S1: E1 I’ll admit, the set up for AMC’s The Walking Dead isn’t exactly novel. It’s definitely your typical lone ranger wakes up after the apocalypse to find the world has been overrun by zombies tale. No big deal. What’s really fantastic about AMC’s latest venture is the execution. From the lead actor, Andrew Lincoln, to the incredible attention to detail for each and every zombie’s chilling appearance and gory demise, and the writer/director/executive producer Frank Darabont (who you may remember as the director of a few little movies called The Green Mile and The Shawshank Redemption), the brains behind the whole operation are pretty much a recipe for success – mmm brains…whoops, I’m still in zombie mode.
The first scene of the show opens in complete silence, giving us just a little taste of what our protagonist, sheriff’s deputy Rick Grimes, has gotten into. The deafening silence is broken only by the distance chirping of a few birds as Rick stops his police car at a gas station in hopes of securing some fuel. A parking lot of abandoned cars serves as an obstacle and as he makes his way toward the fueling station, traipsing his way through the devastated scene, he begins to see decaying bodies, covered in flies and finally a sign that reads “No gas.” Yep, this is not good. (Those with weak stomachs should be warned now, this is only the beginning of the gore.) Finally, he hears someone. He crouches down (wise move, dude) and sees a little girl's feet in bunny slippers shuffle across the pavement towards a tattered teddy bear. Stupidly, he goes after her thinking he can offer her help. Okay, Rick, do you live under a rock? Have you never seen a zombie movie? Clearly she’s a member of the living dead, and she turns around revealing her half-decayed face and promptly comes after his tasty human flesh before he draws his gun and shoots her point blank in the face. And Darabont doesn’t skimp on the TV gore as blood splatters everywhere and the girl’s teddy bear goes flying.
Of course they need to explain a little bit about Rick and how he got to be where he did, so we jump back a week to right before the apocalypse. Rick chows down on burgers and fries with his partner and best friend, Shane, discussing the differences between men and women – and is it just me, or is Shane a complete asshole? We find that Rick has got a little wifey, Lori, and little boy, Carl, and that they’re having marital problems. Well, that’s nothing a zombie apocalypse can’t complicate further for you, Rick. Just you wait. Rick and Shane get a call out to a country road where they put down spikes to stop a high-speed car chase. As the car approaches, it hits the spikes and flies through the air. The fugitives survive and hop out of the car, starting a full on shoot-out with the police and Rick gets shot in the crossfire, which lands him in the hospital.
He wakes up in the hospital, having visions that Shane is there, bringing him flowers from the whole department, but when he fully opens his eyes, he sees that he’s completely alone and that the flowers in question have been shriveled and dead for days. He struggles to stand, gunshot wound and all, but crashes to the ground calling for a nurse. When no one comes he pulls himself up and explores the hospital, finding dead nurses along the way before finally reaching a set of double doors with the words “DON’T OPEN DEAD INSIDE” written in blood. Like before, Rick, the only man who’s never seen a zombie movie, approaches the barricaded door and the zombies smell his flesh, reaching gray hands through the door trying to break through to get at him. This is his cue to GTFO. He makes his way into the blinding daylight, stepping over decaying bodies all the way, staggering to keep going after the onslaught of the terrifying reality he’s just been dropped into.
Still half-naked in his hospital robe, he manages to walk to his house, stopping along the way to pick up a bike that’s lying next to a legless undead girl. She reaches out for him, and he almost feels badly for her but thinks better of it, and continues toward his empty house. He sees that his family is gone, and sits on the stoop with his head in hands, not knowing what to do. He sees a figure walking down the street and attempts to wave and someone walks up behind him and smacks him in the face with a shovel. It’s a little (living, normal) boy who’s out with his dad, trying to take out the undead. His dad comes walking across the street, shooting the figure Rick had been waving at in the head before approaching his son and Rick.
The man, a survivor named Morgan, realizes that Rick isn’t a zombie or a “walker” so he brings him into his home and grills him about his bandaged wound, making sure it was a gunshot and not a bite. Rick sits down to dinner in Morgan’s bunker of a house, and Morgan explains the concept of zombies to Rick – you know, the whole they bite you, you get really sick with fever, die, come back to life as a walker and crave human flesh. The usual. As they sit in low light and engage in low conversation (in an attempt to keep the walkers from taking notice of their presence) a car alarm goes off outside – zombie alert. They turn off all the lights and go to the windows to see what’s going on, and there are walkers everywhere, crawling the suburban streets. The boy sees one lady zombie and starts to cry. We learn that it's his mother, Morgan’s wife, who was bitten but that he couldn’t bear to put her down, so she’s now one of the living dead and a source of nightmares for young Duane.
