By Paula Hendrickson
You don’t have to wait for Halloween to get your fix of ghosts and zombies. AMC’s hit series, The Walking Dead, returned last weekend to huge numbers — it had 10.9 million viewers (up 50 percent from last season’s premiere) and more than 15 million when you count the encore airing later that night. Those are huge ratings, especially when you realize AMC is not available to some 14 million Dish Network subscribers.
And tonight marks the return of FX’s critically acclaimed American Horror Story, with a twist: it’s been re-booted as American Horror Story: Asylum. New location. New characters. And a few returning actors in entirely new roles.
The Walking Dead underwent a bit of a re-boot of its own for the third season. Months after Rick (Andrew Lincoln) and the other survivors fled the farm, they discover a (mostly) abandoned prison — except for some zombified prisoners and riot-gear-clad guards plus a few stray “walkers” who wandered in through broken gates — and decide to clear it out and settle into a relatively secure cell block.
Meanwhile, Andrea (Laurie Holden), who was separated from the group at the end of last season, is traveling the land and killing zombies with Michonne (Dania Gurira), a katana sword-wielding fan favorite from the graphic novels the series is based on. And yes, just like in the graphic novels, Michonne leads her zombie “pets” around by chains. Also new this season: the small town Woodbury, led by another fan favorite, The Governor (David Morrissey).
Even if you’re not into zombies, The Walking Dead still has great appeal. (I should know. I’ve never been a zombie fan, but can’t wait for new episodes of the show.) You might not guess it from the season premiere, but the show is about more than bashing zombie heads. It explores deeper issues like family, humanity, relationships, trust and morality — and how the survival instinct can trump them all. To fully appreciate The Walking Dead, you might want to watch The Talking Dead, a live aftershow that dissects that night’s episode with a writer, producer or cast member or two.
American Horror Story: Asylum goes even further in its revamp by purging most of the original cast, changing locales and switching the focus from family dysfunction to the psychological question of what really defines insanity.
Among the returning actors — all in different roles — are Jessica Lange, Evan Peters, Lily Rabe, Sarah Paulson and Zachary Quinto. New cast members include Joseph Fiennes, James Cromwell and The Voice judge, Adam Levine. Yes, you read that right. That Adam Levine.
Whether you prefer a zombie apocalypse or the psychological terrorism of a 1960s mental institution, there are plenty of high-quality scares awaiting you on your TV this fall. Better yet, they don’t end with Halloween.
American Horror Story: Asylum, season premiere 9-10:05 p.m., Wednesday, Oct. 17, on FX.
The Walking Dead, 8 p.m., Sundays, on AMC.
The Talking Dead (live aftershow), 10 p.m., Sundays, on AMC.
Paula Hendrickson is a regular contributor to Emmy magazine and Variety, and has been published in numerous national publications, including American Bungalow, Television Week and TVGuide. Follow her on Twitter at P_Hendrickson and send your suggestions to firstname.lastname@example.org.
From the Oct. 17-23, 2012, issue