Ep. 1 - These Zombies Want Your Heart… along with your Brains
After only one episode it’s clear that the AMC series is going to be a little bit different from the graphic novels. The writers had already claimed as much, and it certainly makes sense that they would both feel the need to change some dynamics to fit the new medium as well as want to feel free to play around with the characters and situations instead of just making a frame-to-shot remake. Fans of the original work are bound to find some things they miss and we can all gripe on and on about the changes, but after the first 67 minutes I find myself looking forward to reliving Rick’s adventures from a slightly changed perspective.
First, though, let’s get a couple of the things that didn’t work for me out of the way: the opening. I get that to maintain viewers in a zombie show that debuted on Halloween you want to get a zombie up close and personal in the early minutes of the pilot. And having a cop shoot a little girl in the head is definitely attention-grabbing and badass. But maybe it’s because I spent too much time hoping for something good to happen and wasting time with ALIAS, but I can not stand that narrative device when an episode opens with something that will happen later and then flashes back to the beginning of the story. I don’t know if that device has a real name already, but I constantly refer to it as a Fuck You, J.J. Abrams. And I don’t like it when creators I respect play that game. AMC did it once before with BREAKING BAD, and that episode was one of the weakest of the series so far (and I love BREAKING BAD).
And the extended scene between Shane and Rick in the car before the robbery. That also felt forced. Which is odd, because one of the main things I wanted out of the comics but felt like I didn’t get was just a little bit more of the world before Z-Day. That’s always been one of the things that I love about SHAUN OF THE DEAD. Whereas the vast majority of zombie apocalypse fiction starts right at the apocalypse and then we get to know our characters based on how they survive afterward, SHAUN let us see a little bit of who the characters were in the world on the day before everything went to shit. That makes me love each of them more, and care about them more, and the tension I felt the first time I watched that was totally equal to the comedy because of that dynamic.
But Shane and Rick having cliched sort of partner talk, complaining about women… that fell flat for me. I didn’t get any extra character development other than the fact that Shane is kind of a dick. And seeing him kissing Lori later would have actually been more powerful if I *hadn’t* been set up to hate him. It’s been a few weeks. The world has gone to Hell. Shane and Lori have been spending time together under harrowing circumstances, so it could make sense that they bonded. Setting him up as a dick before that makes me care a little bit less. Rick and Shane will inevitably have a showdown, and now Shane will be a Bad Guy. I preferred the ambiguity in the comics when Shane was just a guy who kinda liked his best friend’s wife.
Let’s move past that negative bullshit, though, because when it comes down to it, I LOVED the pilot. Even though it was a tad heavy handed, I also loved when Rick got shot in the vest and was okay. The writers know there are comic fans watching, they know that we know that Rick gets shot, and they’re playing with our expectations. Fantastic. I hope they keep it up.
But a lot of what really had me loving the show was simply the freedom that television has over comics to linger on a moment, and to really make you feel something. Sure, as a reader you can stare at one frame as long as you want, but when you have a powerful score and a dynamic shot where the camera is able to pull back and you’re *forced* to linger no matter how badly you want to move on because it hurts to be in that moment… that makes it all hit you harder.
Nowhere was that more evident than the intercut scenes of Morgan using his new rifle to try to shoot his wife’s reanimated corpse while Rick sought out the torso from Return of the Living Dead Part II to put it out of its misery. I loved having that extra time with Morgan and his son and letting the emotions of the day resonate with me. Even though we’ve seen people struggling to shoot a loved one that’s turned in movie after movie before, I don’t think I’ve ever actually been forced to feel sorry for the zombies, to remember that they’re just (dead) people, more than in that scene. That was phenomenal.
Finally, the scene in Atlanta, and the TANK. I noticed the one tank in the frame when I was reading the comic, and I remember being upset that our heroes didn’t try to hot wire it or something. Having Rick end up in that fortress, trapped, in the very first episode gave me goose bumps. And just like TV can linger on a moment and make me feel bad for a rotting torso in a way the comic couldn’t, the terror of having all of those zombies chasing after him seemed so much more real to me, too. I knew he was going to get out from under the tank okay, but that didn’t stop my heart from racing.
But what do you think, Devin? Do I enjoy the televised drama over the comic simply because I lack the imagination required to bring those pictures to life? Were there any other changes from the comic that frustrated or delighted you? Have you *ever* dated a woman who didn’t turn the lights off, or did that strike you as total nonsense, too?