Walking Dead Recap: Good morning, America, how are you?

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Season 1/Episode 1: The Walking Dead/Days Gone By

What’s your day after Halloween take on the TV Zombiepocalypse?  I’m pretty satisfied with the balance of gore and subtlety last night’s highly anticipated (and heavily promoted) pilot episode of The Walking Dead achieved.  I may be more satisfied in some ways than others, but on the whole my zombie contentment levels are high.  At this point, I’m more curious to know what you thought, since every nerd and stylish, thinking person’s site in the known universe received AMC’s press kit and has already reported back.

But first things first – let’s recap this bitch. The pilot starts off with everyguy cop, Rick Grimes, stopping on a desolate stretch of road to siphon gas from abandoned cars at a makeshift camp.  Except for a nasty, rotting corpse, the place is deserted. That is, until our hero confronts a hungry, zombiefied Jon Benet Ramsey lookalike with an advanced case of gingivitis and has to shoot her in the head.

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Undead moppet with the munchies (Photo by me at the SDCC Walking Dead booth)

After he blows her and her stuffed animal to hell, the credits roll and the action reopens in the past on a close up of a half-eaten fast food meal. Nice touch. Rick and his partner, Shane, are talking about chicks on lunch break in their police cruiser. It’s bro’s before ho’s with these two.  In a brief, revealing conversation, Writer/Director Frank Darabont, subtly lets us know that while Shane’s a lunkhead, Rick’s a sensitive, unostentatiously manly guy.  They’re close; close enough to talk about the Grimes’ troubled marriage and to race to a crime scene together like they do it all the time.

In another careful, well laid hint of upcoming death and grossness, when they pull up to the scene of the crime, the shot opens with creepy, cadaverous birds munching on roadkill.  The cops set up a roadblock, then have a shootout that ends in Shane saving a mortally wounded Rick from a textbook bad guy gang. He doesn’t save him well enough from a hospital stay though, which is exactly where Rick’s at when he comes to with dead flowers at his bedside table and a stopped clock on the wall. 

After futilely calling out for (presumably long undead) nurses, Rick makes his way out of his room where he’s greeted by a bloody, rapidly decaying body, a hallway wall riddled with gunshots and a sign on a padlocked door that reads, “DON’T OPEN. DEAD INSIDE” (the first of many shots that were nearly exact representations of panels from the comic). The dead might be inside but they’re trying to get out which makes Rick, who has no idea what’s happened to his idyllic little life with wife problems and hamburgers, freak out.  The suspense and horror continues to build efficiently as he makes his way out to the parking lot, only to find it looking like a warzone littered with dead bodies.

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And it don't stop (Photo Courtesy of AMC)

After a brief encounter with a no ass, no private parts having, but still truckin’ torso, Rick grabs a bike and rides home to his empty house.  His wife and son aren’t there. He totally loses it, then wanders onto his lawn where he runs into his first actually walking dead man. Before he can process, he’s hit over the head with a shovel and character actor Lennie James is drilling him about where he got his wound.  James plays Monroe, a fan favorite from the comics, and is a good guy to have around to break it down for you post apocalypse (just like he did when he played Robert Hawkins on Jericho). But only after he determines Rick hasn’t been bit.  Until he realizes Rick isn’t a “walker,” he keeps him tied to a bed in a completely unsexy way.  

After he unties him, Monroe invites Rick to join him and his adorable shovel-wielding son, Duane, for supper.  They have a nice dinner conversation about zombies (except they don’t say zombies, they never say zombies – they say walkers). How they like to eat people and get more active after dark. And how, above all else, you better not get bit. If you do, you’ll get a fever then come back a walker. This dinner chat was another smooth piece of a finely polished script.  There wasn’t a bit of clunky exposition in their entire discussion but still you heard everything you needed to know about the set up. Things only got slightly clunky when Rick used the phrase, “deadly as Dillinger,” after Duane asks if he’s a bank robber. That seemed dated to me but how am I supposed to know what time period this Zombiepocalypse takes place in? If it’s 1983, that works, but if it’s right now, that and some other details, left me wondering if Darabont shouldn’t have some Gen Y or Millennial writing assistant polishing his scripts (a minor nitpick but a nagging one nonetheless).

Later, a car alarm goes off, causing walkers to gather in the street.  “She’s here!” Duane cries.

