The Walking Dead
Season 1, Episode 1
'Days Gone Bye'
Written by: Frank Darabont, Additional Material: Robert Kirkman, Tony Moore, Charlie Adlard, Directed by: Frank Darabont
My Blurb: Before we start this review series, let me say that I've not read the comic books. I did scan a few of the characters in The Walking Dead Wiki, but that's it. So, I don't know how the characters stack up against their written counterparts, nor do I need to know. I'm just explaining this so you'll know why I don't bring up the comic book developments in these reviews.
Unlike in say, BTVS and Angel, where the comic books are canon with the shows "The Walking Dead" tv series is a side timeline. You don't need to know what came before to watch the series, as these characters are 'starting fresh'. This is a two edged sword, as far as these reviews. Although you'll not have to put up with my saying "in the comic series..." during commentary, I also won't be relying on it to smooth over rough characterizations or bad writing in this series by 'reading between the lines' with information from the comic books.
This is its own universe and ergo will stand or fall by what is on the screen. SPOILERS WITHIN. Also WARNING: Some screencaps will be grue-inclusive and may be upsetting, if you managed to make yourself forget you saw them when watching the episode. FINALLY: The beginning of the review is cap-heavy, but then I chill out some. Some.
Scene 01: We open on a long shot of a sheriff's vehicle coming down a quiet road. It is car 134 and has one occupant. As the car approaches, the camera-view turns slightly, and we can see an overturned car... and then a truck. Are we at the scene of an accident? If so, there doesn't appear to be anyone around.
Our patrol car comes to a stop and we see its occupant get out and look around after popping the trunk. I'm just gonna cut to the chase and tell you this is Deputy Rick Grimes. He pulls a gas can from the trunk and continues looking around at what appears to be an entirely deserted area.
As Rick continues walking, we see more signs of a major incident. Cars are either overturned or burned out and there is the loud buzzing of flies suggesting there may be bodies nearby.
He makes his way to the gas station just off the highway, where there are even more abandoned vehicles... some of which have bodies being swarmed by flies. The scene looks like there may have been campers here, congregating around the station. There is a sign up stating 'no gas', which isn't good news for our deputy.
Our deputy (who is played by one of my TV love-interests, Andrew Lincoln... YAY) stops suddenly as he hears shuffling nearby. He gets down on the ground to look under the car he's walking alongside. A pair of little legs shambles by. He watches as a thin pair of arms reaches down to pick up a teddy bear.
Scene 02: Rick hops to his feet, as the little girl in her robe and slippers shuffles her way between a row of cars with her bear. He calls out to her and identifies himself as a policeman. He tells her that she doesn't need to be afraid as gently as he can, thinking she must be in shock.
Of course, when she slowly spins around, we can see a huge bite mark out of her face. She's also pale as a walking corpse. Unsurprisingly.
Rick starts to breathe heavy with an "aww, noooo" look on his mug. The zombie-kid starts growling her hunger at him. She drops her bear, now that she has her sights on something far more satisfying. She starts to speed up her shamble as he pulls his gun and backs away from her. He points and shoots, sending one through her forehead. She tumbles back into the blood/brain behind her.
We get a sideview of her body, with a fly buzzing over her bullet-wounded forehead and the fresh blood drool flowing down the side of her head.
Rick looks shaken, as the theme starts.
Commentary: This whole sequence has been played without any incidental music and it works wonderfully to put us in the scene. It is a bit long, but once Rick hears the shuffling slippers, the tension rackets up nicely and when we know the little girl is going to be a Walking Dead, we're nearly holding our breath.
The gunshot of the little girl is both wonderfully done and gutsy, as we're shown the headshot taking place and the aftermath and it's awful and upsetting because we're shown the headshot taking place and the aftermath. It will basically tell you if you can watch this series, as children won't be safe and there will be some seriously disturbing images if you choose to go forward. A really nice touch (but also hideous) was having the zombie-child lose a slipper after she's shot off of her feet.
Now. Yes, after my praise I do have a minor complaint. The only place I can fit this scene in will be after Rick leaves Morgan but before he reaches the farmhouse where he gets his horse.
So, why is this scene here, other than that somebody decided we just had to start out with a zombie before we got the backstory. I don't agree. It's an arresting scene, no doubt about it, but I didn't need to have it as the opening scene to be interested in the series. I think a better start would be Rick's upcoming shooting, and then leave this for later but only because this scene really is emotionally overpowering. It's starting the episode on such a gut punch, that nothing else can really come close to it, which makes the rest of the episode a small letdown from this powerful opening.
