We’re still in the hiatus of The Walking Dead and I thought, given my semi-review for the original Twin Peaks last week, I would like to embark on an 8-part article. For the next 8 weeks, I will review The Walking Dead, a season per week. And coincidentally, that might give me enough time to actually watch this current shitfest of a season.
I was actually a huge fan of the show. Not when it first came out though. I’m essentially a hermit, always late to the party with new things. I don’t even think I knew what The Walking Dead was until I saw the Governor and Rick on the cover of Entertainment Weekly during Season 3. That’s really what got my attention. I looked at the article briefly, looked at the pictures more so as I was curious about how the zombies and everything looked. And there really weren’t zombie pictures. And that intrigued me. But it looked kinda crazy; there was an arena with people fighting each other and a dude with a knife for a hand. My thought was “how does any of this revolve around zombies?”
And so, after a few weeks, my brother and I got sick and we decided to check out the show on Netflix with nothing else to do. And I’ll be honest, I thought it sucked. I thought the first few episodes were slow and boring. I’m not a big zombie fan so there lack of didn’t phase me… I thought the characters were whiny dicks.
But my brother said I was judging it too quickly and I said fine, I’ll keep watching. He has a superpower; he just knows when a show will be good or not. It’s gotten to the point where basically, my entire family (grandparents and extended family included) let my brother tell us what to watch. And he’s got like a 95% Rotten Tomatoes rating.
So I continued to watch at his notion, and I fell in love with it. Since then, we have both marathoned the show leading up to the start of each new season. Well, we did anyway… that is until the third dynasty began. When I say dynasty, I’m referring to seasons under a particular showrunner. Season 1 was led by Frank Darabont, who wrote one of, if not, the greatest movie of all time, The Shawshank Redemption. So honestly, even if I don’t like Season 1 all that much, he could film ants on an ant hill for the entire season if he wanted. He’s earned that right for fuckin’ Shawshank! Season 1 is the Darabont Dynasty. Season 2-3, is the Mazzara Dynasty.
A lot of people dislike these seasons but I believe that they really helped create something great and Mazzara gets a bad rep for steering too far from the source material (which is a really a good thing, and I hope I can convince you of that after my articles). And then the lackluster horseshit of Seasons 4 through current are the Pimple Dynasty. His name is actually Gimple, but he needs to be popped, right off the show.
While the show has never been perfect, it was learning from its mistakes (somewhat) and had potential to become a great show even despite its flaws. Last year AMC released various emails from Frank Darabont trying to paint him as a belligerent lunatic to work for (he directed the whole first season and wrote the majority of it).
I’ve read the articles and his complaints about the crew and lack of budget are justified. He seems more distraught, frustrated and on edge, desperate for his vision rather than the lunatic AMC was hoping would be portrayed. And his emails highlight the crappy camera shots, shitty special effects, subpar storytelling and bad lighting that parades the show every episode currently.
But before I go too far, this is only meant as a preface to explain where my next 8 articles will be headed. This article, TS – 19, is titled with what I feel is the coolest title of the first season’s episodes, but it is also the episode that, personally, stands out most in the freshman season, serving as the greatest detour from the source material that Frank Darabont made.
P.S. This review is going to be a bit more generally given that the first season is significantly shorter than the rest, and since I am including this preface.
TS–19: Season 1 of The Walking Dead
Season 1 of The Walking Dead opens on Rick, the protagonist walking around a rundown town and an old gas station. A little girl appears lost and as he attempts to help her, he sees she’s a zombie. He shoots her and then we cut back to a conversation between him and his partner Shane, well before the apocalypse. This conversation is a great scene; it’s not zombie related and it shows a lot about each character.
We see that Rick is a man of morals and is strict by the rules whereas his partner is more relaxed, seemingly of the “where I lay my head is home” variety. It begins with Rick asking the difference between men and women. Shane, in a long, humorous anecdote claims it’s that woman can’t remember to turn off the lights. Rick says that before he left home that morning, his wife Lori said
“Sometimes I wonder if you even care about us at all (Darabont)”
and she said it in front of their son. He says the difference, is a man would never be that cruel. A zombie show that opens up on a tender scene between two partners where one is confiding in the other. It’s just a scene about people struggling.
The first Season has plenty of these moments; when Morgan can’t shoot his wife, despite her being dead; when Dale talks about time and why he holds on to a broken watch; when they’re forced to say goodbye to Jim; when Shane beats Ed to a pulp for intimidating the women of the group, smacking his wife in front of them, throwing Andrea aside, and for all the hurt he caused his wife and daughter before this ragtag group came together.
Frank Darabont was trying to focus on what inherently makes us human. He uses the zombies as a backdrop, to force the characters to various breaking points or moments nearing such points, but they’re never the focus. The zombies or I guess I should be saying “walkers” aren’t important. But the effect of their presence is. Would Shane have fallen for Lori otherwise? Would Rick have stopped being Officer Friendly? Would have any of these people met?
I’m not by any means shedding light on this, but I think it’s important to acknowledge that the show was something very different in the beginning than what it is now; which is something that is far from enjoyable to watch. Currently, everyone has the same motive and they recite the same monologue a million times. “Things aren’t how they were;” “We have to fight for life now.”
