Skip to main content
Part of complete coverage on

Can 'The Walking Dead' scare up viewers?

By Henry Hanks, CNN
Click to play
'The Walking Dead' invade TV
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • New AMC series "The Walking Dead" has a passionate fan base
  • Epic zombie story is based on a series of popular comic books
  • Fans who have had sneak peeks are cautiously optimistic
  • Violence, gore could make it a tough sell to mass audiences

(CNN) -- Paul Ivy will never forget his first time seeing "Night of the Living Dead."

"I was 12 years old and it was beyond cool to see zombies attacking those hapless people, smashing in windows and feasting on human flesh," iReporter Ivy remembered. "No way would my real parents let me watch that sort of thing, but it was fine with my cool comic-shop-owning hippie other parents [those parents being Jay and Helen Knowles, parents of Ain't It Cool News founder Harry Knowles]."

Ever since that day in 1976, zombie movies were one of the Olympia, Washington resident's favorite genres. Like many fans, he holds the original "Dawn of the Dead" in high regard: "Except for one silly scene involving bikers throwing pies at zombies, the whole movie has great dramatic tension and a genuine feeling of horror," he said.

Ivy isn't alone. Zombies have undergone a renaissance in recent years, starting with the remake of "Dawn" in 2004, and last year's surprise hit horror-comedy "Zombieland." Not only that, but "zombie walks" have cropped up all over the world lately, and they're not just confined to events like San Diego Comic-Con in California.

With vampires being all the rage -- with the "Twilight" movie series and also TV's "True Blood" and "Vampire Diaries" -- it seemed only natural that zombies would be next to get their own TV series. AMC, the home of Emmy darlings "Mad Men" and "Breaking Bad," has decided to adapt the comic book series "The Walking Dead," set to premiere Sunday, October 31, at 10 p.m. ET.

Ask anyone who has read the series, about a comatose Southern police officer who wakes up in the midst of a zombie apocalypse, and almost all of them will rave about it. Thus, the expectations for the series are very high.

AMC had an eye-catching display (a gruesome re-creation of a scene from the first episode) as part of their massive presence at Comic-Con. They also put on a zombie walk, which was expanded worldwide on Tuesday.

And, of course, the show has reached out to fans on social media, giving them oodles of information on the show before its debut.

So what is it that makes fans so excited about this particular take on zombies?

"I enjoy the mix of characters, with many different ages and races represented," Ivy said. "They are a cross-section of people with varying skills, not a bunch of soldiers. They must come to grips with their new world and fight to survive in it."

"I think people love the source material because no character is sacred, no character is safe, and anyone -- even the most beloved and innocent people in the comic -- could be killed at any moment," said Blair Butler, comic book expert for G4's "Attack of the Show" -- and one of many fans of the book's creator, Robert Kirkman. "I hope the show manages to capture that sense of ever-present danger."

"We're all big fans of the comics and have been reading them from the beginning," said Kyle Puttkammer of the Atlanta, Georgia, area "Galactic Quest" comic book stores. "'Walking Dead' and Kirkman's other series, 'Invincible,' sells very well in both our stores because we recommend it often." One of his employees even tried out to play a zombie on the show, which shoots on location in Atlanta.

Robert Soto of Dallas, Texas, said the series got him back into reading comics after hearing so much about it: "It did not disappoint. It was more than just zombies. The stories were about people. They have complex relationships and as a reader you really identify with them, which makes it difficult when those characters die."

Butler agrees that the humanity of the characters are what sets it apart. According to the books, "human beings pushed to the limit -- people who have been reduced to their basest instincts to survive -- are far more terrifying than any zombie," she said.

Those who have had a chance to see the show early are cautiously optimistic. "The first episode should make any fan giddy," said iReporter Keith McDuffee of Cliqueclack.com. "That's not to say that it's a shot-for-page remake of the first part of the series, but there's no doubt it's respectably faithful. In fact, I'd say the changes made in the first episode are for the better."

Praising the show's emphasis on humanity, not to mention its realistic makeup effects, Screenrant.com's Kofi Outlaw said it was "that rare adaptation which enhances everything that is great about its literary source material."

So, the question remains: Will those who aren't as familiar with the comic book or who aren't already fans of the zombie genre tune in? One thing "The Walking Dead" most certainly is (as one might imagine), is extremely gory and violent. That would probably be tough for mass audiences, although it wasn't much of a problem for "The Sopranos."

Whether the show will garner the same popularity or critical praise as "Mad Men" or "True Blood" remains to be seen. Either way, members of its devoted fan base already have their plans made for Halloween night.

 
Quick Job Search