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Episode One: Days Gone Bye

November 10, 2010

The Walking Dead‘s first episode doesn’t bother to ease us into the story line, opting instead to start in medias res. Our hero Rick searches for gasoline among abandoned cars, pausing when he spots a young girl. He reaches out to help her, but she turns, revealing:

Rick shoots her in the head; she falls backward into her spattered splash of brains. It’s a very graphic kill and sets the tone for what’s in store.

After the credits we jump back in time to  a long conversation between partners Shane and Rick.  This establishes an immediate distinction between the comic and the series, since the comic was much heavier on image than text while the show has already added quite a bit of dialogue. We get a stronger sense of the relationship between Rick and Shane, as well as that between Rick, his wife, Lori, and their son, Carl. Their chat is interrupted by a report on the scanner and they intercept a speeding car which leads to a sweet crash – clearly not all the budget is going to makeup. Rick is shot and loses consciousness.

All this takes about 14 minutes, another departure from the comic, who got us from the beginning of the standoff to the hospital in a couple pages. I imagine that besides fleshing out the characters, this extended background leading up to Rick’s awakening in the hospital was designed to deflect criticism of it ripping off 28 Days Later (whose opening, it should be mentioned, borrowed heavily from Day of the Triffids). In any case, Rick does awake and discovers that shit has gotten real.

 

Ruh roh.

Rick makes his way out of the hospital, stealing a bicycle from a zombie to make his way home. He wanders through his empty house and takes a seat outside, where he promptly gets knocked out with a shovel by Duane.

When he comes to he’s tied up inside Morgan and Duane’s home, where they press him for information about his wound. After determining that he is free of infection, Morgan cuts him free. Rick eventually joins them for dinner, where Morgan fills Rick in on the current crisis.

He explains “the walkers,” warning that they’re more active at night and drawn to gunshots. He lays out one cardinal rule – “Don’t you get bit… Bites kill you. The fever burns you out. But then after a while, you come back.” Duane alludes to having witnessed this process, and we soon learn that his mother was recently attacked and reanimated. Drawn by a car alarm outside the house, she approaches the front door.

This is another example of a new addition to the story contained within the comics. In the first issue, Morgan’s wife was maybe mentioned, but nothing more. The suggestion of emotional ties that linger into zombie-dom is not a new idea (see 28 Weeks Later) but it was absent in the source material.

The next morning, Rick makes plans to go to Atlanta in search of Lori and Carl – but first he stops at the station with Morgan and Duane to load up on supplies. Once they’ve re-upped on guns and ammo, Rick heads out, stopping en route to finish off the legless zombie whose bike he stole. Duane and Morgan sharpen their shooting skills with some target practice, but Morgan can’t bring himself to kill his zombie wife.

Meanwhile, Rick uses his CB radio to try to connect with other survivors. We see his transmission received at a camp whose residents respond in an attempt to warn him to avoid Atlanta, but their response doesn’t make it through. Shane is revealed to be alive among the survivors, along with Lori, Rick’s wife. And what do you know:

For what would a zombie apocalypse be without a little human drama?

Rick runs out of gas and stops at a nearby farmhouse. Inside he spots two suicides, with “GOD FORGIVE US” scrawled on the wall in what looks like blood. Yikes. Rick mounts the horse tied up outside and resumes his journey to Hotlanta. Once he makes it into the city he spots a helicopter but is soon surrounded by an enormous crowd of walkers.

They attack his horse – which is kind of weird. So then these zombies eat animals, as well? In any case, Rick narrowly escapes by holing up in a tank with pretty much no prospect of survival. Just as the episode ends, an anonymous voice (Glenn, I asume) addresses him through the tank’s CB radio.

So far the show is delivering on the promise we saw in the trailer. The change of medium hasn’t led to too many major modifications of the story line, besides the aforementioned expansions of character background. It’ll become necessary to humanize these characters and slow down the pace (this episode moved MUCH more slowly than the issues that covered the same plot developments) because the amount of suicides and murders in the comic book would be a little too dark for TV, even on cable. Another difference is that the actors can’t quite be as expressive as the comic book characters, who can communicate emotions without worrying about looking cartoonish (unlike actors) because, well, they’re in a comic book. So far the cast has done an admirable job of avoiding over-emoting, and it’s clear that Andrew Lincoln can carry this series.

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One Comment leave one →
  1. Catherine permalink
    December 6, 2010 2:25 am

    Although there was much hype about the quality of the series-narrative/production/effects-you name it! – I’m not entirely sure why I expected it to be toned down for the sake of amc — I’ve yet to see the show (I’m not brave enough and I’m into more fluffy stuff especially after Film A&E), but from the screen shots that you thoughtfully/engagingly included – you confirmed my suspicions-

    Walking Dead is not for the faint of heart-but most definitely for those fond of zombie/horror classic-
    I think its timing is JUST RIGHT – following a series of really awful films with the exception of certain sleeper hits (I’m thinking of Zombieland and Shaun of the Dead) – it shows that niche markets are the way to go –

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