The first season of The Walking Dead is a delightfully compact story that flows perfectly and does great work to kick off the series. Unlike most American seasons, it is only 6 episodes long. This gives a lot of advantages to the writers, which they used. 6-8 episodes seems to be the length that audiences can stand a singular arc. I’ll explore this hypothesis more in future posts.
The theme of season 1 is safety through togetherness. It’s all about finding family, which can be both literal and figurative. Here’s a simplified look at the story of season 1:
1. Rick wakes up alone -> Family and safety might be in Atlanta -> They most certainly aren’t
2. Rick and gang need to get out of Atlanta at any cost -> The cost is Merle
3. Daryl wants to go back for Merle -> Probably a bad idea to send protectors back -> Guns could help -> Go to find Merle, but he’s gone
4. At least there are still guns -> But the guns aren’t coming easily -> Well… they actually are -> But the bad idea bites them in the ass
5. Regroup and come up with Plan B/CDC -> Argue over Plan B/CDC -> Go with Plan B/CDC
6. CDC may be hope -> It is not, there is no hope -> Life is hope
- Nothing comes easy – The biggest example that comes to mind is the guns. When Rick and gang go for the guns that they left in the street, you’re thinking that they’re going to face walkers to get them. Then, the Vatos show up. It’s unexpected and a big problem right away. The excitement is exactly what you want.
- Pilot – Ooh baby this is a fun one. The intro is pretty much just Rick for 20 minutes, but it’s riveting. Information is introduced as needed, which allows the show to stay active.
- Flow – Each episode builds off the one before it. The consequences of a solution become the conflict of the next episode. Leaving Merle on the roof becomes the catalyst for a wild journey. They are forced to leave the camp, which is a planted problem, to go back. Of course there are new problems there to get through. And once you get back, you have to deal with the shit that you set yourself up for, which is an attack on an unprotected camp. The attack spurs finding help for Jim and the rest, which leads to the CDC for the finale.
- Nobody is safe – The body count is much higher here, likely because they don’t have to pay much for anyone on a 6 episode season. Even a strong supporting character in the group could be offed at a lower rate than in future seasons. The original group obviously needed to be shrunk to establish both the danger and the core cast that we care about.
- Movement – This is a bit redundant, but the short season allows for constant movement. Things progress quickly and don’t need to be drawn out. It makes the pace of the season more to my liking.
- Episode 5 – This is really the only thing I could think of that I really didn’t like. It’s an episode where the movement kind of stops. There is a lot of recovering from the events of the previous episode and it hurts the push. The CDC conflict is presented, but the argument is all talk. Without action, it becomes boring.
- ABC (Always Be Conflicting) – Whenever somebody needs something, put something in the way of them getting it. And then another thing. And make those things seem impossible to overcome until the hero overcomes them.
- Fake Left, Drive Right – When you hint at a problem, the audience will pick up on it. Use that to your advantage. The gun bag was surrounded by walkers, so the easy story is that they have to face walkers to get the guns. It’s definitely a conflict, but it’s expected. Instead, the Vatos show up. Who saw that coming? Nobody. That’s who.
- Lick Your Wounds – Don’t dwell on the aftermath of an event unless you’re showing what conflicts the aftermath caused.
A Bad Haiku:
Rick and the walkers
Sitting in a tree. K-I-