The Walking Dead Rises to the Occasion

I am not normally one to review television, but this is a special case, so I will give it a shot. The acclaimed graphic novel series, The Walking Dead, which also happens to be one of my favorites, has been adapted into a television series, airing Sunday nights on AMC. I was stoked to learn of this upon its first announcement. Not only have I been continually satisfied by AMC’s television series output (Mad Men and Breaking Bad are two of my favorite shows currently on television), I have also been very pleased with all the talent involved in getting this series made. Having now watched the premiere episode this past Halloween, I can safely say that not only has this series exceeded my expectations in terms of the quality of production and the adaptation process from comic to screen, but it is one that I certainly hope many will check out. The series’ premise may revolve around zombies, but it is very much focused on providing strong characters and affecting story beats. Of course there is plenty of thick, horror atmosphere and some gory mayhem as well.

Morgan: Hey mister, what’s that bandage for? You tell me, or I will kill you.

The show begins by introducing us to Rick Grimes, played by Andrew Lincoln. Rick is a police officer from Georgia, who is unfortunately shot in the line of duty. Rick awakens from a coma a few months later only to find that the hospital he has been staying in has been deserted. As Rick stumbles through a thoroughly trashed hospital, he begins to learn that more and more is not right with his situation. Eventually, he makes it outside only to discover deserted streets and dead bodies everywhere. Rick manages to get back to his home, only to find that his wife, Lori, and son, Carl, have gone. After freaking out more about his situation, Rick heads outside only to witness a slow moving person get shot in the head, before Rick is knocked out by a young boy.

Upon waking up, Rick finally learns the true gravity of his situation – some kind of plague has been sweeping the land, and the dead are returning to life. When these “walkers” attack, if a living person is bitten, then they will soon die from an intense fever, only to return from death as well. As many should know, the only way to kill these walking dead is by shooting them in the head or destroying the brain. Rick learns this information from a man, Morgan (guest star Lennie James) and his son, Duane, who have been squatting in a house nearby, and almost mistook Rick for a walker. Knowing what he knows, Rick tasks himself with a journey to find his wife and son, which means loading up on firepower and heading towards Atlanta, where it is believed that a refuge area may be setup.

As I mentioned, the talent involved in making this series very much put me at ease about having a beloved book collection of mine be adapted into a TV show. The series showrunners are Frank Darabont, director of The Shawshank Redemption, The Green Mile, and The Mist, and Gale Anne Heard, writer/producer of The Terminator and Aliens. This premiere episode was actually written and directed by Darabont, which certainly sets the bar fairly high for this show to hopefully continue to deliver upon.

From what has been setup, the overall style and tone of this series is going to be both appropriately dramatic and appropriately suspenseful, while also wonderfully cinematic. A somber mood is definitely held through much of this episode, as Rick wanders through a deserted land, not knowing what to make of things. The way he must cope with the fact that the world has changed is quite well handled, as are many sequences that show him encountering various members of the walking dead. The use of scoring was certainly a major factor in this, as it was very subdued, but effective in setting up the state of varying situations. Composer Bear McCreary, known for his work on Battlestar Galactica and Human Target, does a good job here, but also knows when silence is very appropriate.

The look of the show is great. While the comic is produced in black and white, that of course would not fly for a major television program. The solution was to shoot in super 16 mm, which gives the series a fantastic grainy look. Also fantastic are the zombie makeup effects by Greg Nicataro and his team. While the zombies themselves do not do a lot of damage in this particular episode, they certainly have the appropriate swagger of the classic undead with human food on the mind. By the time this episode ended, I can certainly see that the show plans to push some dark humor when dealing with the violence these creatures create.

Lincoln, as lead character Rick, is very good in this episode. He has a strong presence that registers him very much as a man of action but also as one who cares. Watching him break down as well as seeing him beginning to deal with the undead around him assures me of his capabilities to capture the essence of this character. This episode does also feature a few of the other cast members, who will become much larger in focus as the series continues. While only providing a few bits of information, it is really just a kick to see some of these characters brought to life.

As far as a comic fan watching this series goes, I am pretty sure that any fan of the book will love what has been done so far with this series. I cannot think of any fan who was worried about this series beforehand, but if that were so, one can be sure that this premiere episode delivers on establishing all of the elements that make writer/creator Robert Kirkmans’s series so compelling to behold. In addition, the way this show has so far distinguished itself from its comic counterpart is interesting, and I am very excited to see the directions it goes.

