TV review: The Walking Dead

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Daryl Dixon, played by Norman Reedus, gets ready for some zombie action in The Walking Dead. Photo / Supplied
Daryl Dixon, played by Norman Reedus, gets ready for some zombie action in The Walking Dead. Photo / Supplied

If you ate some cake and decided it was good, would you care it was made from dog food? Would you be tempted to try another piece? Or more likely to throw up?

This is the conundrum I find myself in with The Walking Dead (Wednesdays, TV2, 10.30pm). The third season of the cult zombie show made quite an impression, despite my general distaste for zombies, its core ingredient.

Particularly the opening six minutes, which ratcheted up the life-or-death tension without any dialogue, and the final scene, for which no dialogue can explain the horror.

The show adheres to that all-too-familiar format: civilisation has collapsed due to a killer virus and the few healthy humans who haven't been infected must stick together to fight off the staggering freaks. The success of a zombie thriller relies on its ability to surprise within its predictable constraints.

To that end, The Walking Dead has fun. There are your typical zombies with the famously vacant eyes, knock-kneed gait and grey, barely-there skin. But there are also semi-rotten, skeletal schmucks who obviously haven't had a feed in a while and limbless, chinless ghouls chained together like a pair of unfortunate twins.

The coolest of the bunch, though, are the dead prison wardens. Naturally, for zombies wearing riot gear, they're not easy to kill.

Dispatching of this smorgasbord of decay is an innovative affair. If they don't fade into obscurity they're shot, impaled, beheaded and crushed - and either the good guys are desensitised or they don't mind the smell. Then again, it might not make for good TV if all the acting was overtaken by expressions of constant disgust.

The reason for the riot zombies? The crew broke into a prison, which in itself was a clever twist. Life is so fraught with danger, they're desperate to go to jail. Cue a visually striking scene where the group walked through a barbed wire tunnel protecting them from the feeding frenzy outside.

But is this game of hide-and-seek what you'd call edge-of-the-seat stuff? It might be if you didn't see the monsters coming, as in Jaws or The Blair Witch Project. Sure, the occasional few stagger out of the dark.

But zombies aren't scary for precisely the reason that you can see them in their entirety, not to mention that a few minutes before they flourished into the glorious beings they are, they were mowing the lawn or picking their noses at the traffic lights.

Judging by the earnestness of the characters in The Walking Dead - the heroic ex-cop Rick and his estranged wife Lori, the old man voice-of-reason Hershel, the tough chicks who stick the enemy through the brain - I'm not convinced that comedy is a zombie's sole purpose, either. Maybe you just have to be an action-head to truly appreciate the zombie, as escaping from them is mostly a physical affair.

That's not to say the show lacks emotional drama. Lori is heavily pregnant and besides worrying where she'll deliver and if her baby will have a killer scream, there's the small problem of whether her husband hates her. (However well the costume department did on those zombies, they forgot to spend time creating a baby bump that doesn't look like a box.) There's also the prospect of whether the group will be able to trust the group of convicts they've just discovered.

And, of course, there's the classic zombie issue of what to do when a friend gets bitten. Love 'em and leave 'em? Or grab the closest axe and chop off their infected limb before the extreme gangrene hits?

As Rick took to Hershel's leg like Gordon Ramsay to a chicken in that gruesome final scene, I felt so weak I wondered if I was becoming a zombie. Turns out I'd rather eat cake.

* What do you think of The Walking Dead? Post your comments below.

- NZ Herald

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