The Walking Dead
Season One, Episode One: Days Gone Bye
Directed by Frank Darabont
It’s testament to how well Frank Darabont (The Shawshank Redemption, The Mist) has developed The Walking Dead from comic series to tv that it seems like a personal love letter to each and every single fan of the books.
It’s the sort of dream production that simply never happens and is something that this reviewer has spent years pining for but never for a moment believed there was any real validity in its potential reality. Well thank heavens for small miracles. When the series was announced the geek world went into a frenzy and many doubted the ability of a family-friendly director like Darabont to be capable of handling the delicate balance between sheer unflinching brutality and poignant, mature character development that has made the books so successful. But they needn’t have worried.
The Walking Dead, written by Robert Kirkman (who serves as an Executive Producer here, occasional writer and even future director) is quite simply one of the finest comic book series currently running, if not the best. From the outside it may seem like merely yet another zombie apocalypse narrative, but where-as any of it’s genre competitors focus on gore, action, thrills and fast-paced set pieces to entertain; The Walking Dead takes a far more mature, slow-burning realistic approach, sucking you into it’s moralistically fascinating and complex characters as they try to find a safe haven to rebuild their society in. Watching them gradually having to incorporate laws, trials, and sentences in their day-to-day life is part of the books hook as they struggle to exist in a world without boundaries and it makes for deeply affecting and engrossing reading.
The series adaptation stars Andrew Lincoln (This Life, Love Actually) in the lead role as Rick – a sincere and (initially at least) moralistic deputy sheriff who wakes up in a hospital to find the world has been turned upside down. He ventures out into the debris of humanity in search of his wife and son. Kirkman made a vow that despite the books focusing on a large and constantly fluxing ensemble cast – they would only finish when Rick’s story is finished. Whether that would be at his deathbed decades down the line, or in a sudden zombie accident next week he isn’t sure, but the series lives and dies with him.
The tv series is packed full of plenty of recognizable faces from Sarah Wayne Callies (Prison Break), Jon Bernthal (The Pacific), Laurie Holden (The Mist), Jeffrey DeMunn (The Shawshank Redemption), Emma Bell (Frozen) and many more. But don’t get too attached to them as part of the brilliance of the books is how unpredictable each issue is – you never know who’s going to survive. That is, as long as the tv series follows suit.
But early indications are positive as this debut episode, which only focuses on the first 36 pages or so of the initial graphic novel, manages to not only replicate the remarkable tone and calmly observed tragedy of the unfolding events, but also the hard-hitting sporadic violence of the comics too. One would expect the series to have been condensed into a fast-paced, brainless, but entertaining horror/action show, but thankfully and rather miraculously this isn’t what we’re treated to. Instead Darabont and his team show an immensely involved understanding of why the comics work and deftly manage to translate it to the screen. In fact I would even go so far as to say that this debut episode actually surpasses the book.
I don’t want to get into the specifics of events as to be honest it doesn’t really matter and would only serve to hinder your enjoyment for no real purpose or gain. The core events are very close or similar to any other number of zombie films / books / games that you may have experienced (the opening scene is essentially just a remake of 28 Days Later for instance). Rather it’s the way in which it’s all handled that is so unique and praise-worthy.
It is as different to Dawn of the Dead as The Thin Red Line was to Saving Private Ryan. Or as unique to the zombie genre as Close Encounters is to science fiction. The series has managed to immediately prove itself in its premiere episode and it should be proud. Just so long as it can keep up the quality we are certain to be treated to one of the finest and most original television seasons currently broadcast.
Whether you’re a horror fan or not; I really can’t recommend this enough.
– Al White.