Warning: This review may contain traces of spoilers, and may have come into contact with spoilers from movies, comics and other TV shows.
After only two episodes, The Walking Dead has become one of my favourite television series of all time. This is for a multitude of reasons, not the least of which is the fact that I’m the show’s exact target demographic: a zombie fan between the ages of 18 and 49. I love the comics that the show is based on, I love Frank Darabont’s movies (particularly The Shawshank Redemption and The Mist), and I love all things zombie-related. This show can do no wrong. But I’m going to try to avoid gushing too much about The Walking Dead as I review each episode, because gush-filled reviews can get pretty boring.
Just to reiterate, this review will contain spoilers for episodes 1 and 2 of season 1 of The Walking Dead.
I should also preface this review by saying that I have read most of the comic book series that The Walking Dead is based on, so my reviews are coming from someone who is familiar with the source material and will be using it as a basis of comparison.
Episode 1 of The Walking Dead ended on a terrific cliffhanger, with Rick Grimes trapped in a tank with zombies crawling all over it. A crackly voice came through the tank’s CB radio calling him a dumbass…and the end credits rolled. It was painful to have to wait a week to see the follow-up. I knew that Glenn and the group of survivors with him would be turning up and that some truly disgusting mayhem was about to unfold, and I couldn’t wait.
Well, episode 2 did not disappoint. Rather, it didn’t disappoint me, but it apparently disappointed a few people who called it too generic and accused the makers of the show of not doing anything new with the tropes of the zombie genre. Before I get into the actual content of the episode, though, I’d like to address this nitpick. The Walking Dead is zombie fiction, pure and simple, and as such there are certain occurences in the story that might seem cliche to some. But what these people need to recognize is that The Walking Dead is at once walking on well-trod ground and blazing a new path. It’s taking all the things about zombie fiction that we love, but adding in dimensions and elements that haven’t been explored as much. It exists right in between Dawn of the Dead and 28 Days Later in my mind, because it takes elements from both (and many, many other zombie properties) and reshapes them into something amazing. Sure, we’ve seen people try to act their way past zombies before, but I can’t think of any movie that has made it as tense and nail-biting as the scene in the latest episode of TWD. Additionally, the fact that The Walking Dead includes both fresh and cliche material means that the new stuff will shock you even more because you were lulled into a sense of security by the inclusion of familiar plot material. Does that make sense? I get the feeling that I’m rambling, but this is a really important point to me. The Walking Dead doesn’t need to feature exclusively original and hitherto unseen content because the stuff that exists already is just so GOOD. I would be really sad if they hadn’t included moments like Rick Grimes going through a zombie’s wallet and talking about how “this guy was just like the rest of us once.” I mean, yes, we get it – WE ARE THEM. But somehow, thanks to Darabont’s direction and Kirkman’s writing, that moment carries with it a serious emotional weight. Not to mention the fact that even though we’ve seen zombies getting hacked to bits in plenty of movies, we’ve NEVER seen it done on television before. And the TV format is a big part of what makes The Walking Dead so fantastic.
Okay, end rant. On to the episode. The people who complained about this one did get one thing right: episode 2 of The Walking Dead was built around a familiar zombie story structure. A group of survivors is trapped in a building with zombies trying to break in and eat them. It’s up to the group to come up with a means of escape, while simultaneously trying not to kill one another. I could talk about any number of things that I enjoyed about this episode, but the stand out for me was Michael Rooker as Merle Dixon. Man, talk about a good villain. Rooker plays Dixon with such a dispicable flair that you just love to hate him, and you find yourself facing a similar moral quandary to the character of T-Dog. With only a handful of people left on earth, would you save someone who nearly killed you, if only to preserve part of your own humanity? And if you left him to die, would you be able to live down the shame that you’d feel coming from the other members of your party? The Walking Dead posed another moral quandary in the first episode: if your loved one became a zombie, would you be able to kill them? These conundrums are rapidly forming the backbone of the series, and I absolutely love it. Nothing says quality programming to me than a show that makes you consider really tough questions about horrible things after you’re done watching.
I don’t actually have all that much to say about episode 2 beyond what I’ve written already. It fits perfectly with the tone that the show set in the pilot episode, and is a brilliant adaptation of the source material (even if this episode takes place almost entirely outside of the comic canon). Already you feel deep sorrow and pity for the characters’ plights, but their three-dimensional personalities also make you feel sympathetic to their plight. The actors all give great performances, and between the first and second episodes, The Walking Dead has sold me completely on the world it is depicting. It feels real, and that’s what makes it so scary. I can’t wait to see what comes next.
5 out of 5