Monday, November 1, 2010

The Walking Dead Ep1 – Days Gone Bye – Review

Many people watched the introductory episode of The Walking Dead, the sure-to-be hit TV show by AMC based on the series of graphic novels by Robert Kirkman, Tony Moore, and Charlie Adlard. It was even a massive Twitter trending topic but only here, with a self-proclaimed zombie aficionado like myself, will you really get the inside scoop so strap yourself in for my review of the first episode of my new favourite tv show. Be warned, there may be SPOILERS.

The Walking Dead Ep.1 S.1

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.

This conversation also gives us the suggestion that Shane is not exactly with a lady right now, which helps for matters going on later in the episode. The last thing I get from this conversation is that Rick and Shane are obviously pretty tight. They can talk candidly about their relationship woes and that’s always a deep bond for guys. The only way you could have conveyed the closeness of their relationship any better would have been to get these two discussing erectile dysfunction, but that wouldn’t have given us the other rich background history (though maybe it would have explained the problems with Lori, ha).

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.

As Rick leaves, we get a good understanding of how he views this world. He tracks down a legless zombie from early, next to where he borrows a bike, and he shoots the crawling thing to leave it stopped. This is what Rick does in the world, has probably always done if his profession is anything to go by, he rights injustice. He might not be able to do it in his personal life but he can do it for most other things around him. He’s going to find his family, and he’s going to save the world in the process; yes, he’s that guy.

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 direction of the episode, by Frank Darabont, is damn fine. He’s got enough good credits under his name already (do I really need to list them?) and he makes for some very enjoyable television. The pacing is good, the emotion is high, the gore is almost overplayed. I expected the blood and brains to be on display, I just didn’t expect them to be so glamorised. Not that it’s a problem, this show is a horror movie, make no mistake. It will scare you and you will be thinking about it later as you try to sleep.

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.

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Dennis N said...

Book was better.

Sorry, force of habit, sitting down to watch it now.

Radlum said...

Loved that the pilot had scenes that weren't in the comic; while I would like a live action version of TWD, bringing new interesting elements to the series makes it even more appealing.
Also, I kind of liked how Morgan was more aggressive in this version than how he was portrayed in the comics.

Dennis N said...

Five minutes in (right after the credits )and these are my first impressions:

Yay!!!! Walking Dead in LIVE ACTION!!! Rick does it for me, I think they cast him well.

Kirkman is an exec producer which I guess I didn't pick up on before. I knew he'd be heavily involved but it's good to know he has some official control.

I was disappointed that the credits say "Based on the series of Graphic Novels". I see Ryan used the same in the article above. The Walking Dead is a comic book and I don't like the idea that they didn't use that term. Comic books are an art form and nothing to be ashamed of. I'm with Alan Moore on that, "Graphic Novel" is just a marketing gimmick to run away from the term "comic book". OK, back to the watching.

Ken said...

Didn't care for how they made the zombies retina some touch of humanity (why would the girl zombie pick up a teddy bear then, or have the zombies smart enough to turn a doorknob when in the comics it was established they just kind of brush against things and follow the sounds).

Other than that, good start to the series. The blood effects were a bit cheap looking, in that Rambo and Expendables CGI aspect.

Ryan K Lindsay said...

@Dennis N, I would love nothing more than for you to comment every five minutes as you watch with your thoughts. That would be awesome.

I included that quote, based on a series of graphic novels, as a bit of a joke, too, as I hate that that's how they've credited it. It's a comic, dammit, just say it is. It's a comic before it ever gets collected into trade format (not even graphic novel, but trade collection).

@Ken - you make a good point, that zombie response is set up in the comic. Perhaps that is what the devolve into, but they have some humanity at first...? No-prize?

Dennis N said...

Halfway through:

I'm gonna have to go back and re-read the early issues, but I don't remember any scenes showing the friendship of Rick and Shane before the zombies. I thought that was a good addition, and shines much more poorly on Shane than Rick in any way. It felt like Rick was laughing with him, but not necessarily endorsing his sentiments.

Morgan is quite different than the Morgan I remember. He was apologetic for Duane hitting him with a shovel, he was dressed much too nice for apocalyptic world. When Rick first saw him he was less capable; there are some shades of this with Morgan using his gun on an easy pickins' lone walker. Rick came across as a somewhat more capable figure in the comic than he does here. He was out of Morgan's house in like 2 pages and on a mission. Right now, I'm undecided as to which I prefer.