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Guess who's coming to eat your brains for dinner (Photo Courtesy of AMC)

She’s not just here, she’s trying to get in, and she used to be Monroe’s ol’ lady.  Monroe should’ve put her down, but he didn’t have it in him.  He’s got it in him to teach Rick the finer points of Zombie Bashing 101 the next morning though. After getting in a quick undead head smash, they do some recon at Rick’s old place, then at the police station. Rick believes his family is still alive. Duane and Monroe say if they’re alive, they’re in Atlanta, where the CDC is supposedly rounding up refugees and looking for a cure.

Ricks puts a to-go arsenal together and asks Monroe and Duane to come with him to Atlanta.  Monroe declines. Sadly, they’re “frozen in place.” But before they say their goodbyes, Monroe drops a final bit of zombie knowledge on Rick. They might not seem like much one on one, but if he faces a zombie en masse, he better watch his ass.  As Rick heads out of town, he apologetically takes out the assless torso while Monroe tries but fails to shoot his undead wife in the head.  Taken together, these two interspersed scenes seemed to suggest that the zombies retain some shred of humanity – at least to the people who’re left to deal with them.

On the road to Atlanta, Rick tries to get a hold of someone, anyone on his CB. In one of the greatest coincidences in modern storytelling that somehow manages to work (in spite of its deus ex machina-esqueness), his message gets through to a roadside camp where his good ol’ buddy Shane is displaying poor leadership skills and getting some hot single mom ass. In yet another finely scripted touch, where Rick pockets a family photo for safekeeping and that hot single mom (as most Beat readers, I’m sure, already know) turns out to be Rick’s wife.

After stopping for gas and finding none at yet another grody roadside attraction, Rick saddles up a horse to ride into the final stretch of Atlanta. Dude. Even if I hadn’t already read the comic, I’d know one thing for sure:

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Whatever you do, DON'T ride a horse into a Zombie Apocalypse (Photo: Courtesy of AMC)

But, of course, he does.  And the closer he gets, the worse it gets, particularly when the smell of horse and man meat wakes up the snoozing zombies lounging all over the abandoned military hardware crowding the streets of Atlanta.  That’s nothing him and his trusty steed can’t handle though, right?  Not so much.  After hearing a plane, the horse takes off at a gallop around a corner and the two come face to face with an undead army. When they attack, Rick loses the horse and his weapons cache. He tries to take cover under a tank but gets trapped instead and decides to end it all. Just as he’s about to blow his brains out, he looks up to meet his maker and sees an open tank trapdoor. It’s moments like that when you realize Darabont doesn’t waste a single minute of scripting. For that kind of suspenseful, precise writing alone, this show’s worth watching.

But that’s not the only reason to watch. There’s also an endless supply of zombies to shoot in the head! Like the undead soldier Rick blows away before shutting himself inside the now crawling with zombies tank. He sits there with his gun, probably thinking about ending it all again, when the tank radio chirps up. “Hey you. Dumbass. You, in the tank. Cozy in there?” 

Then, with a sweet overhead shot , the episode ends neatly on Atlanta’s zombie population eviscerating the horse and trying to infiltrate the tank. I knew it. I always knew when the cities fell post-apocalypse; all that would be left would be bottom feeders trying to eat me. I didn’t know this show was gonna be so good though. I had a few other minor issues but, all in all, I thought it was a great opener.  Some of the characterizations were maybe a little too cookie cutter but even that seems to work well with such a gory tale. And, given the rich exchanges of dialogue throughout the show, it seems like the characters will slowly reveal themselves as more complex than they are at first glance. 

What did you think?  If you’ve read the comics, what do you think’s gonna happen next? Are you into this? Will you wait for the DVD’s? Or are you taking a pass entirely? Sound off down below and let me know, people.

Comments

  1. I haven’t read the comic (I know, I know, I should), but all I could think for the first half hour was “28 Days Later deja vu.” But it did, on the whole, have enough pure scariness and tension to counterbalance the pure ickiness and drippy-rotting-guts and bring me back, even though I am usually guts-averse. The getting-some-hot-single-mom-ass scene felt forced, but it’s only the first episode, I’ll cut them some slack. Creepiest of all was not knowing how “conscious” the zombies really are. Brrrr.

    Since the moppet bit was predictable (we all knew what we were watching when we turned it on), what I felt bad about was the horse. Alas, poor horse. It was so happy munching on its grass and lapping from some local stream.

