Five Torches (Out of Five)
Warning: This review contains spoilers for the “Days Gone Bye” episode of The Walking Dead.
When was the last time there was a post-apocalyptic TV series? Has there ever been a post-apocalyptic TV series? Because I honestly can’t think of any. TV is a mass market medium — the original mass market medium — and definitely not one to dwell on the dark side.
I think it speaks pretty accurately to how hopeless and depressed people feel these days that we’re finally seeing such a series right now.
And they didn’t pull any punches, did they? When was the last time you saw a child killed on TV — by the good guy no less? Sure, it was a zombie-child, but seeing the actual killing — in the first five minutes — speaks to the daring tone of this show.
Zombies may have been done to death in the movies and in fiction, but this show truly looked and felt like something different.
One reason why is surely because it’s the work of film director Frank Darabont, who created the series and wrote and directed this pilot.
Clearly, Darabont had the clout to be able to do whatever the hell he wanted. (And I’m sure it helped that cable channels like AMC actually encourage quality programming, as opposed to dumbing everything down for the widest possible audience.)
I loved that the episode got right to the point, both before and after the opening tease, even as it also varied the tone — something that made the moments of incredible intensity and suspense seem even that much more heart-wrenching.
The economy of the storytelling was extraordinary. They didn’t bother telling us things we already know and haven’t already seen in other zombie projects. And when it came to communicating important info, they couldn’t have done it any better than that scene with the half-corpse crawling along the grass: it told us everything we needed to know about the new world Rick was now in and, later when he goes back to put it out of its misery, everything we need to know about Rick.
Meanwhile, the episode had many other moments of incredible creepiness:
- Rick waking up, confused and disoriented, into a world of “walking dead.” It was similar to the opening of 28 Days Later, but felt completely different too.
- The young boy seeing the return of his mother the zombie outside the house.
- The inevitable “crowd” of zombies in Atlanta and their attack. (His escape from the attack up into the tank was pretty cool too.)
- The closing scene of the horse being devoured — to music, no less!
My few quibbles:
- Rick has nice period of confusion, but then he seemed to adapt to the reality of a zombie apocalypse pretty quickly — too quickly. I’m all for moving the story forward, but I just didn’t buy this.
- It was a great and classic set-up for the entire show when Rick finds evidence that his family left in a hurry (and, therefore, may still be alive), but I thought they squandered that by telling us too quickly that they were, in fact, alive.
Truthfully, I’ve long since had my fill of zombies, and I wasn’t particularly looking forward to this show. But Darabont is clearly a storytelling master, and he has created something here that feels genuinely different from anything else I’ve seen on TV.
I’ll definitely be watching.