After last week’s incredibly effective opening pilot, superbly handled by Darabont, this weeks episode had a lot to deliver on in terms of atmosphere and tension. The end of last week left our hero, Rick Grimes fighting for his life inside an abandoned tank whilst the zombies closed in around him. This week the action takes place mostly inside an abandoned mall, therefore it has clear allusions to Romero’s Dawn of the Dead throughout, which is nicely referential as opposed to being a completely rip off.
In a pre-title sequence, we rejoin the group of survivors who Grimes failed to contact in the first episode, which is where his wife and son have found refuge. Unaware that he is alive we find out his wife, Lori, has begun a secret love affair with a hunky, farmer type guy and they proceed to have sex in the woods.
After that we pick up where that left off, with a nicely tense chase sequence as Grimes escapes the tank and joins up with a band of survivors, hiding out in a lockdown mall away from what they call: ‘the wanderers’. For people who haven’t read the graphic novel, like myself, there are types of dead: wandering and lurking.
Wanderers hunt and lurkers wait for their prey. Although now fairly safe, Grimes is met with even more hostility than Morgan and Duane in the last episode. They accuse him of bringing the zombies to their attention and now they have to begin to move elsewhere, but with the dead in their way, an intelligent strategy has to be formed.
From there, several tensions are built into the episodes which will have several effects on the rest of the series. First is, this episode has a lot more pace than the pilot, the tension is laid on very thick and this leads to some really intense action set pieces. The opening chase is fairly intense and it keeps layering it on from there, it goes by really nicely keeping you very on edge throughout. This is suspense is then juxtaposed between the different character tensions and playing off the ongoing drama.
This episode brings issues of racism more to the heart of the story, racism begins to upset the equilibrium more than the zombies as people start turning on each other. Many people complain about bringing in allegorical elements into genre work, Romero is very heavily criticised now for doing it, even though the sociology of his films are the key to understanding them.
In The Walking Dead, I found it made the plot much more fascinating and adds significantly to the drama of the episode. Darabont is very good at doing this and incorporating it into his script’s scenario, despite painting the situation in very broad strokes and arguable sledgehammer stereotyping, but as this is a genre piece he gets away with it.
I am also really surprised at how gory and meaty the show is, this is the kind of gore you could barely get away with on film regardless of TV. Much of it is tongue in cheek, but still pretty nasty. There is a fantastic scene in which Grimes and one of the survivors called Glenn have to travel through zombies in order to get to some escape vehicles. In order to pass through the zombies unnoticed they need to smell like them, so they collect a corpse and proceed to chop it up with an axe and smear themselves in the blood and offal. Both gruesome and heavily entertaining at the same time.
However it is still the characters which shine through. This is what makes the show unique, that the important factor is the characters and story and not the zombies, which is why The Walking Dead has the one up emotionally on Romero’s Dead films. While Romero gave us some very effective zombie films he was often so wrapped up in his creatures he at times forgot about character (notable exception Night of the Living Dead). Here character is the beginning and the end, I know people disagree but the characters are great and the actors do a very good job with the material which at times has some pretty flat dialogue.
The part of the plot I am not sure will gel as of yet is the separate camp where Grimes’ wife is. Although we are promised some more of them in the next episode, the characters there seem to be forgotten about and are there to bookend each episode. They are yet to be fully integral to the story I can however see them becoming more major in the coming episode. I’m still a fan and any zombie fan should love this too.