Welcome to our review of The Walking Dead episode 1.01 “Days Gone By”. Below the jump we examine the good and bad from this first episode, take a look at some of the mysteries, and offer additional thoughts and observations, before rounding up the dead with our episode rating.
- Long-form storytelling and good pacing. I love the fact that the episode took…its…time, and that episode doesn’t end with a ribbon on top. We got a good sense of Rick and Shane were in those opening exchanges – informing us of who these characters were, their friendship, and the problems that threatened Rick and Lori’s relationship prior to the apocalypse. This will be important for later – will the collapse of societal norms ultimately strengthen their bond or prove it to be lacking strength? The thoughtful and deliberate pacing also facilitated a sense of foreboding, making the episode creepy without relying on ‘bumps in the night’ to heighten my interest.
- ‘Character’ shone through. YES! The characters were put front and center while the zombies were the after dinner meal. Though Rick received the most focus, Shane and Lori also displayed strong characteristics, giving us different perspectives on how best to survive in extreme circumstances. While survival is the primary goal of the story, the way in which they go about surviving will surely define their personal struggles and the effectiveness of their survival. It was good to experience more than one take on this objective. Overall, I like Rick as our protagonist – he’s strong, calm, with a good deal of compassion for humans, animals and even one or two zombies. He is also extremely vulnerable – the shot of him crying his eyes out while in the fetal position as he mourned his wife and kid was heart-wrenching. Rick is also flawed (his struggling marriage being one example) – I’m interested to see how quickly his and Lori’s pre-apocalypse problems resurface once they reunite. I also enjoyed Morgan and Duane‘s contributions – their interactions with Rick were some of the best moments in the episode and went a long way to informing Rick’s character and the pressures he may encounter along the way, particularly in regard to his own wife and kid.
- It took me a while to warm up to Rick. I got there in the end, but at times I struggled to connect with his reactions to the world world him. Did he really think that zombie dude outside his house was ‘just a man’. If this had been his first encounter with a zombie it would be more understandable, but he had met several by this stage. If I have a small criticism about the opener, this would be it – Grimes wasn’t completely believable all the way through. But it’s a minor quibble.
- What caused the zombie apocalypse? Was it a man-made outbreak of some kind, or just something that..happened?
- How much of the world’s population has been infected?
- Prior to the outbreak (or whatever), did “zombies” exist in fiction in the world of the show? I’m assuming they don’t since Morgan calls them “Walkers”.
- Can the zombification process (heh) be reversed?
- Why do zombies need to sleep? 😉
- How many days had gone by between Rick getting shot and waking up from the coma?
THOUGHTS OF THE LIVING
- From the outset we see a ‘flash forward’ of Rick shooting little zombie girl – I assumed we would rejoin that specific moment later in the episode, but the writers chose not to. I can’t help but feel an incredibly important character moment was swept under the carpet somewhat. Perhaps they felt they had serviced it enough, but in retrospect it seems little half-baked. I mean, if they’re going to show such an extreme character action, shouldn’t they follow through with the appropriate character response? It would have been nice to see how that affected Rick in the moments after the event. Just a thought.
- Rick’s motivation in light of the apocalypse is obviously surviving and finding his family. But his drive may also stem from a need to prove to his family just how much he loves them. In the opening scene, Rick tells Shane that Lori has her doubts about his priorities – that very morning she told him, “sometimes I wonder if you really care about us.” (words to that effect). Ouch! And just before getting a bullet – double ouch! It’s interesting because it tells us that things were far from perfect between them. They had problems – maybe it was just a phase, as Shane suggested. Or perhaps it’s more than that? Will the apocalypse will reveal their love to not be as strong as Rick would like to think, or will it bring them closer? We’ve already seen signs that Lori has moved on, extreme situation or not, it’s a factor. Either way, it’s interesting to see that Rick’s drive is fueled by more than just love – there’s a lot of fear in there too.
- “Is this real? Am I here?” Great little moment of doubt and realization for Rick.
