The Walking Dead Season 1 Episode 1 “Days Gone By” Review
By Bill Jones
The hype was there for The Walking Dead. AMC has been running promos incessantly leading up to the premiere Sunday evening, which by no coincidence was Halloween. A countdown timer ran at the top of the screen while AMC played a “Fear Fest” marathon to get people in the mood. Just days before, zombies roamed in cities around the world to get the attention of potential viewers.
And that’s all on the promotion side, not even touching on the hype from the comic community about Robert Kirkman’s phenomenal series finally getting the live-action treatment. It is, after all, probably the best zombie comic series ever written. It is filled with gory action, great characters, big moments and has lasted the test of time as its 13th trade is about to be released. So cutting to the chase, did the show’s premiere live up to the hype?
It may seem like a cop out of an answer, but the reality is that it will take a few more episodes to fully know whether it is deserving of the attention it has received. After all, The Walking Dead as a comic is an ongoing series, just as the show will be on television. The premiere focused primarily on the set-up, introducing us to some of the show’s key characters, and the unfurling of the zombie apocalypse. But it is how these characters will stand the test of time, how the show will follow or depart from the comic ,and how it will find a way to make itself stand apart as an artistic endeavor that will seal its excellence. One thing is for sure though – The Walking Dead has some balls.
The obvious place to start is in the introduction of its first character, Rick Grimes (Andrew Lincoln), and the show’s willingness to depict the graphic violence necessary to convey a gritty zombie epic and the events of Kirkman’s book. In the trailers leading up to the show, we saw a few zombie slayings that featured quick cutaways. It would seem that with a cable television show, this would be the way it was going to be cut, to get just enough grit while not overstepping the bounds of common sensibilities.
Never underestimate AMC to push the boundaries.
As rick walks through what appears to be a wasteland of a camp and then gas station parking lot, he notices legs walking by from underneath a car. He sees a hand reach down and pick up a stuff animal. A little girl, no more than 10 years of age, starts to walk away from him, back turned. He calls to her, advising he is a police office and she can trust him. She turns around, revealing a zombie snarl, and begins to lurk toward him. Emotion in his eyes indicating horrors he has already seen, he pulls out a large revolver and shoots the zombie girl in the head.
There’s no cutaway of which to speak. He shoots her at close distance, and we see the blood of her brains splatter on the asphalt underneath her, and she falls, dead for real this time. Throughout the hour-and-a-half premiere Sunday night, The Walking Dead was littered with such brutal moments. Another couple of men are shot point blank, while another scene sees zombies taken out through the scope of a rifle with accurate head shots, and an animal is ripped to shreds by a horde. At times, it seemed the show’s creative talent might have been making a statement about the type of content they were willing to run rather than all of it being necessary. Still, than statement was an emphatic one? Will AMC shy away from the gory content of The Walking Dead? Not a chance.
Maybe even ballsier, though, was the sense of pacing in the premiere of The Walking Dead. While the above paragraphs make it sounds like The Walking Dead “Days Gone By” was a raucous gore-fest, director Frank Darabont, his crew and the actors took their time setting up the story and environment.
Before that opening shot to the head, we see a long shot of a car coming down the highway, and then almost in entire silence a long scene of Rick walking through the wreckage before he finally has his encounter with the girl. Then it’s flash-back time, to see Rick’s career and hear of his marital troubles before the zombie apocalypse. It also introduces us to his partner, Shane (Jon Bernthal).
Rick is shot in a gunfight with some theatrical villains. This point was my only real problem with the show, as the scenario that led to Rick getting shot was filled with stupid moments from its characters, and a horde of cops that couldn’t seem to hit the broadside of a barn. Surprising seeing as anything less than head shots won’t suffice against the zombie masses.
Then we get Rick in the hospital, waking some time later to discover the world has gone to hell. First it is a hospital full of dead bodies with head wounds, otherwise abandoned. Then it’s a world full of the dead reanimated. The Walking Dead takes its time letting Rick find his way through this discovery process, and while it may not have been the most engaging opening, it’s nice that the show’s producers let it unfold naturally rather than trying to rush directly into action.
My only other major complaint about the show was its closing shot. As originally seen in the trailer, Rick pulls himself into a tank that is engulfed by a zombie horde in the city of Atlanta. As the show cuts out, a sort of weird pop-rock track plays over the scene that just doesn’t have the right vibe. It left me wondering if the show will have a music gimmick conclusion to each episode, or if this is a theme for the show that will reply every episode.
Still, it’s a minor complaint about a show that did a great job of introducing its characters – including Rick’s wife, Lori (Sarah Wayne Callies), and his son, Carl (Chandler Riggs) – took it’s time to do so, and proved that television is about to get an experience quite unlike any other it has seen to date.
And to that effect, the previews for the rest of Season 1 aired at the conclusion of the premiere make it look as though the action will be ramping up quickly. A voice over the radio inside the tank reached out to Rick at the conclusion, and from the previews looks as though it will be The Walking Dead’s #1 supply runner, Glenn. And while we caught a glimpse of Dale and others, we haven’t been formally introduced just yet. So it likely won’t take long for Rick to meet up with the rest of the group, and that’s when The Walking Dead should start to get very interesting.
For more info, www.amctv.com
For our interview with The Walking Dead creator Robert Kirkman, http://www.padsandpanels.com/?p=10235