It’s funny, but I bitched that Twin Peaks was just a soap opera, but the amount of drama that "The Walking Dead" dealt with in the beginning could arguably be of a soap nature. But I don’t think it falls on the melodrama as much for starters. Instead, it helps make the show relatable and helps you care for those you’re watching and vicariously surviving the apocalypse alongside. But now, the characters are just caricatures. Their emotions change on the flip of a dime and Rick just looks confused all the time, with Negan saying something that lacks cool and intimation, flaunting around like Jack Sparrow every 5 episodes he’s allowed to show up for his allotted 10 minutes.
It’s well known that the show is based on a series of comic books. I’ve read them up to the big “wow” factor with the Whispers. I believe I’m still ahead of the show, but I haven’t watched Season 8 because I’ve stopped caring so maybe they caught up. Most people I know haven’t made it this far, and stopped watching once the Gimple Dynasty started in Season 4. Maybe they didn’t like the previous seasons and just gave up by the time his reign started. But I think the issue is that from that moment on, the show fell apart on any chance it had for reaching its potential of becoming great.
Point is, while it is based on something else, Darabont still brought so much to the show that isn’t seen in the comics. The first episode follows the first comic pretty closely. There are some differences sure, like the Morgan not shooting his wife, and the conversation mentioned in the articles start. It’s barely a page in the comic before Rick is injured and put in a coma, whereas in the show it establishes a lot about the two characters and their relationship (which allows for a greater payoff when Shane G.I. Jane shaves his head and loses his mind).
But the real difference is the script itself. If you haven’t, go read Darabont’s script. It’s absolutely beautiful. His descriptions of characters and visuals are nothing short of what they teach in literature classes. Despite what I find as flaws within some of the show's execution, what he has on paper is even stronger than what is revealed in the show. It’s a true work of art and you should take the time to read it.
As the Season continued, the show branched further away from its source. And sometimes these changes weren’t perfect. Merle and Daryl are two really good characters original to the show, which is a widely known fact. That means, however, that the main plot point of the characters searching for Merle after leaving him is entirely new to the show. That entire storyline felt like filler and was a waste. The gang fight that almost occurs but doesn’t because they were, in fact, trying to protect the old that the nursing staff left behind was ridiculously dumb and also new to the show. Sure, it makes sense for this; it’s a different way of showing humanity in the face of there being none. But it doesn’t play off the way it needs to.
While these additions fell under par, others outshined its source material. Jim’s death is handled with more grace as is Amy’s. Various characters from the comic don’t transfer over and new ones are found in their place, having their own unique tender goodbyes as with Jackie and Dr. Jenner. And Shane dies at the end of the first volume of the comics, whereas he makes it to the end of Season 2. About 6 issues equal a volume, and with 6 episodes in the first Season, it’s roughly a comic an episode meaning Shane should have died in the finale.
In place of Shane’s death to conclude the first Season, the group travels to the CDC (an element never mentioned in the comics). Here, the show tries to explain and explore some more about what the zombies are and how the world became what it is. And it also holds onto what would have been some really awesome storytelling that would have brought more of the humanistic side of Darabont’s vision to the show.
The zombie soldier in episode one, is Sam Witwer (you didn’t notice his ass chin?). Why has the guy from the American version of Being Human, who played Doomsday on Smallville and is the protagonist of the Force Unleashed video games be a small extra like that? Because he was going to have his own flashback episode in Season 2. And the grenade that Rick took from him, which was used to get them out of the CDC… you would have seen how Witwer’s character found that particular grenade. The episode would have been like the Yonkers battle from the World War Z novel.
If you’d like, look up Sam Witwer/Walking Dead on YouTube, where he mentions this whole situation. It’s interesting to hear what could have been, but it’s also pretty amazing to see his admiration for Frank Darabont. Point being, TS – 19 holds the key to what would have been a floodgate of change, and therefore is a stand out episode in my book.
I always read about fans complaining when an adaptation changes too much, but I say it’s an adaptation! That’s when you should change it and make something new; make it your own as a creator. However, as mentioned with the emails, there were creative differences and Frank Darabont was fired shortly before Season 2 aired, having written the first two episodes of the season. And then the Mazzara dynasty began. Many hate this dynasty as stated; I, however, love it. I think if what Mazzara brought to the table could have been mixed with Darabont’s ideas, then something amazing could have happened. But I’ll touch base on that in later articles.
All in all, the premier Season of The Walking Dead has highs and lows like any other show, but the strengths outweigh the weaknesses and proved to be a show with something more to offer. It just lost that chance once Darabont was fired and too many hands got all over it.
While it’s been 8 years, and many reviews have come out, I wanted to add my thoughts on it, especially during the hiatus. I hope you enjoyed it and maybe I can sway your opinion about the shows previous seasons and how it’s fanning out currently. I’m up for the challenge if you are! Next week is Beside The Dying Fire: Season 2 of The Walking Dead.
The Walking Dead. Dir. Frank Darabont. AMC. 2010. Blu Ray