Review: The Walking Dead – Episode 1

cross-posted on Simply Television

 

Stunning. Epic. Gut-wrenching. Sorry about that last one. Arguably the best pilot episode since Lost.

The long opening scenes of absolute quiet and stillness represented by abandoned cars and trucks… the great surprise in finding a survivor, a little girl … who turned out to be a walker, “put down” by the deputy… was an astounding way to begin the series. It truly set the tone of horror, not in the genre sense, but it the general-use sense; real horror at the situation.

Perhaps the most effective tool for supporting this atmosphere was the near-complete lack of background noises and incidental music. No pop songs, no emo, not even much of a soundtrack. THANK GOD. The pervasive and intrusive use of music in many series in recent years has been a giant bête noir for me. This exceptionally courageous refusal to fill the quiet is becoming a hallmark for AMC, the American network for whom this series was produced. The quiet means that gunshots are extra loud, and the splatter of blood when walkers are put down is clear as a bell.

The head writer of the series has said in interviews that the series is meant to be a character study that happens to have zombies. This opening episode, however, was heavy on effects. I’ve seen few things on television as disturbing as the zombies in this episode. They were absolutely overwhelmingly disgusting. Thank goodness we were given a break from the horror and the disgust and the despair with the simple joy of a hot water shower. It was literally a cleansing, before diving back into the gore.

There were of course several excellent moments of character study. Interesting that those were the moments that employed incidental music, but treated just as delicately as the gore was brutal. When Morgan was planning to put down his walker wife, while Deputy Grimes was planning on shooting the partial walker, dragging entrails, the music was subtle and almost ethereal, definitely not intrusive. And “I’m sorry this happened to you” must be an indicator of the conflict to come – will that mindset win out as the sheer numbers become overwhelming? And Morgan‘s inability to “put down” his wife – when will the disgust overcome the memories?

Kudos especially to Britons Andrew Lincoln and Lennie James for their breathtaking performances (and excellent American southern accents). This is clearly must-see tv, and I can’t wait for the next installment. I can only hope that it can live up to the promise of this outstanding first episode.

Favorite line of the episode: “They may not seem like much one at a time…”

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