I had no idea what to expect when I sat down to watch Z Nation Season 1 Episode 1.
Perhaps that's why I totally enjoyed it: Zero expectations. Plus, I decided to give it a shot without comparing it to that other popular zombie show.
That's right, I really frakkin' enjoyed the Z Nation pilot. It's not as grim and hopeless as The Walking Dead. There are no drawn out conversations about the meaning of life. It's just non-stop zombie killing action with an interesting plot.
Now don't get me wrong, I've been a fan of Rick, Carl, Glenn, Maggie, Daryl and especially Michonne since The Walking Dead premiered in 2010. It's just that in the years since, the writers seem trapped by the show's own gravitas. It's a zombie apocalypse guys, why so serious?
If you've been following my reviews of The Strain Season 1, the humor introduced here and there seriously helps balance that show out. If a series is all gloom and doom audiences will eventually tune out.
News footage and stylish editing cues us in to the fact mankind is on the verge of extinction. The president is dead, the government has collapsed and there's no cure in sight. Well, actually there might be.
We're quickly introduced to Lt. Mark Hammond, played by genre fave Harold Perrineau. Hammond is being chased down by a bunch of zombies. That's right, these guys haul ass... none of that awkward hobbling around. They're fast which makes them more of a threat than your average "walker."
Hammond is given new orders to transport a CDC doctor and any surviving patients to a lab in California.
We learn the good doctor is testing an experimental vaccine on several non-volunteers. Hey it's the end of the world, there's no time for medical ethics. Ha!
After being injected, two guys die and zombie-out. Hammond "releases" them with a shot to the head. The final dude, Murphy, is injected and lives... What?!? Yep, even after being attacked and bitten by a bunch of zombies.
Hammond understands Murphy might just be the key to a potential cure. He's going to do everything he can to get this guy to California.
Meanwhile, the young soldier that gave Hammond his orders becomes the sole survivor at his listening post in the Arctic. Let's be honest, that plane crashing and killing everyone aboard was awfully convenient wasn't it? He takes on the persona of Citizen Z, a post-apocalyptic DJ of sorts. Z knows about Hammond and "the package," so I can only imagine he'll play a more important role than just comic relief.
One year goes by and we're introduced to a dying old lady. Well, 63 is considered old for these survivors. I found it interesting that she was "released" before dying. This means Z Nation plays by the same rules as Walking Dead. Everyone's infected and upon dying they come back to eat our brains. Interesting right?
Hammond and Murphy come across this new group, which consists of Charles Garnett and Roberta Warren (Ex-National Guard), Mack Thompson (the jock), Addy Carver (the sensitive one) and Doc (a self-taught ex-addict).
When asked how Hammond heard about their camp, his answer was pretty cool. "An ex-cop and some others taking shelter at a prison 20 clicks up the road." Wait a sec, that sounds awfully familiar no? Is this simply a nod to The Walking Dead or does Z Nation actually exist in the same world? Has Syfy created a spinoff before AMC's official Walking Dead spinoff? Either way, it's clear the two series are not meant to compete, but rather to complement one another.
The group reluctantly agrees to take Hammond and Murphy to his rendezvous point (a high school). It seemed fairly obvious there would be no survivors there and our heroes would be forced to stick together.
Mack and Addy's introduction was fun. Those crazy kids sure do know their way around zombie weapons, right? They easily take out several zombie brothers and Addy documents the day/time they were released.
Garnett's camp is eventually overrun by zombies. Did those Z's float to the shore before reanimating? Or are they smart enough to wait for their prey to come to them? Either way, Camp Blue Sky is no more which leaves us with our core group of characters.
In order to convince Garnett and Roberta that his mission is real, Hammond forces Murphy to expose his bitten torso. Nasty stuff, eh?
You're looking at the only human to survive being bitten by a zombie.Hammond
The zombie action doesn't let up! A school bus carrying the camp's newly infected kids unloads and they chase down Mack, Addy and Doc. Good thing Garnett wasn't far and pulls up to rescue the trio.
Our group soon arrives at the high school, but the place is in ruins. When asked the last time he made contact with these soldiers, Hammond says a month. I loved Roberta's line "A month ago? That's like 2 years apocalypse time." She makes a good second in command, I like her.
Hammond starts dishing out orders to search for survivors and supplies.
Garnett and Roberta hear a baby crying. We learn from the woman locked in a cage, Cassandra, that the high school fell about a week ago. Is that how long the poor baby had gone without eating?
I was wondering why the episode had such an odd title until Roberta says "Puppies and Kittens 20 yards away." It's code for zombies. OK, got it.
The final character we meet is 10K, a mysterious sharp shooter that saves Doc's life when a "Z" attacks. On this show "Z" is short for zombie. Nice effect, the hole in that zombie's head right?
Still more zombie's attack. I'm telling you the zombie action is relentless and Garnett takes them out expertly. For a kind soul, he sure is badass.
Syfy's promos spoiled what came next. The baby goes quiet, and we realize he's a goner. I'm assuming he died of starvation and quickly turned. How creepy was that Z-baby? Eeeek! Now this is something we've never seen in four season's of The Walking Dead. Zombie-baby FTW!
The little monster gets his meal when he makes Hammond the main course. I'll be honest, I thought Harold Perrineau would be sticking around. Pretty ballsy and unpredictable to hire a guy like that and kill him off in the pilot.
Zombie-baby munchin' on Hammond is an image I'll carry with me even while I'm watching The Walking Dead Season 5 next month. Excellent job writers, you've got my attention!
Needless to say, with Hammond history and after Citizen Z confirms his story the group takes up the mission.
Citizen Z: I need to speak to Lt. Hammond.
Addy: Hammond's dead.
Garnett understands the importance of getting Murphy to that lab in California. However, the last image we see is Murphy's tooth falling out. Is our survivor really cured or simply rotting away at a slower pace? Interesting twist.
What did you think of Z Nation? Can it coexist alongside The Walking Dead? I say hellz yeah, why not? Haven't been this hooked by a zombie apocalypse since The Walking Dead Season 1. You're up guys, hit the comments with your thoughts and observations. Check back with me next week for another review-cap!
Do you think Murphy is truly cured?
In case you missed a character's name, flip though the gallery below and get reacquainted with Z Nation's cast.