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The Walking Dead: Season One

The critically acclaimed Image Comics series comes to the small screen.

By: Ferg
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A wonderful time is upon us folks. On Halloween Night, 2010, AMC will air the first episode of the soon to be legendary television show: The Walking Dead. I say wonderful time because this is a long hinted-at production that comic & horror geeks the world over have been waiting for. Thanks to Frank Darabont (The Mist, The Shawshank Redemption), Gale Ann Hurd (The Terminator, Aliens) and the network that brought us Breaking Bad & Mad Men, AMC, we can finally see it.

I have seen it. And it is every bit the small screen masterpiece I expected.

The pilot episode, 'Days Gone Bye' tells the story of Rick Grimes, a Sheriff's Deputy to a small location just outside of the city of Atlanta. After a rather quiet morning, Rick is called out to aid in the capture of two felons, frantically trying to outrun the law. When Rick and his partner Shane arrive on the scene, a firefight ensues and Rick is shot in the back. Cut to moments later and the Sheriff's Deputy awakes in a hellish, bloodied hospital room. It is presumably weeks later and while Rick was in a coma, something happened to the world. The streets are deathly silent. There are burnt out vehicles strewn across the highways. And corpses of the recently deceased are awake and looking for food.

The most important thing to mention here and the most striking thing about the show is the production value. This is not a scaled down, cost-effective adaptation of Robert Kirkman's The Walking Dead. This has exactly what you'd hoped for; littered bodies on the sidewalks, crumbling buildings, military vehicles abandoned on the side of the road. The sets (and effects) are given every bit of care as possible. Frank Darabont and Greg Nicotero have given every zombie a different look or personality, too. There are a thousand wounds on display here, all bloody and nasty. And for those that were worried about AMC's policy on depicting violence? Worry no more; the pilot episode alone is a bloodbath. Guts, headshots, crushed heads…the list goes on. It seems the network really isn't afraid to tackle the darker material at all, which is a great indication of things to come (if you've read the graphic novels, you'll know how violent this series can get).

Darabont's casting of the series is, so far as I can tell, flawless. Although we've not been introduced to everyone by the end of 'Days Gone Bye', we have met the characters Rick, Shane, Lori, Carl and Morgan. Andrew Lincoln's performance is fantastic as the series' lead, Rick Grimes. He plays the character with such ease and genuinely seems comfortable in his skin. If I am to pick out minor flaws with this debut episode, then I'd mention Lincoln's accent. Every so often, with particular words in fact, you can almost hear his British accent slip through ever so slightly. As I said, it's something minor but it was noticeable a couple of times. Credit must be given to small-screen veteran Lennie James, too. His depiction of Morgan (a father who encounters Rick at the beginning) is scene-stealing. My only real gripe with him, if I really had one at all, was that after the episode I wished he'd have been in it for a longer period of time.

The main thing to celebrate here is the fact that we finally have The Walking Dead on our televisions. And by the looks of things, the show will be here to stay for quite some time now. With the talent involved and the huge fanbase surrounding the series, it's inevitable that this will get at least a second series if not more. And bravo once again to AMC for taking a chance with this. Thanks to them we may just have a new classic horror television show.

Episode 2 of AMC's The Walking Dead picks up seconds after the end of the pilot episode. Police Officer Rick Grimes (Andrew Lincoln) is trapped inside the belly of a tank, parked in a street crowded with the living dead. But with the help of a fellow survivor, Glenn (Steven Yeun) Rick can make his escape where he meets with a rag tag group, shelled up inside an Atlanta department store.

After the superb quality of the pilot episode 'Days Gone Bye', I have spent 7 days eagerly anticipating the next chapter in Frank Darabont's take on the beloved comic book series. Unfortunately, while it isn't quite up to par with the pilot, it is still a very, very good watch. With a bold title like 'Guts' and a large amount of introductory to take care of, episode 2 does feel a little bit crowded and sometimes a bit too convenient.

