The Walking Dead thoughts

SPOILERS AHOY

* I liked this a good deal more than I ended up thinking I was going to. So quiet, slow, and flat for so long. Talk about zigging where your audience expects–almost demands–for you to zag. No one was expecting the basic-cable zombie equivalent of the opening of There Will Be Blood. I’m glad that’s what we got.

* I think that that aspect of the show, and indeed most of what I liked about it, was pretty much cribbed not from Romero but from Hooper. I’ve talked about this before, but The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, not Dawn of the Dead, is really the ur-text for contemporary horror, including the zombie movies. Mostly it’s tonal, it’s the intent to really traumatize the audience rather than just shock or thrill us, but here there were a couple of shots–the cop car’s loooooong journey to the foreground in the opening shot (also a Night of the Living Dead reference), the shot of Rick walking up to the house where he finds the murder-suicide couple–that were out and out homages, I thought.

* One thing I really liked about what they did with the hospital bit that Robert Kirkman’s failure to see 28 Days Later before writing the script for The Walking Dead #1 and thereby realizing he was the “perish” in this particular “publish or perish” scenario was that it allowed Rick to discover and confront the terrible new reality without being immediately pushed into a fight or flight reaction. Rick wasn’t afforded the luxury, if that’s the word, of being able to immediately focus on his own survival. Instead, he had to shuffle around an abandoned hospital to discover a mutilated corpse in the middle of the hallway. I’ll tell you what, that bit in particular struck the “Oh no, something’s wrong, this is scary, Mommy please help” chord in my brain more than just about anything I’ve seen in a zombie movie, and it’s precisely because Rick wasn’t in any immediate danger that that could happen. Major kudos to Andrew Lincoln, who powered through his preposterously trimmed coma beard and delivered a heart-rending performance as a guy terrified and saddened beyond belief with every fresh turn of a corner or opening of a door. When he finally got the chance to sob and curl up in a fetal position, I bought it.

* I think the accusations of sexism or misogyny over the opening conversation between Rick and Shane are much ado about nothing, to be honest. It’s unpleasant to listen to, certainly, especially given recent Internet discussions. But a depiction of something is not an endorsement of that thing. Here it’s pretty clear that Shane is being made out to be a macho creep, Rick much less so but still a) a go along to get along type with his partner, which seems true; b) still a dude in a macho culture, with all that entails, and c) a guy who had a big fight with his wife and is much more focused on his very real problems with his very three-dimensional-to-him wife rather than on Shane’s stereotypes–and for whom his partner is probably playing up the “women, can’t live with ‘em, pass me the beernuts” shtick in the first place. Given the prominence of the female zombies killed–or in the case most relevant to the debate, not killed–throughout the episode, as well as Shane’s eventual relationship with Lori, I actually think a not entirely subtle message is being sent about dehumanizing women, in fact.

* Very glad to see the talented composer Bear McCreary, late of Battlestar Galactica, on the music duties. Nice little homages to Eno in 28 Days Later here, W.G. Snuffy Walden in The Stand there. Mostly absent, which, again, is astute.

* However, it was almost completely canceled out by the screechingly inappropriate white-boy hip-hop song by Wang Chung (!!!) at the end, one of the most glaring miscalculations I’ve ever seen a TV show make. Good Lord.

* Also not a fan of that bizarre shakicam coma-memory bit. I mean, I liked the way it led into Rick coming to, believing Shane was still there–that was a great way to get around the 28 Days Later version of this particular set-up–but the shot itself was so cheesy and ugly. With both that and the Wang Chung song, I just wonder, did no one in the crew or at the network say, “Hm, Frank, I’m not sure that works”?

* Neither does CGI splatter, at least not here. This simply renews my respect for what Stallone managed in Rambo.

* It was really, really hard for me to handle the horse thing. Really hard. Tony Soprano hard.

* I’ll be back next week.

18 Responses to The Walking Dead thoughts

  1. Man, I’m glad to see I’m not the only one who thought that Wang Chung song was a terrible choice for an otherwise really effective closing to the episode. It really kinda bummed me out, given how strong those visuals were.

    I do think you’re being a bit too forgiving for the car exchange – I don’t think we need to take Darabont out and lynch him, by any means. I think the problem is that it’s just not a very good scene, nor is Shane’s exchange with Lori later. Both scenes are just examples of some really lazy character work. Shane was never a dynamic example of the Y chromosome in the comic, but I think they’re really strip-mining his character too much here to make Rick look good.

