The Walking Dead debuted yesterday to smashing numbers, based solely on CHUD.com’s business-altering preview piece.

We kid. Frank Darabont is the man and television is the better for having him creating horror shows for it. We will be doing Tag Teams of the show (as we do with Boardwalk Empire and possibly more shows) as we go onward. Here’s our first:

Episode 1: Days Gone By
Directed by Frank Darabont

Nick Nunziata:
So here it is. Frank Darabont’s ninety minute
(with commercials) first salvo in AMC’s adaptation of Robert
Kirkman’s zombie series arrives with a mostly unknown cast and
ushers in a new phase of television programming most of have been
waiting for. Boutique horror.



Gore. Production value. Marketing budget. All things we’ve seen very
little of on television (barring bloated gimmick vampire shows and
whatnot). It’s a little late to help all those Stephen King
adaptations that could have used it but it takes a marriage of a
great network, a great filmmaker, and ripe material to make change
and here it is. OK, well the material’s not ripe but two out of
three ain’t bad.



The Walking Dead is primarily the story of Rick Grimes (Andrew
Lincoln), a policeman who is shot and while he’s in the hospital a
zombie apocalypse happens and we experience this horrible new world
through his eyes as he tries to make sense of it while searching for
his family. From the materials we’ve seen, the first season seems to
cover roughly the same terrain as the first trade paperback. It sets
the stage, introduces the first group of characters, and gets about
its business in killing survivors.



What struck me first about the television show was its style. Doing
The Shield has certainly influenced Frank Darabont. It’s evident in
The Mist and it’s really evident here. This is as raw a style as
I’ve seen from him and it’s apparent out the gate that The Walking
Dead
is not your typical Darabont effort.

Alex Riviello: It’s obvious that Darabont
knows what made the comics work (or at least, work up to a point). While
we all love to see zombie heads explode, even with some obvious CGI
squibs going on, it’s really all about the dynamic of the characters. I
love that that he’s already expanded upon these people’s backgrounds and
relationships with a single episode, telling so much about each one
with beautiful, tiny, heartbreaking little moments.



We all hoped that they would take the time to set up this
world and it’s great to see that they don’t rush it. They even manage to
somehow make Rick waking up in the hospital feel fresh despite the
obvious
28 Days Later feel… watching him discover what the world has
turned into is incredibly horrific.



It’s helped by a somewhat nonexistent score. A little bass guitar
reminiscent of
The Thing, a little swell to make your heart beat faster,
and the usual pumping music track at the end of the episode to signify
that shit’s about to get real, and that’s about it. Otherwise it’s
mostly cicadas, grasshoppers and the wind, a silent world devoid of
people that only gets loud when the dead enter the picture. It’s no
surprise that Darabont is so fond of
Day of the Dead, as The Walking
Dea
d definitely has the feel of that underrated classic.




Elisabeth Rappe:  How about the wrinkly, rotten skin on that legless zombie? 
If anyone doubted that
The Walking Dead wouldn’t have the high gore
factor that the comic series did, that one zombie dispelled it pretty
well.  As Nick said, this is a level of horror we haven’t seen before on
television.


I read the comic right before the show, so I don’t
have a deep fannish attachment to it, but I was immediately impressed
with how it stuck to the source and expanded on it in subtle but
defining ways.  Rick’s shooting always felt like a corny excuse to keep
him out of the mess of things, but actually seeing what played out made
it feel less perfunctory.  It’s a glimpse of the “real” Rick the book
never had time to show — a guy who was calm under pressure, but who
panicked at the thought of death. He’s not going to be that guy again.


Darabont
has also scaled back the chunks of exposition, and imbues all his
characters with a sense of high suspicion and wariness. Just because a
man is of the living doesn’t mean he should be trusted.  It’s hard to
imagine Robert Kirkman being optimistic in comparison, but his
characters immediately latched onto each other and shared what they had.
I think the suspicions of Morgan and Duane will set the standards for
the rest of the stragglers we’re going to meet.  Darabont also proves
he’s willing to twist the emotional knife even more than Kirkman. Fans
of the book know there’s a LOT of heartache to come, but Darabont took
two forgettable characters out of the comic and wrung tears out of them.
That scene with Mommy Jones coming up and trying the handle — firmly
coming down on the “they still have some consciousness” angle that few
zombie stories take time to answer — was enough, but the scene with the
gun scope was a sucker punch.


