The Walking Dead is the zombie television show litmus test, but it’s Extra Super Serious and it doesn’t want you to ever forget:
Sy-Fy and Z Nation, on the other hand, would like you to put a little bit of kick-ass back into your apocalypse plans. Set three years after the start of the apocalypse, we already know more about their world than we’ve known about the insular Walking Dead in four seasons. The military is still functioning on some level, the president was a woman (may she rest in peace), and there’s no way in hell they’re getting stuck on a farm for an entirely wasted season!
SPOILERS FOR THE PILOT EPISODE “PUPPIES AND KITTENS”
Z Nation actually starts two years after the zombie apocalypse (A-Z is how they mark time), with a clearly doomed mission to get a doctor to safety. DJ Qualls relays the mission and the coordinates to two soldiers, one of which is Harold Perrineau, who are evacuating the doctor to safety. Hammond (Perrineau) allows her to test a potential cure on three prison inmates without their consent – he’s forced to give mercy to the first two and they have to leave the third to meet up with an extraction team. Qualls misses his plane out of his own base of operations, watching as it takes off and then immediately crashes back into the ground. Hammond’s conscience gets the best of him and he goes back to give mercy to the third guy and the opening credits roll.
Let me also take a moment to say I kind of love the opening credits. They’re a little wild west, a little rock and roll, and the song’s not bad. A year later, we’re in upstate New York, watching as a mercy ceremony of some kind (an eighth) happens – a woman shoots an older lady in the head while saying, “I give you mercy.” Two people, Warren and Garnett, meet up with Hammond and the third prisoner, Murphy. He survived! No one saw that coming right?
There’s a sly Walking Dead shout out where Hammond tells them an ex-cop in a prison told him about this camp and he ropes them into helping him to get to the rendezvous point with Murphy. While they’re gone, their camp is overrun with zombies and they pick up some other stragglers as they move towards the old high school meeting spot. Predictably, it was also overrun by people and then by zombies and they find very few survivors there – one of which is a baby and had me rolling my eyes so hard because great now they’ve got this dumb baby to take care of and that’s the worst way to win the apocalypse.
The group splits up to find vehicles and supplies to continue their ill-fated trip to California with Murphy, who surprise! Has the vaccine to the zombie apocalypse pumping through his veins and is humanity’s last hope. Garnett is left to defend his new-found baby and Murphy from an onslaught of zombies, which really just showcases how possibly crazy Garnett is – and then the baby turns! And hell yes, they went there with a zombaby! Warren and Garnett can’t give it mercy, so Hammond decides to do what needs to be done… and you know what happens? He’s eaten by the zombie baby and another surprise zombie! It’s hilarious and great and goodbye Harold Perrineau, we hardly knew ye.
Suddenly, Hammond’s mission becomes Garnett’s mission and we’re watching them roll out of town as Murphy pulls out one of his teeth. Uh-oh. It’s a hilarious pilot that has a lot of campy potential, but what else did you expect from The Asylum? What I really love is the way they’re not shying away from the z-word, these are zombies – now bring me the people who were waiting for the apocalypse to happen from the beginning and know what they’re doing. Plus, these zombies are fast and intelligent – from knocking on doors to using tools and I can’t wait to see how they continue to evolve throughout the series. Clearly, it’s not a cinematic masterpiece, but it’s a fun enough time to keep me coming back for more.