Review: The Walking Dead (Season 1)

(The Walking Dead begins its second season on AMC this Sunday at 9pm. Stop aback on Monday for a recap of the premiere.)

With only six episodes to work with, AMC’s first season of The Walking Dead – based on the comic of the same name – is a thinly-plotted, clumsy execution of a shallow character piece, all surrounded by a world we’ve all seen too much of the last ten years: the zombie apocolypse. Despite the major shortcomings, the second (and first full) season of Dead holds a lot of promise, once they go beyond the traditional and conventional. With a new show runner and writing team in line for the new season, Dead might grow above and beyond the heavily cliched opening season.

If the show is so bad, why am I intrigued to watch more? For one, the beautiful cinematography, which captures the expansive world we live in with a certain bleakness and emptiness. If I had to pick the strongest character to this point in the show, my vote is going to the landscape. Mideastern America (roughly around the Atlanta area) is quite a beautiful place, and when all the noise and traffic and technology is shuttered away, you’re left with an eerie, hauntingly beautiful landscape which really defines the tone of the show: hopelessness.

Maybe its the cynic in me that is drawn to the depressing nature of Dead’s world; my favorite episode was the finale, which among other things, reveals to our band of misfits that the virus not only went global and shut every other government down, but it brought some finality to the scrambling research done by the medical minds of the world. There is no cure, and probably nobody left to find one. So as season two starts, our heroes aren’t just trying to survive the billions of flesh eaters, trying to find food sources and safe havens . They’re trying to find a reason to live, something we vaguely saw a few characters struggle with in the first season’s 6 hours. What is driving these people to survive in this hopeless world of anarchism, violence, and constant fear? Is there meaning? Exploring these questions over a full season is what can make Dead more than a zombie fan’s wet dream, and turn it into compelling television.

(Note: I won’t lie, I did enjoy the fact that most of the show is zombie-free: they stay in the background, and are more of a backdrop then the focal point of the plot- which I won’t lie, was what I expected. The less scenes The Walking Dead has with gory head shots, zombie decapitations, and shots of the undead fucks walking around, the better it will be.)

It makes sense Frank Darabont fired all his writers after the first season (before inexplicably leaving himself a few months later), because the one-dimensional characters, combined with the atrocious dialogue, made it difficult to stay interested in The Walking Dead. Conversations about the old times (a staple in the post-apocalyptic genre, these overt displays of maintaining humanity) always felt awkward, and when its the same characters, having the same conversations, exerting the same behaviors over and over for six hours (a great example are the two redneck characters), it grows old and tiresome. It’s not that there aren’t enough interesting stories to explore, I think the first season was too focused on establishing itself, and having a high number of gruesome scenes to be overly concerned with complex character development. Again, something I’m really hoping will change in the new season.

(Note: I won’t be commenting on the acting of Andrew Lincoln and others, because the dialogue is so badly written, it doesn’t give the characters much of a chance to act in anything but typical zombie-genre fashion.)

Finally, Dead needs to beef up their female characters, who should all be offended by the roles they had in the first season. Never is a woman exerting power or running into danger; they spend their times screaming and hiding behind men, and even have a conversation about the fact they are going back to more traditional gender roles. Now, if this is intentional by the writers (as this conversation alludes to with that conversation) we need to explore why. Is it because the absence of society is reinforcing our instincts? It’s been disappointing for the females in this show so far, particularly Lori (Prison Break‘s Sarah Wayne Callies), who only needed a couple weeks to sleep with a new man, who just happened to be the alpha male of the group (her husband, who she thought dead, was a high-ranking cop in his town before the zombpocalypse). Kind of offensive to women, no? What do the female fans of The Walking Dead think of characters like Andrea, who didn’t know how to shoot a gun and had to be talked out of suicide by an older man?

Overall, The Walking Dead‘s first season is a collection of weak storylines (Hispanic gangs driving around old people to their zombie-infested neighborhoods? What the fuck was that?) and action pieces, surrounded by poorly written expositions and reveals. Interspered within those six hours, were a few promising moments to be expanded upon in the second season. I certainly wasn’t impressed with the first season of The Walking Dead, but there is a glimmer of hope for the second season (a smaller budget and a revamped creative team help) to become a great television show.

Overall Grade (for Season 1): D+

Plot: D

Characters: F

Production Values: A+

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