With the gunfight, it would have been exciting and tense, but it wouldn't have overwhelmed what comes next. Like I say though, this is a minor nitpick.
Finally, I really love the opening credits and the theme music for this series.
Scene 03: After credits, we are obviously back in time. We're focused on some take out in the front of a squad car. Rick is with his partner, Shane and they're discussing women. We learn that Rick is having some marriage problems, but he doesn't exactly know why he and his wife can't stop bickering.
Shane is sympathetic, but tells him it's just a thing couples go through and they'll be alright. Rick's major burr today is that Laurie said something particularly cutting about not knowing if he cared about her and his son, Carl, at all... in front of Carl. He tells Shane that he'd never say something that cruel to her, and certainly never in front of their son.
Commentary: And the camera shot is too close. Less Face, Less Face! I don't need to count how many of their pores are perspiring.
They get a broadcast over the radio that the local county mounties have a pursuit in progress and are requesting assistance from the staties. They take off.
Scene 04: As our couple [oh, how I wish] race to help cut off the suspects, we get a shot of a dead cat in the road with crows eating at it. I have no idea why, but the roadkill is very... unsettling. It reminds me of The Stand, actually, but I can't explain why.
Rick, Shane and two other patrolmen arrive and set up spike strips. They all have their guns out and have the road blocked with their cars as the chasing sirens grow louder and louder (and no theme music is playing again... I like this... I wonder if this is a regular thing and I just stopped noticing).
The suspect car hits the spikes and goes tumbling off the road in a spectacular crash. They slowly approach the wreck, when one of the suspects gets out of the overturned vehicle. He has a "you'll never take me alive, coppers!" attitude and starts shooting despite warnings to put his gun down.
Despite four police firing at him, he goes a surprisingly long time not getting hit. Long enough for Rick to get shot and go down.
Second gunman gets out of the car and fires, as Rick lies grunting in pain on the grass and Shane is kept from getting to his side to see how bad it is.
He is also gunned down.
Scene 05: Shane shouts for Rick and the officers rush to his side. He's gasping for breath. He yells that he's alright as he reloads... he's wearing body armor, so he only had the holy-bejeezus knocked outta him. Shane doesn't mind telling Rick he scared the hell out of him. Rick can't believe the son of a bitch actually shot him.
At this time, we're seeing there was a third guy in the car. Do you think the guy would stay low in the grass and make a quick exit with the car in the cops' eyeline, while they're all focused on Grimes? No. No, he does not. Because he's an idiot.
Rick is telling Shane that he is not to tell Laurie what just happened, EVER.
As Rick turns his back toward the suspect car before it has been cleared by anybody, the third gunman takes a shot. This one hits Rick in the back, and we definitely see blood... it's gotten around the flak jacket. He goes down again.
Third gunman isn't long in joining him.
Scene 06: Grimes struggles to breathe as Shane shouts 'no, no, no' and he bleeds all over. Shane shouts at Leon to call the ambulance and tell them an officer is down. He tells Rick to just focus on staying with him.
Commentary: The scene is quite intense and well-acted, with just the little annoyance of the gunmen all being suicidally stupid to mar it a bit.
Everything fades to white for Rick Grimes.
Scene 07: Some time later, the white fades and we can hear the beep-beeps of the hospital machinery.
We see Shane's mug hovering over Rick and talking down to him. The camera work is double-imaging and slightly slo-mo-y, showing Rick is still out of it.
From Shane's dialog, we can guess that Rick has been in a coma for an extended period of time. He has a vase of flowers with him from the dispatcher at the station.
Scene 08: We leave Rick's point of view to focus on his pale, sweaty, really icky looking face. He blinks suddenly and turns to kid with Shane about the somewhat grandmotherly vase. Shane doesn't answer him, and then we can see that Rick is in the room alone. His IV drip is completely dry and the flowers that "Shane just dropped off" from Rick's POV are all dried up and dead.
Rick looks around in confusion. The clock on the wall has stopped. He struggles out of bed, but his legs aren't supporting him and he falls heavily to the floor. Although he yells for help, thankfully considering, no one answers or comes into the room.
Scene 09: Rick struggles to his room's bathroom and notices the days of beard growth he's sporting [which nevertheless looks awfully well trimmed]. He pounces on the water from the sink.
Scene 10: Opening his room door, Rick is greeted by a dark hallway filled with detritus and lights that are either out or buzzing on and off. There is a gurney in front of his doorway.
