Monday, November 1, 2010

"The Walking Dead" -- Episode 1.01 -- "Days Gone Bye"

For the cost of just one cup of coffee a day, you can help
this poor, starving zombie live another day...

The pilot episode of The Walking Dead is a Master's thesis on how zombie films should be made.

Part 28 Days Later and part Night of the Living Dead, The Walking Dead is a beautiful homage to the best zombie films ever made while also staking a claim as a modern classic in its own right. While the series has only revealed one episode, the pilot alone should be enough to convince horror fans of its excellence. It is a soulful piece, living in the empty spaces of an extended night, a night masked by shining sun. The characters are as dead inside as the creatures they fear, each haunted by their own demons, whether that be a failing marriage, or a love lost. Everyone is the walking dead, not just the titular monsters.

The story is about Rick, a deputy sheriff in a Kentucky town. He is trying to work things out in a struggling marriage, and can't understand why his wife has become so cold and cruel as to question his love toward her and his son. He doesn't get much time to ponder this as he and his partner are called into a car chase with a suspect. During a shootout, Rick is shot, and wakes up weeks later to a world ravaged by death and zombies.

We've seen this before, but Frank Darabont's direction creates a beautiful tension as Rick explores his devastated surroundings, most notably the hospital courtyard that is piled with dead bodies.

Rick eventually meets up with a father and son, Morgan and Duane. They are suspicious of him at first, but eventually take him in to help. We discover that Morgan's wife became infected by the "walkers," and she now stays around the house they've set up in, trying to find a way to get back in each night. As Morgan relates his story to Rick, we feel his pain. And later on, when Morgan sets up a gun in the upper room of the house to snipe his wife, the tension is excruciating.

As much as we come to love Morgan and his son, Rick has to be moving on and learns of a camp in Atlanta that may be host to his family, whom he believes to still be alive. Rick sets off for Atlanta, stopping by the park to put to rest a woman whose pathetic zombie state is one of the most horrifying things about the episode. Eventually, Rick gets to Atlanta and finds himself in a massive pickle, surrounded by more zombies than he has seen thus far, trapped in a military tank with no where to go. Great ending.

As far as TV goes, The Walking Dead is great TV. Will it be enough to sustain a full-length series, given the horror premise? After giving this some thought, I realize that you always take a risk when making a show based on a genre-premise. Fortunately, this show makes a strong case that the real story is in the characters, not the situation. If the show merely becomes about survival, it won't stand a chance, but if it continues to develop these characters in a world that just so happens to be infested by walking dead, it should be one of the more riveting programs on the tube. For me, I'm willing to go along for the ride.

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