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'The Walking Dead' recap: Blood and entrails make for a sumptuous zombie feast

October 31, 2010 | 11:00 pm

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Midway through tonight’s debut episode of “The Walking Dead,” our hero Rick Grimes, the small-town sheriff played by Andrew Lincoln, encounters a former colleague who has succumbed to the mysterious zombie plague that has gripped the American South, and possibly the rest of the country -- or even the world. Rick, determined to give the man the peace of the grave, shoots him in the forehead at point-blank range. His brains explode from the back of his skull. The camera watches, unflinching as the gruesome scenario plays out.

One thing’s for sure. Nothing like this ever happened on “Mad Men.”

In interviews leading up to tonight’s “Walking Dead” premiere, series creator Frank Darabont had promised that the show would skimp neither on character development or zombie gore, and while he certainly seemed to deliver on that promise with this first episode, it was the copious amounts of blood and brain matter that left perhaps the strongest impression.

Maybe it was just odd to see such strong horror movie violence on a channel best known as the home of the perennial Emmy-winning, cocktail-swilling drama. Or maybe it’s just plain disturbing to watch as a good guy guns down a little girl carrying  a stuffed animal in the opening segment of a new program. Granted, she was a zombie, but still.

As for the characters, this first episode focused largely on Rick, a seemingly stoic man with a troubled marriage, a young son and a chatty partner named Shane (Jon Bernthal). Before long, the duo is caught in a shootout, and at its conclusion Rick is severely wounded, ending up, we learn, in a coma. When he comes to, it’s obvious that some considerable amount of time has passed -– just how much is unclear –- but the hospital is deserted and in complete disarray.

Rick wanders past an empty nurses' station and discovers the partially devoured body of a young woman lying on the tile; he wanders back the other way, past fixtures hanging from their sockets and exposed wiring, to find a set of padlocked doors with a warning spray painted across them in black ink: “Don’t open, dead inside.” Moaning sounds come from behind it, and a hand reaches toward Rick, who bolts and flees the building.

Outside, the scene is just as grim; he wanders through a parking lot full of dozens of bodies, some covered by white sheets.

If the hospital scene is reminiscent of Danny Boyle’s horror film “28 Days Later,” the rest of the show is straight-up George Romero. The zombies (or walkers as they’re known on the show) move slowly, the virus -– or whatever it is that is the source of their taste for flesh -– is transmitted through a bite or a scratch and the only way to stop them is a shot through the brain. They devour their victims with full-on, entrail-ripping delight, courtesy of special effects maven Greg Nicotero, who worked with Darabont on his underrated film “The Mist” and who also had a hand in several of Romero’s own zombie projects.

In this new world, Rick is determined to be reunited with his family. After gaining his bearings thanks to the kindness of two fellow survivors he encounters, he begins his quest, one that ultimately finds him on horseback, riding toward Atlanta where there is rumored to be a settlement of people that might include his wife Lori and son Carl.

What he doesn’t know is that although Lori and Carl are alive, they’re holed up in the countryside with a small group headed up by Shane, who seems to have embarked on a romantic relationship with Lori, judging from a kiss they share.

Atlanta, naturally, turns out to be a death trap –- the city is overrun with walkers; Rick loses his horse to the ghouls and finds himself trapped inside an abandoned tank, alone and surrounded on all sides. Just then, he hears a voice over the radio speaking to him, asking, facetiously, if he’s cozy. Cue “Welcome to My World” by Wang Chung (!) and lots and lots and lots of zombie gore as the walkers feast on Rick’s trusty horse, and Episode 1 is done.

It will be interesting to see in the coming weeks how Darabont manages to maintain the balance between the drama and the horror on the show -- pilot episodes are always tricky, after all, since there's so much exposition and character introduction to include in not a great deal of time. Certainly, though, the premiere didn't skimp on the scares; in all, it was a solidly entertaining way to spend Halloween.

-- Gina McIntyre

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