Thursday, October 21, 2010

DAMN Good Television -- THE WALKING DEAD: "Days Gone Bye"

Thanks to the strange magicks of the Internets, I was able to see the first episode of the highly-anticipated AMC zombie series The Walking Dead, based on the Image Comics series by Robert Kirkman and Charlie Adlard.  Many fans of the comic have been wondering for some time how well the series would be adapted for television and I can now reassure anyone who happens to be concerned that the TV series is as good and as gory as you hoped it would be. 

I'll try not to go into too many spoilers here, but by and large, the first episode (directed by none other than filmmaker Frank Darabont) was considerably faithful to the source material.  Drawing heavily from the entire first issue and about 2/3 of the second, "Days Gone Bye" sets up the series premise and central characters nicely.  We follow police officer Rick Grimes as he wakes from a gunshot wound to the chest into a nightmare zombie apocalypse with no idea of what happened to the world while he was unconscious. 

As Rick struggles with undead zombies shambling around him, he soon encounters a fellow survivor named Morgan Jones and his son Duane.  Morgan brings Rick (and the audience) up to speed on the basics of this particular zombie Earth and helps him begin his quest to find his missing wife Lori and son Carl.  After hooking himself and Morgan up with some guns and ammo from the police station, Rick heads off to Atlanta, on horseback no less, and soon ends up walking smack dab into a huge zombie cliffhanger.

Rick is understandably the central focus of this first episode, so the bulk of the responsibility falls on actor Andrew Lincoln.  Although British, Lincoln does a solid enough job as the cowboy-wannabe Rick and conveys the right amount of confusion and horror that you would expect to see in a character thrust into this kind of situation.  It's going to be interesting to see how well Lincoln handles the noticeable change in Rick later on as the emotional fatigue and trauma of all the insanity of survival set in later on.

The real heart of the episode, however, is Lennie James as Morgan.  In a welcome addition to the series comic mythos, Morgan faces the agony of trying to decide whether he should shoot and kill his own wife, who at some point became one of the zombies shambling around outside his and Duane's home.  Morgan's pain and conflict over the decision is compelling as he tries to set aside his own feelings to spare his son and his wife any additional suffering.  As if I was rereading the original comic, I found myself wondering why Morgan and Duane end up going their separate ways from Rick.

We get a taste, if you'll pardon the pun, of the other regular characters, primarily Lori and Carl, along with Rick's police partner (and future rival) Shane.  Interestingly, we jump ahead a bit in the mythos with the revelation that Lori and Shane have become romantically involved after believing that Rick is either dead or lost somewhere.  It appears as though this television adaptation isn't simply going strictly issue by issue and seems content with adding, changing and developing some things along the way.  Thankfully, the core saga remains intact so far and considering the storytelling differences between the mediums of comics and TV, you almost have to expect that some story elements will be different.  As long as the quality of future episodes remains as high as the first, The Walking Dead will become as well-regarded as the comics themselves.

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