Posts Tagged ‘The Walking Dead’
The Walking Dead and Fear the Walking Dead send the message to a society in the throes of endless war, openly nativist and racist politics, and mass gun psychosis that the only way to ensure the survival of you and your loved ones is to act with maximum brutality at all times. It’s not that I’m saying these shows are turning people into killers; on the contrary, everyone involved knows damn well that this is decadent nonsense since virtually no one watching will ever be in the personal position to do anything like what Travis Manawa and Madison Clark are made to do. But the same is true of the NRA or Donald Trump or Ben Carson, who for political and financial profit fuel the paranoid, masturbatory murder fantasies of a country full of gunfucking shut-ins terrified of the unwashed, undead masses flowing over the border, out of the ghettoes, and into Main Street USA. Ideologically, Rick Grimes and George Zimmerman are just a zombie apart.
It’s important to understand why this violent show, among the countless ones now on offer and racking up gangbusters reviews as well as ratings, stands out. What’s wrong with Fear the Walking Dead and the show that spawned it that isn’t wrong with Game of Thrones, Breaking Bad, The Sopranos, The Wire, The Americans, and on and on and on? To find the source of FTWD/TWD’s ethical failure, you have go look at an artistic failure, a hole in the writing the show falls into time and time again. On those other shows, characters are presented with moral choices between right and wrong options—one side may look more appealing or viable than the other, one may have better or worse repercussions, one may be easier to live with or live through, but their nature is never truly in doubt. Fear the Walking Dead is different. It repeatedly offers characters and viewers alike a false choice, one in which the only options are brutality and survival on the one hand or naïveté and death on the other. In this closed moral circuit, violence is both vital and virtuous; no other correct answer is allowed.
The Walking Dead in Westeros
We’re comparing two of the biggest shows on television in this episode of the Boiled Leather Audio Hour. One of them is an adaptation of a popular staple of nerd culture—a genre work that had only appeared in print before—which has translated its bleak themes, wide scope, and controversial use of violence into a modern-day ratings blockbuster. The other is Game of Thrones.
That’s right—the BLAH Boys are taking on The Walking Dead, and its current spinoff Fear the Walking Dead, by contrasting the shows and their source material to Game of Thrones and A Song of Ice and Fire. How does their treatment of violence in an unforgiving world of real and supernatural menace differ? What do the relationships between the original works by George R.R. Martin, Robert Kirkman, Tony Moore, and Charlie Adlard and their adaptations by David Benioff, D.B. Weiss, and AMC’s land of a thousand showrunners reveal about their respective ideas, ideals, aesthetics, and ethics? Which shows really deserve our moral outrage, and why? We’ll be examining all these questions and more. And one of us, at least, will be getting really freaking worked up. Enjoy!
What makes both Fear and The Walking Dead flagship exceptional television, literally, is how they break the usual rule against assuming that depiction equals endorsement in fiction. In both shows, violence is repeatedly depicted as both necessary and, given the post-apocalyptic context, virtuous. Yes, the brutality is made to feel ugly, but it’s invariably less ugly than the alternative. All of the show’s dramatic weight rests upon the idea that if you were in these people’s shoes, you’d want to do the same things to survive. And man, fuck that noise. Like the zombies locked into that stadium in their thousands then inexplicably left unguarded, I want out.
I reviewed the latest installment of TV’s most morally repugnant franchise, Fear the Walking Dead, for Decider. Much, much more on this coming soon.
While great art generally fills some kind of need in the hearts and minds of its audience, art need not be as utilitarian as all that. Fabergé eggs, extended remixes, the Wet Hot American Summer fart track: In these cases and many others, enjoyment is self-justifying. Hell, by some definitions, art is inherently unnecessary, which is precisely what elevates making it from the pursuit of food, shelter, sex, and survival.
But this ain’t dancing when nobody’s watching or writing the great American novel we’re talking about here. This is “Not Fade Away,” the fourth episode in what looks increasingly likely to be the entirely superfluous first season of Fear the Walking Dead. With the largest fanbase in television built right in, this spinoff series could have gone anywhere. Instead it made an infected-style beeline straight for one of the most traveled paths in the history of the zombie genre: When the dead rise, the army runs amok. Whether you’re talking about 28 Days Later and its sinister soldiers, its sequel 28 Weeks Later and its well-intentioned but incompetent and ultimately indiscriminate occupying army, Day of the Dead and its tiny band of undisciplined bullies and martinets, this story has been told over and over, in a much tighter and more engaging way. It’s difficult to watch Fear and think this particular take on the tale is worth telling.
