Frank Darabont has built his reputation on strong story telling and compelling characters. In 2007, Darabont put his stamp on the horror genre with the TERRIBLE film adaption of Stephen King's novella, The Mist. (Seriously, if you liked that movie, please email me an explanation why). The Mist was not short on interesting characters and relationships. Combined with an ever expanding question of "how are they going to get out of this?", we had a reason to care (good or bad) for the characters in The Mist. Darabont proved there is more to a monster movie than the monsters themselves. Unfortunately, he also proved that people are idiots when faced with uncertain circumstances.
Zombie movies of late have grown increasingly devoid of compelling characters. Story lines often sell themselves short by sticking with the basic "we are safe here for now" premise introduced to viewers with the original Night of the Living Dead.
Take George A Romero's recent Survival of the Dead. There was plenty of human interaction and personal conflict but it was equally shared by characters we never cared about. More importantly, they were never placed into situations that gave the viewers a reason to ask, "what will happen next?". Tugging on the heart strings of indifference will only win a narrow few fans.
If the season premiere of The Walking Dead succeeds at any one goal, it is capturing the viewer's interest by giving us characters we actually care about. The characters in the series, just like the comic book, are not super heroes. They are relatable on multiple levels. Rick Grimes, the hero of The Walking Dead, is doing what most any other father and husband would do - try to find his family. With that foundation, Darabont skillfully mixes horror with the personal fear, desperation and grief that are entirely believable.
The Walking Dead does not try to break any new ground in the zombie or horror genre. The themes of the season opener are not particularly unique. But this time it works. We actually care what happens to Rick. We are curious and fearful for what may come. And that is a near herculean achievement in this day and age.
What We Want to See Next
More flies. How have zombie movies missed this for so long?