I liked some moments with Morgan and Duane at the dinner table, which will set up for what us comic readers know is happening way, way down that line that brings Morgan back into our perspective.

Any else think Rick needs more hair? I'm used to seeing him with strands coming down into his face.

One thing I'm noticing is that watching live action production is much different than reading a comic book. Although it's a horror comic and I care about the characters, I don't find myself on edge about what's lurking around the corner whenever I read. You can take the panels at your own pace. I do a lot of reflecting, stopping and assessing, rereading panels and lettering whenever I go through a comic. I guess that explains why I pausing every so often as I watch the show. I think that's a sign of quality in this case, but man if I'm doing this every week I'll never get to sleep on Sunday nights.

Ken said...

I would have thought that initial humanity response too, until in the comics they get to the farm and Michonne shows up, where we clearly see zombies (and they never called them zombies either in the show) are completely lacking in humanity.

Dennis N said...

Morgan gave a very good performance, very believable emotions; I agree, I was sad to see them go.

Now that they're at the police station, Morgan and Rick have had a role reversal, with Rick showing his take charge side.

I like te juxtaposition between Rick being able to pull the trigger and Morgan not.

Shouldn't Morgan's shots bring zombies from all around to the house. I looked like they got bored and stopped walking to the house after a few moments, whereas in the comic they walk towards their last stimulus for days or weeks on end.

They've made an effort to show Lori as weak from the get-go, it helps explain why she latches onto Shane, and how she acts with Rick.

Rick riding into Atlanta on the horse was picture perfect and could have been easily the end of the episode, leaving anticipation for whats ahead. That said, that would probably make for a better comic ending than a television ending.

Is that helicopter the 'copter from Woodbury that crashes later on?

Poor horse! I guess that deal Rick struck with him wasn't a very fair one.

I take it back, that was a good note to end on. I love Glenn, and that little scene with the radio has me thrilled to see him on screen.

Ryan K Lindsay said...

My moment of the episode, which I neglect to mention in the review, is there Rick taps the floor of his home and asks, "Am I here?" That whole sequence was chilling, Lincoln is knocking it out of the park!

I also said to a friend that Rick is a man who affects the world and Morgan is a man who is affected by the world. I wish I had that line about 12 hours ago, ha.

brandon said...

I enjoyed the episode.

I'm curious about the rest of the first season. It looks like Rick doesnt make it out of Atlanta the entire first season.

My complaint is that the zombies can run/climb/open doorknobs. It's kind of strange.

Chris said...

The good news is that Walking Dead is by far the biggest series premeire for an AMC show ever, so hopefully it will be sticking around for a while!!!

Anonymous said...

Man I just love Shawshank Redemption, The Green Mile and The Mist.... I think the best Stephen King movie maker is Frank darabont.

(Did I say that Stephen King is my favorite horror writer of all times?)

So I can not think of anyone better than Darabont to The Walking Dead. Here I am hoping the show hits soon the Mexican Cable.

Great Review as usual Ryan.

Enrique G.

Ryan K Lindsay said...

Darabont is just great when it comes to make the written work swlightly better on the screen (or at least equally as good, which is still a hard feat to accomplish.

This show is going to be around for some time, I feel. Bring it on. I hope the second episode's ratings are just as good.

E. Wilson said...

I loved the little intro clip with the zombie girl, particularly the look on Rick's face when she turns around. It's not shock or revulsion, but an unpleasant sense of resignation. This was the face of a man who's thinking, "Aw, crap, now I have to shoot this little girl." Very subtle, and very cool.

I never read the comics, but seeing as this is a serial, it might be able to overcome the various problems I've had with just about every zombie apocalypse film: there's only so much you can do with the zombie apocalypse scenario within the confines of a two-hour film. (And Romero's already done most of it.) A weekly drama format allows you to develop the idea in better ways.

drjohnson22 said...

This series is one for the ages! After being a fan of "The Sopranos" I finally have another show which captures my interest. Unlike "Heroes" or "The 4400" (which could have been so great if done better), this series won't get cancelled or pulled early. Although the story doesn't follow the comic book (I read this before the TV show started and I did the same with "Watchmen" as well) exactly, I like how Darabont gave a flow to this series. I also liked the Morgan Jones character and hope he comes back in a later episode. I am truly a fan of "The Walking Dead" TV show and comic book and I will get into reading the other TPBs that are out there (I've only read Episode 1) so I can continue to enjoy this comic in preparation for the TV show!

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