Commentary: We'll see later why this gurney is here and I'm bringing it up now, because I want to explain about a few things here as far as reviewing. I knew when I decided I wanted this series on DVD (and therefore would be reviewing it) that it was going to be a challenging one. The issue is that the series for the first and second seasons are highly dependent on flashback storytelling. There are characters whose actions are going to look really horrible until we get a flashback several episodes afterward that explains why they acted the way they did in the episode prior.
Obviously, the picture is clearer to me thanks to future!knowledge. I don't want to explain things that we'll find out much later in the episode that I'm currently reviewing, unless those revelations are coming in that same episode. On the other hand, it's kinda silly to rant about something, when I already know that a future episode is explaining the characters' action that had me outraged at the time.
I've decided to split the difference by giving my thoughts at the time of watching the episode, as far as I remember it and then noting that there is a future explanation. Now, certain things may not be completely forgivable (they'll be 'YMMV' developments) but they're at least explained. It's my intention not to reveal these explanations until the proper time... even if I really want to tell you all about it.
Rick goes stumbling down the hallway, rather zombie-like in his gait as he tries to figure out what happened and why he's all alone on the floor. He comes across a floor nurses' station, but the phone is out. He does collect a book of matches.
Scene 11: Around a corner, a bright ceiling light is buzzing brightly. When he looks through the double doors, he's frightened by what he sees.
He paces away from there as fast as he's able (which isn't very). Along the corridor walls, he finds clear bullet holes. There is extreme damage to the ceiling and broken door glass along the corridor.
At the end of this hallway is a set of doors. They lead to the cafeteria, but they've been boarded and chained shut. In spray paint, is:
DON'T OPEN DEAD INSIDE
Something on the other side bangs to be let out. To his growing sense of fear, the doors are pushed open, enough to part them and human fingers protrude to rasping, inhuman noises. He rushes away.
Scene 12: Rick tries to summon the elevators, but they're not running. He has to take the stairwell. Which is in complete (and really complete, not Hollywood-complete) darkness. Fortunately, he has that book of matches.
Commentary: Remember when I mentioned The Stand somewhere up there? Well, this scene makes me think of it too. This is very much like Stu having to make his way out of the Vermont CDC hospital where he was being kept to study the Mr. Trips Flu.
Judging by Rick's reaction, the stairwell has some rotting bodies somewhere in it. Lovely.
Commentary: And, yes, this scene is also wonderfully tense as we're waiting for Rick to be attacked by a walker, when he doesn't know what is going on. I'm also worried, after that bullet to the child's head scene, that we're going to see Rick stepping in whatever is left of the rotting corpses and I gotta admit that my stomach is turning a little bit with the 'DO NOT WANT'.
Scene 13: Thankfully Deputy Grimes finds the exit and is able to get fresh air. The light is blinding at first so neither he nor us can see anything but The White.
When his vision clears, Rick sees more evidence of some catastrophic horror having occurred while he was recuperating and out of it.
Commentary: I can't get over the fact that there is no incidental music going on. How did I miss this the first time around?! I must have just been so into the episode, that I just didn't notice what wasn't happening in the background. Looks like I gotta give up some bonus pointage for pulling that off. Great Show, uh, Show.
Also, since I'm interrupting to commentary anyway: Andrew Lincoln rocks these scenes. Despite my personal like for his work, I will be pointing out some less than stellar acting later from him, so it isn't all a lovefest. But, here... he's fab.
I also want to congratulate the behind-the-scenes prop and set dressing people for this scene. It is fantastic in suggesting the godawful event that happened here.
Rick stumbled up a hill to see signs that the National Guard had been stationed outside the hospital, but they're not there now. Some body bags are.
Commentary: I would have SO LOVED to have seen a replica of the helicopter that Fran and Peter left the mall in at the end of 'Dawn of the Dead'. That would have been such an awesome shoutout! Alas, we're just focused on a military chopper whose significance I'm not getting (it's taking up the whole frame, there must be some message here).
Scene 14: Once Rick makes his way out of the hospital grounds, he wanders down a deserted block. He comes across a bicycle and picks it up to use. In the background is another corpse, torn mostly in half with a few leg bones sticking out. She's the Bicycle Woman Zombie, probably one of the most instantly famous zombies from "The Walking Dead" and she has her own story in the WEBISODE HERE.
But, back to Rick... the half-woman on the ground roles over and she's the most gnarly zombie of the entire series, I think, so excellent job folks!
