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.
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.