“The Walking Dead”
Season One, Episodes 1-3
Stars: Andrew Lincoln, Jon Bernthal, Sarah Wayne Callies, Laurie Holden, Steven Yuen, Jeffrey DeMunn, Emma Bell, IronE Singleton, Michael Rooker,
Writer: Frank Darabont, Robert Kirkman, Tony Moore
Director: Frank Darabont, Michelle Maxwell MacLaren , Gwyneth Horder-Payten
When Andrew and I started this blog, we knew this behemoth was on the horizon. And I cannot count the thirty or so inquiries asking if we knew about/had heard of/were going to review “The Walking Dead.”
With all honesty, we do not know everything about zombies or everything about zombie films/fiction. I know the most (probably). But, combined, we know a load. There was no way in zombie-infested hell that “The Walking Dead” could have lumbered below our radar. That being said, the comics DID fly under my radar (long, boring nerdy story). So, for the sake of argument, I will be examining the televised version of “The Walking Dead,” and nothing about the comic book series (for now).
So, here we go.
SPOILERS FOLLOW; DO NOT READ FUTHER IF YOU HAVE NOT SEEN THE FIRST THREE EPISODES:
“Days Gone By”:
Rick Grimes (Lincoln), an injured deputy sheriff, awakens in a hospital from a coma to find everyone and everything is gone. In a desperate attempt to find his (nearly) estranged wife and child, he hauls ass home in his hospital gown to find a few peculiar pedestrians along the way and ultimately a father and son team of survivors who fill him in that, should he get bit, he will develop an uncontrollable fever, a fever that will kill him dead and later cause a return from death. They know — because the wife/mother of the Jones boys seems to return nightly to the house they have landed as a hideout; Mama comes home and wants to reunite, while father, eventually armed with a high-powered rifle, just can’t bring himself to blow mama’s brains out. Deputy Grimes heads toward Atlanta, Georgia, on horseback, hoping that the news of a heavily-fortified shelter are true. Rumors are unfounded. Rick finds his only shelter from a horde of the hungry undead is an abandoned Army tank. And from there, a friendly voice may be able to save him…
Rick finds his savior is a smart-ass but fleet-of-foot Asian, Glenn, who guides him into a department store in the middle of besieged Atlanta. From there, Rick learns many others have survived the …well… hordes of the undead. The survivors he meets, he learns, are scavengers, looking for supplies, and, thanks to his boomy hello, are now drawing the attention of the surrounding undead, blocking their return to a camp in the middle of the Georgia wilderness. Speaking of the camp, the audience learns not only is Grimes’ wife and child are alive, but she is wantonly accepting the attention of his former police partner, Shane (which is fairly graphically represented in the opening credits). But, back to Rick, who has found himself inside a department store in the middle of Atlanta, realizing he has stranded the group of scavengers by firing off a full clip of bullets while hauling ass to cover. And he doesn’t get much help from a racist redneck, Merle Dickson (Rooker, aka Henry Lee Lucas; so glad to see you, sir). Upon meeting the scavengers, realizing their plight at the hands of now attentive zombies, Rick and Glenn devise a plan to transport the survivors inside a delivery truck — ultimately deciding the safest way to get to the truck is by walking through the horde of zombies using “creative camouflage.”
“Tell It To The Frogs”:
Upon reuniting with his family at a camp in the woods, Rick decides that leaving behind an incredible redneck/racist in Atlanta — handcuffed to a rooftop, mind you — might be against his moral code. After a brief discussion between the other scavengers and a difficult “Spartacus” like moment with the chained-man’s younger brother at the camp, Rick decides to take three men back to Atlanta to rescue Merle — and pick up a bag of guns he siphoned from the sheriff’s station but bailed on after seeking refuge in the tank. While all seems hunky-dory with his wife (Wayne Callies), her “I thought my husband was dead” replacement, Shane, is finding it difficult to see that Rick has rejoined his family and finds a way to still keep involved in the Grimes family dynamic. Rick, in the meantime, leads the team of four to Atlanta to rescue Merle, ultimately realizing they may be too late for a rescue.
Analysis: I know I am not the first person to point out that “anal” is the first part of “analysis,” which is probably why I wanted to find so many issues with “The Walking Dead” upon first viewing. Look, the show’s pilot showed balls with the first scene showing Rick blast the brains out of a little zombified child. That takes guts for a basic-cable channel to introduce a new show to a wide audience in that way (especially if the audience has only heard that the show featured zombies, and knew absolutely nothing else about it). Darabont is probably the reason that two out of three adapted Stephen King stories have reached dynamic critical (and Academy Award-nominated) acclaim. “The Shawshank Redemption” and “The Green Mile” are phenomenal films, faithfully adapted from the source material. Darabont seems to understand the importance of strong character development in a drama/horror (he wrote the screenplay to “A Nightmare on Elm Street 3,” the collective fan-favorite of the series [Sidenote: Hey, Andrew, where are the Academy Award-nominated writers from the ‘Friday the 13th’ series? Hello? Hello?]).
Darabont gets it. Or so I thought.
My biggest problem with the first three episodes is Mrs. Grimes and her quick dismissal of Shane upon learning Rick is still alive. It is nearly glossed over in a few lines of dialogue and, considering the introduction of Shane and his relationship with Rick in the first episode, it remains a tense element, but how it is handled in the third episode seems almost an afterthought (yeah, Shane beats a misogynist’s face in after being told to stay away, but still). Really, the “our relationship is over” talk is less than a minute of screentime. And, am I alone in thinking Lori Grimes might be a colossal bitch? She certainly was portrayed that way. I don’t want to sound like a soap opera watching house-frau, but the relationship with Shane/Rick and Lori is a glaring plot issue (which I had assumed would be addressed in more detail later).
Another issue? The blatant “I’ve seen this before” moments. You’ve read this blog before, right? Seen a guy wake up in a hospital after a zombie apocalypse with no idea it is happening? You might remember “28 Days Later.” Seen bodies of the slain undead wrapped and tied up in white sheets? You might have seen Lucio Fulci’s “Zombie.” Seen a group of people trapped in a department store? You might have seen “Dawn of the Dead.” Seen a sympathetic halved corpse? Yup, you saw her give detailed plot exposition in “The Return of the Living Dead.” Seen people shuffle through a horde of the undead by pretending to be one of them? “Shaun of the Dead” made it damn funny.
OK, I am picking nits. The real problems I have with the first season of “The Walking Dead” show up later.
So, after my curmudgeonly remarks, let me give the first three episodes the praise they indeed deserve.
First off, the pilot gets the audience sucked in right away. The zombie effects are top-notch (go figure, Greg Nicotero of the KNB Effects company is a producer). The acting is suitable for a cable-network show (although I seriously doubt any Emmy award nominations are headed hereto forth). But, again, it’s a drama series with zombies. If you are a zombie fan, you’ve suffered through many an atrocious attempt at acting. “The Walking Dead” succeeds on many levels of marrying heady-social issues with an undead apocalypse (Rick murdering [rescuing?] the aforementioned halved-corpse-lady in the park is a rather bizarre, yet touching, moment).
So, down to brass tacks…
Romero Rules Followed: I saw a few quick little bastards in the zombie hordes, but these are, almost to a “T,” Romero zombies…at this point.
Gore factor: Fairly mild, save for a couple feasting moments and the dismemberment-of-zombie-for-camouflage sequence.
Zombies or Wannabees? Absolute zombies
Classic, fine, or waste of time: Classic
Additional comments: I’ll save this spot for the final review of season 1.