I think the first season of The Walking Dead is a fantastic, if uneven, drama. And it had a lot of iconic moments throughout this season that will actually probably stick in the mind of zombie-fans like myself (most of those come from the first episode, if we are being honest). And this last episode of the season sort of cleanly demonstrates both the things the show has to continue to do well AND the things that it’s going to have to improve for season 2.
(Spoilers ahead to a certain extent!)
First, the things it does well. This episode did a great job of making a tactical choice by our band of survivors mirror an existential choice, the kind of thing that Lost did really well. In this episode, it’s the decision to leave the CDC outpost or to stay for the explosion and resign yourself to humanity’s destruction. Much like the “wait to get rescued / dig in long term at the caves” decision on Lost, it’s a very clear, very clean idea, presented well.
I also didn’t mind the exposition about the zombie virus (or fungus or bacteria or whatever). It was specific enough to give us something to think about insofar as the actual zombie transformation is concerned, but it was general enough to not rely on technical / scientific details to sound plausible. I like zombie fiction that sort of leaves this undiscussed, because it’s in these details where zombie stories can start to get really implausible. So nice handling of this aspect.
Another good thing the show does: surprisingly, despite my worries to the contrary, the drama is actually really effective sometimes. When Shane gets up in Lori’s face and basically almost rapes her, he’s not just a caricature of a horrible person. We know he’s doing it because he feels a weird hybrid of love, lust and guilt (it’s actually a LOT like Spike’s weird almost-rape scene in Buffy). That’s different than, say Merle (what happened to Merle, by the way?), who was basically all anger and selfishness. So this demonstrates an ability for the show to craft some actually complex, actually interesting characters.
Unfortunately, Shane was also kind of the source of something the show does very poorly. Sometimes the drama is way too heavy handed. Shane’s drunk shower, for instance, was almost goofy, not foreboding like it was supposed to be. Or take all of Andrea’s sad moping and suicidal tendencies. Sure, some actually effective emotional stuff, but it was mostly just too much. (Side-note: Dale’s role in her shenanigans, by the way, solidifies his position as my favorite survivor. I loved his thing about how you can’t come into someone’s life, make them care, then just check out. Really touching.)
And another bad thing, something Lost used to do a lot, too: sometimes things that could be big moments turn out to be nothing more than stepping stones on the journey to what seems like nowhere. The whole CDC thing felt like a video game fetch quest: “go to CDC, question Jenner, use grenade, return to caravan,” etc. Lost had the benefit of having some clearly defined mysteries and a journey (even if you feel like it didn’t pay these off, their presence gave the show a reason to move forward). Sometimes, The Walking Dead suffers from what feels like lack of direction.
But then again, we’re only 6 episodes in, so I don’t know if it’s fair to worry about that yet. I’ll just say that, taken together, the first season was actually pretty remarkable at times and pretty cookie-cutter plain at others. But if it can mimic that pattern for a while, I suspect it’ll continue to at least justify its existence, if not improve into a really mature, really masterful show.