Unless you’ve been in a coma recently (rimshot), you’re likely aware that the first episode of AMC’s highly anticipated TV show, “The Walking Dead” leaked online earlier this week. The drama, based upon Robert Kirkman’s wildly popular comics about a small band of humans’ survival tactics against a nationwide zombie epidemic, was scheduled to debut this Sunday on Halloween. However, at this point, half the interwebz already has downloaded it. Us, included.

(Haven’t read the comic yet? Read our take on why you should!)

I had been waiting with antici…pation for the television version of “The Walking Dead” since AMC announced in January that it would take on the pilot. The rumors, the pilot’s trailer, friends’ frenzied re-reads of the comics all raised my hopes that this would be the show that would finally do comics some true justice, that would replace the water cooler talk “Lost” had previously filled, that would fill the empty “Can tv sci-fi work without Joss Whedon?” hole in my heart, and that would show us what might happen to the human spirit during an actual zombie apocolypse. I needn’t have worried.

*** Spoiler alert! ***

The first episode of the TV show revolves around the first 38 pages of the hardcover trade. Officer Rick Grimes is shot in the line of duty and taken to the hospital, where he lays in a coma. After waking and finding the hospital deserted by humans, he realizes that something is not quite right in his town. After rushing home and realizing that his wife and young son were nowhere to be found, he heads out and runs into a father and son, who explain that undead creatues had taken over the area many weeks ago, towns were evacuated and they, themselves, were doing all they could to survive. The government had recommended that everyone head toward the larger cities for protection. Because Rick’s in-laws live in Atlanta, he decides to head there, believing Lori and Carl to be safe. Taking a police car and then a horse, he journeys to Atlanta, only to find the city deserted and infested with zombies.

I was surprised by just how cinematic the AMC episode was. With gritty filters, tight shots and zombies that looked scientifically real instead of comical, the first episode of “The Walking Dead” felt worthy of the big screen. The pacing for the 90-minute debut rarely lagged, and it was obvious that executive producer and writer Frank Darabont heavily relied upon and had a love for Kirkman’s comics.

Not a lot changed from the comics to the screen. The episode began with a longer setup about Rick and his shifty partner Shane before they encountered the gunmen who would lead Rick to his coma. They established Rick and Shane as true confidants a bit more than in the comics, and it was easy to tell that Shane wasn’t the stand-up guy his uniform might lead you to believe.

We get a bit more action when Rick meets Morgan Jones and his son Duane. In the comics, the duo basically set Rick up for his journey to Atlanta, get some guns from the police station with him, and they go their separate ways. That still happens in the TV show, but viewers get more meat. Morgan is way more skeptical about Rick, very suspicious that he doesn’t know anything about the undead because of the coma. He shares with Rick his concerns about Duane’s future and how his mother — Morgan’s wife — still haunts them by visiting their safehouse as an unthinking zombie.

When Rick finally makes it to Atlanta on his horse, the scene is quiet and somber. The TV show makes it clear that even the big cities are desolate and nowhere is safe. Scenes of the horse’s graphic demise are included here, just like in the comics, and Rick panics and finds himself in an abandoned Army tank. That’s not in Kirkman’s source material, but it showed Rick’s terror, isolation and occasional bad decision making pretty well. And while in that tank, Rick hears a voice. Could it be Grant? We’ll find out in episode two.

AMC’s “The Walking Dead” really impressed me with how good TV actually can be when shows have a strong plot, pacing, actors and scientific consultants. Any comics fan will be blown away during the premiere, but even those who haven’t read the source material will come away feeling like they witnessed something pretty damn special.

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