TV RECAP: ‘The Walking Dead: Days Gone Bye’

AMC’s eagerly anticipated zombie drama The Walking Dead finally made its debut, and it did not disappoint. AMC builds on its excellent reputation for bringing us edgy, unusual drama. The Walking Dead is a worthy companion to Mad Men and Breaking Bad. The series is based on a comic series by Robert Kirkman.  AMC will air six episodes this season.

The show wastes no time establishing a grim tone.  A man in a police officer uniform is searching for gas, and comes across a (campsite?) of sort, where he sees a little girl in a bathrobe with a teddy bear in hand.  The man calls out to the girl, and when she eventually turns around, it is revealed that she is a zombie.  A pained grimace flashes across the man’s face, just before he shoots the girl in the head.  We watch the girl tumble to the ground in slow motion.

Balls, AMC, balls.  Not only do you flaunt some gore right from the get-go, but you show a child being killed.  Now that is how to (unapologetically)  grab an audience’s attention.

Next, we are shown the man’s story, through a flashback. He is Rick Grimes (played by Andrew Lincoln), a police officer in an unnamed town. One day he responds to a routine call with his partner Shane (Jon Bernthal) that culminates in a shootout.  Rick is badly wounded.  He awakes from a coma in an eerily quiet hospital.  After he staggers out of his room, it becomes apparent that the hospital is abandoned, save for a few decaying corpses strewn about.

On the outside, things don’t improve much.  Rick sees few signs of life, and is horrified by a massive amount of dead bodies outside the hospital. He finds an abandoned bicycle, and sees a grotesque woman who has been severed at the waist. She drags her skeletal body toward him.

He makes his way to his house, hoping to find his wife and child, but his house is abandoned. Despondent, Rick sits outside his house and is knocked out by a young boy wielding a shovel.  The boy’s father demands to know how he received his chest wound.  When is established that Rick is not a zombie, the man fills in some of the details for the confused Rick.  While Rick was in the hospital, there was a zombie apocalypse.

The zombies are called “walkers” and they can’t talk. Sound and light attract them.

Rick is told that there may be a safe haven in Atlanta, so he departs with some weapons in search of his wife and child. His car runs out of gas, so he proceeds forward via horseback. Unbeknownst to Rick, the city is infested with zombies, and survivors have congregated in a settlement outside of the city. Rick arrives in the city and is surrounded by zombies.  He escapes into the hatch of a tank, but things look very dire for our hero. The horse he rode into the city on meets a particularly grisly fate.

Overall, the production values are excellent.  The makeup is realistic, and the show is well directed.  It is relentlessly bleak.  This is no Zombieland. I am quite sure that there will be no comedic relief for the duration of the show.  It can easily be argued that the “walking dead” can refer to the survivors of the apocalypse, as well.Isolation, loneliness, despair and fear abound amongst the living.

As is typical of AMC series, the show hones in on the characters.  At first I thought that Andrew Lincoln was a rather uninspired choice for the lead, but then no one had heard of Jon Hamm before Mad Men, and Brian Cranston didn’t become a household name until after Breaking Bad.  Lincoln settles into the role nicely.  He is handsome, but not too much so, and he can pull off the renegade lawman persona with ease.

The father and son he encounters are really heart-breaking, as they have to deal with zombie mom/wife returning to them on a regular basis, and the father just can’t bring himself to off her.

This is a quiet, moody series, marked by graphic violence (lots of splattering zombie heads.)  However, for those who are looking for something a bit out of the box, there is much to appreciate here.

The Walking Dead is created and directed by Frank Darabont (The Shawshank Redemption, The Mist, The Green Mile.) The comic was created and written by Robert Kirkman.

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