Days Gone Bye
Teleplay and Directed by Frank Darabont
The very first scene is set forward in the chronology a little as it shows Rick Grimes, our intrepid lead as played by Andrew Lincoln, walking alone through a street. He looks under a car and sees the feet of a little girl as she stoops to pick up a tattered toy. He goes after the girl, tries to tell her it will be alright, until she inevitably turns around to reveal herself as a zombie. She starts to menacingly lead a line directly for Rick until he has no choice but to shoot her right in the head.
As a scene, it’s nothing spectacular but it is revelatory. This scene serves only to offer up an initial shock and also give a statement of intent for the entire series. Most zombies you see killed, in zombie fiction , are adults, it’s much nicer that way. Child death on film has always been relatively taboo. The original Dawn of the Dead did reveal a chillingly fast child zombie, and the remake even gave us the visceral glee and horror of a zombie baby, but here we get the young one and a very explicit shot of their demise. We witness the bullet to the head, the blood spurting, nothing is shielded.
The show is openly making us aware, from the very onset, they are going to push the boundaries not just of television but of the zombie genre. This show is going to do its best to make you uncomfortable. This scene also shows us that Rick is going to end up in a place where he doesn’t mind taking a kid out with one to the face. Zombie or not that’s a hard thing to do so we’re getting a preview of what’s to come for him internally.
All that said, though it is effective in theme, I didn’t actually love this intro scene. It’s good, certainly better than the comic (which the tv show puts in a touch later), but it’s nothing completely spectacular; the show saves that for later.
Much has been made of the opening conversation of the two officers of the law, Rick and Shane. It’s been labelled as misogynistic, crass, rude, etc. Yes, these men do talk openly about women, and the women they talk about aren’t going to be in the best light. It’s kind of confronting but it also establishes much. We can see that Rick is having a hard time with Lori, his wife. If you have read the comic (and if you haven’t then get going to Amazon right now, or check out my beginners guide from not too long ago), then you might see some foreshadowing here because Lori isn’t always the most pleasant character. I certainly never really liked her. So here, through open dialogue in another scene, the show conveys this to us without having to show us.
For years, most zombie fare kept the rules the same. You knew what you were getting going in. It has been recently that these rules have become more liquid and so the show spends some time establishing just what we are dealing with here. These zombies are relatively slow, not the cliché moaners with arms outstretched but certainly not the sprinting athletes we’ve also seen before. These undead just wander around looking for the meat they can seemingly smell. This is their pace.
When Rick first attacks a zombie, outside Morgan’s house after being rescued, bathed, and fed by the stranger, it is a shocking attack. Rick is wearing a protective face mask and wields a baseball bat. He smashes the zombie in the head but it doesn’t just go down like a wet piñata. He whacks it a few more times, ends up nearly out of breath and frantic as it is hard work. You can’t just cast these things off like cannon fodder, unless you’ve got a gun and are willing to use it on their head (which everyone seems to figure out pretty quickly). These zombies were once human and so it is still difficult to dispatch them.
The meeting of Rick and Morgan here is interesting because they offer the flip side to the two choices you have in the zombie apocalypse; should I stay or should I go? Rick is sure his family has escaped so he wants to find them. Morgan only has his son left, his wife is wandering the streets of their town in a decidedly dead and shambolic state. Rick is the sort of man who can’t wait a situation out, he’s a man of action. Morgan is the opposite, he just wants to stop for a while, collect his breath, he doesn’t know what’s going to come next.
Morgan, on the other hand, is a man crushed by the cruelty of the world. He wants revenge on the ethereal figure that is his lot in life and of course cannot take aim, it’s too intangible a concept. He aims his rifle at the head of his now dead, but still walking, wife but finds he cannot pull the trigger. It is an excellent scene, and one not from the comic, and it shows us much about Morgan, and most likely much of the world. Morgan hasn’t sorted his problems at home so there’s no way he can then affect the world around him. Morgan is stuck, and stuck is how he remains.
There is one major scene I didn’t like and it involves Rick’s surviving family and the group they are with. We see Lori and Shane with a few others that we recognise from the comic but who don’t get much actual screen time here. There is an argument and after Lori storms off she is followed by Shane. He tells her that he is just trying to protect them, help them all, and then they kiss. This relationship is true to the comic but I felt that it was handled better there as we weren’t sure of what happened for a long time; and it seemed like it only happened once, maybe a couple of times tops. Here it is presented too early, too conveniently (like he was trying to shoehorn it in), and the entire back and forth should not have led to a kiss. This scene is the weak link of the show, but it can be overlooked.
Watching Rick trot into Atlanta on horseback is quite a majestic spectacle, until he turns the corner and is confronted by a horde of zombies. It’s a rather chilling moment and one that slowly becomes claustrophobic as each turn only presents him with fewer options. He eventually climbs inside an abandoned tank, but there looks to be little way for him to get out, zombies above and below, he might not have the keys to this ride. It's quite the jam to find yourself in.
We see Rick in silhouette, gun near his head, emotional, spent. He’s run out of possibilities. Some have said this should have been the end of the episode, and though it would make a grand and poignant send off it would leave this episode feeling too closed. It would be a short story.
Instead, we get a voice come over the radio of the tank. Someone knows he’s in there, they’re watching, but we don’t know what they’re going to do next. This addition to the episode might seem like it is played for laughs, but what it’s really doing is showing us this is serial fiction. We always need a hook to the next part and this one is perfect. It lightens the mood and gives us possible hope for the next issue. It is a perfect comic book ending.
The acting in the show is very good. I have always been a big fan of Andrew Lincoln since I saw Teachers years ago. I don’t mention that to get one-up style street cred but rather in the hopes more people will check out this English treasure of a show. He’s a good accent, though not American, and he does the accent well. I can see him easily holding this show together. His face conveys plenty of emotion and he’s going to need that for much of what comes for Rick throughout this long tale.
Jon Bernthal as Shane is better than I thought he would be. He seems too short for the role, I always wanted Ben Affleck in this role, but he does well with the character and almost makes it feel like he’s fleshing him out a little more. I just don't get why his pants are so damn high.
The only other real character to get much play in this episode is Lennie James as Morgan Jones. He does well with the character, even if not having the authentic hair I loved so much from the comic. He works well opposite Rick and it’s a shame to say goodbye to him and his son Duane, as played by Adrian Kali Turner. They’re a good duo and they make this pilot all the more enjoyable. Also, extra points for those who figure out why Morgan's son has that name.
I like the amount of story, and action, this pilot episode puts in. We leave Rick stranded in a tank in Atlanta, his family only God knows where exactly, and we’ve already seen plenty of zombies popped in the head. It’s been a good hour, and change, so we leave the stage.
I can’t help but try to speculate where the first season will leave us, and even the second, but that would be getting far too ahead of ourselves and not enjoying the slow and romantic trip through the scenery on display here. It’s a great episode, in my opinion. As far as comic adaptations, on TV or in film, this is damn good. It might have its flaws in places but overall I can certainly guarantee I’ll be back for more.
Verdict – Must See. This is a great comic tv show. This is a great horror tv show. This is mighty fine television. It’s something different from the usual sitcoms and cop shows on the airwaves and it’s faithful to the source material. I see no reason not to check this out, but I think if you’ve got half an interest in good television you’ll quickly see this isn’t just a show about gore. This is a character study, we’ve gotten to see Rick vs. Morgan to start off with. There are plenty more characters to put under the zombie microscope soon. It's drama on an apocalyptic scale.