Had I seen it before: No, but one of my besties is really into it so I’ve learned just enough to make sure I’m buying good merch for her.
Why I picked it: The Walking Dead is not only one of the shows that helped make AMC a power player in the original series game, but it was also one of the things that jumpstarted the zombie trend and more importantly, phased out the vampire trend.
This is also one of those shows that seems to be a huge crowdpleaser without having as much respect from industry insiders. It’s been on for seven years, but its only Emmy nods are in things like best makeup and best special effects (which it certainly deserves). Its only SAG nods are for the stunt ensemble, not the primary actors. When it comes to acting, writing, directing, and the show as a whole, the awards are slim pickings. It has an 83 on Rotten Tomatoes which certainly is satisfactory but it’s also a good bit lower than Mad Men and Breaking Bad, both of which have a 94. So it seemed like a great opportunity to explore how the general public looks for different things in shows than those fancy pants people.
What I liked: I think this one does a good job of defining the mythology of its universe without investing too much time in it. The show has zombies in it. The writers assume that you’re smart enough to understand this basic concept and don’t kick off the story with a lengthy voiceover of how we got to this point à la Zombieland (a movie I still enjoy, but I like the exposition of The Walking Dead better). There’s one brief conversation about halfway through that explains how people become zombies and that was enough. By writing it this way, we get the sense that we are discovering this zombie-ridden world alongside Rick rather than reading a children’s picture book about Rick, and it works really well.
I also like how the show explores the difficulties of watching a loved one become a zombie. We understand how the conflicts of a zombie apocalypse are more complex than “holy shit, how do we not die?” There’s also “how we do bring ourselves to shoot people, even if they’re not really people?” and “How do we deal with a loved one’s death when we don’t get proper closure because they keep walking around trying to kill us?” Special props to both Lennie James and Adrian Kali Turner who play Morgan and Duane Jones. Their performances really made these aspects shine through, and I actually found them more compelling than Rick or anything happening to Rick.
What I didn’t like: So I was under the impression that this was an ensemble show and it kind of caught me off guard when it wasn’t an ensemble pilot. The dude with the crossbow that everyone likes isn’t in it. I’m pretty sure there’s someone named Glenn who is also not in it. Now there’s a chance that the writers didn’t realize just how interesting these supporting characters were until they got to see them onscreen, hence not writing them into the pilot. I’m also not familiar enough with the source material to know when those people were introduced there.
However, if the true gist of your show is watching a lot of different people interact during a zombie apocalypse and seeing how said apocalypse affects all those relationships, it might be nice to have a little bit more of that in your pilot. Instead we just have Rick by himself for almost half the story, and the end leaves it ambiguous as to whether or not he’ll keep working with other people.
I’m also really skeptical about how long the show can remain interesting. “Zombies might kill us” can get old quickly, and while the pilot hints at more intricate drama, it also doesn’t deliver enough of that more intricate drama to convince me it can still be interesting after seven years.
Do I want to watch Ep. 2: Not really, but this is another case where I don’t really think that means this was a bad pilot. Horror is easily my least favorite genre of tv/movies and The Walking Dead just doesn’t seem good enough/different enough to appeal to people who don’t already gravitate towards the genre. Yes, there’s a part of me curious to see what makes Crossbow Dude so fascinating to people, but there’s also a part of me that’s bitter I didn’t learn that in the pilot and doesn’t want to keep watching because I’m petty like that.