The Walking Dead – Episode 1 (Season 1)

7 November, 2011

Movies can make excellent “brain exercises” by providing interesting what-if scenarios for us to consider. So every so often, I like to check out a good movie from the point-of-view what I can learn about disaster readiness. What did the people do in the movie that might be considered a mistake? How might I have wanted to react differently if I were in that situation? As with the other entries in this series, the rules are easy: we’re not here to critique the movie, let the film forums cover that. We’re not interested in the realism of the film. We just want to work our brains a little and see if we can’t improve our thinking.

This time I’m doing something just a little bit different. The AMC series The Walking Dead is getting ready to launch recently launched its second season. So I thought I’d go through all of season one and mine it for good lessons (before jumping into season two). I’ll break this up in one part-per-episode so you don’t have to sit through a total wall-of-text (I’m abusing your patience as it is). As always, Spoilers Ahead!

Episode 1: Days Gone Bye

Accepting that there is a Problem

There are areas in this episode that really stand out in my mind. The first is, undoubtedly, the “wake up” scene in the beginning of the episode. It’s a chilling scenario to wake up in a hospital to find things in that state. My first issue is how long do you need to poke around the hospital before you accept that “something’s gong wrong”? I felt like he stayed in his hospital-wear far too long. When the hospital you’re in has floors covered in broken glass and other sharp debris… do I even need to say it? Put on some damn shoes! Certainly if you’re going to wander off and start bicycling home, put on some real clothes.

It’s not a question of dignity, it’s one of basic safety more than anything. To put this in a real-world perspective, consider some of the images that were coming out of Japan during their recent difficulties – office workers walking home, people crawling through broken cities covered in debris. If I gave you the choice of doing that in dress shoes, good sneakers or barefoot, it’s not even a question what you’d pick. Keep that kind of thinking in mind when you approach problems; shoes are obvious, but that thinking will extend to other clothing and shelter questions you might encounter.

Using your supplies: The next thing that comes up in this, and future episodes, is the way the characters approach the use of expendable supplies. In Days Gone Bye the biggest issue if ammunition; there are countless situations where a firearm is used where a non-firearm would be preferable. Consider the scene when our hero is getting ready to leave town: he goes out of his way to find that zombie-torso and shoot her in the head. This is a terrible idea. It will attract more zombies and uses up his very limited supply of ammo. A shovel, a hammer, a large rock, or even a sturdy boot heel will do the job, do it quietly, and do it without using up an expendable.

For us in the real world, the same question is going to come up, especially in major disasters. Do you use your limited medical supplies now or try to tough it out? Do you drink more water now, or try to ration it? I don’t think there are any absolute, hard-and-fast rules here other than that if you need to use it, use it. You didn’t plan ahead and build up an emergency supply just to not use it. The Internet is littered with stories of people dying of dehydration with full canteens of water in hand. That said, don’t be wasteful – if you have an alternative that satisfies the need without expending a limited supply, use that alternative.

Long Term Thinking

One very short scene in this episode that I loved was the last scene between Rick and Morgan. They take a moment and establish a protocol for future communications. It’s nothing fancy, just a “when” and “how” they will communicate going forward. It’s such a simple idea and only take a few moments but makes such a difference for future coordination. It may never pay back into the series, but for our purposes it’s a great lesson. Everyone should have some kind of plan for how they’re communicate or act in the event that regular communications are unavailable. It’s like when you go to a shopping mall and agree that if you get separated, you’ll meet in the food court. Simple, quick, unambiguous.

Vehicle Choices

 There are a couple of scenes where the main character has to pick a mode of transportation that require some consideration. The most important scenes are when Rick is leaving the hospital, when he’s leaving the police station/the town and when he runs out of gas. Over the course of the episode he uses his feet, a police car, a bike and a horse. Over the course of the series we’ll see a variety of other vehicles used.

What’s the best choice for your post-disaster needs? Automotively, the big trade offs are going to be rough-terrain performance and storage/hauling capacity versus fuel efficiency. A recreational vehicle will give you instant-shelter and excellent storage, but a Toyota Prius will go longer on a gallon of fuel. The best bet would seem to be some kind of middle ground. Rick’s choice of a police interceptor is probably the worst of both worlds. Those models are powerful and sturdy, but not designed for fuel economy. They also lack the cargo capacity and off-road handling to justify the lack of efficiency.

I thought it interesting (and by “interesting” I mean “a horrible mistake”) that as Rick leaves the hospital, he goes off on foot – while surrounded by vehicles. Though his second choice, a bicycle raises some interesting questions in my mind about the use of human-powered options. Why not use a bike in this scenario?

Choice in Shelters: House vs Police Station

Towards the end of the episode, Rick leaves his friends behind with a few supplies (mostly weapons by the looks of it) to go in search of his family. Morgan and his son return to the house they’re occupying, presumably to continue on their own survival path. Was I the only one left feeling like maybe going back to that house wasn’t the best idea? The sheriff’s office was much more secure and better equipped. Why not just set up shop in there? Additionally, being a police station, it’s the kind of place that might attract other survivors. While the media and Hollywood love to hype the dangers in a post-apocalypse world, in the real world, the odds are far better that you’ll do better with other people. There’s a quote from another movie I’ve always been fond of in this kind of scenario, “I always figure you might as well approach life-like everybody’s your friend or nobody is”, and I think we can agree which is the preferable state.

Next Episode:

Camping fun!
Moral choices!

The Walking Dead is available on DVD, Blu-Ray, instant-view, etc…heck, if you read this far, you’ve probably already seen it. But if you haven’t, or are looking for gift-ideas, we like for our video purchase needs.  The Walking Dead: Season One [Blu-ray]  or The Walking Dead: Season One [DVD]


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