The main flaws lie directly on the cast. There are several additions to the group of survivors here, including the white-trash Merle Dixon (played wonderfully by Michael Rooker) and clumsy, oafish character named T-Dog. Inevitably, not every performance can be as solid as the rest and unfortunately it shows. There are cardboard cut outs of your typical "survivor group" and AMC has decided to bring an eclectic bunch together (Latino, African American, etc), where there really is no need, as scenes are getting a little tight on room as it is. And I don't mean there is no need to bring in people of different races; I mean there is no need when the actor or actress brings nothing to the table. Not to dump on the episode's cast too hard, as there are still great scenes of emotion and action on display. It just so happens that these standout scenes come from characters we've already been introduced to.

AMC have also further proved there tolerance for the level of violence in the show, as 'Guts' aptly contains a scene where Rick dismembers a corpse to hang it's entrails around his neck, as a horrific disguise from the Undead. KNB's EFX work is top notch here and combined with the sound work, it makes for a terrifically disgusting scene. I did notice a lot of CGI'd head shots scattered throughout the episode, but it isn't something too distracting or obvious.

'Guts' is also a testament to how beautifully photographed The Walking Dead is. There are multiple shots I found myself pouring over that look fantastic, especially since the show is being filmed on 16mm, giving it an older, slightly grainy textured look.

If I were to rate The Walking Dead episode 'Guts', I'd have to say that it's a 3.5 on a scale of 5, where as I'd give ‘Days Gone Bye’ a solid 5. The story is strong enough and the changes Darabont has made work well, but mediocre performances and certain circumstances the characters find themselves in which seem a bit too strained, make this a good but not great episode.

After the good but not great episode last week (‘Guts’), it's with a sigh of relief that I can say that this week's entry in The Walking Dead is the best so far. With great performances, great writing and some nice alterations from the comic, 'Tell It to the Frogs' is exactly what I had been praying for all along.

This week, Rick and his newly adopted family find their way back to camp, where he finally reunites with his wife Lori and his son Carl. After a grand welcoming, Rick decides to return to Atlanta once again to retrieve a bag of weaponry and rescue the trapped Merle Dixon. But his return to the city only angers his already confused and conscience-heavy ex-cop partner Shane who slowly begins to break.

For those that were right there with me on the opinion that last weeks episode was full to the brim with mediocre acting that at times bordered on being straight-out flat, you can relax. From lead characters to minor characters, every line of excellently written dialogue is performed here with passion and emotion. Upon Rick's return to the camp, when the Grimes family is finally a singular unit again, Andrew Lincoln really sells it as the lead. If I were to pick any particular scene so far that encapsulates The Walking Dead for me, it would be this one. In one corner we have the heroic, soon-to-be leader of the group, Rick Grimes. In the other we have the unfaithful, but tricked wife, Lori (who’s emotionally shattered by this revelation). And finally we have the ex-cop partner of our hero, Shane. Shane is torn between the happiness of having his best friend back, but also knowing that this is the nail in the coffin for him and Lori's newly sparked relationship. Jon Bernthal's take on Shane is pitch-perfect here, as you're forced to sympathize with him, but scrutinize him at the same time.

Those hoping for another weekly dose of carnage are in for a surprise this time around, as ‘Tell It to the Frogs’ is the most subdued episode thus far in the effects and action department. There's one gloriously gruesome scene for the gore hounds to chew on, but this episode is thankfully more about the survivors. It's a nice change of pace that shows the series is in fact a story about humanity and their will to survive and adapt, with that little issue of those rotting corpses that are walking around as the catalyst. Basically, this is what the comic is built upon and what it’s been so lauded for over the years.

'Tell It to the Frogs' also addresses most of the issues I had with the added characters in 'Guts'. Here, T-Dog (Iron E. Singleton) gives a short emotional speech, providing his character with some much needed depth. We also get to hear from Dale and sisters Amy and Andrea a lot more too. We’re introduced to Daryl Dixon (played surprisingly well by Norman Reedus), brother of the trapped Merle. Daryl seems to be all white trash with an explosive temper just like his brother, so it should prove to be interesting when we see him and Merle interact with the group next week.