I reviewed this week’s Fear the Walking Dead, which was bad, for Decider. Danny Boyle, contact your attorneys.
“Good people are the first ones to die,” says Fear the Walking Dead, doling out INSANELY badass truths to its audience of bored gamers. Is that an unfair characterization? Of the audience, maybe. Of Fear the Walking Dead? I fear it’s not. With the conclusion of “The Dog,” this week’s episode, we’ve reached the halfway point of this short introductory season, and the series has yet to produce a compelling reason for itself to exist—other than “we can make a lot of money selling grimdark violence to people who will live and die without ever once experiencing such horrors themselves,” that is. Ending with a military takeover of the town is appropriate, because ethically and aesthetically, Fear is basically a gun nut waiting for the UN’s secret Muslim invasion squad’s black helicopters to land, in TV-show form.
Apocalyptic fiction should have the courage of its extinctions. If you’re going to feed damn near every man, woman, and child on earth into the maw of slaughter for our viewing enjoyment, own what that really means: not just full-grown undead versus ragtag survivors, but hundreds of millions of children dying in terrified agony. You don’t have to dwell on it, I suppose, but passing it over in silence to get to the good stuff is aesthetic and ethical cowardice, pure and simple.
So a very dark congratulations goes out to Fear the Walking Dead’s second episode, “So Close, Yet So Far,” for the image of a mom getting devoured amid the ruins of her daughter’s birthday bouncy castle. Sure, doing this just hours after having her cheerfully and audibly sing “Happy Birthday” lays it on thick—you could practically hear the collective groan of millions of viewers going “oh no” the moment the first notes rang out—but it’s better than the alternative.
Given that it’s the most popular show on television, The Walking Dead can pass quite easily for one of the New Golden Age of TV’s crown jewels. The reality, however, is a lot closer to costume jewelry. Despite a grim tone typical of many iconic shows and proximity to masterpieces of the medium like Mad Men and Breaking Bad via their shared network, AMC, the blockbuster adaptation of the surprise-hit comic-book series by writer Robert Kirkman and artists Tony Moore and Charlie Adlard is striking for has so little else in common it has with its antihero-and-auteur-driven era that it gives us a whole lot to chew on.
For starters, there’s no auteur to speak of. Developer and Shawshank Redemption director Frank Darabont departed unceremoniously after disputes with the network, and his successor Glen Mazzara lasted only two seasons until parting ways with the show in another impasse before current showrunner Scott M. Gimple took over. And while creator Kirkman remains actively involved, the show departed so radically from his source material almost immediately—another marked contrast from contemporaries like Game of Thrones—that the closest thing it has to a consistent creative vision is that of zombie-makeup guru Greg Nicotero. Though this lack of a singular voice is not necessarily an inherent evil—Darabont’s mawkish sub-Spielbergian sentimentality, to say nothing of his penchant for Wang Chung music cues, is certainly no great loss. But the difference from Davids Lynch, Chase, Milch, and Simon, and their heirs, from Louis C.K. to Shonda Rhimes, is tangible.
More importantly, and alarmingly, TWD’s approach to its own bloody bleakness too often takes the “anti” out of “antihero.” Even the most uninspired post-Sopranos series about the inner turmoil of men who murder people for a living generally pay lip service to the idea that their cathartic explosions of violence do more harm than good, and that our vicarious thrills must be priced against the moral cost of killing. For Rick Grimes and company, however, gore, to paraphrase Gordon Gekko, is good. Yes, the show frequently toys with the idea that the former sheriff and his roving band of zombie-apocalypse survivors have Gone Too Far This Time; in fact, the frequency with which this question is raised indicates the inconsistency of the writing. But far more often, the story serves as an ersatz endorsement of brutality in the name of survival, justice, and revenge, concepts frequently treated as indistinguishable. For The Walking Dead, killing is bad, unless you really really have to or unless they really really deserve it, in which case it’s extremely good. Seriously: When The Wire veteran Chad Coleman’s pacifistic Tyrese finally offed someone, the crew congratulated him like he’d just been bar mitzvah’d.
