I love watching the first episode of a show I’ve been waiting a long time for because when the second episode hits only a week later it feels like Christmas. This week, Christmas came in the form of guts, racist rednecks, guts, forest hook-ups, guts, stolen sports cars and…oh yeah, did I mention guts? In what may well be the most appropriate title to a TV show ever “Guts,” this week’s episode of The Walking Dead takes us further into the adaptation of the comic and does a damn fine job of illustrating not just what we can expect the pacing of this six issue season is going to be but the limits of viscera AMC is going to put on the show (non-spoiler alert: not many).
In this episode the other survivors of the zombie apocalypse (or “geek” apocalypse, as they called in true “don’t say the Zed word” fashion) get more screen time, and we’re introduced to a wider cast of characters than what the comic readers had been expecting. We’re not just introduced to Glenn (Steven Yeun) and Andrea (Laurie Holden) but Morales (Juan Gabriel Pareja), Jacqui (Jeryl Prescott), Merle (Michael Rooker) and…T-Dog (IronE Singleton). I don’t know about you, but I know I’d feel a little weird about being in a post-apocalyptic situation with a guy and I only knew his tough-guy street handle. If your name is Terrence that’s cool, just be able to shoot zombies and kick ass.
Most of the ass-kicking is done by Merle, a coked up racist redneck (we get three drops of the n-word) who decides that he wants to be in charge. Rick dissuades him of that notion thanks to a rifle butt, handcuffs and the first bit of angry speechifying that he’s prone to in the comics. The episode centers on the scavenger group’s effort to escape, which contains one of the most well known scenes from the first volume of the series, the old “they can’t get us if we smell like them” gag. Thanks to the wonders of special effects, moving pictures and AMC’s “whatever works” policy for gore & violence we get a truly cringe-worthy scene where Rick carves up a zombie (excuse me, his name is Wayne Dunlap. Or Robert Paulson) so they have enough material for olfactory cover. With blood galore, torn open torsos and intestines hanging out of people’s pockets anyone who said they wouldn’t be able to show as much as the comic did can kindly keep their mouth shut now.
An excellent effort is made to give the zombies in the show a much higher threat level than many other movies they’ve been in. They batter down doors very effectively (occasionally with tools), climb ladders, knock down fences and move at a faster than shambling, slower than sprinting pace. There will be very little “just run past them” moments in this show, which makes the tension that much more realistic.
Plot wise, we’re given a lot of story to build on for the remaining four episodes of the season. Back at base camp, Lori and Shane have a quick & nasty hook-up in the woods (punctuated with an unspoken remembrance of her husband) and Shane has a nice bonding/foreshadowing moment with Carl. Merle’s fate at the end of the episode will most certainly have continued repercussions as Norman Reedus plays a “Daryl Dixon” who will assuredly be none too happy it. Yuen’s Glenn is a perfect everyman character and his scenes will most likely be the highlight of almost every episode to come. Rick stretches his legs as a problem solver and a potential leader and it’s quite a call-back to how far the character has come in the comics to see Andrea so panicked and unsure of herself. Holden has a lot of work and development that she gets to do with this character, and based on what we’ve seen in this episode she’s up to the task.
Given the extra bits and subplots created in this episode it seems clear that this first season will take us through the end of the first volume of the comic. What that means for the subsequent season-to-volume ration remains to be seen. I give the second episode of ”the show reaching more viewers in the 18-49 demo than any other cable TV show” which just got picked up for a 13-episode second season gets 4 out 5 inexplicably unused hand grenades.