The Walking Dead, “Days Gone Bye”: Where’s my horse?

How many different zombie stories are there really? Five or six? And those are all pretty repetitive. Every now and then, one will come along and put a different spin on things, but for the most part it’s the same old thing. Zombie apocalypse. Survivors come together. Some die. Some don’t die. Roll credits. Wash. Rinse. Repeat.

After careful and thoughtful study, I’ve come to the conclusion that I don’t care. I don’t care if I’m watching the same movie in slightly different packaging. I love them. There’s something about that story that keeps me coming back every single time. I’m not sure if it’s the people from different walks of life coming together, the visions the story conjures up of society crumbling before our eyes, or all the zombies being shot in the head. It’s probably that last one. Because I’m young, and guns make me feel like a big man.

So you can imagine my excitement when I heard that AMC had picked up ‘The Walking Dead’ as their fourth scripted television series. First, it’s got zombies, which we’ve already talked about. And second, it’s AMC, who’s really become the go-to place for good television these days (HBO’s making a comeback, but that’s a different story). If anyone was going to do a story like this justice, it would be them.

And I was not disappointed. The pilot episode was written and directed by Frank Darabont, of Shawshank Redemption and Green Mile fame, and his work on the big screen has really made for an amazing looking TV show. And while we can thank Darabont’s vision for that, we also have to give the network its due for pulling out all the stops with this thing. I mean, everything here looks gorgeous. The sets, the makeup. There are a few effects shots that mix in with the action pretty seamlessly. I really don’t want to think about what a show like this costs to produce, not to mention market, which AMC also did a great job with. And it all looks to have paid off. The pilot drew in more than five million viewers (more than the Mad Men finale! (I think I’m the first person to say that)), making it the most watched premiere in AMC’s history. So myself and everyone else who pays attention to these things is just waiting for a second season pickup.

My biggest concern with making a show about zombies is what it chooses to focus on. With a movie, you’ve got about an hour and a half and you’re out, so you don’t really get a chance to delve into all those nice character beats we love so much. Obviously, you’ve got more time in a TV series, so it’s really got to be character driven. Of course, we want the zombies, the frantic running, the headshots, the kill shots, the whiskey shots (when they’re celebrating after killing the zombies), but you really can’t see this stuff every week. After a while it just grows stale. ‘Friday Night Lights’ couldn’t do a football game every week. And that’s applicable here, too.

Luckily, this doesn’t seem like a problem the show’s going to struggle with. There were parts of the pilot that were surprisingly emotional. One scene, in which protagonist Rick Grimes (played by that dude from Love, Actually) tracks down a zombie he saw after stumbling out of the hospital he woke up in, may have been one of the best sequences of the entire show. That, intercut with Lennie James trying to kill his wife, herself a zombie, really took it a level that I can’t remember seeing in many other shows. If the show continues to strive for that level of emotional involvement, I think we’re all in for a treat.

Of course, it’s still early days, and there’s still a lot about the story the show has yet to introduce. While much of the pilot follows Rick alone on a Castaway-esque journey through this strange, new world, there’s still a group of survivors, including Rick’s wife, son and ex-partner we only caught a small glimpse of. So there’s a lot of character interactions we haven’t seen yet. Readers of the comic will know how things there pan out, and I’m looking forward to seeing how the show handles them.

The show’s ensemble seems like it’s up to the challenge. Andrew Lincoln performed much better than I thought he would, although the verdict is still out on Jon Bernthal, who plays his ex-partner, Shane. He’s a good actor, although I think he may be pushing the southern, good ole’ boy thing a bit too far. And if anything has to be viciously taken down by a pack of zombies, it should be his southern accent. For those of you who love the blood and gore, don’t let all this talk about emotional BS turn you away, because there’s plenty of that here, and in stunning HD, too.

Fun! Amirite? I don’t know exactly what kind of voodoo magic AMC is playing with over there, but I wish I could grind it up and stir it in my Kool-Aid. They really do seem to have another hit on their hands. Which makes me happy and nervous at the same time. Happy because this is truly great television. Nervous because how long can they really keep up their record? The other foot’s got to come down sometime. I’ll wait until they announce ‘Hunger Games’ the TV series before I get too worried, I guess.

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