  2. Excellent pilot episode. Kirkman and Moore should be extremely proud. I read the comic, I know the story… but watching it unfold still seemed fresh. Not a easy feat. I also love the way the scenes were shot. It’s in color, but everything seems washed out and at the same time quite stark. Any time a filmmaker can convey a sense of dread in the broad daylight gets my vote. Now having said all this I’m going to want to watch the season all in one sitting without commercial interuption. Blame my second shift wage slave job for altering how I view TV dramas.

  3. Joe Lawler says:

    I liked that Moore and Adlard got credit in the opening.

  4. M.E. Baz says:

    Does anyone remember when zombies actually ate stuff? This was yet another zombie story in which there’s almost 0 feasting by the undead. 90 minutes and the only gorging was at the very end and of a horse. That, plus some absolutely cliched writing, and it was enough for me to decide not to tune in again (especially after the massive tease of opening brilliantly with the shooting of a child zombie and then delivering close to nothing on par).

    The wife thing was good, but it’s been beyond done.

    Sorry, just my two cents. Trust me, I really, really wanted to like this show.

  5. Mark Sullivan says:

    I thought it was great. As always some liberties were taken: the scene where Rick gets shot was jacked up to eleven compared to the comic. My only complaint was the inconsistency in the zombie behavior. Some of these zombies are much smarter and faster than the ones in the comic, but only when it’s needed to complicate the story. The zombies in the comic would not have followed Rick under the tank, I don’t think.

  6. john layman says:

    I wish it was as easy to find commentary and criticism online as it is recaps.

  7. “It’s moments like that when you realize Darabont doesn’t waste a single minute of scripting.”

    Seriously? There were multiple points where he just needed to get on with it. Opening gas station scene was way too long (and actually unnecessary except that without it there wouldn’t be any zombies at all in the first half of the show). “Cops talking relationships” wasn’t needed. No reason the shootout should have been more than 30 seconds, that first fakeout shot was just waste.

    There was some good stuff, and some improvements from the comic, but this was 30 minutes of TV in a 1-hour-plus package.

  8. Micah says:

    One of the parts that wasn’t mentioned was the gun shot inside the tank. I thought that was a great nod to reality. Once the viewer realizes that the zombies are just the backdrop and not the plot, then the character moments (such as Shane and Rick talking) become really important. And it was great to see Rick with his humanity again. Poor guy.

  9. Jesse Post says:

    Without that “extraneous” cops-talking-about-their-lives scene then you would have absolutely no idea who the main character is or what he struggles with and hopes to accomplish in life. I’m actually amazed Darabont was able to get so much out of that relatively brief conversation without resorting to clumsily expository dialogue.

    Of course, if you don’t care who the main character is and what he hopes to accomplish in life you could just play a zombie video game instead.

  10. Shannon OLeary says:

    @Carrol Burrel & @Christopher Taylor: I agree w/ you dudes that the creep factor got nudged up to 11 because you were left wondering how “conscious” the zombies really are and the sense of dread the daylight scenes’ invoked.

    @M.E. Baz – I urge you to give this show another shot. The 2nd episode REALLY ratchets up the interpersonal dynanamics at stake for the characters. That said, I agree with you that Darabont veers dangerously towards cliches and tropes in his writing. I thought about that a lot actually while watching the first 2 episodes and am now of the opinion that it works when you’re telling a story that largely pivots on brain eating. But if you like your brain eating straight up without an accompanying, somewhat effete drama – meh, who am I to judge? The heart wants what the heart wants.

    @BobH: Perhaps we have different viewer needs in terms of style? I personally liked how Darabont spaced the action in between more contemplative, set up building scenes. That approach allowed him to labor on details (like Monroe’s wife trying to get into the house for instance) and let the viewer come to their own conclusions about them. And I’m going to have to agree with @Micah and @Jesse Post that the cops talking, while hardly shakespeare, was totally well done and necessary. I do agree with you about the opening undead moppet off-ing scene though. That was maybe the one thing that, upon reflection, seemed tacked for the sake of maintaining a zombie presence. But it was cool!

    @Micah: Doh! I should’ve mentioned the shot reverb in the tank thing. You’re right. That was a good, realistic moment. Thanks for bringing that up. I liked how he made a number of tactical errros that turned out to be kind of DUH, RICK! It adds to his everyguy appeal.

    PS: Wow. I’m totally surprised no one called me out on suggesting that Darabont get a kid to polish up his scripts.

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