Below is my synopsis of The Walking Dead episode one. If you haven’t seen it I suggest you don’t read on. Buy The Walking Dead Season 1 and enjoy!
As pilot episodes go The Walking Dead Season 1 Episode 1 was a triumph. By the end I was well and truly hooked and desperate for The Walking Dead Season 2. Quite a few great series have taken a long while, imo, to warm up, The Wire and Breaking Bad are two examples that come to mind, but The Walking Dead series hits the ground running. The very first scene is a beauty. A police cruiser moves down a deserted road and stops, out steps our hero Rick Grimes with gas can in hand. As he moves forward we see that everything around the gas station, where he has stopped, is carnage. Up turned cars, personal belongings scattered, rotting bodies…something very bad has happened here, the silence is deafening.
There’s no gas, Rick turns to leave, what’s that noise? As he crouches to look under a car we see the legs and feet of a small child, replete with bunny slippers, shuffle across camera and stop to pick up a teddy bear. When Rick calls out to the little girl we all know what’s coming. She turns around and she ain’t pretty! She is pretty dead though…UNDEAD (hooray). Having moved towards her initially to offer help Rick is now moving backwards swiftly as the mini zombie moves disturbingly quickly towards him. Even in this very first scene we learn something crucial about Rick’s character, he may be sensitive and caring but he’s not a wuss. He pulls out his magnum and shots the little girl straight in the middle of the forehead. She hits the ground as blood oozes from her head and…the intro credits and music kick in! I was lucky enough to be at the special Hollywood premier screening of this first episode and the reaction to that first scene was great.
The following is a brief –ish synopsis of episode 1 followed by my thoughts on the best bits.
After the credits we go back in time before everything went pear shaped. Rick and Shane, his partner and best friend, are in their police car talking about women and we learn that Rick’s marriage is not going great right now. A call comes in for a high speed pursuit and they answer the call. Along with several other officers they set up a road block and in the ensuing mayhem and shootout Rick gets badly shot. Rick slips in and out of a coma and when he finally awakes in hospital he is very much alone, weak and malnourished. Calling for help and staggering around a wrecked and deserted hospital Rick tries to make some sense of it all but instead is confronted by dead bodies and the moans of those who, frankly, should be dead.
He manages to get out of the hospital and make his way home, encountering a truly gruesome zombie on the way, to find that his wife and son are gone. Distraught Rick has something like a mini nervous breakdown (who can blame him) and then just when things couldn’t get much worse he gets whacked in the face with a shovel. In fact he has been mistaken as dangerous by Morgan and his son Duane who have been holed up in a neighbor’s house. It is now that Rick learns that something catastrophic has taken place and that everything has changed. Morgan’s wife has already succumbed and wanders around outside the house with the other zombies. He also learns that there is supposedly a safe haven at a quarantine center in Atlanta. Believing that his wife Lori and son Carl must be there he sets off after them. He leaves Morgan and Duane with weapons, a vehicle and a radio with instructions on how to contact him if and when they decide to follow.
While Rick makes his way to Atlanta we find out that Shane, Lori and Carl are alive and living with some other survivors on the outskirts of the city. More importantly we find out that Shane and Lori are already getting it on. WHAT!!! No good can come of this.
When Rick runs out of gas he has to find a horse to take him the rest of the way. I’d like to say that the horse becomes an integral character in the season…but I can’t. Rick rides into Atlanta which at first seems manageable with just a few walkers roaming around, but when he gets too far into the city and makes a wrong turn he is confronted with hundreds of zombies. Rick may be the central character but as the episode reaches its climax you wouldn’t put money on Rick to see it through to episode 2. He’s surrounded by the undead, pulled from his horse and has just moments to crawl under a discarded tank. As the throng starts to crawl in after him it seems curtains for sure and Rick prepares to put a bullet in his own head rather than meet a grizzlier end. At the last second he spots the opening into the base of the tank and pulls himself inside. Safe! NO NOT SAFE!!! One more army tank zombie has to be dispatched. Trapped and alone Rick contemplates his fate until….over the tank radio comes a voice…”Hey you, yes you in the tank, dumbass, you cozy in there?” Wang Chungs track Space Junk kicks in.
And the horse? Err, less said the better.
While the reviews for the series have been overwhelmingly good I have read some negative comments from some viewers (fair enough, it won’t be for everyone). In particular I read someone saying that they didn’t particularly rate the acting. I think this is unfair. Frank Darabont has, in my opinion, assembled a very talented cast who bring real intelligence and depth to their roles. Here are a couple of small examples that I clocked on a second viewing of the first episode. In the opening scene as Rick, played brilliantly by Andrew Lincoln, walks down a slope into the gas station he puts his hand to his side to ease the wound where he has been shot. It’s just a tiny thing and not very important n the big scheme of things but that kind of attention to detail is what separates the good from the average. Also in the next scene, where Rick and Shane chat in the car about their relationships, if you know that Shane will get it together with Lori later you can already get a hint from Shane’s behavior that there are already undercurrents there, he’s guilty about something. Subtle subtext that makes all the difference.
As for Frank Darabont writing and direction, well he’s just a God isn’t he? He’s such a great story teller and gets you on the edge of your seat but with so much more than just gore and action. As with all great suspense it’s often what you don’t see and what doesn’t happen that gets you going. Directorial moments of class in the first episode include Ricks exit from the hospital. He enters a stairway which is pitch black and Rick has to use one match after another to find his way down. It’s terrifying; you’re just waiting for a zombie to shoot out of the darkness! It doesn’t happen but your nerves are shredded anyway. There’s another fantastic sequence after Rick leaves town. The action cuts between Morgan trying to summon the courage to kill his zombie wife and put her out of her misery and Rick roaming a park looking for the severed zombie that he ran into earlier. Morgan can’t bring himself, understandably, to do what he knows he must while Rick, with his tough compassion, finds the crawler (see what I did there?) and apologizes before dispatching her to the next world. Finally the moment when Rick crawls under the tank is brilliant. There just appears no way out for Rick and even though he is the lead I found myself despairing that he wouldn’t make it.
Of course no human drama or Zombie apocalypse would be complete without some humor however black. Rick cycling in terror with his hospital gown flapping in the wind has a funny visual element with something of the absurd about it. As does the odd little scene where Rick, complete with crash helmet, tests his zombie killing skills with a baseball bat.
The Walking Dead Season 1 Episode 1 has so much to offer on so many levels that…I just…can’t wait for…The Walking Dead Episode 2!