So here's the thing: for the most part, I'm firmly committed to celebratory criticism: it's a lot easier to complain about things than to look for what's revelatory, exciting, or new about them. It's also always struck me as strange the way that "good criticism" tends to be equated with hateration.
So I find myself in an awkward position in relation to The Walking Dead pilot, which I didn't find nearly as exciting as apparently everyone else on the internet did. There are a few reasons for this: I didn't come into the show armed with any knowledge about the comic. While that means I'm free from the fanboy's trap of TheBookWasBetter, I'm also missing out on the thrill of recognition that seems central to a lot of people's enjoyment of the show.
My real problem with it, though, comes down to the way the show engages with gender. As Clay and Isaac pointed out, this show continues with AMC's general trend of sausage-fests. The network's most successful show, Mad Men, is a notable exception and I think the most feminist show on TV by a long shot, but I find the gender politics of Breaking Bad totally repellent, and its other big shows seem to follow the same trend (widespread among serial TV right now) of examining the ins and outs of masculinity at the cost of fully developed female characters.
The clearest sign of the show's gross gender politics comes almost immediately in that opening conversation between Rick and Shane that Isaac mentioned. Shane's complaints that women can't turn off the lights seems to work in a couple of ways: not only is a kind of chest-beating masculinity established as the foundation for the friendship between these two, and thus linked to Rick's Western-style Nobility, but we're given a clear signal that the horror genre is a space for men. I mean, the reason people leave the lights on is because they're too scared to turn them off, right? But you, the viewer of this super-scary show, are presumed not to share that problem, not to be tainted with this unreasonable feminine fear. Add that to the fact that all the meaningful kills (or attempted kills) in this first episode are women (the girl at the beginning, the zombie mom (Mombie?) , and the legless zombie), and there's a definite thread of misogyny that fills me with a kind of dread that feels scarier than zombies.
I don't know. Maybe the show's more self-conscious about this than I'm giving it credit for. I like the idea that we're meant to squirm at the conversation between Lori and Shane, and I think that's a real possibility. But the combination of her second-hand shrewishness in the first scene and her capitulation to Shane's macho posturing in this later scene make her essentially impossible to sympathize with, which feels like a real loss. Since I don't know the comics, I'm hoping there will be some stronger or more fully fleshed out female characters coming down the line.
To end on a positive note, though, I'm absolutely on board with the praise of the show's general look, which is stunning. And that final scene in Atlanta is without a doubt the scariest thing I've ever seen on television. I'm glad I've got this place at the end of the line, comment-wise, because this show is way too scary for me to watch right before going to bed on Sundays. This house full of women is keeping the lights on for sure.