AMC’s The Walking Dead
Season 1, Episode 1: “Days Gone Bye”
Directed by Frank Darabont
Written by Frank Darabont; Based on the comics by Charlie Adlard, Robert Kirkman & Tony Moore.
* For a review of the following episode, “Guts” – click here
The very first episode of The Walking Dead begins almost exactly like the comics. Almost.
Sheriff Rick Grimes (Andrew Lincoln) stops his car on a deserted stretch of road. Cars are overturned everywhere, left in any place here or there. With a Jerry can in hand, Rick heads through a quasi-tented city made of tarp and cars. Then he sees a bunny slippered young girl in a bathrobe shuffling along the street. He calls – “I‘m a policeman” and “don‘t be afraid” – but when she turns around, it’s a zombified little creature, half a mouth. Still dragging a teddy bear.
So the initial scene with Rick Grimes, where we’re introduced to him, takes a little step back from the comics. Then shifts gears after watching Rick blow a little zombie girl away. Amazing, intense opener for this series when it first premiered. I remember it really got my attention.
Afterwards, we cut back to Sheriff Rick actually working. In the seat next to him is Officer Shane Walsh (Jon Bernthal). They talk about women, as men often do when they’re alone. This is now pretty much where the first comic started out. We get Frank Darabont elaborating these opening moments, drawing out the relationship between Shane and Rick before the world goes to shit. Nice move. Soon we move to the gunfight, where Sheriff Rick and his second-in-command Shane come up against fleeing criminals.
And then Rick takes a bullet, putting him down. The first one doesn’t do the trick. Another one from behind misses the vest and nearly blows a hole through his side. Here commences The Walking Dead.
We watch as Rick sees Shane hover above him. Eventually, Rick wakes up thinking he’s there. Only the flowers Shane brought are dried, dead.Something terrible has happened. The clock doesn’t even work anymore. Stumbling out into the halls, he discovers the entire hospital deserted. Not a soul is there. He’s also aware of having grown a beard. The world is different now, only it seems Sheriff Grimes was the last one to figure it out. Not to any fault of his own. In a hallway, the mutilated body of a woman sits on the floor and Rick realizes life has changed drastically. Bullet holes line the walls. A door is barricaded at the end of a hallway with the inscription DON’T OPEN, DEAD INSIDE scrawled across it in spray paint.
Seeing Rick outside in the world, walking past rows of covered bodies, then panning out to a wide shot of the hospital where we can see him lost among an almost-field of them. A little further and he finds evidence of a military operation. Abandoned. The world is truly done. His first confrontation with a zombie sees him taking a bike, the half-body crawling towards him in a disgusting heap. Back at the Grimes house, Rick finds nobody. And the world gets a little worse again, at least for him.
The most difficult is when Rick isn’t sure whether or not he’s dreaming. It’s tough to imagine waking up to a world like that.A man named Morgan Jones (Lennie James) and his son come across Rick. The boy actually cracks him with a shovel. Waking up, for the second time in an unfamiliar place, Rick is tied to a bed back at Morgan’s place. Or the spot where he and the boy are holed up currently. It’s clear Morgan does not trust too many people. Not nowadays. “Did you get bit?” he asks Rick, who for his part doesn’t understand what any of that means. Things get friendly after awhile. Morgan appears to still have a civil nature, correcting his son speaking improper English, his son insisting on saying a blessing before eating supper. Rick couldn’t have been jumped by better people. Especially considering he needs to be explained a bit about the world, as it is now. Here we get the first time “walkers” is used – from Morgan. Rick learns about how to handle the zombies, particularly the need to take out the head. Of course it’s not an easy adjustment, learning to kill people. Even if they’re not actually people any longer.
One creepy sequence sees a zombified Mrs. Jones come to the door, slowly, trying to turn the knob. It’s not their home, but she died there after things went bad. Morgan believes he “should‘ve put her down.” Who could do that, though? Not as easy as it seems for those of us watching zombie films and reading the comics. If it were real, the decisions would come harder.
When Rick and Morgan part ways, he gives the latter a police radio. This will become an important link between these two for a while to come. Their moment of departure is a nice one, on amicable terms, and it’s clear they’ve bonded. One of the first important relationships of the series to come.
Rick heads out on his own. First, back to find the half-zombie from earlier and put her down: “I‘m sorry this happened to you,” he tells her. Morgan starts target practice from the upstairs window, as his terrified son Duane hides downstairs. Until suddenly he sees his wife in the crosshairs, almost looking into his eyes; Morgan can’t manage to pull the trigger, though. It’s not something he can do just yet, if ever.
On the highway outside Atlanta, former Sheriff Grimes tries to reach someone, anyone on the police radio. At a nearby camp some people pick him up – several wide-eyed people are clearly astounded to hear his voice, including Dale Horvath (Jeffrey DeMunn), and former Officer Shane Walsh. Although, they can’t exactly get Rick on the radio, only static keeps coming through.
It also happens to be that Rick’s wife Lori (Sarah Wayne Callies) and son Carl (Chandler Riggs) are also at the camp site. Unfortunately, Shane seems to have everybody locked down and plans of going to search for the voice on the radio are vetoed. Turns out Shane and Lori are involved now. A tragic thing we’ll be dealing with for seasons.
On the road, Rick comes across more macabre sights including a family dead by murder suicide, GOD FORGIVE US scratched on the wall behind them. To see the strain of this type of situation bear down on a man who, until the past couple days, was in a coma and unaware of the crisis, it’s a wild ride. Emotionally we’re seated right alongside Rick.
Perhaps my favourite part of “Days Gone Bye” is near the end where he comes across the horse. Aside from Morgan and Duane, this is the only living creature Rick has encountered that wasn’t trying to eat his flesh right off the bone. So it’s a fun, tender moment. Not only that, we’re also brought back to the Wild West, the Frontier Days, as Rick hops backwards in transportation, to an earlier time. And it’s fitting because the world is wiped out. Humanity takes a step back, so may as well put Sheriff Grimes on a horse and ride him into Atlanta.
In the city the streets are deserted. Like everywhere else.
But a horde of the undead stop Rick, his horse, around the corner of a city block. They swarm him. The poor animal doesn’t make it out. Although Rick does. Just barely. Hopping into a tank on the street, he manages to find temporary refuge. When things seem to have gone as far as they’re about to go, a voice comes over the radio: “Hey you. Dumbass. Yeah, you in the tank. Cosy in there?”
Excited to rewatch the rest of these episodes. Up next is “Guts” where we’ll find more characters, more zombie apocalypse and plenty of horrific action.