Normally I’m first in line to blast critics for equating the depiction of atrocity with either the exploitation or outright endorsement thereof. But in TWD’s case, the frequent recourse to redemptive violence in a world where virtually none of its massive audience will experience such situations reads as decadent at best and downright immoral at worst, a nasty and unnecessary exponent of the reactionary potential that’s been buried beneath the zombie-horde metaphor from the start. To treat “What would you do to protect those you care about?” as the central ethical question of our time is to invite the creation of imaginary enemies to justify our mental murderousness against them; the consequences of this paranoid mentality for America are as thick in the air as teargas in the streets of St. Louis.
I reviewed the series premiere of Fear the Walking Dead, and the Walking Dead phenomenon generally, for Decider. I’ll be covering the show there all season, which should be interesting.
I’ll be talking The Newsroom, The Comeback, The Walking Dead, and the best shows for a holiday-break binge on HuffPost Live’s Spoiler Alert today at 5:05pm. Tune in here!
I’ll be talking Boardwalk Empire, Homeland, and (god help me) The Walking Dead on HuffPost Live’s Spoiler Alert show at 4:40pm today. Click here to tune in!
And if you missed last week’s show, watch it here!
I wrote up 16 of the New Golden Age of TV’s most surprising and suspenseful scenes and sequences for Rolling Stone (with a little help from my fabulous editor David Fear). Battlestar Galactica, Breaking Bad, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Deadwood, Downton Abbey, Game of Thrones, House of Cards, Lost, Mad Men, Orange Is the New Black, The Shield, The Sopranos, True Detective, Twin Peaks, The Walking Dead, The Wire. Read, then vote in our neat bracket tournament thing!
Over at Rolling Stone, I interviewed creator Robert Kirkman about season three of The Walking Dead, about which I’ve heard good things. (Nevermind the byline — there was a mixup of Seans.) Kirkman has written a lot of comics I like, notably including the stretch of The Walking Dead upon which this season of the show was based, so this was a pleasure. I’m also glad I got the opportunity to slag the trade press’s treatment of Tony Moore following the settlement of his suit against Kirkman as well. (Seriously.)
I’m told I have a short article on Michonne, a new character on The Walking Dead, in the current issue of Rolling Stone, with Bob Dylan on the cover. How about that?
The Walking Dead #100
Robert Kirkman, writer
Charlie Adlard, artist
Image, July 2012
Buy it via Skybound
Is anyone planning to watch the Season Two premiere of The Walking Dead? I’m not, on “life’s too short” grounds. That first season was pretty bad, and there are many, many better and/or more enjoyable shows I can be watching. I’m just curious what y’all have decided. Let me know in the comments if you like.
All season long I have been watching and greatly enjoying Terence Winter’s Boardwalk Empire. In its way it’s just as much a creature of genre as The Walking Dead, at least in terms of being the sort of thing I’d watch simply for the pleasure of seeing some of my favorite tropes get a workout. I enjoy stories in which Meyer Lansky plays a supporting role on the same “yippee!” level that I enjoy stories in which small clusters of shambling corpses remove and consume someone’s small intestine.
The difference, of course, is that surrounding Meyer Lansky and Lucky Luciano and Arnold Rothstein and Al Capone in and so on in Boardwalk Empire is an entire edifice of pleasurable things to watch, from the casting on down. What a treat, for example, to watch Steve Buscemi play against type as a quietly impressive alpha dog instead of a shouty, squirrelly loser. I’m not even sure we’d buy him in a similar role set in the present day, but something in all those period suits suits him. Meanwhile, given Martin Scorsese’s role in the series, I was tempted to make “I’m not Leonardo DiCaprio, but I play him on TV” jokes about Michael Pitt same as everyone else, even though I’ve always thought more of him than that in the bits and pieces of his work I’ve seen. (A Law & Order: SVU episode and his side of the screen during the good bits of The Dreamers, mostly.) But lo and behold, Jimmy Darmody harnesses Pitt’s dead-eyed vacancy just as well as DiCaprio’s Scorsese roles make use of Leo’s angry runt-of-the-litter aged babyface; there’s no question in my mind, looking at him, that something vital was blown right out of him in the trenches, never to return. Kelly Macdonald keeps her good Irish girl believably poised between willful, indignant, and willfully ignorant; she’s had to work with a character arc that’s yanked her back and forth and back and forth, but she’s sold it during all those “Margaret learns something and must choose” by seeming to keep the immigrant dream of a better life somewhere in her mind at all times as a driving force, for better or for worse. Then there are the Michaels: Michael Stuhlbarg (and what a discovery that guy was! we really owe the Coen Brothers so much) is such a dapper menace, it sounds like his every word is wearing a tuxedo and carrying a small knife of some kind. Michael Shannon’s sepulchral voice and bug-eyed intensity make him my favorite hapless zealot law-enforcement officer since Edward Woodward’s Sgt. Howie. I do wish Michael Kenneth Williams had more to do as Chalky White, although of course the “These my Daddy’s tools” speech was gold, and hey, two out of three ain’t bad. And so on and so forth: The show’s basically heaven for ruddy-faced repeat Law & Order guest stars, and if you have the kind of thing for pale brunettes that I do, this is the greatest thing on television since Twin Peaks.
