Last night AMC aired the first episode of its heavily-promoted new high-concept zombie apocalypse series, The Walking Dead, based on the comic book series of the same name. Critics generally gave the show high marks, and I agree that Walking is gorgeously produced, viscerally violent, and eerie in its use of silence and emptiness to underscore that strangeness of a landscape where very little is left alive.
That said, the show also seems wedded with bond of iron to the zombie apocalypse stations of the cross. There is little in the pilot that was not present in George Romero's Night of the Living Dead more than forty years ago, and certainly nothing that would be new to anyone who has seen the recent spate of apocalypses depicted across every form of media. Parts of the pilot recall with startling precision not just Night but also Dawn of the Dead (both versions), 28 Days Later, the BBC's recent zombie-free apocalypse Survivors, The Dead Set, and still more. That the comic predated some of these does little to counter the sense that much of this has been seen before.
Like the annual enactment of the stations of the cross, there is still drama in this old story of unholy resurrection despite the seeming lack of surprise or originality. But it is more akin to watching a new production of Hamlet: You watch for the performances and the production values, to see a familiar story acted anew, with perhaps a bit of something unexpected tossed in now and again.
Had The Walking Dead debuted ten years ago, it would have been hailed as a work of genius; today, however, I think were are nearer the end than the beginning of the zombie craze, and (for me at least) zombie fatigue has set in. It will be interesting to see how Walking develops its story and if it can craft something original from a large budget poured into shopworn parts.
I am an author and researcher focusing on pop culture, science, and history. Bylines: New Republic, Esquire, Slate, etc. There's more about me in the About Jason tab.
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