No, that’s not a reference to what I felt like the Sunday after fighting my way across last weekend’s uber-crowded, nerd sweat fueled NYCC convention floor. Of course, you know that already. You know what I’m talking about, people. I’m talking about the highly anticipated AMC TV adaptation of Robert Kirkman’s much beloved comics series, The Walking Dead, coming to your TV this Halloween (Series premiere October 31st, 10/9 C).
And let me tell you with no exaggeration, people – you better be there. And if you’re going out on Halloween, you best DVR that shizz. It’s looking good. We’re talking Appointment TV good. I can’t imagine there’s many Beat readers out there who haven’t read the comic – especially when well respected, taste-making comic book store proprietors from coast to coast, with as varied ouvres as Chris Rosa of LA’s Meltdown Comics to Gabe Fowler of Brooklyn’s Desert Island, are putting the new releases at the top of their own personal reading lists. But even if you haven’t dived into Kirkman’s magnum opus yet, it looks like the TV series will distinguish itself in a way that will attract new readers without alienating longtime fans of the comic.
I had the pleasure of chatting with the cast and creators of the show at NYCC. They all seemed to be gelling well and genuinely proud of the show (Mild Spoilers ahead if you have NOT read the first collected volume of The Walking Dead).
Look! Here’s Shane (Jon Bernthal), Rick (Andrew Lincoln) and Lori (Sarah Wayne Callies), looking awfully cozy for three points of a love triangle…
Callies, who plays Lori, said that viewers who’ve read the comic series will see a whole new dimension to the Rick/Shane/Lori relationship on the show, but she thinks comics fans will be happy with it. She sees all three characters as close and mentioned how AMC Walking Dead Executive Producer, Writer and Director, Frank Darabont, is a master of fleshing out compelling backstories. So look forward to seeing a different kind of character study than you see in the graphic novels (with all three actors confirming that we’ll be getting some childhood backstory flashback action with Shane and Rick).
That kind of talk plus the hunky piece of man candy that is Jon Bernthal pretty much equals a confirmation that Shane’s not going to die off as quickly as he does in the comic. This appears to be a newly imagined Shane we’re dealing with here, but Bernthal also hinted that Shane will remain hateable and lunkish. Callies added that viewers probably aren’t going to be too happy with her character in the first couple episodes either. She looked thoughtful when describing her character’s journey through the Zombie Apocalypse Wasteland as not always “successful but impassioned.” Lincoln, on the other hand, without revealing too much (these dudes are on plot lockdown of the highest order), admitted that his character isn’t interacting with Lori, Shane et al too much (if at all) in the premiere. But he did say that the level of detail on the set for Rick’s journey through Zombie Atlanta to find Lori and Carl was “marvelous.” And from the looks of the rivetting six and half minutes of the AMC footage screened at The Walking Dead panel later, I’d concur (Meredith Woerner recaps the footage here at io9.com.)
That footage introduced some new survivors up in this Zombiepocalypse bitch:
I spoke with Norman Redus (who plays new survivor Daryl Dixon) along with Laurie Holden (Andrea), and super cool Steve Yuen (Glenn). Steven Yuen is so cool he first read Walking Dead back in ’05! (I didn’t do that) And look how effortlessly he pulls off the nerd chic thing with the tie and glasses. (I can’t do that) Yuen is an example of the kind of inspired ensemble casting this show seems to be pulling off. In the small amount of footage screened, Yuen’s Glenn came off as totally faithful to Kirkman’s character but also left me with a whole new window onto what Glenn’s going through. (Speaking of great casting, Darabont later confirmed that the same casting directors in charge of AMC’s multiple Emmy Award winning show, Breaking Bad, also casted Walking Dead). Anyways, according to Redus, his Daryl Dixon is one half of a team of ex-cons who turns out to be a “kind criminal.” He said that Zombie Apocalypse Aftermaths have a way of “making good people do bad things and bad people do good things.” And he’s hot. So, basically I’m all for watching him do anything. Likewise with Laurie Holden who, while not my gender preference, is also hot and intent on playing Andrea like the badass she becomes in the comics. I asked her how she sees Walking Dead fitting in with other dark, character driven AMC offerings like Breaking Bad and Mad Men. She replied that AMC viewers are going to get more of what they expect and then some with The Walking Dead. It’s “gnarly” and “experimental” and she “can’t actually believe it’s on TV.”
Which brings us to Frank Darabont. His CV wouldn’t lead one to think he’d be working on television. But, then again, a lot of filmmakers who want to do something original and non-formulaic have moved their storytelling toTV. Here’s Darabont goofing around with the AMC Walking Dead merch:
Darabont, a three-time Oscar nominee, didn’t get into working on this particular television project “lightly.” And he seems informed about the demands of the medium as compared to movie-making. While he loved Lost, he took care to point out that he’s not going to be an “absentee landlord a la J.J. Abrams” when it comes to keeping the storytelling nailed down tight on an epic series like Walking Dead (currently on its 77th issue from Image Comics). That said, he, along with Co-Executive Producers, Robert Kirkman and Gale Ann Hurd, seemed less concerned with whether or not they’ll make it to a second season and more concerned with making sure the six episodes of the first season are wrapped up good and proper ( he’s actually still doing post production on the final episodes now). In fact, the entire cast and crew seemed genuinely committed to making sure the first season is a work of televised art. Executive Producer, Gale Ann Hurd (who also produced The Terminator), commented that working with AMC and the rest of the production was “a marriage of people with similar sensibilities.” Overall, she’s happiest about how “connected the ensemble cast is.”
Darabont and Kirkman also seemed very connected. Here’s a pic of the two of them getting their pensive, well-oiled creative machine looks on:
I know this is going to sound a bit fey but these guys were absolutely charming and vivacious in one another’s company. To say they’re working closely together is an understatement. Kirkman penned the 4th and 6th TV episodes and Darabont (like my boy, Steve Yuen) first started reading the comic back in 2005. He picked it up at Malibu comics shop, House of Secrets (the mention of which put a happy gleam in his eye). It should put fans of the comics series at ease to hear that Kirkman himself has a lot of faith in how the show is turning out. I asked him how his work with Image,the Skybound imprint and as a comics creator is informing his work on the show. The first thing out of his mouth was that he never sleeps! But he also finds that the mediums of television and comics “translate well together.”
Darabont’s most famous previous works are the Academy Award nominated films The Shawshank Redemption and The Green Mile. I asked if viewers could expect to see a similar triumph of the human spirit type of meme running through The Walking Dead. His response left me thinking we will. He found something “deep and facile” in The Walking Dead comics and found “inspirational, good high notes in certain moments.” And while he’s “gleefully embracing Robert’s bleak world,” he’s also hoping “to see redemption along the way.”
I for one can’t wait to see how the survivors of Kirkman’s Zombiepocalypse fare on the small screen – redemption or not. And I’ll be telling you what I think about it all as I recap the first season here at The Beat, starting November 1st. What do y’all think? Are you as psyched as I am? Or are you not believing the hype?