    And that horse bit was the second most disturbing thing I’ve seen happen to a horse on screen, right after The Ring remake (a visual that STILL shocks me just thinking about it).

  2. One more thing – I wasn’t sure if I was imagining that sequence with Rick’s visit to “the suicide house” as a direct homage, or if I was just seeing echoes because its been a few years since I’ve watched NotLD. Its pretty layered in there.
    I completely missed the ties between the two in that opening shot, though.

  3. Zom says:

    Re Walking Dead, I think each sexist element taken on a case by case basis is justifiable, I’ve always thought so, It’s just that taken on mass they give off a very bad vibe. I see what you’re saying about the show perhaps presenting an argument against dehumanizing women, but if that was the intention then I don’t think the Darabont and co did a very good job getting it across.

    I’m prepared to give the show the benefit of the doubt at this very early stage, but I stand by my assertion that the first episode was pretty relentless in its negative representations of women. My wife and sister certainly seemed to think so, although I should probably note that they’re both card carrying feminists. Not intended as an argument from authority, by the way, just an attempt to bring some womens’ voices into this conversation.

  4. I really can see how it could be seen either way. I think that any art that shows the perspective of sexists is showing the perspective of an overrepresented group generally–my wife once angrily pointed that out to me over my one of my own comics–so you need to work extra hard to justify it.

  5. My point being that if ending with a Wang Chung song is indicative of the level of thought being put into this thing, we can at the very least pick on that scene in the car for being poorly done, if not indicative of the filmmakers’ overall approach to women and women characters.

  6. The scene with Shane and Rick in the car was offensive mostly by being badly written. I agree with Sean that they’re “stripmining” Shane, reducing him right away to a bastard who will betray his buddy/partner. I think they could have made things much more interesting (even moreso than the comic, IIRC) by NOT making Shane Mr. Wrong but more of a Mr. Right Now, a reasonable substitute for Rick because the whole world has changed and Lori thinks he’s dead. How interesting would it be to explore how a guy may love his best friend’s wife but know he can’t ever make a move, and then suddenly the obstacle is removed and he’s the alpha male of the group. How do you deal with that?

    I don’t think Lori is somehow dehumanized or her character a sexist depiction just because she leans on another man for protection and to make decisions. A) it’s a crisis; B) she’s a sheriff’s deputy’s housewife in the South. You can call that a stereotype for now but I would give her time to find her strength and maybe not rely on a man so much for survival.

    I didn’t get the NotLD connection with the suicide couple. I thought that was Rick’s parents?

    Overall I thought it was very good. I think the opening was great and sliding the hospital scene until later mitigated some of the 23 Days Later similarities. I do think it didn’t quite fit for macho Shane (and the rest of the deputies) to chip in on flowers for Rick. I understand the visual reason for the flowers, but it didn’t quite work for me. Agreed on the song at the end. I also think the Lori/Shane scene would have worked better AFTER the succeeding scene of Rick looking at the pic of Lori and Carl–having that be a surprise took some of the gas out of the scene.

    I laughed at the horse eating and made some dog food jokes, so that’s me. Loved Rick trapped under the tank, and the crawling torso zombie lady was amazing. Oh, and all the Morgan stuff was great, although he should really have warned his son he was going to open fire from upstairs. Hasn’t that kid had enough surprises?

  7. 23 Days Later? Sorry, typo

  8. Curt says:

    I don’t see how anyone who cares about making the culture of comics less hostile to female fans could call that conversation “much ado about nothing.” The WALKING DEAD comic isn’t especially feminist (and is actually problematic in a number of respects), but on the sheer strength of its quality it has garnered a significant female fan-base. These women were excited to tune in to the show. And damn near the first words out of anyone’s mouth were, “Fucking cunt bitch walking pair of tits,” or something like that. If this were scrupulous fidelity to the comic, and therefore expected, that would be one thing. But Darabont pulls it out of his ass, for no better reason than to cheaply and easily make one guy look like more of a douchebag than another–which he bungles by making the other guy complain about women in such a way that any difference in degree of douchebaggery is strictly academic. This is some viewers’ first impression of the property, and at that point in the show, there’s no context to suggest it might be anything other than what it immediately sounds like (in fact, we just pre-credits saw a little girl zombie get shot in the face). The reaction I’ve seen from female fans has been uniformly negative, understandably, and you know what?–rightly. I’ve gotten a cramp in my shoulder from cringing every time someone asks, “Are the comics that misogynist?” I really can’t blame them for wondering. This is a colossal unforced error on Darabont’s part; it might make the difference between a horror comic property achieving mainstream critical and popular success on the magnitude of MAD MEN, LOST

  9. Curt says:

    D’oh! Somehow, I posted that comment before I finished it. Look–I don’t mean to impugn your integrity or anything like that, Sean, and I do see what you’re saying, but I can’t help regarding that conversation as a Big Lose–a completely needless one–for almost everyone.