What’s more, it’s often astonishingly lovely to look at. The period costumes and sets are impeccable, and I’ve even come to love the somewhat obvious greenscreen nature of the Atlantic City boardwalk set precisely for its unreality, its pink and blue cotton-candy sky. That seems to me to be how many of these characters would see it. After all, Boardwalk Empire is a sentimental show, much more so, I think, then its two most direct antecedents, The Sopranos (New Jersey gangsters, Terence Winter) and Deadwood (charismatic communitarian criminal overlord, story of a city). Nucky Thompson has “a kindness” in him that the writers of The Sopranos and Deadwood never let us see in Tony Soprano or Al Swearengen without quickly reminding us that they’re horrible people who do terrible things routinely. Nuck’s clearly shown to be more at home shaking hands and kissing babies, or wining and dining potential contributors, than he is at ordering murders or extracting payments by force, things that Tony and Al do with evident glee in episode one. Moreover, none of the victims of his enterprise thus far are innocents (unless you count Jimmy’s young mom, which maybe you should), which again is something Al and Tony’s handlers were a lot less squeamish about.
Maybe it’s this sentimentality that the show’s naysayers are picking up on. But honestly, I get the sense that a good deal of shoulder-shrugging about this show has to do with things other than the quality of the show itself — it’s expensive, it’s the channel’s second gangster series, it’s not Mad Men, it’s not self-evidently A Great Show. But neither was The Sopranos in Season One. Hugely entertaining, sure, but I don’t think it became what it was until “University” in Season Three. And neither was The Wire, if you’re a Wire person. After all, it was impossible to get a sense of the show’s scope, and the game it would play by shifting focus with each season, until there was another season to watch. So if you’re only enjoying the show, instead of flipping out over it, I say give it time. Unlike certain other shows I could mention, what you already have can be savored rather than endured.
Another show I’ve been watching and enjoying all season long is Gossip Girl. It’s a shame that last season’s repetitive “look, I was gonna tell you, but…” storylines knocked me out of the habit of recapping/reviewing/whatevering these things every week, because this season deserves it. My goodness, the lengths to which I could have taken my “Chuck Bass as Batman” metaphors with that opening arc! (For example, they have the same goddamn catchphrase–”I’m Chuck Bass”/”I’m Batman”–and in this season Chuck even said it in order to reveal his secret identity!)
But as my friend Ben Morse has eloquently explained, it’s new villain Juliet who gave the show new life. Episode after episode I spent saying “this asshole has to go” as scheme after crudely manipulative scheme blew up in her face…but she didn’t go. They didn’t chase her into Europe or the military academy or Jesus camp. She simply stuck around, recalibrated, and formulated a new line of attack. She’s like the goddamn Borg! And over the past two episodes, it became clear: She means business. After suffering the most epic beatdown in Gossip Girl history, as all four rich kids teamed up to verbally crush her and banish her forthwith from
the kingdom of Rohan New York, she simply dusted herself off and hooked up with the other two most insufferable characters on the show, the odious, tedious Vanessa and trying-too-hard Jenny — and blam, she’d finally found the right combination to utterly annihilate Serena. In one evening’s work, she ended her relationship with Dan, torpedoed her friendship with Blair, estranged her from her family, got her kicked out of college, drugged her, fucking kidnapped her, and got her first hospitalized and then fucking committed. Juliet is the Black Glove, for Christ’s sake! And as Ben pointed out, underneath all this is one of the show’s most explicit class-war elements yet, in which the poor side is evil. Not since Blair stopped even pretending to give a fuck about anything but money and status while wooing that prince in the pilot has the show been this hilariously decadent.
