Friday, November 5

The Walking Dead Friday - "Days Gone Bye."

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Season 1 - Episode 1: "Days Gone Bye."

The very first Walking Dead Friday is upon us. We have much to discuss.

When I first heard that The Walking Dead was being adapted into a television series, I had the typical, simultaneous fanboy reaction of childlike excitement and self-righteous dread. On one hand, I was glad that my favorite comic was coming to television (and renegade AMC, at that). On the other hand, I was worried about what would become of it after rewrites, focus groups and test audiences. After all, this is a show for only a select group of people. You’d assume that somewhere along the line, a meeting would be held with the prime focus being “How can we snag the Twilight crowd?” “Can zombies perform magic?” “Can zombies have love interests and eyeliner and washboard abs?

The answers are 'yes,' 'yes' and 'not unless their abs are made out of an actual washboard,' respectively.

Alright, maybe it never got to that point, but I was still rightfully leery. A zombie television show had never really been attempted before, after all. Then, once I heard that Frank Darabont was coming aboard, and definitely after I saw the premiere trailer at Comicon, I knew that Robert Kirkman’s masterpiece was in perfectly-adequate hands. AMC marketed the hell out of it, premiered the damn thing on Halloween night, and pretty much turned the entire thing into a media spectacle, even though the actual product was bleak, horrifying and probably really off-putting for curious folks that didn’t know what they were in for. For these reasons alone, I was more than satisfied with Sunday’s premiere episode. To put it another way, I loved it. Zombies belong to grownups again. Six million grownups, if the early projections are right.

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(Ron Johnson & Scott Walker's first day on the job.)

A quick note: I have been a fan of the comic series for two years and counting. I own every issue and it’s essentially the only comic I religiously follow. However, I will never, never ever discuss the similarities and/or differences between the series and the comic. Ever. It’s two completely different things, and to compare and contrast is unfair to both creative works, and wicked nerdy to boot. The producers have expressed multiple times that they will take the show in whichever interesting direction they choose, and that’s fine with me. I’d rather be curiously surprised than to spend 48 minutes a week frantically gesticulating at my television screen over the sacrilege of subplots and cameo appearances.

What initially drew me to the comic was that, not only was it a well-written character piece about the struggle to remain human in a (literally) decaying world, but that it was brutal with little-to-no emphasis whatsoever in being silly or slapstick-y (what few lighthearted moments there are arrive at quite-welcome times during character dialogue and downtime). I’ve grown dead tired with silly zombies and silly zombie films, and The Walking Dead merely uses the undead uprising to tell a story about people working together to stay alive. The TV series (and the comic) is not for children. It’s disgusting, really, and that’s the way it should (and really would) be. Killing zombies would be no fun.

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("Later guys. Hey Duane, say hi to your mother for me.")

The opening scene with Rick and the little girl was necessary. It drew a line in the sand. To survive, you have to do deplorable things, and if you were expecting it to come with Zombieland-esque giggles and nonchalant one-liners, you should probably look elsewhere for entertainment (Andrew Lincoln did a great job of showing us that Rick Grimes was in agony the entire time). Also, it stood as a disclaimer for those who thought that AMC would go soft on the violence and gore. In fact, The Walking Dead may have been the goriest episode of television I have ever seen.

The effects were incredible: The scene with the female torso dragging herself around would have been jaw-dropping in any big budget, Hollywood feature film. No less than 20 heads exploded with extreme prejudice. A small (zombie) girl got shot in the head. A freaking horse was ripped to pieces and eaten. The Walking Dead is taking no prisoners, and that’s the way it should be. The cinematography, perfect. The pacing, deliberate. The visuals, excellent.

Now let’s make fun of it. Here comes THE THICK & MEATY episode recap!

