Zombies on AMC? Why 'The Walking Dead' Feels Right at Home With 'Mad Men' and 'Breaking Bad'
By Zach Dionne Posted Nov 1st 2010 01:14PM
AMC spent all of October pumping up 'The Walking Dead' somethin' fierce, simultaneously getting us psyched and making us wonder ... really, a zombie TV show? Is that gonna fly?
In a word, yes. In a few hundred more words, here's why.
While the zombie formula -- where a small contingent wakes to zombie-world, tries to exist, fails, dies -- seems too cut-and-dry for a successful TV series, grimness is a thread of commonality in AMC's Emmy-snatching programming. The horror angle doesn't seem to jive with the network's affinity for highbrow, slow-burn, character-driven dramas, but that's not quite right either -- gruesome survival action happens to be incidental in 'The Walking Dead.' On a network that touts itself as the place where "story matters," the stories -- more specifically, the characters -- of this series' source material are rich enough to flesh out more than a handful of seasons as enriching as those of AMC's now-stalwart shows.
Start familiarizing yourself with the name Rick Grimes. What Don Draper is to best-show-ever-numero-uno 'Mad Men,' and what Walter White is to best-show-ever-numero-dos 'Breaking Bad,' Rick Grimes is to 'The Walking Dead.' In Robert Kirkman's stellar, seven-years-running graphic novel series, Grimes is the archetype for society's downward spiral to primal survivalism, a man as flawed as they come. He's the one who, after a fit of necessary violence, reminds his fellow zombie-apocalypse survivors that they themselves, rather than the brain-hungry hordes, are the real walking dead.
Run down the Don Draper/Walter White list for ol' Rick: Spousal troubles? Check. Fraught relationship(s) with child(ren)? Check. Struggles with addiction and/or morally questionable behaviors? Check, check, check. The guy shoots a fuzzy-bathrobed Abigail Breslin-lookalike zombie in the face ... before the opening credits. Read: Apotheosis of "morally conflicted."
In one of Rick's lowest scenes in the comic, he soliloquizes: "Killing him made me realize something -- made me notice how much I've changed. I used to be a trained police officer -- my job was to uphold the law. Now I feel like a lawless savage -- an animal. I killed a man today and I don't even care ... Does that make me evil? I mean ... isn't that evil?"
Substitute "killing a man" for "cooking meth" or "cheating on my wife with all kinds of women and also drinking more than a lot" and tack that speech bubble onto Walt White or Don Draper. Fits, doesn't it?
If none of that sells you, Stephen King admitted the pilot really grossed him out.
Update: Whether or not AMC was on pins and needles about the zombie gambit like we were (purely from a people-maybe-assuming-undead-equals-schlock perspective), the 'Walking Dead' premiere notched the network's all-time highest ratings for an original series with 5.3 million viewers, according to a statement. Counting the 11:30PM and 1AM airings of the premiere, pulled in a total of 8.1 million people tuned in. Boom!
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