Rick panics and hyperventalates before grabbing the bicycle and riding away, still utterly confused and horrified by what he has seen so far.
Scene 15: Rick rides to his home. [And the scene of him riding his bike in underwear, a bandage and a fluttery robe should be an desktop wallpaper.]
He calls for his wife, but the front door was left ajar, and there is the definite empty feeling of abandonment left behind. This is especially true in their bedroom where clothing has been hastily emptied from drawers and cast about.
Commentary: Rick must've made one hell of a good salary for a deputy, because this house is effing huge with hardwood floors. And? No signs of looting whatsoever... I find that highly unlikely. That may just be my big-city cynism though.
Rick yells for his wife and son, but of course they're isn't anyone to answer. He collapses to the floor and scream-cries, wondering if he's awake and if he's really there in his family's home.
Commentary: This is a very good scene, handled very nicely by Andrew. While I like the music under the scene though, I think I would've preferred if this this had been edited without the track and just had the overwhelming sense of quiet surrounding and pushing down on his shoulders.
Scene 16: After his meltdown, Deputy Grimes wanders out into a bright, but empty of people sunlit day.
Commentary: I think, also, what has made this first episode so effective is this middle part of the episode where we spend a much longer amount of time than would be usual for a series with noone on screen except Rick and a few straggling zombies. Between our last shot of Shane and when we see Duane Jones coming up, [and when we know he's a person and not another shambler], we spend about 12 minutes and 11 seconds with no one but Rick. It's an amazing amount of time to go without cutting to a scene with somebody else... and it works beautifully to suggest the abandonment and solitude that Grimes is dealing with, completely ignorant of what exactly has happened... or if he's even fully awake yet.
Scene 17: Following his discovery that his family is vanished along with, seemingly, the rest of town, Rick sits heavily on his front walk. In the distance then, he sees a man wandering down the street. The figure seems to see him and begins to stumble-shamble in his direction and he lifts a hand to wave to the figure. We can tell that this is not a great survival tactic, but Rick Grimes doesn't know what has happened yet and the way this is filmed, we're also aware that the bright sunlight is obscuring his view of the figure.
With Rick's attention on the gentleman approaching him in his staggery step, he doesn't notice the second person coming up from behind him. We fear that Rick is about to have a close encounter with two zombies... something which he is surely physically not up to.
When he hears a snap behind him, he turns his head... just to receive a shovel to the face!
A pan up tells us that the boy doesn't look all that undead. The excited yell for his dad that he got one tells us he's probably very much alive.
Rick calls the boy 'Carl' and tells him he found him... but Duane is still shouting for Morgan, his father. Rick turns his head, just to see Morgan put a bullet clean through the walker's head... though, of course, he doesn't know that Morgan didn't just murder some random guy on the street.
Scene 18: Morgan rushes up and asks Duane if Rick said something. He reminds Duane that walkers don't talk. He points a gun in Rick's face and asks him urgently about his wound. Rick is too woozy to answer. Morgan threatens to shoot him in the head. Rick's response is to pass out.
Scene 19: Sometime later Rick comes to in a nice bed. Duane is standing nearby holding a baseball bat. Rick has been tied to the bedposts. Morgan is fussing about in the background.
Morgan confronts Rick again about the nature of his wound, also sharing that he changed the bandages while Rick was out. The questions that Morgan asks about his being bitten or scratched confuse him. Morgan feels his forehead for a fever, but seems satisfied.
With the fact of Rick's non-infection established, Morgan draws a knife out to cut his bonds, but warns him he'll kill him if he tries anything funny.
The Jones' leave, telling Rick to join them when he's ready.
Scene 20: When Rick is able to pad out in a blanket, he finds the house has all of the windows covered in heavy blankets. There are lanterns being used for light and a makeshift dinner is being prepared using canned goods and sterno candles. Rick tells him that this is the Drakes' place, but Morgan tells him that he never met them.
The room is tense as Morgan assures Rick that the place was empty when they got there. Morgan also keeps Rick from moving aside the blankets over a window, because he tells them that "they'll" see the light.
Morgan goes on talking as if Rick knows about the walkers crowding town, telling him that his firing the gun earlier that day has drawn them from the surrounding blocks. He invites Rick to eat with them.
Rick accuses him of shooting a man. Morgan is darkly amused. He quickly twigs onto the fact that Rick is lost as to what is going on around him.
