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STUDIO: Anchor Bay Home Video
RUNNING TIME: 292 minutes (6 episodes)
- Commentary for each episode
- Black & White version of Pilot
- Comic Con panel
- Numerous featurettes
Night of the Living Dead: The Series!
Developed by Frank Darabont. Based on the comic book series created by Robert Kirkman. Starring Andrew Lincoln, Jon Bernthal, Sarah Wayne Callies, Laurie Holden, Jeffrey DeMunn, Norman Reedus, Michael Rooker’s ugly mug shamelessly chewing the scenery, and zombies.
Rural Georgia police deputy Rick Grimes wakes up from a coma to find himself in a world overrun by zombies. (Sound familiar?) And the deadheads are the least of his problems: his partner and former best friend is sleeping with his wife, not everyone shares his scrupulously ethical approach to leadership, and he keeps getting roped into taking day trips to Atlanta for some reason…
Before I get started, I might as well lay my cards on the table and admit that I don’t understand the hatred a lot of people seem to have for this show. Maybe it’s that I’m not a huge zombie fan myself: I like both Dawn of the Deads and the first 28 Days flick, but other than that I think the genre is enormously overrated, not to mention overhyped. In fact, with the possible exception of ‘hunky vampire in love with sweet, innocent ingenue’ tales in the post-Twilight era, I think zombies are probably the most played-out movie monsters in the world right about now. Having said that, I’m a huge fan of The Walking Dead (especially coming off the show’s excellent second season). So I approached my re-watch of Season 1 with a more-critical-than-usual eye, determined to figure out just what these first six episodes might have done to so thoroughly piss off the zombie-loving electorate.
Things are gonna get a bit spoilery from here on out, so viewers unfamiliar with the series beware.
Let’s start with the obvious: there aren’t a lot of zombies. This is something the second season managed to correct to a large degree, but with the exception of a few big set pieces, there’s precious little walking dead in the first season of The Walking Dead. In fact, three of the six hours relegate the zombies to cameo status! This is understandable to some degree; you can’t do thirteen episodes a year of non-stop zombie carnage, after all. But we don’t even get a “swarm” scene (where a character gets cornered and nearly killed by a horde of the hungry undead) until the very end of the pilot! And even that one is brief.
The show’s first hour-and-a-half features several zombie sequences, most of which consist of a single ghoul that is quickly dispatched. Of the few left over, one hides the creatures behind a locked door, and only one other manages to generate any real sense of threat. Fast-forward to the finale, in which the zombies barely appear, and the threat posed to our characters is entirely of human origin. (A situation that also pops up in previous episodes, where a loudmouth redneck, an abusive husband, and a guy with heatstroke and a shovel all get our heroes more riled up than the walking cadavers manage to do). It’s okay if the zombies don’t turn up in every single episode, but they shouldn’t be pushed as far into the background as these first few episodes manage to do. I can certainly understand the more die-hard zombie aficionados taking offense to that.
The story also lacks a strong sense of direction. Rick goes to Atlanta, barely escapes Atlanta, reunites with his family, goes BACK to Atlanta (to rescue Merl), once again barely gets out alive, returns to the camp, then goes back to Atlanta again to check out the CDC. Why all the bouncing back and forth? Why not start out at the camp, decide to try and make it across the city to the CDC, and have the whole gang get in a series of misadventures along the way? Their caravan of vehicles make the group perfectly mobile, so it’s not like it would take some huge plot contrivance to get them all moving.
Perhaps most fatally of all, Rick doesn’t make a terribly good showing as a leader this year. He leaves a man handcuffed to the roof of a building the first time he hauls ass out of Atlanta; he also leaves a duffel full of guns and ammo behind, to boot. Now, these decisions aren’t necessarily damning, in and of themselves: Merl was certainly a threat, the group is probably better off without him, and the guns were sitting in the middle of a zombie-infested street. What’s not so defensible is Rick’s general wishy-washiness. He should have been sure, before he did it, that leaving Merl was something he could live with, and he should have asked himself whether retrieving the guns was a risk worth taking before making the choice to leave those behind, as well. As it stands he comes across as scattered, his actions poorly thought-out and indecisive.
What’s worse, they seldom produce good results. Rick’s decision to head back to Atlanta and the CDC nearly gets everyone killed (twice); he can’t even lay claim to any honest support, since Lori only goes along after being provoked by Shane, and Shane only endorses the plan (effectively ceding leadership of the group to Rick in the process) to cover his ass after he gets caught trying to shoot his friend. He also has an alarming propensity to give away the group’s guns with very little provocation.
The show has a lot of strengths in the character department as well, though. Shane actually comes across as a much better leader than Rick throughout much of the season, which is surprising considering where his character goes later on. He makes tough decisions, deals with troublesome group members reasonably (Ed, the guy with the shovel, and Daryl Dixon come to mind), and he challenges Rick’s decisions when Rick’s decisions need challenging. He grows more emotionally unstable as things progress, of course, but in the beginning he comes across as not too bad a guy.
Daryl is another bright spot in Season 1, character-wise. Despite his rough, Merl-like exterior, he comes across as smart and resourceful. He even comes up with a novel approach to executing walkers! His crossbow makes for reusable ammo, and is much less noisy than all the constant gunfire, to boot. Zombies are attracted to sound, after all.
The set is surprisingly loaded down with features (I’m gonna go ahead and call it overcompensation for the paltry episode order). Frank Darabont and Robert Kirkman (creator of the original comic) are ubiquitous in the commentaries and featurettes. There’s even a short documentary about “zombie school,” where the extras learn to walk like the dead! Good times.
Out of a Possible 5 Stars