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Soundtrack review: The walking dead (Bear McCreary – 2010)

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Soundtrack review: The walking dead (Bear McCreary – 2010)

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The Walking Dead is an American post-apocalyptic horror television series developed by Frank Darabont for AMC that is based on the eponymous comic book series of the same name by Robert Kirkman, Tony Moore, and Charlie Adlard. Andrew Lincoln plays the show’s lead character, sheriff’s deputy Rick Grimes, who awakens from a coma discovering a world overrun by zombies, commonly referred to as “walkers”. Grimes reunites with his family and becomes the leader of a group he forms with other survivors. Together they struggle to survive and adapt in a post-apocalyptic world filled with walkers and opposing groups of survivors, who are often more dangerous than the walkers themselves.Much of the series takes place in and around Atlanta, Georgia, and Alexandria, Virginia. Bear Mc Creary wrote the score.

I’ll go right out and say it: for me this score comes 7 years too late. I know Bear tried to get it released, fought hard for it but the powers that be wouldn’t have it. I needed this score 7 years ago when the show started and I was addicted to it; I remember that the haunting and painful main theme stuck with me right away and I needed to hear it very often. I looked for bootlegs, web rips or any traces of the score because the music in context was beautiful and affecting. I couldn’t understand how such a successful show with such a great composer didn’t deserve scores released every year. Years passed and my passion for the show kept fading until it reached the point two hours ago where I just completely lost interest and stopped watching altogether. So yes, this score comes late for me as my emotional connection to the show is no more and it’s hard to compress 7 years of TV music in 75 minutes. For example yes I remember the “Vatos” episode from season 1 but it’s so far back and irrelevant by now that the cue that depicts it doesn’t mean much to me. Still we should be grateful that we get a release anyway.

Let’s stop complaining and get to the music then. For me as I watched the show the emotional moments sounded a lot better than the action or suspense ones; every time a gut wrenching and heart breaking moment came along the music was right there to twist the knife in the wound a little more and as I hear cues like “Letter to Morgan” I remember the impact the scenes had on me; Morgan was such a fascinating character even in his absence and I love remembering and hearing the wailing strings of this cue. But the most intense and soul crushing moment of the show was the midseason finale of season 2, when (spoiler alert) Sophia, the little girl who had been missing, came out of a barn full of zombies and Rick had to shoot her. This is where the genius of a composer like Bear McCreary comes in play: he builds up the tension and the drama without hitting you in the gut from the first second; a heartbreaking violin solo marks the shock of seeing the little girl walk slowly out of the barn together with the other zombies and the music never gets fast as if to let the shock, horror and heart break set in for a fuller impact. Bear lets it simmer and simmer until it all boils out and a stronger and louder string section joins the solo, whimpering one. The drama gets tougher and tougher to bear and the inevitable decision is accompanied once again by the haunting violin motif. This cue alone was worth the 6 years wait.

As I listen to the music and look over the cue titles I start to remember how much I used to love the show and the scenes play clearly in my mind. It’s amazing how I remember them all as the respective cues play and this is a testament of how much into this show I was for the first 3,4 years. I also start regretting more and more that we didn’t get one release per season and I realise just how good the music of “The walking dad” is even out of context. “Eulogy” breaks my heart again with the string section and Carl’s piano theme is just sublime. I am sure it first appeared as Carl started to develop as a character, before he became the tough kid he is now. As Bear gets into his rock mood with “Coalescence” I look further down the road anticipating the farm invasion, with another kick ass rock theme from Bear who is able to keep the tension and emotion going for almost 9 minutes without giving me a minute’s pause and also introducing tortured interpretations of the main theme, or Lori’s death which, as much as I disliked the character, was still a powerful and emotional scene. “C-section” brings again the heartbreak with the violin and the music is all about Rick and his breakdown at the death of his wife and the conflict between crying, giving up and picking himself up so he can take care of Judy; the music stays quiet and elegiac as if it was played in slow motion until the guitar breathes new life into it.

I love The Governor’s theme as it expresses musically just the blankness and lack of remorse this cruel character possessed, with an electric theme that keeps the same pace muddled and determined, for the duration with suffocatingly paced bursts of rage. Oh how I hated this character; I didn’t get to meet Negan, I left before he came so The Governor is still the worst in my book. “A return to compassion” is just Bear proving once again how well he can write emotional music and this right here is the tone I remember from my favourite “The walking dead” scenes, this elegiac and respectful tone that accompanied the moments when the core group lost hope or one of their own. This is what I wanted to hear in the album and this is why I was scouring the internet for bootlegs. I am glad that there are so many of these cues in this release.

And if you wanted a little variation from the strings, there is a cue where the sombre piano joins in to mark my favourite piece of music that I don’t remember from the show, “Welcome to the tombs”. As the ones before, this orchestral nuggets is 6 minutes long so it can have the proper impact and I just get misty eyed as those invisible fingers press the black and white keys of the piano in a never ending ode to emotion. TO me this particular cue is the Bear McCreary equivalent of the awards section where they mention that people who died since the previous edition; in this case, a requiem for everyone we lost over the course of 7 seasons of “The walking dead”. “Welcome to the tombs” is a stunning piano theme that I count among my favourite Bear McCreary cues ever. The main motif from it becomes the “Reconciliation” motif that shows a sentiment so rare in this show, the precious nugget of forgiveness; just a piano and a cello and I am addicted, moved, misty eyed and in the mood to watch the show again. Once again the versatility of this composer’s music is unreal and I am convinced more and more that he can write anything and the music would still be magic.

I might not have watched the past two seasons but I know that “The day will come” refers to the shock and horror of Glenn and Abraham dying at the hands of Negan and I don’t need to watch the show to feel the emotional impact as Bear makes sure that his music carries the message; once again that haunting piano motif comes to make a permanent impression and add a glimmer of hope at the end. It’s a fitting end to an album that I wish would not stand so alone.

Even with this short excerpt from a huge body of work, Bear McCreary captures the essence of “The walking dead” with the frightening action moments and the emotional or tense breaks. The show was always a rollercoaster ride with wild mood swings and manic moments and the selection of cues from the score expresses that very well. It was a no brainer that this release was going to be great and chock full of powerful music which makes the regret even bigger that it isn’t the seventh of a long and ongoing series. I went into listening to this score bitter because it came too late and got out of it grateful that we managed to get even this. I must admit I didn’t expect to be so impressed considering how sour I am now on the show. But music doesn’t care about that and when Bear McCreary is in top form there are few better. Consider this album as a “Greatest hits from The walking dead” and do not miss it.

Cue rating: 94 / 100

Total minutes of excellence: 58 / 72

Album excellence: 80%

Highlights:
Theme from the Walking Dead
Message to Morgan
Sophia
Coalescence
Eulogy
Carl
Farm Invasion
Beside the Dying Fire
C-Section
The Governor
A Return to Compassion
Welcome to the Tombs
Reconciliation
Three Questions
The Day Will Come

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Mihnea Manduteanu

I have been listening to film music for 25 years and writing about it since 2014. I've written over 1000 reviews and I can't imagine myself doing anything else. I am also a member of IFMCA (International Film Music Critics Association).

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