Blick Tolkien reviews The Walking Dead – Episode 001 – Days Gone Bye

The Walking Dead - Episode 001 - Days Gone Bye 45 min., 2010
Written by Frank Darabont
Directed by Frank Darabont
Language: English
My rating: ★★★★★

Sure it’s graphic, but it isn’t a novel.

* * *

Premise

Sheriff Rick Grimes wakes from a coma and struggles to find his family and any survivors in a post-apocalyptic zombie infested world. He attempts to lead his family and survivors to the CDC in search of a cure.

Warning

The following review is rated ABMT (Angry Black Man Talking), it contains several rants that appear at random. The views here do not reflect the thoughts of a completely sane person. They are being presented by a person of African-American descent who has grown up in a rather unseemly portion of town, taken recreational narcotics and has been molested by a clown. Feel free to skip certain  paragraphs, if you simply want a recap and continued review of the episode. Hipster, child, feline and vegan discretion is advised.

Review

This show is based on Robert Kirkman’s graphic novel series of the same name. The show takes a lot of cues from the graphic novel as it elegantly adds in content not found in comic pages. It gives fans of the comic what they fell in love with in live full color and detail while keeping viewers unfamiliar with the books interested in the drama and survival horror. Between this show, Mad Men, and Breaking Bad, AMC is definitely bringing their A game. Though the show does feature a myriad of zombies, it starts out not with a groan or a whimper but with a very loud bang.

The show begins with Rick exiting his cruiser, gas can in hand, walking through a group of abandoned cars. Amidst the stalled, wrecked, and twisted ashes of some of these vehicles, he stumbles upon a girl walking away from him, seemingly dazed, in slippers and a filthy bathrobe with teddy bear in hand. He calls out to her with promises of safety but once she turns around you see the grotesque mockery of a mouth and the gaping hole where a chunk of flesh was torn off exposing her teeth in snarl. You don’t have time to really react because Rick (played excellently by Andrew Lincoln) reacts for you. The combination of dread, regret, and shock you see play across his face is almost heartbreaking, almost. Before you can get too lost in his reaction, she begins stalking toward him slowly, with menace and pace building in each of her jerky, disjointed steps. He backs up fumbling for the very nice large steel revolver at his hip to, at the last moment, lay her out with a head shot. Her pink bathrobe aflutter, teddy bear at her side and pool of blackened crimson colored blood spattered and pooling on the ground behind her head. Then it’s cut to opening credits. (See, I told you it started with a bang.)

Before I go any further, I have to say I have a serious problem with all these comic book/video game movies, and 80’s television shows making a comeback and being plastered across the big screen. And to add insult to injury, they have the nerve to charge you extra and use reinvented late 70’s and early 80’s technology to bring it to you in 3D! I mean honestly, whose grandmother did I rape with a weed-whacker to deserve this?! It’s not like you can’t do good comic book movies. I mean, just look at Watchmen, Dark Knight, Kick-Ass, or Wanted. But there’s always some movie studio that doesn’t know when to quit, like with Priest, or Superman Returns. I would rather not lump the Green Lantern into that group since in my opinion it was more a B minus or C plus rather than F grade pandering to comic book simpletons. I have a better chance of avoiding AIDS in an African whorehouse than actually seeing these types of projects done as well as they deserve to be on even a semi regular basis.

Worse than the comic book movie fad is the video game to film revolution that has brought is a poorly written and acted version of Max Payne, Hitman, Silent Hill, and, at last count, five Resident Evil sequels. Not to mention the Cleveland steamer known as Street Fighter: Legend of Chun Li. Even when you take pre-existing excellently written or executed literature and splash it onto any screen, large or small, you have to ask yourself why am I watching something that’s already been done? For the fans of the Harry Potter franchise or the sex free Mormon approved Twilight series that stood in line for three days voiding their bowels into Dunkin Donuts mugs and Slurpee cups just to see the next installment they could have simply picked up a book and found out how Voldemort got what’s coming to him or if Bella ends up with the smooth chested werewolf or the brooding vampire. I will say this, if I am forced to sit through another remake with CG versions of icons from 80’s cartoon like Garfield, The Chipmunks, or The Smurfs, I may have no choice but to learn how to read braille as I may pluck both of my eyes from their sockets.

Kirkman’s work is such a masterpiece visually and the writing so heartfelt and true to human emotions that I would have dismissed the idea of doing a show had I not seen the pilot episode. It takes enough of the source material, adds in enough of the new, and some Oscar-worthy acting that I hope the show will get a longer run than even Law & Order or any of its cloned spinoffs combined.

You may now return to regularly scheduled review already in progress.