This mega-sized opening episode was really wonderful to watch. It is incredibly well made, strongly acted, and totally engaging. I did not want this episode to end. It is something very different for a TV network to take part in and could be potentially very ambitious if it follows some of the patterns of the comic (basically that anyone in the cast is very much expendable). Only time will tell, but I’ll be watching.

[Rick is about to put a legless zombie out of its misery]
Rick: I’m very sorry this happened to you.


Writer/Reviewer, Film Lover, Podcaster, Gamer, Comic Reader, Disc Golfer & a Lefty. There are too many films, TV, books, etc. for me to list as favorites, but I can assure that the amount film knowledge within my noggin is ridiculous, though I am always open to learning more. You can follow me on Twitter @AaronsPS4, see what else I am up to at TheCodeIsZeek.com & check out my podcast, Out Now with Aaron and Abe, on iTunes.

16 Responses to “The Walking Dead Rises to the Occasion”

  1. Gregg Senko

    A) Great summary. I couldn’t have said it better myself.
    B) This show was absolutely OUTSTANDING! I didn’t know it was going to be two hours and had to retire earlier than I wanted to so I left the show at about the 70-minute mark. There were some minor details here and there that differed from the book but I enjoyed EVERY minute of what I saw last night.

    The acting was impressive, especially by lead Andrew Lincoln. The emotional depth of some of the characters was gripping to say the least. The special effects were another highlight along with the realism of the zombie extras’ makeup.

    What a great way to close out Halloween last night! All of you with interest in this show who missed it last night, you’ve done yourself an injustice. Be sure to jump onboard next week!

  2. Brian White

    I dvr’d it..hope to be able to check this out one day…it looks stellar!

  3. Aaron Neuwirth

    I have to add that AMC impresses me once again by having really good material on their website for all of their shows. Give it a look.

  4. Sean Ferguson

    I thought the show would be better based on all the hype for it. I thought it was slow and could have been edited better and wasn’t as impressed with Andrew Lincoln or his character as the rest of you. I spent a lot of the episode wondering why his character who was a trained deputy did such stupid things that only put himself in jeopardy. That said, there was enough going for it that I’ll keep watching it and next week’s episode looks good. The show has promise but I really hope they make the characters a little smarter.

  5. Aaron Neuwirth

    A lot of the episode? The only time the recently awoken coma patient dealing with the fresh concept of a zombie apocalypse really put himself in jeopardy was in like the last ten minutes with the horde of zombies overwhelming him.

    It’s easy to criticize the choices someone under intense duress makes after the fact and I would have lended Rick my zombie survival guide if I could, but I think the man still needs to get his head a bit more around this situation.

  6. Sean Ferguson

    I realize he has just woken up from a coma to a world filled with zombies, but that just reinforces my point about some freakin’ common sense. I guarantee you that if I saw an undead zombie I would be on my guard and make sure I was armed in some fashion and wouldn’t be calling attention to myself by later shooting my gun continually.

    I also would do some surveillance before entering a city since the larger the city, the bigger odds that there will be a lot of zombies. Him going into the city without taking any precautions was incredibly stupid. For someone who was in law enforcement you would think he would be a little more tactical due to his training. His dumb ass should have been eaten. I’m hoping that the new characters in next week’s episode will be easier for me to empathize with.

  7. Aaron Neuwirth

    I can tell you right now that the comic (and presumably the series) takes the logic of existing in a zombie infested world to appropriate levels.

    Still, you’re being pretty hard on a person who is not supposed to have pre-conceived notions about how to handle zombies. These characters aren’t self aware. This isn’t something like Scream, where they all know the rules of the genre. It has to be treated like the concept of a zombie has never existed before.

    And what kind of surveillance could Rick have done? He’s by himself, armed with a few rifles and guns, on a horse. All he knows is that Atlanta may have some kind of refuge area (just as in most zombie movies, where the characters head to a big city hoping some kind of safety camp has been setup). It’s not like he knew a giant horde of zombies would be standing around the corner, let alone has never encountered that kind of situation. And he wasn’t calling attention to himself by shooting continually, the damn things were all over him at that point.

