Saturday 6 November 2010

THE WALKING DEAD episode one

The first episode of the new zombie epic aired on FX last night. Read my review after the jump...

Firstly, I don't normally cover TV shows, but my anticipation for The Walking Dead has been so high, I plan on reviewing each episode over the next couple of months. There may be minor spoilers in this review, so this may be best read after you've seen the episode.

After receiving an injury during a shoot-out, Officer Rick Grimes (Andrew Lincoln) wakes from a coma to find the world in a very different state to when he left it. Leaving his hospital bed to find the wards deserted, he ventures outside and into a makeshift morgue, with corpses laid out the length of the car park. As Rick soon finds out, those aren't the ones he needs to worry about, it's the walkers that pose the immediate threat.

Finding refuge with a pair of survivors who help his recovery, Rick soon learns that the human race has been struck down with a deadly fever, only to rise again as flesh hungry monsters. Unsure of where his wife and son are, Rick decides to head to Atlanta, hopeful they'd have headed there for safety.

From the opening scene showing Rick make a treacherous and silent walk to the abandoned gas station, the whole episode is a masterclass in tension (see also Rick walking down the stairwell with nothing but a flickering match). As the whole production is being overseen by Frank Darabont (who also directed this opening episode), if you've seen The Shawshank Redemption or The Mist, you may recognise his common themes of survival and substitute families.

Much like the zombies it features, this is a slow-paced story. I've read all of the books and can't wait to see how the rest of the story is handled. This episode is only the first 37 pages of the first book, with (I assume) the rest of the book filling out the rest of the first season's 6 episode story arc. It's remained fairly faithful so far, but I anticipate changes made to serve the purposes of the story. The characters of Morgan Jones and his son Duane have certainly been fleshed out from their appearance in the book.

Not to undermine Andrew Lincoln's achievements as the Sheriff's deputy, but the best performance of the episode has to be Lennie James' protective father Morgan, balancing his grief over the apparent loss of his wife with his desire to care for his son. It's heartbreaking stuff to watch him try and deal with the consequences of the zombie outbreak, and a shame that (if the series sticks to the chronology of the books) we're not going to see him again for quite a while.

Not much is shown of Rick Grimes' wife and son, except we know they've survived the zombie outbreak with the help of Rick's partner Shane. The camp will gain prominence in the weeks ahead, but for now it's Rick's journey back to his family that's going to drive the story. This opening episode (viewed in its elongated directors cut) shows the way forward for this series. Yes, it may deal with hordes of the undead, but it's the survival of those left behind that we're concerned with.

The zombie effects are incredible, delivered by SFX extraordinaire Greg Nicotero. Although the walkers are impressive, my favourite would have to be the crawling roadside zombie Rick encounters early on. I find it surprising that we've never seen a zombie filled TV series before, the idea of an viral apocalypse ideal for a long form series. It's encouraging to know that the second season has already been greenlit, as this is the most exciting new TV show I've seen in years.

This is the start of something big.


n.b, the opening credits may express the desolate world after the zombie apocalypse, but they're nowhere near as cool as Daniel Kanemoto's fan made ones.

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