The next morning they venture out, and Rick promptly bashes a walker’s head in with a baseball bat. There’s no time to ease into this stuff, this is the apocalypse, people. The trio stops by Rick’s house and determine that his family is alive and they must have fled to nearby Atlanta where there is a shelter and Center For Disease Control command post that’s intended to help figure out how to beat the zombie virus. Rick takes them to the police station to prepare them for the journey, outfitting them with guns and treating them to the use of the station’s showers. Morgan elects to hang back in the ‘burbs for a bit longer, so Rick gives him a radio to stay in contact and they go their separate ways.
Rick stops by his house one more time, this time noting that the half-a-zombie girl from earlier has dragged herself off into the woods. He follows her trail as Morgan, back at his house, looks at pictures of his wife and mows down walkers from his bedroom window, eventually catching his former beloved in his crosshairs. While Morgan breaks down crying, unable to pull the trigger though he knows he should, Rick finally finds the crawling girl and with pain on his face he utters, “I’m sorry this happened to you,” and shoots her. Already, the show is diving into the idea of losing your humanity to survive. Leave it to AMC to give us a zombie show with soul.
Rick continues on toward Atlanta, sending out signals on his radio. He manages to reach a camp of survivors, who include his wife, son, and best friend Shane, but the radio cuts out before they can respond. Shane’s taken the leadership position in the little survivor camp and he’s also apparently taken possession of Rick’s wife. It hasn’t been that long, something tells me this was going on before the apocalypse.
Along the way, Rick’s squad car runs out of gas, so he rolls up to a small farm house in hopes of borrowing some fuel to continue his journey. Of course, this house has been hit, the farmer and his wife are decaying in the living room under a bloody scribble that reads “GOD FORGIVE US.” With no fuel, he’s forced to find other transportation – the farmer’s now abandoned horse, leading to that iconic shot that AMC’s used to taunt us for weeks: Rick riding alone on horseback into Atlanta’s desolate streets.
He rides in silence, only the clack of the horse’s hooves on the pavement follows him into the city and we can be certain something awful is coming. The noise wakes a few walkers that were nodding off in a crashed city bus, they stumble out and attempt to follow Rick and the spooked horse, but he keeps moving. Suddenly, he hears a helicopter and sees its reflection in the glass windows of an Atlanta high-rise. He apparently loses his wits instantly and goes galloping after the sound, only to land smack dab in the middle of a street literally filled with walkers. Come on, Rick. I expected more from you at this point.
Once they smell him, there’s no escape, they surround him completely, pawing at him and his horse. He jumps off, and the walkers are distracted momentarily by the horse, instantly tearing into its flesh. Hi-ho silver no more. Rick scrambles to reach the duffel bag full of weapons that’s dropped, but he can’t get there before he’s over taken by the groaning, gray set so he scrambles under an abandoned army tank. But, duh, Rick, that’s not going to stop zombies. Seriously, man, wise up. They come in unstoppable droves, chasing him under the tank as he tries to fend them off with kicks and bullets to the head, but it’s no use. He sees no end in sight and brings the pistol to his head but just before he pulls the trigger he notices the door in the bottom of the tank and escapes into it. There’s still one zombie inside, but he quickly shoots him, splattering his decaying brains all over the inside of the tank and causing an dizzying ringing to resonate in the tiny metal box. Once again, without thinking, he tries to escape out of the top hatch, but nope. Zombies are crawling all over the tank, so he scampers back down and prepares to wait it out.
Finally a voice comes over the tank’s radio. It’s Shane, saying, “Hey you, in the tank. You cozy in there?” Rick's mind: blown. The camera pans out as a drove of zombies rips out the rest of the horse’s guts, intestines and all. The shot widens and we see that the streets are completely overrun with the undead, with Rick’s tank stuck in the center of it all. Yeah, I’d call that a pickle.
Darabont's given a solid introduction into his latest brainchild, with just enough blood and guts to shock us without turning us off just yet, but something tells me he won't go that easy on us forever. The good news is, he's doing gore in a sophisticated, artful way - yes, I am making a case for a sophisticated zombie show, just go with it. We'll see just how far this goes over the next six episodes, but I have feeling that AMC's step away from their usual dapper, debonair brand of drama is only going to get better from here.