Psst… If you came here looking for a review of the AMC TV show premier, that article is over here. Read it now!
By now, the script for Frank Darabont’s much ballyhooed pilot episode, adapted from Robert Kirkman’s incredible horror comic, The Walking Dead, has leaked and a couple of reviews are floating around. The buzz so far has been pretty positive, but the reviews that I’ve read don’t seem to deliver the news to the fans who are fueling the online discussion about whether or not this comic is going to be filmable for TV or if Frank Darabont and AMC are going to be able to do it while maintaining that comic nerd vigil for the source material. Allow me to address you concerns for I, too, was kindly provided the same first draft, dated December 15, 2009, that other reviewers have read.
It’s good. Real good, actually.
Frank Darabont is a god among screenwriters. The shooting script for The Shawshank Redemption is about the tightest script I’ve ever read. He has a way of writing compelling copy for the screen that follows with a narrative touch not found in many scripts. His stuff is very easy to read and he’s an adept at adapting the work of others, evident in the films based off of Stephen King stories that he’s responsible for. Chalk up another victory with The Walking Dead.
The script adapts the first two or three issues of the comic, keeping with Kirkman’s plot almost to the letter but where I, at first, abandoned the book thanks to a couple of cardinal survival horror rules broken in the early issues, Darabont spends a good bulk of the pilot expanding and fleshing out what Kirkman raced through in the early pages. Rick Grimes, rather than just being some dude in a hospital bed, thrust into the middle of armageddon, becomes a much more satisfying protagonist when he’s shot in the line of duty in the crashed car and gun fight stage of a high speed pursuit. His coming to in the hospital is a much more intense translation of how it goes down in the comics.
However, the timeline of the pilot script is rearraged into a much more meaningful episode of television that actually begins about two thirds into the show. The first three pages of the script make for an absolutely outstanding, if slightly flawed opening. Rick encounters the last remains of a makeshift survivor settlement outside a gas station and faces off with the first zombie of the show, a shambing little girl zombie whom he quickly dispatches only to raise the ire of the corpses that, at first, seemed genuinely dead. By the time this portion of the story is revisitied as a coda, Rick knows the general layout of what’s happening, has been given the rundown by Morgan and Duane Jones and has had a couple of zombie encounters of his own. By this point, a solid 45 minutes in, you’d think that a lone child, just out of view, shambling alone would have raised Rick’s suspicions.
The meeting of Duane and Morgan Jones also goes down a lot like it does in the comic but is stretched out a bit as Duane whacks Rick with the shovel but his lingering gunshot wound worries Morgan that Rick may have been bitten. In a bit of foreshadowing based on Morgan’s current status in the comics, it turns out that he and Duane were originally traveling with Morgan’s wife who had been infected and had died. In a harrowing night time encounter, it turns out that she has been hanging around the house trying to get in and shortly following the trio’s trip to the police station, Morgan blows an opportunity to kill her for good and allows his wife to continue wandering around, unable to bring himself to shoot her corpse dead.
The script reaches out to later issues in the final ten pages as Rick manages to contact the final remnants of the Hotlanta refugee camp that includes his wife Lori, son Carl, former police partner Shane as well as Dale and the RV crew but he misses the instructions to avoid Atlanta as it’s a fucking mess and overrun with the dead. A scene torn straight from a panel of issue 6 where Rick and Glenn run for supplies downtown and find the street packed with zombies, milling around an overrun Abrams tank. Only this time Rick finds the tank alone, loses his horse to the mob and hides inside the tank thinking it only a matter of time before he’s a goner but just before we fade to black, the radio crackles and someone contacts him. Who it be? Beats me, yo.
Bottom line, this is a mostly faithful adaptation of the first few issues leading up to the Atlanta arc of the comics. Darabont fleshes out elements from the comics that don’t go into enough detail or that Kirkman rushed through on the way to his higher plot points and it all makes sense. Rick Grimes is a stronger, more full character because of it. It suffers from a few plot holes but this is a first draft and it will become a much tighter product by the time it goes in front of cameras. Unfortunately, all sixty pages of the script are exciting and it’s going to lose twenty of these pages to meet broadcast standards and make room for ads. Which of those pages are cut in the interest of making money is going to be a real loss since every page of the script is a substantial piece of story. Honestly, there isn’t a second of filler in this bitch. Like all Darabont scripts, it’s a finely tuned machine.
I cannot wait to see the final product! Now, who to cast as Rick Grimes? Let’s fantasy cast this motherfucker. Who do you put in the show?