Also, let me give my firm
endorsement to Andrew Lincoln as Rick. I know a lot of people weren’t a
fan of this casting, but I’ve liked Lincoln in his British work, and I
think the show needed an unexpected and “ordinary” guy in this role.
Fancasting was full of tough guy picks, but Rick wasn’t that guy
initially, and I think it’s going to be more powerful to see Lincoln
develop into a grizzled Leader.


Jeremy Butler: With Joshua tailing up the end here, I may be the only person on this
roundtable who has no experience (aside from name recognition) with the
original comic.  In terms of movie adaptations (i.e. SCOTT PILGRIM and
HARRY POTTER) I think having the familiarity as a supplement certainly
helps because a lot of stuff gets dropped, but here I’m happy to be left
in the dark, especially since the format gives the writers and
filmmakers time to work everything that they want/need in.  I don’t want
to have already known what to expect and lose some of that punch.  A
perfect example of this is that opener.  You know these guys mean
business when the very first zombie shown (and subsequently shown
executed) is a teensy little girl with bunny slippers who was carrying
her teddy bear almost the entire time.  That’s ballsy and it sets an
incredibly sinister tone – everything and everybody is up for grabs here
and I love not knowing who’s gonna get it in the end.



And it just gets better.  I don’t want to turn this into an echo
chamber, but it’s kind of hard with such a great start.  We’ve seen a
lot of different genres and stories be told in television’s long-format
but the zombie story isn’t one of them.  It’s why when we see almost
every zombie film cliche play itself out in front of us that it doesn’t
feel trite or stereotypical.  Darabont and his crew have the time to
flesh these scenarios out and give them the meaning and context that
other filmmakers just don’t have time to deliver in two hours.  Like
everyone else I kinda rolled my eyes (and still kinda want to, honestly)
at the whole “Hey guys I’ve been in a coma what’s been goinHOLY SHIT”
transition from regular civilization to Zombie Apocalypse, but you can
forgive it because you know that we’re gonna have a helluva ride finding
out just what the hell happened.



And that’s where the magic of TV’s format comes in; whereas in a
movie we’d have to settle for that sort of mood setting with a quick few
minutes of exposition just to get us from act to act, here we can
expect the sort of development that nobody who’s dabbled in this genre
has had the screentime to deliver.



The possibilities are endless and amazing.  I don’t wanna get swept
up in hyperbole after only the first episode, but if these guys handle
this right we may end up seeing a game changer in the entire zombie
sub-genre.




Josh Miller: Fear not Jeremy, you’re not alone. I’ve never even held a copy of the
comic in my hand. Most of my comic-reader friends have steered me away
from the books (fairly unkind words were bandied about in regards to the
level of storytelling on display). So I went into the pilot stone blind
too…



But maybe I should have read the comics, because I for one did not
find anything fresh to tickle my fancy in the
28 Days Later set up.
Despite not reading the comics I was able to see almost every single
plot point and story beat coming – and now we flashback from the
cold-open; and now he gets sent to the hospital; and now he wakes up
post zombocalypse; now he meets the surly guy who explains the rules;
etc; etc. That isn’t to say I wasn’t finding things to enjoy (loved the
bit in the hospital with the barricaded “Don’t Open Dead Inside” doors,
and the creepy fingers trying to squirm through), but I really wasn’t
very engaged for a vast majority of the program. The Morgan/Duane
portion of the ep kinda bored me, actually. I realize the show is
drawing its characters and story from a comic that started back in 2003 –
so this isn’t a damning critique so much as just my honest reaction –
but the show was simply TOO familiar to really connect with me. I didn’t
jump on board until the horse showed up. I loved the final segment of
the show. The “how the fuck is he going to get out of this?” moment
downtown when the zombies have him surrounded was one of the most
excellently tense things I’ve seen in a while. I knew they couldn’t kill
our lead, but they fucking got me, guys. I got worried!



It’s hard to add anything new to the zombie genre at this point, but I
did enjoy the minor yet big-in-ramifications twist that firing a gun is a
great danger in this zombiverse. It’s a nice way to totally undermine
our humans’ easiest source of protection.


But it seems I am the
lone voice of dissent for the pilot. Looking past the
spectacular-for-television production values, on a purely
story/character level, I found the pilot merely acceptable. But the
ending and the nods to where the show is heading have me pumped. All the
pieces are here for something amazing. I definitely agree with Nick
that Darabont is displaying some stark, gritty chops here.