  8. Sean Ferguson

    What? That makes no sense. Zombies don’t exist in our world, but if I saw some undead creature coming at me I’d catch on real quick. As for the surveillance, he just armed himself in a police station and I would think they would have binoculars or at least sniper scopes like the one he gave to the guy and his son, so it’s pefectly reasonable to assume he could have equipped himself the same way. Or he could have gone to a Target or Wal-Mart and got some gear there too.

    And when I said he was shooting his gun I wasn’t even referring to Atlanta. He started shooting at the police station, then walked a long way (putting himself at risk) just to shoot the first zombie he saw when he woke up. This is the pattern of idiotic choices I was referring to. Atlanta just raised his stupidity to a whole new level. It shouldn’t be hard to figure out that if something is turning people into zombies then it makes sense that places that have a lot of people will have a lot of zombies since his small town had a whole lot of them.

    Maybe my expectations are too high but it’s pretty sad when a character like Ash from Evil Dead has more common sense than a trained police officer. You could argue that Ash was thrown into the same circumstances but he was smart enough to go to S-Mart (Shop Smart) to get guns and ammo. I wouldn’t trust this sheriff to lead a group to the bathroom.

  9. Aaron Neuwirth

    Rick armed himself with several weapons and was carrying a couple bags when he was headed into Atlanta, there’s nothing to say he didn’t have those items on him. He did drop the bag after being overwhelmed by the horde.

    At the police station Rick shoots one zombie, before all three of them immediately leave the area, acknowledging the need to leave in dialogue. At some point later, by himself, in an open area he is familiar with, Rick goes back to that first zombie and kills it, acknowledging his slightly better understanding of the situation (it’s not like this area was packed with zombies and it was broad daylight).

    Once he gets to Atlanta, all he knows is that CDC has set up a refugee camp in the city and that his family is most likely there. It’s not like he ran into the city hootin’ and hollerin’, he approached slowly, armed with all his equipment, on a horse.

    Ash, at that point, was a trained deadite killer, working in a store that had the weapons he knew he could use to keep everything groovy. Before, Ash was literally trapped by a bookshelf twice.

  10. Sean Ferguson

    LOL You’re killing me! Especially lines like, “…he approached slowly, armed with all his equipment, on a horse.” If you don’t see the ridiculousness of that statement then we will have to agree to disagree. And don’t tell me that the horse was his only option either because of a lack of gas, since there was an entire town of cars he could have taken, including other police cars. I know you love the book and the show and you will defend both no matter what, but you have to admit that the show doesn’t have a whole lot of logic to it.

    Like my wife said, Alice in Resident Evil faced the same scenario and it only took her about 5 minutes to realize she better get a weapon and watch out for zombies. There was no need to waste an hour of viewing time while Deputy Dewey navel gazed until he was attacked repeatedly before accepting that, yes Virginia there are zombies now. That kid was at least smart enough to carry a weapon. You can’t honestly tell me that it made sense for him to walk all that way just to kill a zombie with no freakin’ legs! Was he worried that that one zombie might turn into a legendary ankle biter and go on a rampage? He wasn’t worried about all the mobile zombies all around, but instead spent precious time going after the one that can’t catch anyone. LOL

    And finally, yes Ash had a learning curve too but he was facing undead that moved a lot faster than a zombie which moves as fast as a baby with a load in his diaper. Despite all that, he kicked their ass and became the trained deadite killer as you said.

  11. Ken Noffsinger

    Sean, I don’t understand your perspective. Half of your arguments are from your pedestal of zombie knowledge, while the other half are simply not true. Going into this, the characters are supposed to have absolutely no idea what a zombie is, so there is no sense of zombie self awareness in this series (as Aaron previously mentioned). With this in mind, let me walk you through the mentality of a normal person going through what Rick went through and show why Rick’s actions are rational and more importantly human:

    *Spoiler Alert*

    Rick wakes up in a hospital with no one around. Where did they go? Why is the place in ruins? Could have been a number of disasters, he doesn’t know. He then sees a barred door with hands trying to claw their way our on which a warning message not to open the door because there are dead inside. He doesn’t know what is going on, but he knows he needs to get the hell out. He then sees piles of dead bodies outside the hospital. This points towards some sort of biological attack, maybe some sort of new disease we have never seen before with a high mortality rate which for some reason he seems to be immune to. None of this proves that zombies have taken over. There are a million possibilities on what could actually be happening. It is not until he sees the rotting zombie girl on the ground next to the bike that he actually comes face to face with what is happening to people. For some reason, this woman is alive, even though she has been cut in half and has decomposed beyond repair. He was not attacked by this woman, so he was not made aware yet of the fact that the walking dead were out to kill and eat him. He just ran away because he was scared out of his mind.

