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  • Post last modified:July 5, 2023

The Walking Dead: Humanity Under Pressure


Sarah Wayne Callies, Chandler Riggs, Norman Reedus, Melissa McBride, Robert Singleton, Emily Kinney, Scott Wilson, Andrew Lincoln, Lauren Cohan, Steven Yeun, David Morrissey, Danai Gurira and Laurie Holden. Photo: AMC

I remember the feeling I had when I saw the pilot of this show. Filled with a thrilling sense of dread, The Walking Dead had visual effects that I hadn’t really seen before on TV. Movies had pushed the envelope ever since they were invented, that was the place where you could see the truly outrageously violent, bloody or sexual. Sure, television had also evolved with the rise of cable television, but the bar was low; on broadcast TV, even swearing was (and still is) considered a thing that will have audiences clutching their pearls. As far as sex and violence went, it didn’t take much to create a real impact.

But some of the scenes in The Walking Dead had me thinking there really is very little difference now between TV and a really explicit horror movie.

Waking up from a coma
The first season began sometime after the event that caused the end of the world as we know it. Georgia deputy sheriff Rick Grimes (Andrew Lincoln) woke up from a coma and found the living on the run from zombies, causing the collapse of society. Rick wanted to find his wife Lori (Sarah Wayne Callis) and their son Carl (Chandler Riggs). In the woods outside Atlanta, Rick found them together with his former partner, Shane Walsh (Jon Bernthal), and other survivors. Trying to stay away from ”walkers” and looking for some kind of permanent shelter, Rick and the group encountered other people who had created communities of their own, only to learn that many of the living were just as dangerous as the dead.

Blood-spattering killing
The show had two influential names attached to it, behind the scenes: director Frank Darabont and Terminator producer Gale Anne Hurd. Together with Robert Kirkman, creator of the original comic book series, they put together a dystopia whose building blocks remained solid throughout eleven seasons (and after Darabont left due to a conflict with AMC). There was humanity among the survivors, but they were constantly threatened by mankind’s worst instincts, a lawlessness and brutality amplified by the fact that every human being had to learn how to kill in order to survive, which usually meant sticking a knife into the skull of a zombie.

The show had memorable deaths and didn’t hesitate to go very far.

This was done liberally on The Walking Dead, the blood-spattering killing varied in endless ways, involving firearms, axes, arrows and whatever else you could find. The show had memorable deaths and didn’t hesitate to go very far, as in the introduction of one of its most gruesome villains, Negan, who ruled with a baseball bat covered in barbed wire. Played with a roguish charm by Jeffrey Dean Morgan, Negan was an evil character we initially hated, but once robbed of his power and eventually, slowly, turning into an ally, it was hard not to root for him. Overpopulated at times, and certainly repetitive, The Walking Dead lost its wide appeal after six or seven seasons, even if the die-hard fans remained. Storylines were uneven, but the faithful were rewarded at times; the final season delivered both action and a credible illustration of community-building gone wrong.

The show’s lasting legacy may lie in how it shaped the look and sounds of the walking dead. Played by numerous extras in Georgia over the years, sometimes created with help from animatronics and models, the zombies had their signature style. Obviously owing a lot to all kinds of predecessors, they nevertheless became influential, inspiring other movies and TV shows.

The Walking Dead 2010-2022:U.S. 177 episodes. Color. Developed by Frank Darabont. Comic Book: Robert Kirkman, Tony Moore. Theme: Bear McCreary. Cast: Norman Reedus (Daryl Dixon), Melissa McBride (Carol Peletier), Andrew Lincoln (Rick Grimes, 10-18), Lauren Cohan (11-18), Danai Gurira (12-21), Christian Serratos (14-22), Josh McDermitt (14-22), Seth Gilliam (14-22), Ross Marquand (14-22), Jeffrey Dean Morgan (16-22), Khary Payton (16-22), Chandler Riggs (10-18), Alanna Masterson (13-19), Steven Yeun (10-16), Lennie James (10, 13, 15-18), Sonequa Martin-Green (12-17), Katelyn Nacon (15-19), Chad L. Coleman (12-15), Samantha Morton (19-21), Tom Payne (16-19), Emily Kinney (11-14), Jon Bernthal (10-12), Sarah Wayne Callis (10-12), Michael Cudlitz (14-16), Laurie Holden (10-13), Scott Wilson (11-13), Jeffrey DeMunn (10-12), Austin Amelio (16-18), Xander Berkeley (16-18), David Morrissey (12-13), Lawrence Gilliard, Jr. (13-14), Michael Rooker (10-13). 

Trivia: Followed by four spin-off series: Fear the Walking Dead (2015-2023), The Walking Dead: World Beyond (2020-2021), Tales of the Walking Dead (2022) and The Walking Dead: Dead City (2023- ).

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