Nick Nunziata: Actually no, Josh. I dissent as well!



While there were things I really liked about it, I was rather
underwhelmed with the first installment. I thought Andrew Lincoln as
Rick was a dearth of personality and the combination of he and the
absolutely horrible Jon Bernthal as Shane really hurt my enjoyment.
Their introductory conversation about women and light switches really
started things off awkwardly and I never much found myself caring for
the characters. Rick in the comic is sort of a crybaby hothead but my
mind’s eye made him feel real and compassionate. Lincoln thus far just
doesn’t do it for me. When he bumps into the father and son, we see a
little character shading and convincing emotion (albeit a little too
hammy to fully connect).



I know things will improve once the always reliable Jeffrey DeMunn and
the rest of the ensemble fill things in, but I do not like my leading
man thus far.



It’s funny, there are times when this show felt like Frank Darabont’s
The Stand, and I don’t know if it’s residual Darabont overlap or what,
but it did feel to me like a King adaptation (though Kirkman is no King,
even bad King). The makeup effects were amazing, though. Aside from the
CGI blood that takes me right out of a movie or show, it definitely was
no horror slouch.

Alex Riviello: Have to disagree with your takes on the leads. Thought that first
scene with them set things up perfectly- you got a good take on what
kind of guy both men were, as well as Rick’s family. All in just a
couple of minutes of airtime. Shane’s a dick, sure, but it’s obvious
that he’s a good friend- listen to that cry of anguish he gives when
Rick was shot, or the look he gives him in the hospital- which makes his
betrayal even worse. 
CGI was definitely fantastic thanks to good ol’ KNB. Is this the
first time a dead half-woman with her lips chewed off has been on
regular cable? Probably.


Josh Miller: Andrew Lincoln struck me as acceptable. He didn’t induce strong opinions
in me one way or the other, so he has room to grow or underwhelm for me
at this point. I can handle a quiet, reserved hero – just depends on
how he plays with other characters, which remains to be fully seen yet. I
agree that the opening conversation scene between Rick and Shane told
us what we needed to know about the characters, but I also agree that it
was a stinker of a scene. Shane’s monologue seemed like a stand-up
comedy bit, which doesn’t exactly root things in reality. I expect more
from Darabont.



I was intentionally ignoring all the casting news for this show, so I
was wondering if Jeffrey DeMunn (Darabont’s Dick Miller) would pop up
somewhere. Glad to see he will be part of the regular cast.


Jeremy Butler: I can see and even agree with some (if not all) of
the complaints about our characters but, and again I go back to the
format, if Rick was the guy we only got to spend two hours with then it
would bother me more because even if he did finish the story with a full
arc and a personality it almost wouldn’t feel genuine because it was so
rushed.  Which is the same defense for a lot of the problems with this
episode (because yeah it’s far from perfect), but there was SO MUCH done
right here, and so many little unexpected bits of wonderful that when
you take into account that we still have plenty of time to develop these
people and these relationships I tend not to let it bother me.  It
certainly wasn’t bad enough to pull me out of the show like the coma
device did at first, and I even forgave that because of the little extra
touches they were able to add to it.



I think we’ll be able to point out cliches and tropes in every
episode, but if they expand upon them like they did with every one of
them here then we’ll be fine.


Elisabeth Rappe: I don’t think The Walking Dead will break a lot of new ground, except in
the never-seen-this-on-tv.  The important thing to keep in mind with
any of your “meh!” is that
The Walking Dead, like Darabont’s infamous
got-your-nose movie
The Mist, isn’t really about zombies.  It’s about
the living, and how they cope in this kind of post-apocalyptic scenario.
Again, that’s not exactly innovative, but there’s a reason Darabont was
drawn to this series … and it’s basically so he can do scenes like
The Mist ending over and over until there’s nothing left of you. There’s
going to be so damn much of that. As the opening proved, you can’t even
get attached to a horse!


Like I said, I read the book but I
wasn’t a rabid fan of it by any means. Already I see an improvement —
if you guys thought Duane and Morgan were hackneyed here, you should
have seen issue #1! — and I think there will be some twists and turns
with the source material. There’s some room for interpretation between
those panels, and I think we’ll be seeing some good departures.


Plus,
it’s a zombie television show! I’m no “Zombies are teh awesome!111!”
dweeb but seeing a serialized zombie story is really appealing to me. 
It’s  going to be fun!


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