ALSO: Check out our interviews with author Robert Kirkman, director Frank Darabont, producer Gale Anne Hurd, and stars Andrew Lincoln, Jon Berthnal, Sarah Wayne Callies, Laurie Holden, Steve Yuen and Norman Reedus.
I’ve been aware of Robert Kirkman’s “The Walking Dead” for quite some time now, but I was always hesitant to read it because the idea of a zombie comic that never ended seemed boring as hell. Turns out it was the complete opposite. After AMC announced that they had commissioned a pilot based on Kirkman’s book (and directed by Frank Darabont, no less), I finally decided to give it a try, only to end up tearing through the 60-plus issues in a matter of months. Suffice it to say, I was hooked, and have been a dedicated reader ever since. It also changed my feelings about the upcoming television series, however, as I was now inclined to be somewhat protective of the source material. But after watching the pilot episode, it’s clear that fans won’t have to worry too much, because “The Walking Dead” is not only in good hands, but it translates perfectly to TV.
The show didn’t waste any time in setting its graphic tone, either, with sheriff Rick Grimes shooting a little zombie girl in the head while out searching for gas. Of course, the world wasn’t always swarming with the walking dead, and we get an appropriate flashback to the days before the zombie outbreak when Rick was just a normal police officer alongside his partner and best friend Shane. But after Rick gets shot in a firefight and falls into a coma in the hospital, he awakes weeks later to discover he’s all alone. The hospital is completely empty save for a few dead bodies lying on the ground, and when he goes outside, there are piles of carcasses all over the place. An unsettling sight for sure, but not nearly as frightening as seeing a decayed upper torso that’s still crawling around on the ground.
If Rick doesn’t seem that concerned with figuring out how a dead person can still be alive, it’s because all he cares about at the moment is making sure his wife Lori and son Carl are still safe. But there’s no sign of them at their house, and before he can look anywhere else, he gets a shovel straight to the face, knocking him unconscious. When he comes to, Rick finds himself tied to a bed post and in the company of a man named Morgan (the always awesome Lennie James) and his son Duane, who are immediately concerned that his bandaged wound is more than just the gunshot he claims it to be. Rick eventually convinces them that he’s not only still human, but has no idea what’s going on, so Morgan fills him in on the basics: people are dying and coming back to life (whom he refers to as “walkers”), and the only way to kill them is by hitting or shooting them in the head. But gunshots make noise, and noise attracts walkers – hordes of them, in fact, including Morgan’s dead wife, who continues to haunt him and his son by roaming outside the house where they’ve set up camp.
Morgan also tells Rick that if his wife and son are still alive – which Rick believes based on the fact that clothes and photos are missing from his home – they’re most likely in Atlanta, where the government was telling survivors to go to after the initial outbreak. But before he heads south, Rick takes Morgan and Duane to the police station to enjoy a hot shower and stock up on weapons. They part ways shortly after, and Morgan heads back to the house with one mission in mind: to end his wife’s misery. That entire scene was heartbreaking to say the least, and it’s only a taste of the kind of heavy character drama that Kirkman’s comic regularly delivers.
Meanwhile, Rick heads for Atlanta in his police cruiser and sends out a distress call over the radio for anyone that might be listening. He doesn’t get a response, but what Rick doesn’t realize is that someone did hear his call – a survivor camp located somewhere near the city that includes Shane, Lori and Carl. Lori is currently petitioning a plan to put signs up on the highway warning incoming travelers of the zombies, but Shane refuses to allow her to put herself in any danger. And before you could commend Shane for being a great best friend, he shows his true intentions by sharing a kiss with Lori in their tent. They both clearly believe that Rick is dead, but that’s still a little early to be moving in on your buddy’s wife, no?
It certainly can’t end well, but Rick has much bigger problems at the moment. His car has just run out of gas, and after stealing a horse to carry him the rest of the way, he arrives in Atlanta to discover that it’s become a ghost town. Or at least, that’s what it looks like from the outside. But when he begins attracting the attention of some zombies, and a few quickly turns into a few hundred, Rick is knocked off his horse and sent scrambling to safety, just barely managing to pull himself into an abandoned tank to hide out. Surrounded by hundreds of the walking dead outside, it seems like Rick’s final hours may be upon him… only to hear the voice of another human come over the radio: “Hey, dumbass. You, in the tank. You cozy in there?” And if that didn’t hook you in for another episode, then maybe “The Walking Dead” isn’t for you, but it’s only going to get better from here.