- Morgan’s wife: Is is just me, or (like zombie girl) was there the slight suggestion that there was still someone ‘home’, so to speak? She seemed to be drawn to the place where she died, and later she looked directly at Morgan as he prepared to kill her. I’m not sure whether the series will ever explore the ‘humanity’ of the zombies, but there’s scope there to play with the idea that the zombies aren’t just one-dimensional creatures.
- Rick surprised me by just how easily he killed zombie Leon – especially considering how much compassion her showed the ‘crawler zombie’ (AKA Bicycle girl) – returning to put her out of her misery and taking the time to say, “I’m sorry this happened to you”. Which begs the question, are the zombies defined by who they were before they turned zombie, or by their zombie status, period? It would seem to me that Rick (and Morgan) take the view that not all zombies are created equal. The message seems to be that if you had beef with someone prior to them getting infected, it’s easier to kill them. If you loved them – or didn’t know them – it’s more difficult.
- That said, we shouldn’t rule out the possibility that Rick killed Leon out of ‘kindness’ – I’ll have to watch the scene again, but at the time I thought I detected the tiniest hint of relish on Rick’s part.
- Going back to Morgan’s encounter with his wife, this was nicely paralleled by Rick’s re-encounter with Bicycle Girl – but their motivations here appear to be different. Morgan seeks closure, yet can’t bring himself to do it. Even though his wife literally haunts him and Duane, he’s incapable of squeezing the last drop of ‘life’ from the woman he loves. While I sense that Rick was driven by duty, and perhaps curiosity. There’s no doubting his compassion in that scene, but it represents a character growth in that he’s able to return to his first real encounter with the madness and put it to bed. Which again makes me feel that he wanted to prove that he could do it – a necessary test for the journey ahead.
- Lori and Shane. What can I say, I’m not happy with them at the moment. 😮 Though it’s worth taking a closer look at their respective outlooks. Lori’s humanity extends to others, even those she doesn’t know. Whereas Shane is all about protecting the immediate interests of the few. Who is right here? As I mentioned earlier, clearly the main objective is to survive, but the different approaches to surviving will be fascinating.
- I was intrigued by the suggestion (implied by both Rick and, later, Shane) that Lori doesn’t act responsibly with her son, Carl – that she exposes him to things that she shouldn’t. Lori’s, “I’m a good mom,” suggests that there is an issue there. Is Lori a good mom? Is she a good wife? It’s easy to judge – I’ll give her that much, but it’s also fair to say that on this evidence she wont be winning wife of the year! Don’t think I’m letting Shane off the hook – Rick’s supposed to be his best friend and this is how he proves it, by bedding his wife? Really Shane? We could talk about the ‘extreme circumstances’, and while that’s a factor, we’re looking at the collapse of values, honor, respect, emotional stability and perspective. Should those things go the way of technology and societal norms, or is it more important than ever that people remain true? Perhaps they are only doing what they’ve secretly always wanted to do? Who knows. I’m sure we can pick the bones out of all that as the season progresses – and trust me, we will. 😉
- “God Forgive Us” – a powerful scene that shook Rick for a while. What is the role of faith in extreme circumstances like this? Does it have the important role of sustaining belief, or is it proven to be no more superficial than the broken and discarded cars, trains, malls and cultural excesses? Can a faithless person find faith in such circumstances? I guess these questions will differ from individual to individual, but it should also be mentioned that faith can come in different forms. Rick, for example, doesn’t strike me as a very religious man, yet he has unwavering belief that his family are still alive. I therefore sense that this will not be his ultimate test. Though we’ll see.
A very strong start from a series that many of us have looked forward to for a long time. The themes have potential, the characters are interesting, and the setting is complicated and ripe for long-form exploration. Long may it continue.
Best Character: Rick Grimes
Best Moment: Morgan’s struggle to kill his zombie wife / Rick’s mad scramble into Deus Ex Tank.
Episode Rating: 8/10