The first thing you need to know about AMC's new zombie series "The Walking Dead" (premiering tonight) is that it's absolutely remarkable. The second thing you need to know is that it's absolutely not for the weak of stomach.
If you're at all squeamish about realistic, graphic depictions of blood and guts -- and undead creatures feasting on blood and guts -- this may not be for you. But if you can stand it, "The Walking Dead" is one of the most thrilling, most engrossing television shows I've seen in quite awhile. Heck, I'd say it's better than most movies I've seen lately.
The exceptional quality of "The Walking Dead" will not surprise fans of other AMC series ("Mad Men," "Breaking Bad," "Rubicon"), but the gore might. It's cinematic, it's dramatic, it's suspenseful, and it's superbly written, acted and directed. But it is also very often down. right. gross.
Okay, perhaps now you've been warned enough about the graphic grossness of "The Walking Dead," and we can get on to other details. The show is based on a popular comic book series by Robert Kirkman, and written and exec-produced by director Frank Darabont ("Shawshank Redemption" "Green Mile").
The story centers around Rick Grimes (Andrew Lincoln), the sheriff of a small southern town who wakes up in a hospital recovering from a gunshot wound, only to discover he's all alone there (the scene is very much like the opening of the British movie "28 Days Later," and just as chilling). A weak and confused Grimes heads out into the world and finds it littered with dead bodies and devoid of human activity. Right along with Grimes, we take in the horrifying images of decomposing bodies, empty streets, and abandoned cars and homes.
Grimes soon encounters a (living) father and son who save him from a zombie and school him on the basics: Some sort of virus has turned almost everyone into flesh-eating "walkers," and in order to survive, don't get bit, don't get scratched, don't get zombie blood in your eyes or mouth, and when you kill them, go for the head. Also, noise attracts them, so gunshots are like dinner bells.
Armed with this zombie knowledge, Grimes takes off in search of his missing wife and son, hoping they have relocated to a military-run refugee camp in Atlanta (the series is shot on location there).
The pilot of "Walking Dead" feels a lot like Cormac McCarthy's post-apocalyptic masterpiece, "The Road" -- the silence alone is almost unbearably spooky, and the weight of the characters' solitude paired with their instinct to survive is both inspiring and incredibly distressing. In the same situation, could I do that?
It's in the second episode that Grimes makes it to Atlanta and also when we get to the hardcore zombie gore, which I admit, I had to fast-forward through a few times. The second episode also moves us closer to the part of the story that will deal with a group of human survivors and how they cope.
So it's not all blood and brains and guts, but there's more than enough.
"The Walking Dead" debuts with a special 90-minute episode on Sunday night (Halloween!) at 10pm. Watch a sneak peek below.