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Sheriff’s Deputies Rick Grimes and Shane Walsh are the only non-racist police officers in the entire state of Georgia, and even then, I’m not too sure about Shane. As they banter and aimlessly cruise in their squad car, we get the sense that they’re buddies and have worked together for some time. Rick tells Shane that his marriage has grown a bit icy in recent months, while Shane tents his fingertips and absorbs this information with the quiet confidence of a man that’s about to nail his best friend’s wife. His p-p-p-poker face is respectable, and maybe it’ll get him to stop listening to The Cure and brooding so much during those all-night stakeouts.

They join in on a high-speed chase, where after a gunfight, Rick is seriously wounded (his liver is blown clean out the front of his pants, if I remember correctly) and put into a coma. We don’t know how long Rick was in this coma, but it looks to be at least a couple months (or, the entire run of a Joss Wheadon series on FOX). While he’s busy sleeping it off and growing a solid beard, Planet Earth goes cuckoobananas-apeshit, with the dead rising up and bringing about the Apocalypse. The amount of bedside visitors tapers off significantly during this transitional period, as you would assume.

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("Excuse me, miss? Would you happen to know where...nevermind. Goodbye.")

Rick makes his way out of the now-abandoned hospital, and starts to piece things together. There are corpses everywhere, buildings are burned out and cars are flipped over for some reason (Did Two And A Half Men get cancelled?). As he stumbles back to his house in search of his wife and son, the situation is grim and his hospital gown is ill-fitting. Thanks, ObamaCare.

It appears as if Lori and Carl bailed out just in time, and Rick then encounters a father and son (Morgan and Duane) squatting at his neighbor’s place. There, Morgan clues Rick in as to what happened, and gives him a crash course in surviving an encounter with a ‘Walker.’

Not Walker, Texas Ranger. Nobody survives that.

Oh, and Morgan’s wife is now a zombie, and because he’s too heartbroken to put her down, she just continues to waddle around and check the mailbox from time to time. It equal parts hilarity and one of the saddest things I’ve ever seen. Duane’s not taking it very well, either. Morgan tells Rick that the CDC has set up a safe haven in Atlanta, which is probably where Lori and Carl went. Leaving the two behind, Rick grabs some weapons from the Police Station and hits the road. When he runs out of gas, he finds a horse (that didn’t get eaten or starve to death, inexplicably), and trots himself into Atlanta.

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("PACKERS!!!")

We now see that both Lori and Carl are still alive, maintaining a base camp in the outskirts of the city with a few other survivors. Shane is also there, and he has fulfilled his wish of establishing residence in Mrs. Grimes’ pants. What I love more than anything is that Lori and Share seem to already be thoroughly sick of each other’s shit. The honeymoon is over, and this is probably the most realistic moment in the entire episode. That didn’t take very long.

Rick arrives in the heart of Atlanta, which we see is not the safe haven it was built up to be. In fact, it’s pretty much overrun with zombies, and Rick stumbles headlong into them. He locks himself inside a military tank as hundreds of Walkers descend, rip his horse to shreds and leave him in limbo until next week. Boom. Awesome pilot episode, one of the better ones I’ve ever seen.

Okay, we’re done with the overview, but let’s go more in-depth and…PICK YOUR BRAIN!

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1. In addition to the stunning cinematography, scenery and set design, I really admired how sparing they used music and sound cues. A huge chunk of the episode was in silence as Rick began to unfurl the mystery, and the dialogue was enough to push the plot, but remain realistically sparse. Logically, not a lot of dialogue was needed, as the main point of the episode was introducing you the fate of the landscape itself.

2. I know I promised not to bring up the comic book, but I have to say that the dude who plays Shane looks uncannily like the character in the book. It is seriously Shane come to life. Lori is also very well-casted, and Rick and Carl are close enough. Comic creator Robert Kirkman stated in an interview how surreal it was to walk on set and see his characters come to life, which I must admit, has to be one of the weirder experiences to be privy to.

3. I don’t even want to know what the budget is for a show like this. Makeup and special effects alone have to total in the millions, not to mention the burned-out cityscapes and destroyed vehicles. I’m currently operating on the suspicion that the actors and crew are working for $12.50 an hour, catering not included. AMC’s funding it all with sweet, sweet Mad Men money.