    Side note, something in this moment that wasn’t quite captured in the pilot episode like it was in the comic was Rick’s simultaneous feeling of horror and sorrow for this woman. In the comic, after seeing her laying there Rick ran off with the bike, but after running a short distance fell over crying because he was so overcome with grief for the poor woman he had just seen. Even after suffering so much, not only could she not find rest in death but was forced to keep living in a state of complete helplessness (in the comic she wasn’t even able to crawl, all limbs were too damaged). Rick finding and killing this woman was not an attempt to prevent her from becoming a ‘legendary ankle biter and going on a rampage.’ It was him putting her out of her misery. It was an act of mercy, illustrating his compassionate and human side. It’s the same reaction you would have if you saw a deer on the side of the road that was still alive even though its legs had been broken and stomach burst from being run over.

    Fast forward to his neighbor’s house. He gets filled in on people coming back from the dead to eat. He knows that his family most likely set out for Atlanta to go get their relatives/seek refuge in one of the safe zones people had been informed about. To prepare for this trip he goes to the police station and arms up (and no, there are no sniper rifles in this police station contrary to the TV episode, this is a small town sheriffs department. All they have are shotguns, rifles, pistols, and riot gear. No night vision goggles either). In this whole time, Rick has only personally encountered one undead up close and personal, and he arms himself after that. Your argument of Rick wandering around a zombie infested world without arming himself or not using common sense falls short here. I’m pretty sure it took Alice more than one zombie encounter before she armed herself as well as Rick had.

    Going on. The reason why Rick is riding a horse into Atlanta is because his car ran out of gas in the middle of nowhere. Yes, he took a police car from his station with a full tank of gas and left town in it. Re-watch the episode if you don’t believe me. Then, every gas station he ran into on the way to Atlanta was empty, and from that point on every car he encountered (which were few and far between) were abandoned because they had also ran out of gas. So yes, he could not find a car that had gas in it. In short, he was no longer in a city so he didn’t have any other option but the horse.

    Now to Atlanta. Put yourself in Rick’s shoes. If you thought your wife had left for Atlanta and there were undead walking, you would also go looking for her. Rick didn’t know if the safe zones were still up and running, if his wife was safe, or if the zombies had even managed to reach Atlanta yet. He had every reason to go and see for himself what was happening there and also try to find his wife. As for reconnaissance, I don’t know what you expect out of Rick but I guarantee that neither you or I would have thought to walk the perimeter of the town and scope it out before entering.

    Honestly looking at all of the above, all of Rick’s actions were prudent, human, and believable. All of your arguments are based from a third party perspective of a person who understands the zombie genre, and as a result are bias and unfair to the characters in the story. I’m sorry you didn’t like the first episode, and there are plenty of other shows you can watch on TV, but I assure you that this series is thus far not flawed for any of the reasons which you mentioned.

    Good review Aaron. For all 4-5 star quality productions there will always be a handful of people giving them a 1-2 star review for no well founded reason.

  12. Aaron Neuwirth

    I can see where you are coming from, but I see less that is “stupid” and more that are points of what could have been done in hindsight. I actually forgot about the fact that a helicopter flew by while Rick was in town, which drew his attention away from everything else, as he tried to go after it, which lead him to the horde of zombies. Again, the excitement got him into a sticky situation, which could have been handled differently, in hindsight.

    Crappy Resident Evil movie examples do nothing for me, those characters are written more or less in a way that is self aware of the situation, opposed to here, where it isn’t as much about style over substance.

    And the sequence where Rick walks all the way to kill the legless zombie – I think it’s made pretty clear that it’s not about him being worried at all, but meant to be poignant, by having him accept this new world he is in and providing mercy to this thing on the ground, while this whole sequence cuts back and forth to Morgan trying to muster the strength to shoot his wife. It’s all just simple dramatic build up.

  13. Sean Ferguson

    Hi Ken,

    First of all, thanks for taking the time to comment on my irreverent post. I understand that you are passionate about this show and I would feel compelled to defend something I cared a lot about as well. Both you and Aaron believe that this alternate world has no knowledge of zombies and perhaps you are right. Maybe in this alternate place, they haven’t been bombarded with stories and movies about the undead and because of that have been left defenseless with no clue on how to deal with them or how to prepare for it. I disagree with that opinion but we can ignore that for the sake of argument.

