Air Date: 2010
Writer: Frank Darabont
Creator: Frank Darabont
Stars: Andrew Lincoln, Jon Bernthal, Lennie James, Sarah Wayne Collies, Chandler Riggs, Emma Bell, Steven Yeun, Laurie Holden, Michael Rooker, IronE Singleton, Melissa McBride
Premise: In the outskirts of Atlanta, hospitalized sheriff Rick Grimes wakes up in an empty, ravaged hospital to discover that zombies have taken over the world.
Let's step outside of the TV realm for a second. "Days Gone Bye," The Walking Dead's superb 67-minute premiere, is one of the best pieces of visual zombie fiction ever made. That's right, it's up there alongside the top-tier works of George A. Romero, lesser-hailed but equally great flicks like The Return of the Living Dead, and the gruesome efforts of Italian undead maestro Lucio Fulci.
Using Robert Kirkman's graphic novels as his springboard, series creator Frank Darabont (director of films like The Shawshank Redemption and The Mist) designs the entire episode around one Rick Grimes (Andrew Lincoln), who'll become the show's primary hero. In "Days Gone Bye," though, Rick isn't surrounded by the show's currently inflated lineup of both compelling characters and useless ones—it's just Sheriff Rick, waking up in a hospital after getting shot while on duty. Only, there aren't any nurses around, just hordes of reanimated corpses outside the building. And they want human flesh.
"Days Gone Bye" demonstrates what makes The Walking Dead so special when the show's at its best. On one hand, the zombie scenes are effectively intense and hardcore enough to satiate demanding horror lovers, particularly the episode's climax, a thrilling scene in which Rick, on horseback, unexpectedly confronts an army of ghouls. On the other hand, though, Darabont executes a moment of overwhelming heartache that, frankly, The Walking Dead, has yet to truly match: fellow survivor Morgan (Lennie James) trying to put the final bullet in his zombie's wife's head, looking at her through his rifle's scope, unable to pull the trigger. Not even George Romero has given us a moment that emotionally harrowing. —MB