Set-in-Atlanta “The Walking Dead” scares up zombie horror, familiar locales in pilot

When the obligatory “This program contains violent content which may be too intense for some viewers” advisory popped up on AMC’s screen Sunday night, folks tuning in knew they weren’t about to spend some quality time snarfing scotch and exchanging withering one-liners with “Mad Men” ad man Roger Sterling.
The network originally dubbed American Movie Classics is best known today for the triple Emmy-winning 1960s-set drama. Or ad nauseum airings of the “classic” 1991 Keanu Reeves/Patrick Swayze  surfer bank robbery drama “Point Break.”
But on Sunday night, “Shawshank Redemption” director Frank Darabont set out to stretch the AMC brand a bit further with a 90-minute pilot for “The Walking Dead,” an ultra explicit zombie drama. As Atlantans know, the six-episode apocalyptic series was shot in our fair city earlier this year.
The show literally opens with a bang when small town sheriff Rick Grimes (played by Andrew Lincoln) separates a staggering hollow-eyed elementary schooler from her stuffed animal and her brain matter with an efficient shot to the skull.
Get used to it, people. The brat was looking to turn the cop into her own little doughnut shop of horrors.
In a flashback, Grimes and his partner Shane (Jon Bernthal) enjoy what appears to be a double-fisted meal from Zesto’s on the last day of normal, discussing the women in their lives and their tendency to leave the lights turned on. A real “Gee, aren’t our lives blissfully mundane? I hope our existence isn’t soon overrun by zombie cannibals” kinda moment.
Well, except for Grimes, who admits to some marital difficulties with wife Lori (Sarah Wayne Callies). The mud puddle-deep sociologicial journey into male to male communication is blessedly soon silenced by a police shootout that leaves Grimes wounded.
But when he awakens in the hospital, (possibly filmed at the old Gwinnett Medical Center), the facility is deserted and someone has thoughtfully spray painted  a note on the sealed door: “DON’T OPEN DEAD INSIDE.” To further illustrate the point, various clutching arms are attempting to unbolt the door from the outside.
Rick makes his way from the hospital to a picturesque Grant Park neighborhood where he immediately encounters a hissing skeleton of a woman crawling on a front lawn, her entrails dragging behind her like a refugee from the Little Five Points Halloween Parade.
His wife and son Carl are gone and Rick meets up with another father and son who are about to waste him until they realize he can talk and is not  “a walker.”
Rick then gets a crash course in Remedial Zombie 101 (noise attracts them and only whacking their brains kills them).
After a quick shower, change of clothes and a visit to the firearms department of the fictitious King County Sheriff’s Department, Rick heads for the city of Atlanta. On horseback. WTF.
What he doesn’t know is that his wife and kid are safe with his partner Shane who are camping out with other survivors outside the city. Or that Shane and Lori are apparently doing the horizontal mambo between zombie stompings.
Rick makes his way into downtown past the Richard Russell Federal Building, past Luckie and Walton Streets and into an alley adjacent to Marietta Street.
Where a few hundred zombies are waiting to eat Rick’s brains.
Fun random fact: On the other side of this alley, across the street from the now-abandoned Atlanta Journal-Constitution building is Michael’s Cafe II, a popular lunchtime haunt for downtown cubicle dwellers. If you time your weekday visit to Michael’s during lunch rush just right and order the joint’s signature special of boneless pieces of deep-fried chicken, fries and cole slaw, the counter person will invariably shout to the line cook: “FIIIIIIINGER BASKET!”
The zombies outside are munching more than fingers, however. Rick manages to escape but his horse isn’t so lucky, becoming an instant Alpo factory for the zombies.
Rick scurries into a nearby tank as the still-hungry undead surround him on all sides. As he contemplates ending it all by eating a gun (let’s face it, the chances of scoring a tasty Michael’s Cafe finger basket is nada at this point. . .), Rick hears the tank’s radio crackle to life.
“Hey you,” a voice on the radio says, seemingly to  the perplexed police officer. “Dumb ass. Yeah you, in the tank. Cozy in there?”
And with a final impressive aerial shot of a zombie-filled downtown, thus ends the first episode of “The Walking Dead.”
What did you think of the debut episode? More importantly, were you one of the extras playing dead in the episode?
Share your thoughts below. We’ll be recapping the Atlanta-centric series each Monday morning here on the ATL Intel blog through the season one finale this December.