Top-Notch TV: The Walking Dead Season 1, Ep. 1 “Days Gone Bye”

With Season3 set to debut this Sunday, how about a chilling analysis of what made the first episode so effective? Let me know if you’d be interested in reading more of these. Pictures provided by screenshots from Netflix streaming. Please don’t sue me 😉

Season 1: Episode 1 “Days Gone Bye”

I can’t find any faults with the first 26 minutes, and really this is what inspired me to write down what they did right. The rest of the episode is good, too, but it does slow down a little after he gets hit in the face with a shovel.

Abandoned Camp
Excellent camera work and props for the first few minutes. Rick drives to an intersection with two badly decayed vehicles—a fire?—and dark streetlights, which tells us that whatever has happened has both been like this for a while, and is outside of the powers that be’s concern or ability to resolve. That Rick is a sheriff’s deputy creates instant likability, because we want the powers that be to come save the day, and we like that he’s still trying.

That the camp he visits is void of survivors shows us that he may be more resourceful than most. Tents left with scattered supplies suggests people had to leave before they were ready—I may have suggested some corpses or at least blood, but that helps create a stronger reveal in the zombie we’re about to see, and the dead body he first sees at the hospital.

I liked the tight shot of Rick as he walks through the abandoned cars; it keeps the audience tense about someone jumping to get him. When he hears the shuffling, I’ll admit his slow turn around is a little too slow—for dramatic effect—but it was from ten yards away, so I guess I understand.

The way the girl walks—slow, shambling—along with how she picks up the teddy bear tells the audience two key aspects to this world’s zombie mythos: they are slow, and they are reasonably intelligent. That way, when they figure things out later like using rocks to break windows.
That they used a girl, facing the other way, and holding the teddy bear, is excellent at evoking sympathy for the evil world Rick now lives in, and empathy for how he cares so much that he almost doesn’t shoot her in time.

Car Chase
Rick and Shane’s conversation in the police cruiser isn’t the most interesting, but it sets the stage for their characters and how this show is about “real life.” It also shows that they’re friends—something that really makes seeing Rick’s wife and Shane together in the next episode so repulsive. The car chase, accident and shootout help pick the action back up, and gives the reason for Rick being abandoned in the hospital.

Abandoned Hospital
Interesting choice showing Rick seeing dude give him flowers because it implies that dude knew Rick wasn’t in a coma, and maybe that dude abandoned him. Nice touch on the dead flowers indicating that it’s been a long time since someone’s looked in on him. Same with the dead clock. You can go down the board with all the images we see until Rick leaves hospital grounds:
• Generator power
• Abandoned secretary’s desk
• Dead body chewed to the bone, left in a hallway! (perfect)

• Bullet holes in the walls
• “Don’t Enter Dead Inside” painted on chained door, and the fingers that stick out from inside to get him
• Needed matches to see in stairwell, but smell of dead causes him to blow them out.
• Camera work to show how blind he’d be going outside after being in the stairwell
• Rows and rows of dead bodies, many with bags over heads and blood stains of headshots
• Abandoned military helicopter and excessive building damage as far as he can see

Notice the escalation of greater problems each image portrays. This is why I fell in love with this story right off the bat, and was scared to the bone.
You get a little break before he runs across the torso of a woman, and our first live one, but again, escalation. We saw dead ones, fingers of live ones, and now a crawling corpse.

Rick’s house
Did he just scream? Are you kidding? Don’t you know the first thing about the zombie apocalypse? Be quiet! There could be some in your house!
Great tension and emotional scene with him freaking out because his family is gone. I love this picture where he looks at his tears on his palm, and asks, “Is this real?” Can you imagine what this would feel like? Great job by the show giving us this moment to reflect and feel what he’s feeling. Then, we know that’s a zombie across the street, and he waves him over! A zombie approaches from behind, but at the last second we see it’s a boy and whack!

That’s the end of the 26 perfect minutes. Some day I’ll do the next half of the episode, including my favorite part, which involves a creepy door handle.

About Timothy C. Ward

Timothy C. Ward is a former executive producer and Hugo Nominee of Adventures in SciFi Publishing. He has been broke and lost on the other side of the world and now dreams of greater adventures from his keyboard in Des Moines, Iowa. This summer, he released his second Sand Divers book, Scavenger: A.I., where two parents use an ancient technology to fight a reproducing A.I. while trying to resurrect their deceased infant, and a new series that begins with Godsknife: Revolt, an apocalyptic battle for godhood in the rift between Iowa and the Abyss. Sign up for his newsletter for news, sales, giveaways and more: http://www.timothycward.com/newsletter/.

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