The first episode, called "Days Gone Bye," was a great example of perfect storytelling. It certainly helped to have Frank Darabont (who gave us The Shawshank Redemption, The Green Mile, The Mist) as one of the writers of the series and as the director of the pilot. (Other episodes in the first season were directed by Michelle Maxwell MacLaren, Gwyneth Horder-Payton, Johan Renck, Ernest R. Dickerson, and Guy Ferland.)
The pacing, the dialogue, the action, the cinematography, the performances, all added up to a captivating debut. The best part was how the story unfolded in a gripping visual style. Some of the greatest moments were during the silent scenes when no words at all were spoken, with the images on the screen so artistically composed that they burned into my mind, hard to forget even hours later.
Tales of a zombie apocalypse are a dime a dozen, and ever since George Romero set the standard not too many people have been able to offer anything really fresh to the genre, in my opinion. Although I enjoyed movies like 28 Days Later and books like World War Z, how many times can you really endure stories about trying to survive a plague of undead flesh-eaters? Yet, The Walking Dead, based on the comic book by writer Robert Kirkman and artists Charlie Adlard and Tony Moore, manages to provide surprises at almost every turn, with real emotion, making the absurd zombie premise quite human and believable.
The talented cast brings it all to life (no pun intended). Andrew Lincoln is a strong lead, playing the part of Rick Grimes, a sheriff injured in the line of duty who wakes up to a hellish new world. Lennie James, memorable from his solid role in Jericho, had some wonderful and powerful moments in the first episode as Morgan Jones, trying to protect his son and dealing with the loss of his wife. Appearances by Jon Bernthal as Rick's friend, deputy Shane, and Sarah Wayne Callies (from Prison Break) as Lori promise even more good things to come. Even the many actors who portray the nameless monsters have their chances to shine, each bringing something unique to their specific cursed zombie, making them all much more than just a faceless mob of freaks.
The series airs on American Movie Classics. According to DarkHorizons.com, "AMC has officially announced a thirteen-episode, second season renewal...Debuting on Halloween, the Frank Darabont-produced series has broken ratings records and pulled in more adults in the key 18-49 demographic than any other show in the history of cable television. The series premiere scored 5.3 million total viewers with 3.6 million viewers in the key demo. The second episode saw only a small drop."
It is good to know that the series will continue into another season. If the great visual style, excellent performances, and good storytelling keep up, we might have a long-term classic on our hands.