The expected disclaimer that "this program contains graphic violence" and might not be suitable for all viewers precedes episodes of "The Walking Dead," AMC's new zombie drama. The warning might seem a little redundant, as the show is called "The Walking Dead" and is about zombies.

But this disclaimer means it: "The Walking Dead" is probably the most gory thing that's ever aired been produced for commercial TV, and aside from maybe "True Blood" and "Spartacus: Blood and Sand," "Walking Dead" doesn't have a lot of pay-cable rivals for gruesome violence ("Dexter" has a lot of blood, but next to "The Walking Dead," it looks like a pinprick).

For some, that will be the good news: What's a zombie show without ickiness? And "The Walking Dead" has plenty of it - blood gushing from heads, bodies trailing entrails and one especially memorable bit of ax-chopping in the second episode.

Most of the carnage happens to the zombies, the victims of some mysterious virus that has turned them into the walking dead, which often makes them sitting ducks for the running, gun-toting living (a shot in the head stops a zombie in its tracks).

Get the zombies in a group, though, and it becomes tough for the living to escape the mob. (Fans of fast-moving zombies should check out the darkly satirical miniseries "Dead Set," in which zombies invade the set of a "Big Brother"-style reality show; IFC is airing all five episodes in a marathon beginning at 7:30 tonight.)

As most people who have been salivating in anticipation of "The Walking Dead" know, the series is based on a series of comic books by Robert Kirkman, and produced by Frank Darabont, best-known as the director of "The Shawshank Redemption." That movie alone made Darabont a notable director, but nobody ever accused his work of being fast-paced, and tonight's Darabont-directed premiere of "The Walking Dead," which fills a 90-minute time slot, is longer and slower than it needs to be (although it does have a great climax).

AMC sent two episodes for review, and the second one - directed by Michelle Maxwell McLaren, whose TV credits include AMC's "Breaking Bad" - picks up the pace considerably, especially with the aforementioned chopping scene.

In certain ways, "The Walking Dead" has some of the hallmarks of AMC's critical darlings "Mad Men" and "Breaking Bad," especially in its terrific cinematography (by David Tattersall in the premiere and David Boyd in subsequent episodes) and production design (by Greg Melton in the first three episodes and Alex Hajdu afterward). The series often has the stark look of a well-drawn comic book, with striking shots such as a lone horse-rider going up an empty freeway toward Atlanta while the outbound lanes are packed with abandoned cars.

In a New York Times story earlier this month, Darabont said this is really a human story being told, and you could infer from that remark that "The Walking Dead" will have similarities to "Mad Men" and "Breaking Bad," series about men trying to break free of their pasts and hiding big secrets.

In its early episodes, at least, "The Walking Dead" is a lot more straightforward than either of those shows. It's about people trying to find their loved ones in a post-apocalyptic world and/or trying to survive without being eaten, and some characters stand out more quickly than others, especially the ones played by such familiar faces as "Love, Actually's" Andrew Lincoln (as the central character, Rick Grimes, a sheriff's deputy who wakes up from a coma to discover a zombie apocalypse has happened) and "Prison Break's" Sarah Wayne Callies (as the most empathetic of a band of survivors).

The question for AMC is whether "Mad Men" fans, some of whom no doubt turned away from "The Walking Dead's" more graphic promos, will find "Walking Dead's" human drama amid all the bloodshed and screaming. According to the Times story, the network is airing six initial episodes and seeing what the reaction is like before saying yes to more.

The reaction among zombie-lore fans is likely to be huge, and it should bring AMC some new viewers. Whether those new viewers will latch on to the network's other shows, or whether fans of those shows will dip into this, is pretty doubtful.

But if you're a zombie fan, you should definitely tune in.

'The Walking Dead'



10 tonight

on AMC