By turns macabre, suspenseful, poignant and horribly funny, "The Walking Dead" is TV in a class by itself. So maybe it's no wonder that this AMC drama was an instant hit with its premiere Halloween night, drawing more than 5.3 million viewers, followed the next week by an audience nearly as large.
(The six-episode series, already given a green light for a second season, continues to air Sundays at 9 p.m., Channel 55.)
Based on the popular comic book of the same name, "The Walking Dead" depicts the aftermath of a zombie apocalypse confronted by a tattered group of survivors just outside Atlanta. Principal among them is Rick (played by series star Andrew Lincoln), who, in the series premiere, woke alone in a hospital from a gunshot-wound-induced coma to find the world flipped upside down. His wife and young son were among the missing. He fears they have died.
Now Rick and a band of other humans who survived the invasion must defend themselves against these so-called walkers, creatures always hungry for something — like a human — to feed on.
Happily, "The Walking Dead" not only defies horror-movie cliches, but also charts its own course in dramatizing a hideous plague and a shattered society.
As one counterintuitive twist, this series must be one of the quietest TV shows on record. Long, meditative stretches target characters trying to make sense of what's befallen them in such a soundless fashion you may think your TV is on the fritz.
Even the zombies, unless provoked, don't make much racket — mostly plaintive hisses and whimperings that can make you ache for them as much as recoil.
"I'm sorry this happened to you," Rick said to one of them, a wretch whose lower half was gone, as she dragged her ruined torso across the ground with gnarled arms. Rick's single shot put her out of her misery. But there are always more.
The series is beautifully styled and photographed, whether in the ravaged bleakness of downtown Atlanta, which has fallen to the zombies, or the piney-woods retreat, where, on high alert for a zombie attack, a number of survivors are hiding out.
"I feel like I've been ripped out of my life and put somewhere else," says Rick on Sunday's new episode, whimsically titled "Tell It to the Frogs."
A bit less graphic than the two that preceded it, that episode catches up with Rick as he successfully flees Atlanta.
But then he decides he's got unfinished business there. He dropped a bag of guns in the street as he fled. He needs to go back and retrieve them.
Besides Andrew Lincoln, the cast of "The Walking Dead" includes Jon Bernthal, Sarah Wayne Callies, Laurie Holden, Jeffrey DeMunn, Emma Bell, Chandler Riggs, and Steven Yeun ("The Big Bang Theory") as Glenn.
It takes its place as AMC's fourth original drama series, joining established hits "Mad Men" and "Breaking Bad," as well as "Rubicon," which recently concluded its first season.