There were only 6 episodes in the first season, so between that and the fact that I’m massively behind with my writing not many posts have been by since I reviewed the pilot of this. Once you’ve edited out the ‘previously on Walking Dead’ sequences, the long (but very pretty) title sequences, slow lingering (all be it beautifully lit and framed) movie-style landscape shots and a fair amount of recapping by the characters themselves – the season is barely longer than an average film, it really doesn’t give it much time to develop and pretty much all the issues I had with the pilot carry through, and in some cases got worse.
My key feeling about the pilot was that while the concept was new for television, if you’d seen a couple of zombie films there wasn’t much original going on. After a couple of episodes I realised that even for television it wasn’t very original – Survivors (new or old) and the recent Day of the Triffids miniseries on the BBC, or the short lived Jeremiah and Jericho in the US told similar stories.
I can get past the lack of originality, the cliché plots were at least well told and engaging, if a little slow going. The thing I found hardest to overcome however was the lack of self-awareness. I described the pilot as feeling like it existed in a vacuum and it continues to do so. According to the imdb trivia page, the word ‘zombies’ is never used in the first season… that’s not a good thing! The scariness of shows like this should come not just from the gore factor (which is very impressive), but from the familiarity of the characters – that these people struggling to survive were just like you and I before the trigger that separates their lives from ours. But they didn’t live in our world, because not a one of them references George Romero or Left 4 Dead. It places the characters outside of our world – you never know what else is different, so you never really know what’s been lost.
I watched the first two episodes as they aired and then stored up the remaining four and watched them in a marathon one afternoon. But by the time I was starting to see some nuances in the characters and their relationships, the show was over. What separates television from the cinema is that there’s the chance to linger, to tell the little side stories and set up long running plots and mysteries. But while there were a few bits that would clearly have never made it past the edit of a film (a nice sequence about laundry, some family stories and issues) and the 2nd episode dragged horribly, the next four episodes all felt far too rushed. Plans were conceived, discussed, decided, undertaken and resolved every couple of episodes, I didn’t want a feature film paced story every week, that’s why I was watching television.
Had this had been a 20 episodes, or even 13 episode season (which season 2 will be), the first six episodes would form a good scene setter – familiarising with how the world currently works, how they got there and introducing the characters before smoothly transitioning from them ‘surviving’ to actually ‘living’ – rebuilding and planning for the future. But we now have to wait a year for that to happen, and that makes me feel a bit like I’ve been conned into watching an extended preview.