Spoiler-tastic Spoilers Ahead
After 6 brutal episodes, my new favorite television show has ended its first season. And man was it a fun ride. The first syndicated zombie television show defied everyone's expectations by not just being about people living in a zombie apocalypse, but how it affects their mental states. Almost every character we have seen on this show has been pushed to the brink of their psyches, and thanks to the powerful actors they recruited for the show, the emotions deliver better than I could have ever hoped for.
The show got off to a flying start with "Days Gone Bye", the hour-and-a-half special that debuted on Halloween night (appropriately). My opinion
from back then still stands, and it's a wonderful introduction to this hellish world and our hero Rick Grimes. From his first chat with Shane on the car to his emotional breakdown in his house, Andrew Lincoln brought on his A-game for this show with Frank Darabount weaving a powerful beginning for the long and chaotic road ahead. It's also here we are given our first introductions to Lori, Carl, and Dale (as well as the doomed relationship with Shane), but this was merely a passive reference before Rick gets surrounded by zombies in Atlanta and is scrambling around and under a tank. Leon and Cyrus were so right when they saw the trailer for this series all those months ago. That last scene depicting the zombies surrounding and clawing their way into the tank was a perfect metaphor for "sooner or later, those zombies are going to get you". It's a feeling that never lets up for the following 5 episodes.
Admittedly the show hit its first (and only) bump in the season with "Guts". The good part about this episode is that we are introduced to Glenn (one of the smartest and comic characters) and Andrea (a girl who's going to be going through more hell this season than anyone else). We get introductions to a few other minor characters, but I marked them as redshirts as they carried little to no emotional weight like the more developed characters. Then of course we get to the troublesome introduction of Merle Dixon (Michael Rooker) who's playing the racist-biker thing to 11. This turned me off (as it did to many others) as he seemed too cartoonish in a zombie-filled world. Still the episode showed the pivotal scene with Shane and Lori getting it on and leaving Merle to die on the roof was a nice addition as well.
Thankfully, the show got back on its feet for "Tell it to the Frogs" where Rick has an emotional reunion with his family. This scene stood out to me and reminded me that these actors are taking this job seriously, only high caliber actors could convey a scene like that and show that they REALLY mean it. Also interesting to note was Merle's delusional conversation on the rooftop with himself, and it made me change my opinion of the character for the better as far more deep. Too bad we don't see him for the rest of the season, eh? But then we have Norman Reedus (aka one of the Boondock Saints) as his brother, Daryl. Daryl's racism exists but it's far more toned down compared to Merle's introduction. Also seeing him lose it upon finding out the truth of his brother was a nice touch. The final scenes of the episode repainted Lori as far more sympathetic in my eyes and filled me with awe upon seeing Merle's disembodied hand.
Things got more interesting with "Vatos" mostly because this was Robert Kirkman's first attempt at screen writing. For the most part I liked it except the Latino "gang"...yeah as somebody who is Cuban-Colombian with friends from many different countries in Latin America, I've never heard someone say "Vato" so freaking frequently. Nonetheless, it was the only blemish in an otherwise tense episode as the men band together in order to get Glenn back from the gang. It was an amusing reveal about the truth behind these gang members, despite the move being filled with potential plot holes. But no one could deny how insane the ending for that episode was upon seeing Amy getting brutally killed right before her sister's eyes and dying in her arms. The standoff with the zombies was perfectly chaotic and was filled with tension. Not to mention it gave Kirkman the chance to write off Carol's asshole husband (don't worry about his name, I certainly didn't)
We then come to "Wildfire" that provides an interesting glimpse into the debate over what to do when you have an infected among the group. Everyone's reactions seemed perfectly rational and completely believable. But more important to note was seeing Andrea tearfully wish her sister goodbye before plugging a bullet into her sister's zombified remains. We lose another family of redshirts as well (good, I like have a smaller and more focused group of characters). But the highlight of the episode came when Jim chose to die and resurrect as a zombie, it was a profound scene and Andrew Rothberg conveyed his last moments beautifully. Then of course we get the introduction to Dr. Jenner and his deteriorating mental state at the CDC. Seeing Rick and the others freak out when they find themselves surrounded by Walkers with no where left to go was perfectly done and their stillness when the blast door opens mirrors are own.
It's important for me to note that the FINAL episode of the season, "TS-19", never happened in the comic. Up to this point we have the addition of characters like Daryl (who warmed up to me considerably despite being a trigger-happy asshole) and T-Dog (who is still wearing a redshirt in my eyes) as the only real divergences from the comic. The entire final episode dealing with relaxing at the CDC NEVER happened in the comic. Thankfully, it played out absolutely wonderfully and fills me with hope that Darabount can go ahead and keep changing shit around.
The finale offers a brief reprieve from the horrors outside while communicating some dark revelations. Rick fesses up to a stranger that he has absolutely no idea what to do and he's at the end of his rope just grasping for hope. Andrea is still (properly) emotionally distraught from the death of her sister and we begin to see a real relationship develop between her and Dale. But the really uncomfortable part came with a drunken Shane almost coming to sexually assault Lori. Shane in the show has already outlived his comic counterpart, but this episode shows the first cracks that led to his downfall in the comics.
The final minutes depicting Dr. Jenner ready to accept a fiery death and taking the survivors with him was tense and purely emotional. With two people trying to kill Jenner, Rick and Lori were able to overcome the man's coldness and allowed the survivors to leave. Once again we have another opportunity to kill off another redshirt with Jacqui (had to search for her name) and we are given a powerful scene between Dale and Andrea. The show's gigantic-Michael-Bay-would-be-proud explosion served as the capstone to the awesome first season. My absolute favorite part of the episode came when Rick says "I'm grateful". To which Jenner retorts: "The day will come when you won't be". Perfectly ominous.
My only gripe with the finale was that it didn't leave with a cliffhanger or as a solid conclusion as most series are prone to do. It felt more like the end of another episode and we could wait to see what happens next week. Sadly not, as now we have to wait at least 10 months before we get the much-longer but can't-come-soon-enough Season 2. And there are plenty of questions to go around: What did Jenner tell Rick at the end? What the hell was the deal with the copter from the first episode? Is Shane totally gonna die? What the hell happened to Merle? Will Morgan and son come to join Rick sooner than in the comic?
So many questions, but on one hand that's good. That means there's plenty of room to cover for Season 2. Season 1, in my eyes, accomplished its goal: to introduce us to a zombie-filled world and focus on the deteriorating psyches of a group of people. The acting and emotional pull is amazing, the characters are strong, and the story is chugging along nicely. It wasn't a perfect ride, but it started strong and continued to do well after the second episode. Far better than most shows could brag about (*cough The Event). Right now I can't wait for the DVD to be released, so I spread the infection to more people. I've got a fever for The Walking Dead people, so thank you AMC, thank you for giving me a new show to love.