We’re halfway there in this inaugural season, and so far, so good. Episode three has left me yearning for next Sunday, eager to see what Rick and company get up to in their return to Atlanta. This was a completely solid entry for me and its put the show up there in the top spot for my favorite of the new fall TV line-up. Long live The Walking Dead!

This weeks episode of The Walking Dead, titled ‘Vatos’, is written by Robert Kirkman. For those not in the know, Kirkman is the original comic book’s creator and on-going writer. Now, with the quality of the source material, one would expect a top notch, best-of-the-bunch episode, filled with emotion, horror and action. Unfortunately with ‘Vatos’, that’s not exactly what we get…

The plot driving this week’s episode begins with Rick and the gang discovering a bloody severed hand strewn across the floor where Merle Dixon was left to rot. As the group begin the search to find him, they encounter a group of young thugs, seemingly up to no good in the ruined streets of Atlanta. This group are also looking to get their hands on Rick’s discarded bag of guns, so in a hasty punch-up, Glenn is kidnapped and the group disappears. Meanwhile, back at camp, Shane’s concern for another survivor’s well-being increases as the mysterious Jim begins to dig several graves. But for whom is he planning to bury?

Firstly, the flaws, to which there are many. As I’ve previously stated, AMC’s The Walking Dead is littered with stereotypical, cliched characters that can only hinder the overall scene to which they are in. And in ‘Vatos’, we get not one, but a group of over twently Latinos, donned in typical gangbanger outfits and prison tattoos. I’m not denying there are people that conform to this stereotype in reality, but in a film or television show, it’s just over-played. The audience just does not buy it. And if the audience does not buy into the character, then there is no feeling of threat or any imminent danger. So when our protaganist Rick finally meets the head of this other group, it’s hard to take the drama seriously when you’re expecting him to ‘Bust-A-Cap’ in someone’s ass. It’s also to be noted that throughout this episode, the actor to give the strongest performance here is Norman Reedus, consistently believable as the angry, tough-as-nails Daryl Dixon.

Without spoiling anything, this week’s episode also sees the exit of a central character. This death scene is more or less handled exactly how it played out in the comic book, so it’s great to see the material come to life in a horrific and violent showdown between the survivors and a group of Walkers (look out for a cameo from KNBFX’s Greg Nicotero). As much as I liked the scene, and it was a great finale for the episode, I found there wasn’t much of an impact when the killer corpses arrived and began their slaughter as the characters that are dispatched haven’t been given any significant screentime. So when the neck is ripped open and they’re taking their last breath in a supposed evocative farewell scene, you’re left thinking, “Oh well”.

I don’t want to drag ‘Vatos’ through the mud. There are several exciting and dramatic moments on display here and the horror of the show is still, for the most part, intact. The problem is these scenes are continously marred by characterization problems and dodgy writing. After last week’s thoroughly enjoyable episode ‘Tell It to the Frogs’, ‘Vatos’, for me, joins episode 2 as being a missed opportunity and for the most part reeking of mediocrity.

I'm beginning to believe that AMC's The Walking Dead will share a similar fate to that of the original Star Trek. I had heard once that the Shatner/Nimoy series of Trek only produced a good quality episode fortnightly and seemingly, this is exactly what has come so far from this very series. After last week's cliché-ridden 'Vatos', the penultimate episode of this series 'Wildfire' is an emotional, often horrific trip into a post-apocalyptic world.

After the brutal assault on the camp last week, this week's story picks up the morning after. Andrea is dealing with the savage death of her sister Amy, as Rick and Shane try to come to a decision as to what's best for the group of survivors. Meanwhile, another member of the group reveals he has been bitten and with only hours to spare until he is overcome by the virus, the group decides to try for a scientific stronghold inside the ruined city of Atlanta.

This is the first episode so far that really accomplishes two things. Firstly, the writers have made a sharp left turn from the source material and deviated from its path completely. Secondly, this is also the first episode to really push the story along. Without spoiling anything (for those that haven't yet seen this week's episode) the finale of this episode is perfect in the sense that it's something completely new, yet it's intriguing, entertaining and dramatic as it should be. And this time the group does not encounter another mess of linear characters that will only confuse audiences in their addition.

