The Walking Dead Recap Episode 1.1
by Britt Hayes
WARNING: This post contains spoilers for The Walking Dead episode 1.1, ‘Days Gone Bye’, and the comic book.
Horror and comic book fans alike have been anxiously awaiting the television debut of The Walking Dead, the new series based on the popular comics of the same name by Robert Kirkman and created for AMC by the incredible team of writer/director Frank Darabont (The Mist, The Green Mile) and producer Gale Ann Hurd (The Terminator). The wait is over.
In the first episode we’re introduced to officer Rick Grimes as he searches for gasoline. In a gas station parking lot he hears the shuffling of little feet, and then sees a little girl walking away from him. He calls out to her, she turns around, and we meet our first zombie. We’re also shown our first of many difficult decisions to come. The decision by Rick to pull the trigger on the little girl is not nearly as terrifying as some of the morally gray areas we’ll be entering in the future, but as an opening scene and introduction to the series, it’s pitch-perfect.
Naturally we go back to where it all began. Rick and his partner Shane are waiting for a car with fugitives to come down the highway, and here we get to know the two men a little better. I have to point out that it’s fascinating that the British Andrew Lincoln can nail the voice of a Georgia man with such subtlety, but Jon Bernthal as Shane is a little exaggerated. He sounds like he’s doing a Matthew McConaughey impression. Minor complaint, but it’s so easy to take a southern accent over the top into caricature territory.
During a heated stand-off, Rick is shot and taken to the hospital. He wakes up weeks later to discover the machines he was hooked up to are off (which naturally raises the question: how is he still alive?) and the hospital is empty save for a dead body or two. A pair of metal doors have been marked, “Don’t open. Dead inside”, and padlocked. Long, thin white fingers reach out between the cracks and try to remove the chains. Rick stumbles outside and finds rows of dead bodies in white sheets lined up on the loading dock. Many of these heads are bloodied, and we assume these are the ones that have been properly disposed of.
Our hero finds a bicycle and makes his way back to his neighborhood where he discovers that his wife, Lori, and son, Carl, are gone. Outside he runs into a man and his son, the latter of which knocks him unconscious. Turns out father (we never learn his name) and son, Duane, assume that Rick is about to turn into a zombie when they see his bandages. It’s here that the man acts as an exposition device to fill the audience in. No one knows why there are zombies or how it started, but if you get bitten, you come down with an intense fever, die, and return as a “walker”. The man and his son took refuge in Rick’s neighbor’s house after the man’s wife became a zombie. He couldn’t bring himself to kill her, and now he and Duane are practically haunted by her when she returns occasionally with other zombies drawn by loud noises.
Rick takes the man and Duane to the police station to load up on supplies and here we get a sort of sweet and funny moment when they take hot showers for the first time in weeks. The man and Duane return to the neighborhood to practice their shooting skills (and the man to confront his dead wife), but we get the impression we’ll be crossing paths with them again soon. Rick continues on toward Atlanta, where it is assumed safe, to find Lori and Carl, picking up a horse on the way.
Throughout the episode, Rick tries to reach out with his CB radio to any other survivors. A nearby camp close to Atlanta hears him but they can’t seem to get their radio to push the response through. In the camp are some familiar faces: Shane, Lori, and Carl. And it seems Shane and Lori have assumed Rick is dead and begun an affair. It is also revealed that Atlanta is more than unsafe: it’s completely infested. As Rick rides into the city on his horse, he learns that you can quickly be surrounded by zombies, particularly when they’re hungry. While these aren’t the running zombies of Zack Snyder’s Dawn of the Dead, they seem to strike a good balance between the traditional snail-like zombie and the newer, meaner counterpart. They can lumber a bit faster if they’re desperate, for sure.
Soon Rick is taking refuge in an abandoned tank as the horde devours his horse (RIP, horse) and engulfs the massive military vehicle. Then he hears a friendly voice on the CB in the tank… Who could it be?
This episode plays well as an introduction to our hero and the type of man he is. Family-oriented, morally upright without being an overachieving do-gooder. He’s sort of a good, classic, every man.
The effects from Greg Nicotero and KNB are impressive and quickly lay waste to any concerns over a lack of gore. Some of the scenes were a little shocking to see on cable, but when your’e dealing with fictional creatures the amount of violence you can get away with is definitely heightened. There is some use of computerized blood during the shooting scenes, which is perfectly normal and not terribly noticeable until Rick shoots a female zombie in a field. I think there was an issue created with lighting that made the CG blood unfortunately very noticeable. Aside from this one minor complaint in the effects department, I was unable to find anything unlikable about the show.
I think Darabont is a master of adaptation, as he’s proven with his work adapting Stephen King. The pacing of comics and movies or TV is so different, but television can be liberating for the comic medium. You have more time to explore your characters and very little has the chance to be left out. The goal here is, chiefly, to make a good television show. At the same time, you have to respect the comic book fans. We know everything that happens. We know who lives and dies and when and how. Darabont is telling us the same story but in interesting ways. There are welcome additions that gel nicely with the world of Walking Dead and don’t feel like after thoughts included for the sake of separating the show from the book.
Every week I want to do a quick rundown of the differences between the show and the comic for all of my fellow nerds. So how does the season premiere compare to the book?
Episode one takes us through the first two issues, or about 1/3 of the first trade paperback volume. Fans of the comic will note that this week introduced us to Morgan Jones and his son Duane, but Morgan’s name is never mentioned during the episode. He is credited as Morgan on IMDB, and fans also know that Morgan eventually returns in some capacity.
The comic opens with the shoot-out that puts Rick in the hospital, and we don’t spend any time getting to know Shane. There are no bodies on the loading dock or locked up zombies in the hospital in the book, but Rick does encounter (and later return to) the bicycle girl zombie in the field. His first interaction with Morgan and Duane is much the same, but Morgan is a little more trusting in the book. The shower scene is a welcome addition, as well as the zombie Rick shoots through the fence at the police station. In the book, he doesn’t recognize him and ends up leaving him alone.
There is no abandoned tank in the comics this episode covers (it comes after the first two issues and there’s no real interaction with it), but the horse does meet the same demise. Readers will recognize the voice on the CB in the show and know what comes next, which again, is slightly different than in the book.
Seems that Darabont is telling the exact same story but just making small changes, that, if anything, enhance the story. Darabont sees missed opportunities (i.e. the tank) and uses them to their full advantage. The tank was a very cool idea and it offered a visually stunning moment. There are also a few scenes that appear to be lifted straight from panels of the book without hyper-stylization that – in the wrong hands – can often interfere with the narrative.
At the camp we see familiar faces from the book. Dale (Jeffrey DeMunn) is a character I personally love, so seeing his little fisherman cap made me giddy. It’s also been so long in the series since we’ve seen that camper, and as much as the characters hated it, I sort of miss the simple camper days. Emma Bell and Laurie Holden play Amy and Andrea, respectively. Amy was featured briefly (trying to communicate on the CB), but I didn’t notice Andrea in this episode. I cannot wait to see her character grow from soft and kind to tough and bad-ass.
Next week’s episode, 1.2, is titled ‘Guts’. The Walking Dead airs on AMC Sundays at 10/9 central.