Everything dies. Except when they don’t stay that way. Starting off in a suburban set piece that could operate as a proper clone of the Dawn of the Dead 2004 remake, The Walking Dead companion web series Torn Apart (exclusively on Machinima) opens on a mother waking up in her car after hitting a tree, with her children who were in the backseat missing.
Much of what made The Walking Dead such a visual masterpiece in a medium not known for it remains here. The art design leaves behind the haunting images of life and civilization that only hours ago had been operating as normal. The zombies themselves show no difference from that of the TV series – which is to say, quite frightening and gross. It shouldn’t be a surprise, as the director and one of the story writers Greg Nicotero is the key special effects makeup supervisor for the series.
The series here gets the apocalypse part of The Walking Dead equation down, and that’s more than enough to hold us over between now and its second season premiere in a couple of weeks. Where it misses – and not without an honest try – is the human interaction, which is largely a casualty of both the short running times of each video, and the curious decision to flashback to what is probably hours before the first episode for eps 3 and 4. It’s a pity, because the monologue in Episode 4 is fantastic, but otherwise holds no significance to the show as a whole.
It’s a fine line to walk with the world that The Walking Dead has crafted, with a thesis statement in the midst of despair that one’s humanity and life itself is the only currency worth retaining. To do that and maintain the horror and suspense inherently necessary in the zombie genre, even for comedic turns (see: Shaun Of The Dead), is a difficult feat made infinitely more precarious with what seems to be an arbitrarily short running time.
Torn Apart aims for it all and gets really close, but seems to have missed the memo that web series episodes tend to run a little longer these days, and it feels structured by producers who used shows and companion pieces of 2008 as their template. Whether that decision came from the studio, the network, the director or some “new media guru” that insisted this was the way, we’ll never know, but with these short running times, we do know that any suspenseful element we’re given will be resolved within a minute if not immediately.
That said, it’s by no means a waste of your time. It’s enjoyable (at least, in the way we enjoy zombie shows), well-designed, with a number of great moments and a solid finale – albeit there was a character decision that made very little sense there. It’s hard to top Lennie James’ performance in the pilot episode of the TV series – which, to this day, I call the best guest star appearance of recent memory (at least, unless he shows up again to join the cast, which would be nice) – but Torn Apart tried its damndest to evoke not just the terror and violence, but the grief afterwards. With even just a couple of minutes to let characters process it, we might’ve gotten there.
Overall, watch it. My issues with it stem with what it’s trying to be, and not what it is – a solid companion piece in the run-up to the premiere that gets the show’s more broader sense of style down perfectly. The rest is just nitpicking. We want the dark, shambling, brutal zombies. We got it. Let’s feast.