Frank Darabont's zombie series gets off to a special start, followed by an OK second episode
'The Walking Dead' zombies
Animalistic and driven by definable sentience and need, vampires and werewolves have a place in the pop culture firmament that requires no embellishing. It doesn't take much work to understand their allure. Yes, you can anthropomorphize the monstrous capabilities of both creatures in ways that make them seem more desirable and less terrifying, but that's gilding the lily, generally to the advantage of teenage girls (that's not an insult and "teenage girls" can actually equal "blood-thirsty romantics of all ages").
That's not really the case with zombies. Although some Halloween costumes would beg to differ, you can't really make a zombie sexy. If the new kid in Forks turned out to be a zombie, you couldn't craft a narrative that would make Twihards ditch Team Edward or Team Jacob in favor of Team Grrrrr. Zombies don't pitch woo. Zombies don't stalk in sensual and relatable ways. Zombies can't master their inner appetites to kiss a nubile teen without biting into her scalp. Zombies rot. Zombies don't sparkle.
In lieu of any sort of aspirational agency, zombies are most interesting when subtext can be read onto their lurching and insatiable hunger. Fortunately, the Godfather of the Modern Zombie, George Romero, was a smart enough guy to build a malleable subtext into the zombie mythos. Zombies can represent any sort of assimilationist hive-mind, any sort of thoughtless consumerism or any sort of disease that spreads without warning and turns the living populace into a quivering mass of fear.
I bring this up having glanced at the Washington Post
's review of AMC's "The Walking Dead
," a well-written, poorly argued, epic piece that spends two full pages trying to tie this zombie story into the current election cycle, on the grounds that if you can't finesse "The Walking Dead" into some ideological corner, you're stuck praising a show that's only about zombies and the humans who hate them.
What's scariest about the zombies created by Robert Kirkman for his comic series and adapted by Frank Darabont (and designed by Gregory Nicotero) for AMC, is that they really don't mean anything. They're slow-moving, decomposing, massing flocks of toothy death. Alone, they're easy to kill. In packs, they're a terrifying menace. And they don't mean much of anything. They don't have a root origin. They don't have particular targets or gravitate towards particular locations, like that mall they frequented when they were living. They go where there's food. And where there isn't food, they're pretty much loitering and listening without purpose and certainly without ideology. And while you're free to contort your mind in any way you like to try to bring meaning to the endeavor, that's really more about your needs than Kirkman or Darabont's.
[More on "The Walking Dead" after the break...]