So, anywhore, the show returns from the intro with a brief rewind to pre-post-apocalyptic times where our main character is in the car with his partner/best friend Deputy Shane Walsh played by Jon Bernthal. As they are eating burgers and fries and shooting the breeze, Shane starts going on about the difference between men and women. The scene firmly solidifies the bro-mance between the two of them for the audience. During this exchange, Rick touches on the marital problems between him and Lori. As Shane tries to pass it off as “just a phase,” a call comes in over the radio and off they go to stop some crazed criminals tearing down the highway. The suspects’ car barrels through a spike strip and flips several times before they emerge from the wreck guns a blazing. Rick takes a shot to the vest before the gunmen go out in a blaze of glory. As Shane is checking Rick’s vest , a third gunman appears from the wreck and wounds Rick. My only issue with this is that these are trained peace officers and despite all their extensive training no one bothers to check the vehicle or walk the extra few feet to make sure the coast is clear before people start removing the same thing that saved their lives moments before.

Anyhoe, Rick passes out and his next coherent moment is him waking up in a hospital bed. From the new beard on Rick’s face, it’s obvious that a large amount of time has passed. He finds his way out of his room moving the hospital bed blocking his doorway to find that the hallway is abandoned and looks more like a war zone. Debris, blood, and bullet holes litter the hallway while Rick, guided by match light, leaves the horrific scene and searches for an exit. He finally emerges to find a hundred or more corpses bound in bed sheets littering the hospital dock area. Rick stumbles down the street before finding a bike and pedals homeward in desperation. When he gets to his house to find it abandoned, Rick begins openly sobbing and questioning whether or not this is a dream, walks outside only to be cold-cocked by a black kid whom we find out is Dwayne Jones, the son of Morgan Jones.

Rick wakes up to Morgan standing over his bound body asking him questions and commenting on his wounds. He cuts Rick free and then explains what’s been going on while he was in a coma. The boy playing Dwayne (Adriane Kali) isn’t very effective at conveying his emotions in the first scene or two. After that, he seems to find his niche, but he is a child actor, so I’m not going to harp too much. Morgan, on the other hand, played by Lennie James, does a superb job from start to finish. His emotions are right out there, seemingly always one moment away from breaking down as he explains that his wife was bitten and has been coming back to the house tormenting him and his son by knocking at the door looking to potentially make a meal of them.

I’m not sure if they are attempting to fall back on the cliché of the wise old black man who seems to have “the 4-1-1” in any given  combat situation but luckily for us they’ve decided to completely avoid the other cliché of black man = easy meal, comedy relief, or cannon fodder.

The next day they emerge from their boarded up sanctuary to make their way to Rick’s house and then they head for the police station. Rick sets himself and Morgan up with guns, ammo, and a radio so they can keep in touch. Morgan promises to join him in Atlanta in a few days. According to Dwayne and Morgan, there should be a survivor’s camp, potentially his wife and son and a CDC office that  may house a cure. A small camp of survivors hears Rick broadcasting on the emergency channel in his cruiser looking for survivors, but is unable to respond. The person who is running the camp and the radio turn out to be his partner Shane. Rick runs out of gas a couple of miles outside of Atlanta and secures a horse from a nearby farm then continues onward. This shot makes Rick look very much the lone cowboy and makes for one hell of a visual with the city in the foreground.

He arrives in Atlanta to find it seemingly abandoned except for a few zombies here and there. Overhead he hears a helicopter and the horse starts to take off in the direction the copter was flying until Rick turns a corner and finds himself swarmed by zombies. The horse throws him and his cache of weapons to the ground as the swarm turns on the horse. He takes shelter under a tank in the middle of the street, finds an entrance under the tank and crawls inside, securing it.  Quickly dispatching the single zombie inside the tank (leaving himself half deaf in the process from firing in such close quarters), we find our hero trapped inside the tank surrounded by zombies with nowhere to turn when deus ex machina rears its ugly head yet again to cap off this particular episode. To be blunt, deus ex machina is the lazy man’s way to create a fucked up situation and then slap a back door on it with a forty foot tall exit sign. I mean when the hell did words like impervious, perilous, impossible, or impregnable becomes suggestions rather than reality. It’s one thing when you are writing a book or screenplay to do your draft and upon giving it the once over realize that you got a little lazy toward the end or that you trapped your character in a lead room filling with poisonous gas while they have been injected with a paralyzing agent and yet you want them to survive. This would be the time no matter how much suspense you want to build that you do a little rewriting.

