesn't, at least from the CDC staff's sole survivor's perspective. Production quality of the first season is exceptionally noteworthy, as it approaches theatrical quality. The first season could easily be viewed on the big screen of any movie house.
This level of production was not maintained for the second season, as the series took on a more normal television series budget, which I feel is one of the reasons why the sophomore season is so disliked by fans of the series. The other, and larger reason, is the less action oriented pace, as the story focuses more on the characters themselves. Season two opens with our stalwart group encountering a "herd" of walkers on the road. This leads to the disappearance of the daughter of one of the group members. In the process of trying to find her, they discover a farm owned by an older gentleman named Hershel, which is where the remainder of the season takes place. Hershel's farm, in addition to being a convenient staging area for their search, is also an escape from the recent collapse of society. The central theme of this season is one of denial leading to acceptance, as the outside reality gradually encroaches on Hershel's world. This is largely presented through Shane, as he represents, in both words and actions, the embracing of the new world order. During a scavenging run, the group discovers another group of apparently well-organized survivors. However, it is ultimately the confrontation between Shane and Rick over Lori that rains the apocalypse down on the farm, leading to its destruction. While the action is certainly far less prevalent, I feel there is a lot of good story in this season with regards to ideas about the nature of societal collapse and what are and are not the right ways to adjust to that change.
With the escape from the farm in the third season, the group gets split in two as one of their members, Andrea, is forced to flee in a different direction. She ends up running into, and being rescued by Michonne, who is one kick-ass survivor. While Rick and the rest decide to take over a prison for their shelter, Andrea and Michonne end up in a relatively normal town called Woodbury. This tiny community is run by a man known only as the Governor, and while the surface appearance is one of a relative paradise, behind the facade things aren't so nice. The governor ends up falling for Andrea, and she follows suit, even against Michonne's advice. Woodbury's not so nice side is that their utopia relies on their scavenging of other survivor groups. This parasitic relationship necessitates a constant search for new “fodder”, and so a collision between Rick's group at the prison and Woodbury's residents becomes inevitable. The season ending conflict goes in a surprising direction, as Woodbury's impromptu army makes an attempt on the prison, which results in the Governor revealing his true nature.
The fourth season can effectively be broken into two parts. The first half of the season focuses on the resolution of the Governor's story line, which is juxtaposed with Rick making one final desperate attempt to make the prison a viable home. After the fall of Woodbury, the Governor finds himself wandering alone in the world. He eventually hooks up with another group of survivors, where he finds some short lived happiness. Unfortunately, his lust for power eventually resurfaces, and he talks the new group of survivors into taking on the prison, perhaps inspired by the tank that this new group has acquired. The assault fails, but at the cost of destroying the prison as well. This scatters Rick's group even more so than previously, which leads into the second half of the season as we see stories from the perspective of the various wandering fragments. I found this last half very reminiscent of Season Two in that the focus is, again, much more on the characters, but I guess there must have been enough action for the “explosions and gun fights” crowd, as I don't recall hearing anywhere near the number of the complaints that where prevalent during Season Two. Cleverly, there are linking pieces that connect the various episodes together, including one really cool pair of episodes told from the different perspectives of the two groups involved. What brings almost everyone back together is a promised land called Terminus that has signs along various rail lines advertising food and shelter to all who make it there. Of course, it turns out that, like Woodbury, Terminus is not exactly what it seems either.
As previously stated, changes were made from the comic book in translation to television. One of the earliest was the addition of new characters, like the brothers Merle and Daryl Dixon. Other changes were made to the story line itself, which served a couple of purposes. The first was to explore new ideas that were not covered in the comics, and the second was to be able to get more story mileage out of some of the characters. For example, Shane dies fairly early in the comic, but in the series this is held back as part of the finale for Season Two. Not having read the source material myself, I really can't make any comparisons between the series and the comics, but what I can say is that The Walking Dead is an excellent series that is well worth the attention of any genre TV fan.
By Nick Sauer