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November 01, 2010

The Walking Dead: Episode 1 "Days Gone Bye"

I just got done watching the premiere of AMC's new Zombie Miniseries "The Walking Dead", and I am NOT disappointed.

I'm not familiar with the source material, but when I heard that Frank Darabont ("The Shawshank Redemption") was going to be the director I figured that it would be worth watching. After sitting through the 90 minute premiere, I'm looking forward to the next episode in the six-episode run.

Since some of you probably missed this episode, I'm not going to go into the whole plot, but I am going to address some nitpicky little details I have with the premiere in the extended entry. Not really what I'd call "spoilers" since the trailers have pretty well covered all the high points, but you might want to skip the next part if you want to experience it for the first time in a later airing.

1. Rick, the main character in the story, is a deputy sheriff who suffered a gunshot wound to the chest and was comatose in the hospital when the plague broke out. When he comes to, he finds the hallways of this hospital looking like one of the abandoned buildings in the Chernobyl hot zone, and his first sign that something ain't quite right is when he sees a half-eaten woman laying in the hallway just beyond the doors of the coma ward.

My problem with this setup? Dude wakes up in a hospital after a coma of indeterminate length during a zombie outbreak, and he's not hip deep in his own waste products? Now maybe we're going to find out in some future episode that a particularly dedicated nursing staff stuck around until the last possible moment providing care for a vegetable, but I think this is probably a case of "movie magic" - sort of like revolvers that shoot 27 rounds before clicking on an empty cylinder or a hero who can absorb blows to the head that would shatter a pumpkin while suffering nothing more than contusions and bruises.

I don't really find his reaction to the gnawed-on corpse to be a problem, since someone disoriented and unaware of what happened during his nap-time could plausibly be in shock or convinced that he's dreaming. I'm more concerned with how that hospital got to the point where it would fit right in among the British NHS facilities, unless Rick was in that coma for WAY longer than you would reasonably think that a helpless vegetable could survive in those conditions. Maybe this series is set in a post-Obamacare future where waking up to stopped clocks and broken monitors is an everyday event? Either that or the SEIU at that location has the management of that particular facility running scared.

The "waking up in a hospital while the world has gone to hell without you" thing could be considered to be cribbed from "28 Days Later", but I don't have a problem with that. It's a zombie film: It's SUPPOSED to be derivative. There's only so many ways to set up a character having no awareness of what happened to society. Unless you want to give out a hat-tip to "Strange Brew" fans & have Rick "off planet on vacation at the time", I'd say that the old "coma play" is as good as any. Actually, come to think of it, I don't know if TWD cribbed the "wake up" from 28DL or if it was the other way around. Wikipedia lists 2003 as the date of the first TWD graphic novels, while 28DL dates from 2002 and was released in 2003. It's completely plausible that both creators might have had the same idea independently of each other. I'll let the purists hash this one out in the comments.

2. If you're going to have a zombie movie, you're going to need a whole shitload of Zombie Dispatchin' Guns. TWD doesn't get cute with the weapons involved. We see your standard issue pump-action shotguns, a scoped bolt-action centerfire rifle, and a big ol' .357 Magnum that Rick used as his on-duty gun before the outbreak. A Beretta 92 in 9mm and a "Ma Deuce" 50-cal machine gun are featured near the end of the premiere, but neither one of them gets to speak for the record. The family that takes Rick in after his escape from the hospital mentions that gunshots attract more "walkers", so I figure that baseball bats and tire irons will get a heavy workout before this series is over.

The presence of a "plausible armory" in this episode of the miniseries makes me feel confident that the rest of the episodes won't "jump the shark". No pump action crossbows, no ninja weaponry, no bullwhips, and no "two-gun shooters" auditioning for a part in a John Woo movie. Strictly "meat and potatoes" on the ballistic front. Rick even gives his initial host family good advice about shooting after they raid the armory at the police station, telling them to watch their ammo consumption because "it goes way quicker than you think it does, especially during target practice". Not too many zombie movies address the probable collapse of the ammunition industry in the ensuing chaos, and it's good to see one that gives a hat tip to logistics.

My only quibble with the firearms shown? Since most deputy sheriffs that I know are more "gun guys" than most of the city cops in my limited circle of friends, I assume that Rick would be well aware of the consequences of firing a Magnum revolver in a confined space like the inside of an M1 Abrams tank. Firing a .357 Mag in a wide open field without some sort of ear protection will take a toll on your hearing - firing one in a confined space could very well shatter your damn eardrums and leave you as deaf as Beethoven. This isn't a big error, IMHO. It's perfectly understandable that even a well trained shooter will panic and make a mistake when confronted by a reanimating corpse. Hell, since Jack Bauer is not a character in this miniseries (as far as I know), you should expect lots of mistakes like that.

3. Other than the "how long was he in the damn hospital?" question that I've already addressed, the only other question I've got is "where are they going with this series". As I understand it, the source material is ongoing, so there is no established ending for this story. I hope that the creative team resists the urge to go all "Lost" on us and start introducing plot twist after plot twist after plot twist. If they go for some sort of "Bobby Ewing stepping out of the shower because the whole prior season was just a dream" resolution, Russ from Winterset might just have to choke a bitch. (The only exception to that would be if they wrap the whole thing up by having Bob Newhart wake up next to Suzanne Pleshette and say "Honey, I just had the weirdest dream about zombies". I would cut them slack for that one.)

Overall? I give it two thumbs up, with hope that the next five episodes won't disappoint me.

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posted by Russ from Winterset at 12:43 AM

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