Walking Dead opens with a little girl walking through the streets alone and infected by an as-of-yet unknown undead-creating virus. Rick (Andrew Lincoln) shoots her in the head with a tear in his eye, and this is all before any character names are spoken or any sense of this zombie invasion has been instilled in the show’s mythology.
The first episode is brilliant television. While it doesn’t reinvent anything, it establishes a chronic fear, something the modern Hollywood zombie thrillers has forgotten. Walking Dead’s stars may move slow, but they show signs of thought. A wife returns to her home, peeking in the keyhole, the death in her eyes a moment this series may never top.
The hope would be that the show doesn’t run too long. There’s a distinct chance it will crumble under its own weight and familiarity, signs that are there in this first season. We follow a band of politically correct, racially diverse survivors through this apocalypse, each carrying some level of inner turmoil or animosity, as they move from one location to the next.
Rick leads the crew back into the streets of Atlanta twice for desperation rescues and supplies. They begin traveling, meeting people who might have answers or have simply formulated their own plans for survival. The bickering back-and-forth about what to do next is not as engaging as the spats about food, killing their own when they turn, a divide between the sexes, and general means of staying alive.
Despite its faults, Walking Dead is still captivating, the final episode leading the crew to a CDC hot spot all but abandoned. We learn what the virus/bacterial/fungal infection does to someone, providing a decrease to the growing questions while leaving an appropriate stopping point for the first season. If this series can find enough fresh life (ironic, no?), Walking Dead could be destined for classic status.
Anchor Bay takes over the reigns of the Blu-ray release and issues dependable AVC encodes for the six episodes. The series opener begins on shaky ground, obvious edge enhancement applied and visible around the parked cars. This leads to an elevated grain structure, the sharpening only sporadically visible elsewhere as the series trudges on.
That’s a problem because Walking Dead was shot on 16mm, and carries a distinct level of grain. That’s fine, but when artificially elevated, the encode has to work harder, and it typically doesn’t. The worst of it comes during episode four, the opening here riddled with ghosting as the compression fails to keep pace with the motion in the close-ups. The source carries a few specks of damage here and there as well, so minor most will blink (literally) and miss it.
These are isolated instances though, the grain structure so fine at times it could pass for 35mm, and there are a few jarring, muddy digital shots scattered around. What matters is the overall package, and Walking Dead is a hi-def pleaser. Close-ups are refined, clear, and well rendered. Their detail is firm and the high-fidelity detail is not lost. Shots of the forest do not carry the same precision (it’s asking a lot of the encode), yet still manage to squeeze out some identifiable features.
Color is more saturated than expected, shows/movies depicting the apocalypse generally desaturated. Greens of the forest camp rich and bold while the staggering amount of blood is a bright, disgusting red. Dimensionality is not compromised at all thanks to the deep, powerful black levels. Given that most locations lack power, the series can be drenched in darkness, everything held together without fault.
TrueHD is the audio codec of choice, presenting the material with quite a bit of oomph. There are numerous high-power moments, the season ending with the proverbial bang as a building goes down in flames. The initial burst is delivered with excellent, clear subwoofer accompaniment, and when the camera turns its back to the destruction, the rest comes from the rears.
In terms of just low-end use though, nothing beats the first episode as Rick fires a gun inside a tank, the ringing in his ears generating a substantial, deafening 30 or so seconds of pure low-end bliss. The season won’t match this moment, even if the gunfire remains beefy and punchy in regards to the sub.
Positional audio is always appreciated, any major zombie attacks accompanied by widely split stereos and undead innards splattering around the available channels. Effects such as rain and thunder, particularly on the roof of the mall in the second episode, becomes an unmistakable presence. Ambiance in the forest is notable, and echoes inside the empty interiors of the buildings natural. Dialogue is clean and resolved flawlessly amidst it all.
All extras reside on the second disc, beginning with a half-hour making-of that is detailed enough to overcome its promotional purposes. Inside the Walking Dead is a six-part look that goes inside each episode so a bit over five minutes each. A Sneak Peek with Robert Kirkman is a promo piece with one of the writers.
Those looking to get into basic make-up are given a tutorial on how to transform friends into a walker in a seven minute tutorial. Comic Con hosted a panel to promote the show, the likes of which are edited here down to about 12-minutes. A final section contains additional footage, stuff like training actors to be zombies or general stuff from around the set.
Full disclosure: This Blu-ray was provided to us for review. This has not affected the editorial process. For more information on how we handle review material, please visit our about us page to learn more.