Sunday, 12 December 2010

Of Walking Dead Season 1

Now that Walking Dead has been over for about a week, of it's very long hiatus, it's time that we reviewed this inaugural season. In case you haven't heard The Walking Dead has become something of a phenomenon, mostly because it's zombies, and as well know, zombies are awesome. So without further ado, let's get reviewing.

The Walking Dead is based off of the similarly named The Walking Dead comic book written by Robert Kirkman (who also wrote episode 4 of the TV show). It's also masterminded by Frank Darabont, the guy behind Shawshank Redemption and The Green Mile, meaning that there is an undeniable pedigree to this show. When the man who directed and wrote one of the greatest films of all time decides to 'lower' himself to television you damn well pay attention. The pilot that Darabont both wrote and directed, still stands as the best single episode of the Walking Dead.

Over the course of a very solid first season, The Walking Dead was able to showcase what viewers would eventually have to look forward too, albeit with some stumbling blocks forming lessons for the shows writers. If anything, it's most similar to both the US Office and Parks and Recreation in their shortened first seasons. Both Parks and Office had average first seasons and then quickly bounced back in their second seasons to become two of the funniest shows on TV. If this is the trend that The Walking Dead will be following then great things are ahead for this show. The writers (or what's left of them) will hopefully be able to take away a lot from this first season, find what did and didn't work and then reform the show around the good parts.

First of all what did work, the cast are all uniformly very good in their portrayal of the characters from the comics. Whilst no one on the show is a Bryan Cranston or Jon Hamm level actor, the show works well as an ensemble, but no one at the moment is really coming forward as the stand-out actor. Andrew Lincoln is very good as Rick Grimes and is a spot on interpretation of the Rick Grimes from the comic series, but again it isn't a showy performance, it's just a good one, similar to the work Matthew Fox was doing on Lost. The other performances on the show are enjoyable to varying degrees with Laurie Holden as Andrea being the most noticeable, particularly during the scenes where she is dealing with the death of her sister Amy.

Gore, is something don't see done well on television very often by The Walking Dead is producing the graphic nature of a zombie apocalypse every week and I couldn't be happier. There have been decapitations, mutilation of corpses, gunshots to the head, zombies eating someones entrails and some absolutely brilliant zombie make-up. The Walking Dead isn't shying away from making this show very gory and bleak. Whilst the zombies aren't present in every episode, when they are used they are used to great effect, in particular the end of the fourth episode showing how the sparse use of the zombies adds to the overall effect of the show. The zombies are a constant threat, always out there but the group of survivors aren't battling hoards of them off in every episode.

When it comes to adapting a piece of work from another medium, the question is always how close should this new adaptation be to the original, Darabont and the other writers have found the right balance of original and new ideas. Whilst the broad strokes of the comic have been followed, such as Rick finding his family outside of Atlanta and leaving the camp after a zombie attack which dealt them heavy loses, the show isn't afraid of going off on it's own. Entire storylines have been made from scratch such as the siege story found in Episode 2 'Guts' or the gang story found in Episode 4 'Vatos' and they have been integrated into Kirkman's world of the comics without feeling like they were just shoehorned in to using the original material too quickly. The season's final episode 'TS-19' was entirely divergent to the comics and whilst it probably could have benefited from another episode of development to help it feel less rushed, it was still a great hour of television. In fact on of the biggest divergences from the comics comes from the Rick/Shane/Lori storyline which has featured a subtle tweak from the comics (if you've read the comics you'll know what the difference is actually quite large) and gives their storyline a sense of not actually knowing what is going to happen, which is an exciting prospect.

However not all of these changes have been great. For the most part the new characters introduced to the show who aren't present in the comics aren't particularly memorable. T-Dog is just a stupid name for a character. It also doesn't help that they are underdeveloped. When some of these non-comic characters were written out towards the end of Season 1, it was apparent I didn't care about any of them, with the only ones I liked were the ones we'd spent prolonged time with (T-Dog and Daryl) and the ones who had been characters in the comics. This is of course more a fault of the shortened length of this season and the size of the cast. What was the fault of the writers was that Merle and Daryl (at least at first) were written very badly. Merle was an early red flag for that the show could handle itself wrong. Merle was so one dimensional that it was just hard to watch. It was obvious the show wanted us to dislike him from the start but it turned into a racist red neck sterotype. Luckily Merle's actor, Michael Rooker was able to salvage the character a little in a largely wordless appearance in Episode 3 'Tell it to the Frogs'. Even Daryl (Norman Reedus) suffered from similar faults but 'Vatos' spent a prolonged amount of time with the character and began to become more fully formed, however this could be laid at the feet of Robert Kirkman having fun with a character who wasn't in his comics and didn't have a hand in creating.

Beyond these character issues, and some dialogue problems the show was largely fine, it just suffered from a lack of time to develop. Had it had the full 13 episodes to develop a proper season the show could have quickly found it's feet and shown what it was fully capable of. But as it stands the show must have what may eventually be seen as a prologue season before the show starts proper. But I enjoyed an awful lot of Season 1 of the Walking Dead, the pilot was superb with Morgan (Lennie James) being a character I hope we see a lot more of, and not after as long an absence as found in the comics. Almost every scene at the camp was brilliant, the zombie siege in 'Vatos', Jim slowly realising his fate and Noah Emmerich's fantastic supporting role in the finale as Dr. Jenner.

The first season of Walking Dead had some rough spots but overall I can see the show as ultimately pulling through, as long as some of the new characters are made more fully developed and less one dimensional and the show is able to find some kind of arc to play out over 13 episodes, rather than just the prologue this first season turned out to be. Whilst this first season wasn't perfect, it was damn good. Most of the low points are quick fixes and for the most part the show works great, but with a bit more polishing it could become one of the best shows on TV.


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