Morgan warns Rick that getting bitten is a death sentence, but that after a while you come back as a walker. Duane says he's seen it happen and there is the definite sense of a personal tragedy among the Jones'... my money was on the mom having become a walker.
Scene 21: Sometime later, they're camped out in the living room with nothing but idle time on their hands. As they chat a little, a car alarm goes off out on the street.
They douse the lantern light and Rick and Morgan look outside. Rick sees for the first time a gathering of zombies [I wouldn't call this a 'herd' yet, as they're not acting in concert as we'll see later... here they're all just wandering around without any purpose]. As they watch, a woman zombie comes in from offscreen. The sight of her causes extreme distress in Duane. As she stumbles toward the house, Duane goes to the mattress and begins to sob as his father tries to get him to cry into the pillow so that the walkers won't hear him.
Commentary: Lennie James completely rocks every single scene he's in. They desperately need to bring him and Duane back and have them hook up with Rick's group for a more permanent position in the cast. I know he's a very busy man, but pay him whatever to get him back and keep him around awhile.
Scene 22: While Morgan sits with his sobbing son, Rick watches as Mrs. Jones shambles her way to the front door. He watches her through the fisheye lens in the door as she appears to be trying to look through it at him. Then the doorknob starts to rattle as she wants to get in.
Commentary: The direction for this scene is wonderful and creepy and atmospheric and tense as hell. Good show, again, Frank.
Rick backs away from the door and joins Morgan. Duane's head is still under a pillow, but the two adults stare at the rattling doorhandle. Morgan looks on the verge of tears as the tension rackets up even further.
Morgan tells Rick about her fever that "burned her out". He begins to weep as he whispers to Rick that he knows he should have put her down, but he just didn't have it in him... and it is heartrending. I love you, Lennie.
We fade out on the door handle twisting back and forth....
Scene 23: When we fade back in, it's the next morning. Most of the walkers are missing again, though there is one sitting against the fence in the yard.
Rick kills this one, though not easily... he's still wounded, not to mention sick at bashing a man's head in....
Scene 24: Rick and Morgan have gone over to Rick's place. Rick argues that Laurie and Carl are alive... or at least were when they left. He cites the fact that family photo albums are missing. Morgan starts to laugh to Rick's annoyance.
Morgan explains that his wife did the same thing. While Morgan was focused on grabbing survival gear and weapons, Jenny was collecting their photos to drag with them.
Duane suggests that they ran to Atlanta and to Rick's questioning, Morgan tells him about a refugee center having been set up to protect, feed and house people while the CDC was working on isolating and curing whatever is causing this.
Scene 25: The next stop is the police station in town. The station has its own propane system for heating and the hot water in the locker room is a welcome bit of joy in what has become a bleak existence. Morgan, Rick and Duane enjoy washing the stink off of themselves for the first time in who knows.
Afterward, Rick gives Duane some clean clothes and sends him to change.
Scene 26: In the meantime, he talks to Morgan about going to Atlanta. Daddy Jones tells him that was where they were headed before Jenny became too weak with fever to travel.
Scene 27: Before leaving, Rick opens up the gun locker and passes out weaponry and ammo for the three of them.
Scene 28: Outside, Rick separates from the Jones', he loading his cruiser and they loading their own vehicle.
Commentary: And, I hoped that they were still going to be traveling together and we weren't going to lose these characters... but no... *sigh* good-bye Lennie James; I hope to see Morgan Jones again.
Although, with the way that this show is killing characters off, maybe I'm happier thinking he's still out there going on.
Rick gives Morgan a walkie-talkie and tells him to conserve battery power, he'll only transmit once a day at dawn. When Morgan gets to Atlanta, they can use these to reconnect. Morgan warns Rick that the walkers may not seem like much individually, but that they can quickly become dangerous when they're grouped, riled up and hungry.
As they're saying goodbye, Office Leon Bassett -- who was on the chase with Rick and Shane shambles up to a closed gate making zombie noises. Rick tells Morgan that he didn't think much of Leon, mostly because he was dumb and careless. But Rick feels like he can't leave him stumbling around undead. Despite the risk of making noise, he chooses to put Leon down.
Scene 29: With Our Guys separated, we follow Morgan and Duane as they reinforce their hideout with more boards and blankets.
Commentary: This music under the next scenes is hauntingly appropriate, and is understated enough not to distract from, but to enhance the emotionally charged scenes, so I really like it. I just want to take this last chance to reiterate how well the lack of music was used throughout this pilot episode. The direction was really spot on throughout as well. I'm really impressed with this series debut.
TBC in Part II