‘The Walking Dead’ comes to life

It’s humans vs humans (and zombies) as the cable-TV hit resumes its 3rd season in Asia

FEAR THE LEADER. Andrew Lincoln (center, with Chandler Riggs, left, and Scott Wilson) takes aim. All photos by AMC/TWD Productions

MANILA, Philippines – Whether you’re tuning to it religiously or avoiding it like the worst plague, there is no denying that “The Walking Dead” is one of the better television series of late.

What might have seemed novelty fodder at first—a drama about human survivors in a post-apocalyptic era of the undead—has grown into a full-bodied TV show that, since debuting in Halloween 2010, is now on its 3rd season and 30th episode overall.

Such is the weekly, hour-long show’s global popularity, including among viewers on these shores, that its creators and parent outlet, US cable channel AMC, have stretched the series’ seasons.

From Season 1’s mere 6 episodes, Season 2 had 13 eps in all, while the ongoing Season 3 will bow with 16 episodes.

To heighten viewers’ anticipation, Seasons 2 and 3 were both divided into first and second halves, resulting in virtual Christmas breaks—with the current season having taken a cliffhanger pause last December and resuming last February.

Goodbye, world (as we know it)

“The Walking Dead” presents a modern world—or at least America, specifically Georgia—that has ground to a halt, an unexplained deadly epidemic having transformed much of the populace into mindless cannibals.

The grim scenario has resulted in the absence of government and utilities and the scarcity of food and supplies (and, ick, showers). These pressures on safety and survival continue to weigh down on a band of scavengers, whose scruples and sanity are increasingly tested by the hordes of zombies and possibly deceitful strangers along the way.

Such a premise is all too familiar given the many zombie movies that have come out ever since director George Romero unleashed his landmark “Night of the Living Dead” in 1968.

And even if it is not a campy creature feature or an empty peeps-versus-zombies affair, “TWD” bears a sense of serious realism that is not unique either, given, say, director Danny Boyle’s 2002 “infected” film “28 Days Later.” (The show’s numerous “walking dead” do make guttural, hock-a-loogie noises, too.)

What primarily distinguishes “The Walking Dead” from its silverscreen predecessors involves the precise nature of being a TV series: longevity.

BLADE OF GORY. Danai Gurira is as lethal as her character’s “Kill Bill”-esque katana

Never-ever-ending story

Yet it is not the medium of television alone that is the root of “The Walking Dead’s” ongoing perpetuity.

Credit for this goes to writer Robert Kirkman, he who created and continues to write the program’s source material: the comic book of the same name, which debuted in October 2003.

In his introduction in the “Walking Dead” comic’s maiden issue, Kirkman said that “For me, the worst part of every zombie movie is the end. I always want to know what happens next…The idea…is to stay with the [lead] character…for as long as is humanly possible.”

Throughout the comic book’s now 10-year run, with February’s issue no. 107 being the latest, “The Walking Dead” has grown into a much-anticipated, for-mature-readers graphic novel.

Kirkman and artists Tony Moore and later Charlie Adlard have drawn up relatable, non-superhero characters that, despite the two-dimensional nature of the book’s black-and-white pages, elicit strong reader reactions—be it in rooting for the protagonists, despising the dastardly, pitying the fallen and gasping at the gore.

No carbon copy

Filmmaker Frank Darabont spotted the live-action potential in Kirkman’s comic book, prompting the director of “The Shawshank Redemption” and “The Green Mile” to be steadfast in developing “TWD” not into a movie or even a movie franchise but something more long-term: a TV drama. (Even after Darabont broke his ties to the show in 2011, he continues to get well-deserved billing during every episode’s opening credits.)

Yet “The Walking Dead” as a TV series is no mere adaptation of its printed counterpart. While many of the people and events in each are identical, the show is not entirely beholden to the comic book.

Via the program’s array of writers (Kirkman has written or co-written certain episodes), the show has become a beast all its own, adventurous enough to introduce new characters and plot developments that are refreshing even to the comic’s ardent devourers. (Plus, the show has never used the word “zombie,” instead referring to its reanimated corpses as “walkers” or “biters.”)

WATCHING, WAITING. Theater veteran David Morrissey acts duplicitous as “The Governor”

To wit, “TWD’s” 3rd season has a continuing storyline that is a little more extensively played-out than in print: the looming face-off between longtime lead character Rick Grimes and the self-styled community leader nicknamed The Governor (the roles are played by Andrew Lincoln and David Morrissey, respectively, both Englishmen adept at adopting American accents).

While this plot point did get realized in the comic book, the parallels between protagonist and antagonist and their respective worlds—Rick’s a rundown prison, The Governor’s a self-sufficient neighborhood—are more fully realized onscreen: less a good-versus-evil matchup, more of a leader-against-leader battle.  

There are obvious economic benefits to this “loosely based” approach (millions of readers plus millions of viewers equals billions of revenue dollars). Yet Kirkman and cohorts deserve kudos for fleshing out a running narrative that has been more engaging and addicting than what often passes for small-screen or even big-screen entertainment.

Such is the program’s complexity that it elicits creepiness but not necessarily from its throngs of the undead, wrings drama out of tough-as-hell predicaments, and weaves much emotional complexity to rival actual page-turners. (Musical scorer Bear McCreary’s own haunting, strings-based theme for the show is likewise notable for being as indelible as any of the lead characters.)

Some “TWD” episodes have turned out better than others. But overall, countless restless viewers the world over continue to tune in, seeking enjoyment, even catharsis, from the travails of the show’s own restless characters.

The ephemeral lifespan and quality of TV shows aside, here’s hoping “The Walking Dead” would not be gone too soon nor amble in directionless fashion like its own flesh-eating creeps. – Rappler.com

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