    Even a world that has no knowledge of the undead, the populace should at least have a modicum of common sense. Even if you didn’t know what a zombie was, if you saw one with half of it’s face gone or crawling around with no legs with no discernible pain, I would think that that would at the very least put you on your guard. Fear of the unknown (which you both claim the zombies are in this world) triggers an automatic fight or flight response in most people. It’s funny that you both cut him slack because you believe he acted “human,” but you continue to overlook the most basic human response to unknown danger.

    You claim that my opinion is formed by my “pedestal of zombie knowledge,”…which makes my perspective “bias[ed] and unfair to the characters,” yet almost every one of your justifications is based on what happened in the comic series and not the show itself, whether it was the zombie at the hospital or what kind of firearms were at the police station. Since I haven’t read the comics, all I have to go on is what I saw from the pilot episode. Maybe if I had read the series like you and Aaron, I might have a different opinion too. Telling me that my arguments are all based on a third party perspective isn’t true either. I put it to you that it is your perspective that is biased based on on your familiarity with the comics that this show is based on.

    Yes, if I woke up in a zombie infested world and found out that my wife might be in another city, I would go and try to find her. But before I went there, I would have enough common sense to equip myself before making the attempt. I would get guns and ammo and a sniper rifle (no matter if it wasn’t in the comics) and I would check it out before entering the city as I think most rational people would when there are zombies all over.

    While I don’t mind conversing with people that have a different viewpoint than mine, I don’t automatically dismiss them either just because they don’t agree with me. Just because I didn’t rave about the show, that doesn’t mean my points are “flawed” and I don’t appreciate the implication that I am part of some ignorant minority group that just doesn’t appreciate quality television and who complains for “no well founded reason.”

    It’s obvious that in your zeal to defend this show that you didn’t bother to really read what I said and my less than serious joking tone with Aaron didn’t register with you either. I wonder if people think I sound like this when I defend Star Wars and I can only hope that even while defending something I love, that I can at least keep a sense of humor while doing so.

    You told me to move on to other shows because I dared to voice my reservations about this show and I just might do that down the road if it doesn’t get better. In the meantime, I plan to keep an open mind and see if the show improves which it probably will based on the preview of the next episode. In the show’s defense, a show usually has to be on the air for while for people to care this much about it, so this show must be doing something right for some people.

    In conclusion, this is all just my opinion and you can feel free to disagree with me all you want. While Aaron knows that I was just kidding around with him, you may not have and may have taken my responses far more seriously than was intended. I hope you continue to enjoy the show and thanks for visiting this website. While we may disagree on this show, there may be plenty of other ones we might agree on so I hope you keep reading our articles.

    Until the next zombie apocalypse,


    Aaron – Like I mentioned before, this hang up of yours about this world being self aware has nothing to do with the point I’m making. We do not have zombies in this world, but if one showed up we would learn real quick. I don’t care about the Resident Evil movies either, but I pointed that out since that world wasn’t aware of zombies either but after seeing some, Alice got a gun right away unlike the sheriff who roamed the city unarmed.

    We obviously have different points of view on this and maybe that’s what the show’s creators wanted. I can see that him going back to kill the legless zombie could be viewed as poignant, but if that’s really the case, then shouldn’t he want to do that for all of them? Or is he just selectively compassionate, where he’ll go out of his way to only kill the zombies of people he knew or the handicapped ones? Either way you look at it, it really doesn’t make much sense. I do agree with you though, that the show forsakes a lot of common sense in an attempt to build up dramatic tension.

  14. Brian White

    So I finally watched this today!

    I have not a bad thing to say about it. I thought it was perfect and I enjoyed every minute of it. I’m looking forward to this season. I think it was a very nice set up.

    I don’t have any energy left in me today to debate this like others have done above.

    I’m just happy I liked it because I was wanting to hate it so I did not have to invest anymore time in a TV show, but I’m stuck now! 🙁 but really 🙂

  15. Aaron Neuwirth

    Attaboy Brian :). Truth be told, this was just a lot of fun to go back and forth with, during the week. Who would want to live in a world where we all just agree with each other all the time?

  16. Sean Ferguson

    🙁 Let’s hope we all can agree on tomorrow’s episode. I’m predicting right now that the sheriff does some more ignorant things. 😉