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(Nick Cave has not aged well.)

4. Every time I see a slowly-paced television show the features a little kid in their main cast, I get worried concerning continuity. I call it the ‘WAAAALLLLT Paradox,’ named after the un-ignorable growth spurt of Lost’s resident youth, leading to his once-important character to be completely written out of the script. Think about it. The Walking Dead has a 6-episode Season 1, and they’ll probably advance no more than a couple of months in real time. When they return for Season 2 (theoretically a year from now), the kid that plays Carl will be all but shaving and driving a car, when on the show he’s only supposed to age from age 9 to 10.

There are a few ways to handle the ‘WAAAALLLLT Paradox.’ One, you can recast the character of Carl as needed, which is bothersome concerning continuity and could also lead to people liking and disliking different versions of the same character (the ‘Becky Conner Paradox’). Two, you can do away with the character altogether (the ‘Tori Scott Paradox’), never to mention them again, which…won’t really work for Carl Grimes, a main character without question. Thirdly, you can just let the actor age naturally and completely ignore his unbelievable progression through youth in such a short period of time (the ‘Beverly Hills, 90210 Paradox’). Best of luck to the writers on this one; that’s always a pain in the ass when it comes to a TV series. Puberty is stupid.

5. A special shout-out to AMC for not only promoting The Walking Dead anywhere and everywhere, but also the intelligence to air the entire first 30 minutes commercial-free. They understood that any break in the early action could (and probably would) lose viewers, so they kept it rolling until it was too late to back out. Also, it's more value for your basic cable entertainment dollar.

Okay, you've listened to me, now it's time for me to listen to you, with today's HYPOTHETICAL ZOMBIE SCENARIO OF THE WEEK!

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Let's say that, hypothetically, your spouse became a zombie. Now, you and the rest of your family are safely walled up inside a random home, but your brainless BFF is left to wander around the perimeter of the house in their pajamas. And it's not even their good pajamas, either. They're the ones missing the drawstring so they hang down way too far, and there's a big rip in the back so their flat, decaying ass cheek shows. Would you have the nerve to do the right thing, and put them down?

Think about it, won't you? Thank you.

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("You know what? This is fun. I never get to take you out to the park anymore.")

There you have it; the very first Walking Dead Friday is officially in the books. I hope you had a good time. Sound off in the comments section, let me know how I did and enjoy your weekend.

And hey, buy my book!

Comments:
I thought it was good. But it just didn't really leave me, personally, wanting more. I don't know if I've ODd on zombie ephemera. I've read scads of zombie-and-apocalypse related fiction, and so far nothing has managed to top 'World War Z' for me, and the introduction of the really extreme "splatterpunk" element and the "zombification" of every single damn thing has worn the genre thin, so I might just be burned out on it. I'll watch it though, at least to be able to keep up with the Friday posts. (I appreciate 'Zombieland and 'Shawn of the Dead' for what they are - because I looooove me some satire.)

Oh, and as for your hypothetical: I've thought about this at length more than once, and I believe I would be able to dispatch anyone if it came down to it - family, friends spouse...but maybe not my kid. That would ultimately probably be what would lead me to becoming zombie snack food. But if it was anyone other than my kid and I was doing everything I could to protect what was left of my family, I'd be able to look at them all not as people I knew but as what *destroyed* the people I loved. And it would be a kind of mercy, putting them out of their misery, like they were an old rabid dog. The first one would probably be truly horrifying and gut wrenching (especially if it was someone I knew & loved), but I think I could have it in me if it came down to it.
 
I love my husband dearly, but my level of terror when it comes to zombies is astronomical. I would kill him dead.
 
Excellent stuff. I never watched Lost so I wasn't able to follow all of your articles for that show. Now since I'm watching The Walking Dead, I'll be able to get more out of your articles. Bonus points for the Lady Gaga reference.
 
