Sunday, 7 November 2010

The Walking Dead 1.1 'Days Gone Bye'


“…Watch over us in these crazy days…” – Morgan

The Event may have a title that suggests it is just that, but make no mistake; the TV event of 2010 is The Walking Dead.

In an almost unprecedented move, the show is being broadcast worldwide without month long delays – as quality television like this should be.

Kicking off with a feature length opening episode ‘Days Gone Bye’, The Walking Dead more than delivered and lived up to the hype with some of the most beautifully shot, stylish and atmospheric television you’ll find.

The atmospheric nature of the show was established from the opening frame as the show’s hero Rick Grimes stumbled upon a desolate scene before spotting a tiny pair of feet. When he finally managed to get the little girl’s attention, she was a ‘walker’ and before she could attack Grimes he put a bullet straight through her head.

In that pre-credits flash forward, Frank Darabont et al were effectively stating their intent for the series.

This is not what I would call standard zombie fare, but I am by no means a connoisseur of the genre. The comparisons to other entries in this genre are inevitable but to me The Walking Dead seems to have a humanity about it that I have found to be lacking in other work of this ilk.

Once upon a time, zombies were Hollywood’s monster darling but with the recent explosion of vampires they have somewhat lost their bite, so to speak. The Walking Dead is definitely capable though of bringing this breed of the undead back to the forefront of popular culture.

There may be more emotion on display here than in other zombie efforts but that isn’t to say there is a lack of gore and/or zombies themselves – that opening scene proved that.

There is a great deal for non-zombie fans to sink their teeth into in The Walking Dead, but by the same token there is enough to keep the aficionados happy too.

The show is beautifully shot, desolate landscapes and empty streets and cities always look visually impressive and never cease to make me sit up and take notice; The Walking Dead effortlessly pulls of these visuals, but does it with a style that really adds to the atmosphere of hopelessness that our characters have to deal with.

‘Days Gone Bye’ was dripping with foreshadowing and symbolism – from the post-credits car chase where we saw two crows devouring some road kill (we later saw two crows picking at a dead ‘walker’) to Rick waking up in hospital after the zombie apocalypse with dead flowers and a stopped clock before him – death all around him and time ceasing to exist as he knows it.

The Walking Dead is visually impressive across the board – not just in the cinematography but in the make-up department as well. The ‘walkers’ all look fantastic and as ‘realistic’ as a zombie can look and the blood and gore is done in a way that doesn’t seem over the top and ridiculous.

The half-torso ‘walker’ that Rick discovered was strangely beautiful and the way he went back to find it proved that he too recognized the pain this former human was in. The make-up doing a great job of making the ‘walkers’ terrifying but not taking away their humanity – they may not be human anymore but we aren’t able to forget that they once were.

As Rick awakens from his coma he is presented with nothing short of the hell on earth described above – rows upon rows of covered corpses, half eaten corpses out in the open, a door baring a chilling warning with some horrific noises emitting from behind it and lots and lots of blood.

As he made his way from the hospital and he stepped out into the light, the light washed over him like he was being raptured. This was a nice visual to establish the religious undertones of the show – with the zombie plague essentially the resetting of the human race, much like the biblical great flood.

I get the feeling that whilst not overtly presented, the show will have many religious connotations and spirituality will play a huge part in the survivors’ lives, as you would expect. We have already seen evidence of this with Morgan and Duane saying grace at the table and joining hands with a man they have only just met.

‘Days Gone Bye’ was quite heavy on exposition and setting the scene of the world the survivors now find themselves in and I can live with that for the first episode, hopefully character development will take precedence over this in the coming weeks though.

At the moment we don’t know too much about any of the characters, so that needs to change pretty quickly as I always imagined that The Walking Dead would turn out similar to Lost in that it is essentially a show about relationships and how people deal with being an extreme situation that you just can’t explain.

The most rounded character coming out of ‘Days Gone Bye’ was Lennie James’ Morgan, whose inner torment about his now undead wife really was heart-wrenching. The scene where he purposely drew her out so he could finally put her down and relieve her of her misery was visceral stuff.

He’d already lamented his inability to take her out when she first got sick so we really thought this time he was going to do it. But as he looked through the telescopic sight on the rifle and broke down as he saw the woman he loves staring back at him vacantly I defy anyone to have not been moved.

This scene was intercut with Rick going back to find the half-torso ‘walker’ he had encountered earlier and putting her out of her misery – this was the part of this opening episode that hammered home for me just how much emotion there is running through The Walking Dead.

The introduction of Lennie James’ character was very cool, as he calmly walked up behind a ‘walker’ and put a bullet in his head – at that point I expected him to be some sort of survivalist nut so it was a pleasant surprise to learn he is just a man trying to get over the ‘death’ of his wife whilst trying to raise his son right in the most trying of times.

The character of Morgan was partly a Basil Exposition type character but that needed to be the case really as we are along on this journey with Rick and although we can sort of piece together what has happened/is happening it is still necessary to just get it spelled out at times.

We were by no means beaten over the head with mythology as we still are none-the-wiser as to what caused the zombie epidemic and how it exploded so exponentially. Answers will no doubt be forthcoming in the coming weeks, especially as it now appears as though Rick has encountered another survivor.

As Rick Andrew Lincoln is great – we might not have delved too deep into his psyche in this opening episode but I am confident Lincoln is going to make the most of this well-earned opportunity and be a fantastic leading man.

Like Hugh Laurie in House, Lincoln’s American accent is faultless and he really seems a world away from the actor I grew to love on Teachers, that is meant as a compliment incidentally!

In terms of other characters, again, we didn’t really learn too much from ‘Days Gone Bye’ but it should be very interesting to see how things play out when Laurie (Rick’s wife) and Shane (Rick’s best friend) discover he is still alive.

It was seemingly established in the first post-credits scene as Rick and Shane ate their lunch that Rick and Laurie were having problems and although we don’t actually know how much time has passed between then and now, it does seem awfully soon for Laurie to have moved into a relationship with someone else, especially her presumed dead husband’s best friend.

The rather graphic final scenes, as the zombies ripped apart Rick’s poor commandeered horse were a chilling ending to the opening episode of the series and showed just how dangerous the walkers can be, which again, was necessary because they didn’t seem too formidable for the majority of the episode.

‘Days Gone Bye’ was by no means perfect but it has set up the series brilliantly and did it in a thoroughly gripping and emotionally resonating way. If The Walking Dead can overcome a few initial teething problems it has the potential to be a third jewel in the crown for AMC.

Bullet Points:

- I mentioned Andrew Lincoln’s American accent above, but it should also be noted that Lennie James’ American accent was also very good – I really hope this isn’t the last we see of James’ Morgan.

- I never really took to Sarah Wayne Callies for Prison Break’s entire run and again here she just left me feeling a little cold. I know it’s very early days but I could find it really difficult for the reunion of the Grimes family if she doesn’t warm up a bit.

- The empty streets may have looked sensational but that bird’s eye shot that closed out the episode with the streets of Atlanta lined with walkers really was something else.

The Walking Dead continues Friday @ 10pm on FX


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