But noooo, instead you go back to the beginning of your story and have a minor character give them lead dissolving anti paralyzing spray and mention that they were on the swim team so they can hold their breath just long enough not to be killed by these noxious fumes! I mean after all you’re the writer for fuck sake! You’re the one telling the story! In short, stop coming up with improbable fixes for shit and just write better. The show kicks enough ass that even though I don’t like the use of deus ex machina here, that I am will to put my suspension of disbelief to work for a few moments rather than get caught up in the profound sense of WTF that I and most of you may end up feeling. As a series, I can see this giving most shows a run for their money. Not to mention as a gore hound, I wasn’t disappointed by the blood, guts, and viscera I got to see munched on. However there was enough of a balance between that, excellent acting, drama and suspense that I can honestly say this episode, if not the entire show, had everything I needed to stay glued to my seat.

I hope you have enjoyed the review. If you liked it, post some comments. If you hated it, post some comments in all caps. And if you’re a hipster, please don’t post at all. You didn’t discover this before it became popular. We will meet again for my review of episode 2: Guts. Until then, may all your films bring you fright!

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About Blick Tolkien

About Blick Tolkien: The bastard half brother of Zeb Carter, he grew up in Chicago's urban jungle, forced to be the victim of racial injustice and daily bullying until the day he saw Night of the Living Dead. the immersion into violence on film gave him the tools to externalize his hate and make the world a horror show for all his enemies. A card carrying member of the Black Panther party, he hates whitey and all forms of coonery including any and all Tyler Perry films. You have been warned. About Zeb Carter: The younger brother of Blick Tolkien, he used horror films as a way to open him self up to the social and story telling aspects of cinematic fear as well as his love of the silver screen. After seeing Gremlins at the drive in he was hooked. He also writes short fiction, has 2 daughters and a pack of animals that he is currently serves as the alpha male over. You can read his fiction at forums.drabblecast.org.
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9 Responses to Blick Tolkien reviews The Walking Dead – Episode 001 – Days Gone Bye

  1. mouse says:

    I’ve become quite the rabid Lennie James fan over the last few years and I’m convinced that he could play a character that was written as a literal black man stereotype and still make it believable. That dude is amazing.

  2. John Bruni says:

    I think people who haven’t read the books would be shocked by how many of the characters they’re watching on the TV show are dead, and what physically remains of the living characters. I’m a huge fan of both show and books. I even have a first edition issue one signed by Kirkman and Moore. (And for those who love Kirkman’s work, you should check out the book he did before he became famous: BATTLE POPE.)

    • mouse says:

      I haven’t read the books yet (been wanting to for a long time) but I’m just about completely spoiled on them because of my zombie obsession. And I totally agree with you on how shocked some of my fellow “show only” people would be. They made some dramatically different decisions in the show plots (most of which really work, though I like what I’ve read about the storylines in the comics, too).

  3. Lady Halcyon says:

    I have to say, Blick Tolkien, that your debut also started not with a groan or a whimper, but with a reasonable large bang (insert rimshot here.) I found this review to give me a good taste of what to expect from this series. I think I would be content to read your reviews rather than watch the flesh munching fest that is promised to grace the screen… this is a zombie series afterall. So, well played sir. Until next review…

  4. Lee says:

    I really enjoyed this review, I knew about this show but by the time I thought about giving it a shot it was already over for the season! (Way too many shows on the dvr) This definitely made me go watch the first episode and queue it on my Netflix. Soon as I knock out some of these dvr’d shows I’m ready for episode two!

    Once again, awesome review 🙂

    • mouse says:

      If you get AMC , they’re replaying the whole 6 episode season right before the premier of the new season. The new season starts on Oct. 16th and I think the marathon is the same day but not positive.

  5. Blick Tolkien] says:

    I must say I’m surprised at the response to the review. Who would’ve thought little old me could give an opinion that mattered enough to start a discussion, inspire a reader to watch and offend vegans all at the same time. Well the review for episode 2 is coming soon. As for the books (for those that read them) they prove that the formula of heroes live forever isn’t one to follow. The view group is usually safe. The new friend or new found survivor is only around long enough to be liked then killed off but in this case all bets are off. I’m waiting to see how much makes it on to the screen. Keep watching and commenting and ill keep writing. Thanks again folks for the love and comments.

  6. Kwik says:

    I am one of those that truly believes, and hopes for; a viral zombie apocalypse… not to be morbid, its just cause that means everything is free and I have guns lol… The hundreds of hours of discussion on this matter has pretty solidly cemented the series of events for this case, and The Walking Dead has landed it pretty much dead on to expectations… However there would be a lot less emotion in the real world truthfully… they would have shot the asshole on the roof and double tapped the chick and her sister…especially after she pulled the gun on her own crew just to hover over a soon to be walker and jeopardize everyone…either way though, I love this series, brilliantly executed and well acted 😀

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