'Wildfire' also ushers in the beginning of an inevitable conflict between our leads, Rick and Shane. Up to this point, Shane has been tight-lipped with regards to talking back to Rick, but after various 'bad moves' on Rick's part, we start to see that Shane is unraveling. On top of the jealously of his partner's life, Shane has now got to deal with the fact that the survivors have turned to Rick as their new leader. Jon Bernthal's performance particularly shines in this episode as we start to see his patience for Rick stripped down. Another character to get some much needed development (well, at least a little bit) is Carol. While we may have been led to believe that she was completely subdued in an abusive relationship with the recently devoured Ed, this week we see Carol in something of a new light. It's not that her character has changed, but more so that circumstances around her have changed her internally (watch for how she reacts to the burial of her late husband). It's an interesting little scene that goes to show how the world has changed for these characters.

Next week brings the final episode of the first season for The Walking Dead. The set up in 'Wildfire' lets us know that this will be very much its own beast and I'm okay with that. While some may accuse the show of taking an often-used route in the Zombie sub-genre, The Walking Dead has so far established that it's an intelligent, thought provoking horror series with actual character depth and plot. And while it sometimes misses the mark by just a little, don't worry, as there's always next week's episode.

The final episode in Season one of The Walking Dead is here. All the hype, all the speculation, all the fan-boy division over differences from the source material will all be laid to rest least until October 31st, 2011. But the question is; how does the climactic episode fare? Well, quite simply, it's the best episode yet. With real drama, characterization and advancement of the story, 'TS-19' is of a quality superior to its previous episodes.

After reaching the CDC last week, the survivors are eventually allowed inside by Dr. Jenner. The CDC building is long since abandoned, so it's the perfect place for Rick and his extended family to restart the lives, in a safe, clean environment. Unfortunately, after Dale notices a countdown on the computers, Dr. Jenner reveals a startling secret about the CDC security systems which could lead the whole group to their deaths. Meanwhile, Shane continues to struggle with his feelings for his partner's wife, Lori.

Firstly, this episode opens with a brief flashback to the morning of the undead apocalypse. Shane is seen sprinting through the halls of the hospital, frantically looking for Rick. Once he finds him, we find out that Shane did indeed think Rick had passed away in the crumbling hospital. Surrounded by murderous soldiers, Shane opts to run for the hills. The inclusion of the flashback gives another look at Shane's character, showing us that he isn't quite the liar Lori has made him out to be. It also adds another spin to the love triangle that is Rick, Lori and Shane, as the couple's affair is purely circumstantial. If it had not been for the initial viral outbreak, then for Shane mistaking Rick's death, they would probably never have consummated. Shane's despair and emotional struggle is yet another effect caused by this apocalypse. Jon Bernthal gives yet another strong performance, too. He sells his heartbreak very well and steals the show with another scene later in the episode.

While I found the CDC storyline a little rushed (as it was pretty much crammed into one episode, like an afterthought), once the survivors have spent a night in the supposedly safe building and the plot thickens, it felt like a perfect cap to the season. Once the shit hits the fan and the gang realizes that not even a government building can be a safe haven from the marauding undead, the sense of danger and threat sores. No longer can they hope to find that new beginning over the horizon, because there is none. These characters are doomed to keep moving, keep struggling to stay alive and above all, cope with the new world. This realization lifts the level of emotion in 'TS-19', giving The Walking Dead its first truly epic sequence.

Before I finish up the final review of The Walking Dead: Season One, I'd like to give my thoughts on the season as a whole: Initially, I was completely in love with the idea of Frank Darabont adapting The Walking Dead into a television series. After months and months of hype, I found myself growing a tad skeptical as to how well it might actually translate, but luckily, AMC produced an absolutely excellent pilot episode. Subsequent episodes were good too, but when I think of the missed opportunities the show had, as well as the fact that unfortunately there is only six episodes this season, I have to say that season one is a good start; keyword being 'start'. Like a launch pad to a truly great series. If the show can find focus, ditch the sketchy performances and tighten the pace and writing, then we could be looking at classic horror television.

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