There are few comics series I enjoy as much as Robert Kirkman's The Walking Dead, a sparsely written and gutsy tale of life after the zombies take over. What I love about The Walking Dead is its close-up focus on its characters, the way that it turns the trappings of a zombie movie into the stuff of domestic drama. Kirkman is unflinching with plot twists and things like character deaths, and while that can sometimes feel cheap, he's also good at giving these moments the weight they need. If someone dies in The Walking Dead, or if someone is injured, those events matter. They continue to reverberate the longer the series goes on, and there's a real sense of loss you only get in the best apocalyptic fiction. Also, there's lots and lots of zombie killing.
So, naturally, this is a perfect fit for AMC, home of Mad Men and Breaking Bad. And, obviously, what I've seen at this point is a trailer (though a well-cut one, as all AMC trailers are). And what I've heard at this point is what Frank Darabont, the writer-director tasked with bringing the series to the small screen, has told me and told other interviewers like Alan Sepinwall (my interview will run closer to the series' October debut). But based on those things and based on today's panel, I'm surprisingly confident that the series is going to fit within the network's brand.
The look of the thing almost seems like Breaking Bad with zombies, and that's a very good thing indeed. Darabont and his crew are shooting on Super-16 film, which gives the footage shown the feel of a kind of faded epic. There's a shot of series star Andrew Lincoln (playing Rick Grimes) riding alone on a horse into the ruins of Atlanta that is ripping off a million other shots but somehow making it feel fresh at the same time. Obviously, there are concerns about how well a television series is going to be able to handle zombie gore (concerns the panelists tried to assuage by saying what we saw - which already had plenty of cool effects - had to be cut back to meet Comic-Con's "family" specifications). And, of course, there are concerns that basing a series on a well-known comic will rob the series of any sense of surprise (concerns the panelists tried to assuage by saying they would head in the same general direction as Kirkman but make their own side-trips along the way). (The trailer gets mega bonus points for using the song "The Sun Ain't Gonna Shine Anymore.")
AMC brought most of the show's creative personnel and a fair number of the cast members to discuss the direction the series is going to go. Again, a large panel can be problematic at Comic-Con, but the Walking Dead program figured out a way around this by splitting the panel into two halves and using the trailer as a gap between the two. The first half focused on the creatives, allowing them to talk about how they came to the series, the decision to film on Super-16, and any number of other issues. This also gave Darabont the chance to announce that fan favorite TV composer Bear McCreary, who wrote the tremendous score for Battlestar Galactica, will be scoring the show. McCreary was in attendance and came up on stage at the end to answer a fan question about whether the score would solely consist of "scary noises." (McCreary said it wouldn't.)
The series films in Atlanta - a point that led to the panel's one moment of discord, as a Los Angeles-based crew member wondered why the show wasn't filming there (and went on about it, even after Darabont shared his sympathies) - and actress Laurie Holden claimed the temperature atop a roof while filming one day was 152 degrees. This seems unlikely, but she was so insistent, and the cast was so animated about how hot Georgia is (and how nice it was to bask in the cool San Diego ocean) that I'll give them the benefit of the doubt. The cast members also seemed to genuinely enjoy hanging out together, with Lincoln and Jon Bernthal (who plays Shane) telling stories about getting lost in Atlanta and hanging out. Now, granted, acting like they like each other is what actors get paid to do at things like this, but all seemed impressed both by the project and by the footage shown (which was the first any of them had seen of the finished product).
Much of what was said at the panel has already been out there in regards to the show for a while now (and, indeed, almost all of the things covered in the Sepinwall interview were covered in the panel as well). The real proof is going to be in seeing whether Darabont and company can pull off a unique blend of the deliberative pacing of an AMC series and the mounting dark intensity of the comics. if they can, they'll have something very unlike anything else on television at the moment. The trailer screened suggests they've gotten the look right. The cast camaraderie on stage suggested the actors just might be right for the parts (and the little bit seen of Lennie James as Morgan in the trailer suggested he might steal the show). But now comes the hard part, which is making sure this captures the spirit of the comics without being a slavish adaptation and, indeed, running toward what makes TV work. If they can find that middle ground, they'll be good. But sticking the landing will be tough.
Brief thoughts on Hawaii 5-0: I've seen the Hawaii 5-0 pilot, which is very, very fun, but I didn't feel a particular need to get into the panel (though I figured I'd try, since it was before Walking Dead, and why not?). I managed to make it in for the end of things, and outside of a fan asking Grace Park whether she would be in a bikini most of the time (a creepy question she deflected so easily that I suspect, sadly, she gets asked it a lot), the thing was a lot of fun. Daniel Dae Kim and Park were the only cast members involved, but both were in high spirits and very funny. Hawaii 5-0 is just breezy fun, but the panel suggests everyone involved knows that.