The Walking Dead S1, E1: “Days Gone Bye”

In August 2009, word came down the pike that the epic survival horror comic The Walking Dead had been picked up as an ongoing television series. The thought, nay, the dread that Robert Kirkman could be headed for NBC and inevitable cancellation was quelled by the news that AMC, the random little cable channel that somehow managed to crank out the two masterpieces Mad Men and Breaking Bad, was helming the adaptation. This year’s Comic Con only fanned my flames of excitement when they unveiled the trailer in all it’s gory zombie glory.

Two years I’ve waited. Two long, eventful, comic-filled years. I was incredibly, utterly, completely excited about this show. So excited, in fact, that I refused to even consider Halloween plans so I could sit home and watch the premiere live. And let me tell you, it was worth it.

The story opens with Deputy Sheriff Rick Grimes blowing the head of a zombie little girl in an abandoned gas station, then backtracks a bit. Rick gets himself shot during a random high speed chase and comes out of his coma as the last person alive in the creepiest hospital this side of Willowbrook.

Eventually he teams up with Morgan Jones and his son Duane after the boy hits him over the head with a shovel. They introduce Rick to the rules of this brave new world: no one knows the origin of the plague, just that once you get bit the virus spreads into a seemingly deadly fever that leaves nothing behind but a flesh-crazed walking corpse. The only way to stop them is to destroy the head, an act Rick later seems to get slightly too much enjoyment out of.

In this new Kentucky, morals, rules, and ethics no longer have the same weight they used to. Is it still murder if you kill someone that’s already dead? If it comes down to your life and someone else’s, does it make you evil to choose yourself? Does it even matter? Rick wakes up to a world where nothing is as it was, and when he finds out his wife Lori and son Carl might have been Atlanta bound, he makes it his mission to track them down.

Lori and Carl, meanwhile, are hunkered down with a handful of other survivors just outside the city in a makeshift campsite. This leads to what is probably going to prove to be the weakest aspect of the show: the interactions between Lori and Shane. I can’t decide if it’s the actors, the stilted dialogue, or a combination therein, but sitting through that half-assed conversation was painful.

After several more long stretches of beautifully shot silent or nearly silent scenes, Rick finally rides into Atlanta, Clint Eastwood style. But this is more Unforgiven than it is The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly. Rick spots a helicopter passing over the city—so not in the comic but I am crazy-intrigued—and rides after it only to run smack dab into the middle of an all-out zombie army. He winds up getting trapped in a tank…only to get mocked on the radio by…well, I can guess since I’ve read the comic, but I’ll play nice for the virgins and keep my mouth shut.

AMC’s The Walking Dead is not Robert Kirkman’s The Walking Dead. While the TV show and the graphic novel both come from the same basic mold, the creative minds behind the show (with Kirkman’s enthusastic support) have been upfront about veering off into their own direction. And the pilot reinforces that (speaking of which, I hope to almighty Zeus I never have to sit through Rick and Shane talk about chicks and light switches ever again).

This is not a panel-by-panel reconstruction and, frankly, I’m glad it’s not. Having Frank Darabont and Gale Anne Hurd behind the wheel (along with backseat drivers Bear McCreary and Greg Nicotero) give the show a much-needed cinematic quality, a quality that most certainly would’ve been lacking had NBC gotten their Leno-tainted claws on it.

Yet it’s still one of the bleakest, most unrelentingly depressing shows on the air, and I mean that as a compliment. This isn’t just “survival horror,” it’s the horror of survival. It’s about a dead wife wanting to eat the flesh of her living husband and son. It’s watching a half-dessicated zombie drag itself through a park, an ex-cop wading through piles of bodies in an abandoned hospital, and finding an infinitesimal solace in the arms of your probably dead husband’s best friend.

Final thoughts

  • Some ground rules: I don’t care if you want to talk about upcoming eps or future storylines from the comics, but please be a decent human being and preface it with a SPOILER warning. I’ll return the favor and try and keep the comics out of my reviews (unless it’s necessary).
  • Kudos to AMC for letting a whole 30 minutes go by without a commercial break.
  • The Lori/Carl reveal. It just seemed so…casual. Is she dead? No, she’s fine, she’s just busy making out with Shane. No build-up, no suspense, just a jump cut to her sulking in a campsite.
  • Sweet zombie Jesus, those accents. I haven’t heard Southern accents so bad since Beel and Sookeh.
  • Have to give props to production designers Greg Melton and Alex Hajdu and cinematographer David Tattersall. Excellent work, my friends.
  • Shane’s kind of a douche, isn’t he? And Lori’s awfully annoying.
  • Still can’t decide which one I like more: the actual credit sequence with McCreary’s score or the fan-made version that came out first.

Alex Brown is an archivist in training, reference librarian by day, writer by night, and all around geek who watches entirely too much TV. She is prone to collecting out-of-print copies of books by Evelyn Waugh, Jane Austen, and Douglas Adams, probably knows far too much about pop culture than is healthy, and thinks her rats Hywel and Odd are the cutest things ever to exist in the whole of eternity. You can follow her on Twitter if you dare…

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