The Walking Dead 1.01 ‘Days Gone Bye’

Move over, vampires—the zombie hordes have descended. On Sunday night, The Walking Dead premiered on AMC to 5.3 million viewers, shattering records for the cable network and making a second season renewal a foregone conclusion.

Based on the comic book series by Robert Kirkman and created by Academy Award-nominated Frank Darabont, The Walking Dead follows Rick Grimes (Andrew Lincoln), a cop in a small Kentucky town who is injured in the line of duty and wakes up in the hospital to find himself in a changed world. Almost everyone is dead and gone, except for those who have become flesh-eating monsters.

As with any good genre tale, the supernatural element is not the point. The zombies are there to interact with the human characters and further their development. Watching Rick come to terms with his living nightmare, he goes from fear to disbelief (“Wake up!” he screams at himself), to anger to hope, and back again. He encounters Morgan and Duane, who have seen this whole incredible situation unfold and, what’s worse, are haunted by the hollow shell of the woman who used to be their wife and mother.

Their only motivation now is survival. At least Rick can proceed with a deeper purpose, one that outweighs all the horrors he is sure to suffer along the way—to find his own wife and child. The relief I felt when I saw that his family was alive was destroyed by the heartbreaking revelation that Rick’s partner was having an affair with his wife.

The future of these characters, of the world itself, is so uncertain. “Days Gone Bye” conveys that with an overwhelming stillness. Sure, it got pretty hectic there at the end when the crowd zombies ate Rick’s horse and climbed all over the tank with him inside. But for the most part, the pilot was about opening our eyes to the scope of this disaster, one lit match at a time. There is much left to see.

Other thoughts on the episode:

- I’m looking forward to Bear McCreary’s work as composer on the show (Battlestar Galactica wouldn’t have been the same without his music), but I was glad that this episode was mostly unscored because it gave us those quiet, powerful moments of sinking realization.

-I’m conflicted between reading the comics and letting the story be a complete surprise.

-Lennie James is a terrific actor, but between this show and Jericho, I have a theory that he may be a harbinger of the end times.

What did everyone else think?

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