The Walking Dead is AMC’s new weekly series based on the popular Robert Kirkman comic book. It’s pilot was written and directed by Academy Award nominee, Frank Darabont (The Shawshank Redemption) and produced by Gale Anne Hurd (Terminator, Aliens, and a little something known as Tremors– oh yeah). After finally getting the chance to watch it my immediate reaction was: Wow.
Once again, basic cable blows away anything the broadcast networks put on the air. Darabont (who is also an executive producer) crafted a gripping, horrific and intensely emotional episode of television. He has taken an epic approach to the the storytelling, setting in motion several storylines that will keep audiences glued to their televisions throughout the course of the first season. Plus, there’s more gore than you’ve ever seen on a TV show, with zombie makeup effects by KNB Effects.
After a chilling opening that featured series hero, Deputy Rick Grimes (a spectacular Andrew Lincoln) in a face off with a prepubescent zombie girl, we flashback to a time when the world wasn’t crazy. Deputy Grimes is having an intimate conversation with his partner and close friend, Deputy Shane Walsh (Jon Bernthal). It’s a perfect scene. We learn everything we need to know about these two men as they sit in the front seat of their police cruiser. Both are married; Grimes has a son. Both are having relationship troubles. Grimes, especially, is distressed that his wife is growing distant from him, but Walsh gives him solid advice on ways to help his marriage. It’s a quiet, funny and exceptionally written scene that recalls the best of Darabont’s work as a screenwriter.
Then, things begin to unravel. The deputies assist in ending a highway chase and bringing down three thieves. In the final moments of the sequence, Grimes is shot and gravely wounded. A brief scene shows him in the hospital, going in and out of consciousness, Grimes finally regains his capacities only to discover that he’s all alone; forgotten, while the world went to hell. Anyone familiar with Danny Boyle’s modern horror classic, 28 Days Later, will immediately recognize the similarities between that film and the scenes of Grimes waking up in the hospital. In fact they’re so close in plotting that I was momentarily distracted.
Grimes stumbles out of the hospital and discovers stacks of dead bodies covered in sheets. Abandoned helicopters and military artillery surround the building. What. the hell. happened? He walks a deserted road and comes upon a bicycle. Next to it is the half corpse of a woman. When it suddenly comes to life, dragging its body toward him, Grimes nearly collapses. He gets away on the bike and makes his way home. His wife and son are gone. Grimes sinks to the floor, unsure if they’re alive or dead. We’ll soon find out. My God, Lincoln ripped my heart out when he sank to he ground, sobbing for his wife and son.
Minutes later, Grimes steps outside to get his bearings. He sees a strange man shuffling down the street. We know it’s a zombie. Unfortunately, he doesn’t see the body slowly approaching him from behind. Out of nowhere, another man crosses the street and blows a hole through the zombie’s skull. Grimes reacts only to get SLAMMED in the face with a shovel. As he lays on the ground trying to figure out what just happened, the gunslinger points his weapon at Grimes and demands to know if how he got the wound in his chest. Cut to black.
Damn! That’s just the first 15 minutes! And just kept getting better.
Grimes awakens to find himself in the company of Morgan (Lennie James) and his son. They’ve holed up in a deserted house, waiting to find the resolve to move on toward Atlanta, supposedly a safe place to be. Morgan watched his wife become a zombie, a “walker,” as he calls them, and the father and son are still too shell shocked to leave town. Actually, Morgan really wants to find the courage to kill the zombie version of his wife so she can be at peace. The scene in which he has her in his gun sights and just… can’t… shoot her was so emotional that it was easy to forget that this was a horror show.
Under Darabont’s careful direction, the characters were front and center and because we got to spend so much time with them (there will be plenty of time for gore), it made the zombie aspect more believable. As the episode played out to the end, there were some surprises (guess who’s alive and who they’re with) and a tragic moment in which a valiant horse becomes zombie meat.
I hope that Darabont and company find a way to continue this combination of personal moments and intense horror action. The director has a long history of creating excellent drama out of fantasy and horror; I would hate to see The Walking Dead become just another crappy sci-fi series because the Hollywood movie director moved on to bigger and better things. I have a feeling that Darabont and Hurd are in for the long haul and will make sure that this show continues to maintain the quality of the pilot. Why wouldn’t they? I’m sure at AMC they have full creative control. As long as they’re around and the episodes are as fantastic as the pilot, I’ll be around for the long haul, too.
What did you think? Will you check out future episodes when they air on Sunday nights?