The Walking Dead Season One Review
Such is the nightmare reality of Deputy Sheriff Rick Grimes (Andrew Lincoln) in the pilot episode of the AMC drama The Walking Dead. Based on the series of graphic novels by Robert Kirkman, The Walking Dead follows a small group of survivors struggling to stay alive following the outbreak of some sort of disease that has rendered the vast majority of the population either dead or into living zombies. Known as “walkers,” these creatures retain only the most rudimentary of human skills and are driven by the sole desire to find fresh food in the form of the few animals left on the planet. This inevitably means other humans as well, and although these “walkers” are as slow-moving as any classic zombie of yore, their ability to overwhelm makes them deadly foes to the remainder of civilization.
By focusing on Rick Grimes, The Walking Dead is able to sidestep the story of “how” zombies came to dominate the planet and instead center its narrative on the aftermath. Grimes was shot months earlier during the course of his duties as a sheriff’s deputy, and the resulting coma left him oblivious to the destruction of mankind that developed outside his hospital room windows. The horror of waking up to such a new world initially takes its toll on his emotional psyche, but Grimes soon becomes driven by the need to find his wife and young son. With the help of another father protecting his own child—two fellow survivors that Grimes stumbles upon after leaving the hospital—the former deputy sheriff heads towards Atlanta in the hope that the refugee camps supposedly organized by the government do indeed exist and that his family is amongst them.
The Atlanta that Rick Grimes finds, however, has been completely devastated by the mysterious infection and is overrun by zombies. Trapped and faced with ending his own life rather than becoming infected himself as his only option, Grimes is fortunate enough to be rescued for a second time. A small group from a nearby camp has likewise come to Atlanta in order to secure supplies, and they reluctantly take Grimes into their fold. Having saved his life, Rick Grimes returns the favor by orchestrating a retreat from the city when they become surrounded by zombies, and is later reunited with his wife Lori (Sarah Wayne Callies) and son Carl (Chandler Riggs) when the group makes their way back to camp.
It is a small camp, and a dysfunctional one at best. This is a band of survivors who would never have socialized together had the end of the world not occurred at the hands of a zombie epidemic. Racist rednecks, wife-beating husbands, two sisters separated by 12 years in age and a mix of both black and white families make up the cross-section of the tiny population. Rick Grimes’ former sheriff’s deputy partner Shane Walsh (Jon Bernthal) has emerged as the de facto leader of the enclave, making decisions with the overall safety of the residents in mind that often conflicts with the viewpoints of the individual inhabitants of the community. It is quickly apparent that the group has not gathered together out of choice but necessity, the solitary survivors of an apocalypse that has destroyed life as they know it.
Rick Grimes likewise brings his own agenda to the gathering. In addition to keeping his family safe, Grimes is also driven by the desire to “pay it forward” to others stranded on the outskirts of civilization. Having been rescued twice from the zombie hordes by total strangers, he believes he must do the same for anyone that crosses his path regardless of who they are or might have been. This includes racist redneck Merle Dixon (Michael Rooker), who was left behind in Atlanta when Grimes led the others to safety, and Jim (Andrew Rothenberg), a mechanic who becomes infected by the zombies when the “walking dead” attacks the camp.
That attack and resulting aftermath highlights the need for the group to find a more secure location to hide. It also exemplifies the growing friction between Rick Grimes and Shane Walsh in regards to what is best for the group. Grimes, for instance, believes that the Center for Disease Control in Atlanta survived the epidemic and may even have devised a cure that could potentially save the infected Jim’s life. Walsh, meanwhile, thinks that an army base located 100 miles in the opposite direction is the best chance for the survivors’ continued existence. Grimes eventually wins the argument, and while the CDC is indeed still intact and a temporary safe haven, there is no cure for the zombie disease. More significantly, the devastation of the epidemic is world-wide and has already resulted in the eradication of mankind as the dominant species on the planet.
While Rick Grimes still believes in hope despite the overwhelming evidence that such a hope is unfounded, other members of the group believe otherwise. Faced with a world in which their loved-ones have already perished, a world that is drastically different than the one that they knew, each of the survivors must struggle with the possibility that the only thing left for them is an inevitable, violent death. Is it better to just end it know, or do they still hold out for the hope that Rick Grimes believes in?
The Walking Dead is a television series about zombies, and contains all the required requisites of the genre, from hordes of “walking dead,” to sudden and horrific attacks on unsuspecting survivors, to the “gross out” factor of watching a zombie eat the flesh of another human being. Ultimately, however, The Walking Dead is more about the living than their supernatural counterparts as the series places its emphasis on the small band that has come together on the outskirts of Atlanta with the sole intention of finding a way to survive. Some don’t make it, some give up, and still others fight on. It is their story that The Walking Dead most cares about, and what has made the show the cultural phenomenon into which it has evolved.