  10. Zom says:

    Good points well made, Curt. I’ve been thinking pretty much the same thing re that scene being an absolutely terrible opener.

    That Wang Chung business was AWFUL. I was embarrassed for Darabont at that point.

  11. Curt, my point is simply that I think that conversation is more reflective of the characters than of the filmmakers. If the show never gives us anything to offset that attitude, then I think it’s a topic that can and should be revisited in no uncertain terms; but for now, the fact that you cited Mad Men as an example of a great television show is illustration that problematic ideas about women placed in the mouths of a show’s characters are not necessarily indicative of a problematic approach to women by that show’s creators.

    Also, it seems like there’s a logical flaw in saying “Darabont’s a lousy writer because he made a character a sexist pig just to make him look shitty and the main character look better” and then also hold Darabont to account for that sexism. The point of the sexism was to say “this character is a dick,” right.

    I’m not saying it was a good scene–it wasn’t–or that it was a great idea to lead with–it wasn’t–or even that all the negative things you can show your characters doing are equal–I think it’s easier to understand that when The Sopranos showed Tony running a guy over with his car and then kicking his broken leg in the first epsiode, that’s not an endorsement of running people over on David Chase’s part, where as the dividing line between attitudes expressed by characters and filmmakers can be a much trickier thing to parse. It’s just that I’m not comfortable citing it as characteristic of the show or as a turn-off for the whole thing. I understand that other people have had a much different reaction.

  12. Curt says:

    Well, Sean, we can draw a distinction between intent and effect. The intent was to characterize. With better execution, I’m sure a lot more people would be inclined to see it in that light. But it was poorly handled, in such a way that the effect was misogynist. I’m not saying and don’t think Darabont is personally sexist, but if the internets are any indication, his misjudgment about how that scene would come across has squandered a lot of enthusiasm and goodwill on the part of female fans of the comic and the women they convinced on message boards, comment threads, and such that this show would be worth a look.

  13. That’s really well put, Curt. Thanks.

  14. shags says:

    Yeah… I was okay up until the horse scene. Then I kind of wanted to die a little. Really hope they don’t do this with other animals throughout the show.

  15. Matt M. says:

    Finally watched this last night. Solid, entertaining. Yeah, there’s some obvious gaffes. The music cue was horrible (and disappointing after they’d done so well on the trailer at SDCC.) The nods to other horror/zombie films were indirect enough that they didn’t scream HEY I LIKED THAT MOVIE TOO, though I wonder if they’re direct nods necessarily or examples of convergent evolution. There were some things that got rushed, like the aborted hold-the-gun-and-pretend-suicide-while-apologizing-to-his-family under the tank. That shoulda been dropped or given full weight. But that’s minor stuff. Though I will say that the arguably biggest shock in this episode (with Rick killing the little girl) was something Romero gave to us a long time ago (though not as well filmed).

    I’ll probably keep watching if they decide to keep streaming the episodes on their site (TWD is not something my wife wants to watch and I’ll continue to respect that). Failing that, I’ll watch the DVDs sometime. No, I don’t own a DVR and don’t see that changing. Though I’ll note that I watch with breath held, because I’m not sure that they’re working towards an end in mind and while the hanging soap opera threads can work magnificently, they often don’t. Stories gotta end and the way people rhapsodize about the comic being an endless zombie movie (whereas I lost patience with it a long time ago) fills me with suspicion.

  16. [...] Sean, BC at HMAD and Tom & Lorenzo all dug Walking Dead. I didn’t. This is like me disliking Spider-Man 2 all over again. That is all. [...]

  17. Bruce Baugh says:

    I found a lot to like – lots more to like than dislike. I can certainly understand someone deciding “I’m not coming back for more, at least not until there’s solid reason to believe it’s better”, but I’ll be back on Sunday to see how things go from here.

  18. [...] pretty much agree with everything Sean T Collins says about this episode here. Namely, the slow burn of the pace and the music being good, but the cheesy coma effect and music [...]