Imagine waking in hospital from a coma to find all the people gone, and the whole world inhabited by zombies. In scenes reminiscent of 2002 zombie flick 28 Days Later, this is exactly what happens to good-guy cop Rick Grimes in the first episode of gory new TV drama The Walking Dead, which premieres in the UAE on November 7.
Rick, played by Brit favourite Andrew Lincoln (of Teachers and This Life), goes looking for his family in Kentucky. Along the way he encounters a strange aftermath of wrecked cars, destroyed buildings, mutilated bodies and groaning mobs of zombies trying to attack him. Luckily, he meets other humans who teach him the rules of survival in his new reality.
Based on the popular graphic novels by Robert Kirkman and directed by The Green Mile’s Frank Darabont, the series is pumped full of gore and human drama as the characters are forced to deal with destruction and death. ‘We find ourselves doing things we wouldn’t have done unless the world ended,’ says Prison Break’s Sara Wayne Callies, who plays Rick’s wife Lori, a badass protective mother who’ll do anything to keep her son safe. ‘The circumstances are so extreme you discover you’re actually somebody you weren’t and then you have to come back from that,’ she says.
Jon Bernthal plays Rick’s partner Shane Walsh. ‘Whatever danger and desire, whatever is going on between the characters, the zombie, strangely enough, serves as a reason to bring us all back together, because we all depend on each other for survival. That’s the base of human need,’ he explains.
So what challenges did this present for the actors? ‘Every scene is high stakes,’ reveals Andrew. ‘You’re dealing with life and death issues constantly. It draws into focus absolutely everything about humanity, how to survive and your personal relationships with other characters, which makes for combustible drama.’
It seems audiences are fascinated by this wave of undead drama, evidenced by the recent bout of successful vampire shows, apocalyptic movies and zombie films – think Vampire Diaries, True Blood, The Road, Resident Evil, 28 Days Later and I Am Legend. But what’s the appeal? Executive producer Gale Ann Hurd (Terminator, Aliens) explains that it links back to our fight for survival. ‘I think there’s something in the zeitgeist about human survival after an apocalypse,’ she says. ‘I think we are facing natural disasters, whether it’s Katrina, the tsunami, the earthquake in Haiti, the oil spill. In our case, we have a zombie apocalypse, but it really strips people away, down to their basics.’
The Walking Dead shows the characters at their most vulnerable, and the zombie twist makes for an exciting addition to this scenario. While the series has obvious similarities to previous zombie flicks, the producers are celebrating the genre, rather than copying it. ‘Obviously I’m a genre geek from way back, before it was even fashionable,’ says Gale. Yet the ‘zombie rules’ in The Walking Dead (see right) are a little different. What would Gale do in a zombie attack? ‘If the zombie apocalypse happens, I’d want to protect my daughter. I sort of see myself as Lori. You take care of your kid and if someone gets in the way…’
The Walking Dead is screened Sundays at 10pm on Fox Series.
The Walking Dead’s zombie rules
The rules of zombie existence vary across the media. Here’s The Walking Dead’s take on zombie lore.
Rule one Unlike other zombie stories, these zombie bodily fluids don’t affect humans.
Rule two All zombies crave flesh, but only ‘roamers’ hunt by following sounds. They travel in groups.
Rule three After being bitten, the time it takes to turn into a zombie varies from person to person.
Rule four Zombies NEVER get tired.
Rule five A bite can kill if the body part is not cut away immediately.
Rule six Some zombies are ‘lurkers’, who wait for prey to come close to them – then pounce.
Rule seven The only way to kill a zombie is to decapitate it or destroy its brain. If the head is whole, it may still bite.
Rule eight Zombies and humans smell the same, so it’s possible for a human to pretend to be a zombie.
Rule nine After a while, zombies become desensitised to people they are familiar with and stop trying to attack them.