I like Rick Grimes. Really, I do. He's done some horrible...ok, downright deplorable... things - and on top of that he hears voices (his dead wife) and he apparently never sleeps - but there is still a core heroism about the man that drives the narrative of Robert Kirkman's ongoing comic The Walking Dead.
If you haven't heard of the The Walking Dead, you probably haven't turned on a television in a while, as Kirkman's serial has now been successfully adapted into a television series by writer/director Frank Darabont (of Shawshank Redemption and Green Mile fame) on the AMC network. The comic has been published for over five years, though, so there's a wealth of story to catch up on...and, anyway, the TV series is a distinctly separate entity. Some of the plot points intersect between the two, but it's clear they will also part ways fairly often. I suggest reading the comic first, then watching the subtle changes unfold in the AMC series.
With the proliferation of vampire and zombie novels and comics out there, it's easy to dismiss The Walking Dead as just another zombie cash-in. This could not be further from the truth. Sure, there are zombies a-plenty throughout the series (the beginning of which will remind you of Danny Boyle's 28 Days Later), but it's the human characters who are the heart and soul of this comic. Following them, watching their lives devolve, watching them try to hang on to the last shred of human morality, is riveting stuff. This is no mere horror comic. It is a full-fledged serious (perhaps even domestic) drama played out within the confines of the zombie apocalypse. These are real, fully-developed characters and Kirkman has a no-holds-barred approach to their fates. Indeed, it's his willingness to allow characters a life (and death) of their own that continues to raise tension among readers. The longer a character survives, the more a chance he/she has of dying. There's no way to predict where this story is going to go.
Which brings me back to Rick Grimes, who, for all intents and purposes, is the protagonist of the series, even if the term "hero" seems far-fetched at this point, given his behavior and, often, his actions. Roger Ebert once wrote that the reason Schwarzenegger was an effective, appealing action movie star was because he didn't seem to be enjoying the violent acts he visited upon people. He was a man pushed into circumstances beyond his control and forced to do the unthinkable, but always with the jaw-jutting motivation of a man trying to do right in a world gone wrong. So it is with Rick Grimes.
Do yourself a favor and track down a copy of the HUGE Walking Dead Compendium. It won't get you completely caught up, but it will take you a long way there - and you may just find that you read this massive tome in one sitting. It's that damned good.
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