BAUS - I hear you. As much as I love the comic, and for an excited as I was for the premiere, and even for as awesome as the show was, I still had this feeling that I might be liking it more than it really deserves. I don't really know how to explain it, but like you said, I didn't have an overwhelming feeling of "I can't wait to see what happens next!" This could be because I sort of know the basic premise already, or because, like you said, zombie oversaturation (in a cultural regard) has made us all jaded.

Don't get me wrong, I loved the show, but here's hoping that they can sink more of a hook next week once everyone starts meeting up in Atlanta.

I agree with you on the HZSOTW. Ambition is the willingness to kill and eat the ones you love in order to get ahead.

KATIEBOT - Agreed. You'd HAVE to.

MIKE - Thanks, man. I'm tweaking the Lost Friday formula (not so much at first); I hope you all like it.

Furthermore, since it's only a 6-episode season this time around, I won't get burned out. With Lost, I was cranking out 10 pages a week for several months a year. There's no doubt I wrote well over 1000 pages about that damn show.
 
All I can say is I can't wait to see Shane die.
 
CELIA - Of course, we don't really know if he's going to die or not. What I mean to say is NO COMIC BOOK TALK, SPOILEY McGEE.
 
I liked it, I have no point of reference because I didn't read the comic, but I'll be watching Sunday. I really enjoyed when Rick climbed into the tank and the soldier zombie comes too, like he was takin a little nap. Why would that soldier get out of the tank in the first place? Shouldn't you be busy crushing zombies and cruisin for pelt? As for your zombie scenario, if your a zombie I'll kill you dead,no hesitation, don't care if your my wife or my mom, And if your not a zombie ya better be cool, and ya better not be bangin my wife, cause it's the apocalypse, I can shoot you dead too and just say you were about to turn. Double tap style biotch!!! Dale hicks
 
This is my favorite comment in months.

I thought the same thing about the soldier; he must have not been the guy driving the tank, and he hopped inside after the fever began to engulf him. If I were driving the tank, I would have never gotten out. I would have turned east and cruised that thing straight into the ocean.

The Apocalypse has no rules, so while adultery is legal and, in some cases, expected, you're also allowed to shoot anyone in the face that ruins your day. That's probably the way it ought to be.
 
Hey now, I didn't say that Shane was GOING to die...I just said I couldn't wait to see him die. As he inevitably will. After all, we're mortal creatures. We ALL die. Unless we're zombies... and it all comes full circle.
 
Woah. You're right. We're all, like...one, man.
 
"Ambition is the willingness to kill and eat the ones you love in order to get ahead." ~ Jack Donaghy, 30 Rock

I've never watched a Zombie movie before, but I thought, hey, if the CDP recommends it, I'll give it a shot. It was very compelling, and I felt really bad for the guy who tried to shoot his wife. I felt bad for him, yes, but during that scene I was yelling at the TV, "Just SHOOT her!!! Take her out of her misery!" It would have been the compassionate thing to do, imho.
 
I agree; take her down clean and move on with your life. It's the Donaghy way. :)
 
LOL Exactly!!!
 
"We don’t know how long Rick was in this coma, but it looks to be at least a couple months (or, the entire run of a Joss Wheadon series on FOX)."

It it hurts because it's true and shouldn't be!

Finally got caught up on this show today. Really dug it. I never read the comic and I don't tend to go cuckoo for zombie-themed stuff, which I think helps in that I don't feel totally over-saturated. Agree with all the points you made about why "The Walking Dead" is impressive (so far).

Frankly, I'm impressed that AMC went as far as they did with the gore and violence. Some of it (gun shot wounds especially) is digital, from what I can tell, so I'm sure that helps keep costs down - but it's still seriously visceral stuff.
 
EMILY - Cool, glad you're checking it out. If you thought the premiere was gory, check out Episode 2. I think I might have actually gagged once. AMC isn't holding back, and they're not even attempting to show the ZomPocalypse in a fun light.
 

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