The best part is that by centering Juliet’s evil scheme on Serena, Juliet forces our sympathy for her plot, even while we find it infuriating. After all, Serena really is a kind of gross, lazy, entitled creep who blows off almost any available chance to better herself and follows her vagina wherever it takes her, yet insists upon being seen as a paragon of put-togetherness and go-getteritude. (That’s the difference between her sluttiness and Chuck’s: Chuck makes no bones about what he is.) Plus, and let’s not forget this little season-one tidbit, girl has a fucking body on her! No, wait, that came out wrong — I mean, yes, that too, but what I was trying to say was she pretty much killed a dude! Sometimes I want to destroy Serena’s life Kingpin-from-Daredevil-Born-Again-style, and I don’t even exist in the same reality!
The funny thing about Gossip Girl is that fulfilling the role played in other shows of famous real-life gangsters or awesome zombie gore is simple eye candy. I love staring at the impossibly beautiful faces of Chace Crawford and Ed Westwick, I love the way they pour Blake Lively’s body into those dresses and festoon Leighton Meester with lingerie, I love the Patrick Bateman parade of guest stars. But this season, it’s fun to watch what they do again, too, and that’s just delightful. It’s fun to watch television shows that don’t involve “putting up with” something! (Well, other than Vanessa of course. Ugh.)
* I was actually kind of insulted by the Doctor whispering to Rick there at the end, so hackneyed and hamfisted an attempt to artificially generate mystery it was. “Fans are dying to know what Doctor Jenner whispered to Rick!” O RLY? Just such a crass and unimaginative way to hit people’s Lost buttons. Gimme a break.
* In addition to not working because it had nothing to do with the rest of the season, making getting past the Doctor the central conflict of the finale didn’t work because it basically created a supervillain character, and that doesn’t mesh at all with the emotional and metaphorical underpinnings of the zombie subgenre. I know, I know — the Governor — but the Governor is your basic post-apocalyptic warlord and as such springs from the rich soil of societal and moral breakdown inherent to the subgenre in a way that a mad scientist who gets HAL-9000 to lock everyone in his underground bunker complete with self-destruct mechanism and countdown clock just doesn’t.
* At this point I think Lori’s failure to tell anyone about Shane’s increasingly dangerous behavior strains credulity. I’ll go so far as to grant you that she still wouldn’t talk to Rick about it given the behavior’s origin — even though he’s supposed to be this super-kindhearted and level-headed awesome guy who would surely understand the situation if not be thrilled about it, and even though they’ve got some for god’s sake bigger fish to fry what with the zombie apocalypse and all. But couldn’t she confide in her friends Andrea and Abused Wife? Couldn’t she ask Dale or Glen or (sigh) T-Dawg to keep an eye out? Or even Daryl, who for all his faults I’m sure would enjoy white-knighting for Lori as an excuse to act macho and fight the power? I’m just not buying that she’s so racked by guilt at having had a loving relationship with a close family friend after the apparent death of her husband during an event that completely destroyed human society that she’d stay mum once the guy started trying to rape her.
* Curt Purcell really disliked the finale Best of all he’s now directly comparing it to the Battlestar Galactica remake, which he’s just now starting to watch — one of my favorite series of all time and a pretty solid apples-to-apples comparison. And now I get to look forward to his BSG reviews!
* Speaking of solid points of comparison, Sean P. Belcher’s review pits the show against True Blood, and the vampire campfest comes out on top.
True Blood, the closest thing to a ‘true’ horror television show currently on the air besides this one, gleefully Jumps The Shark at least once every fifteen minutes or so, but there it feels completely natural – that’s the kind of show it’s been since its first episode. In contrast, The Walking Dead takes itself far more seriously but somehow manages to come across more trivial than True Blood by virtue of how tentative and distracted it seems. Both shows veer wildly in tone from scene to scene, but the key difference is one does so by design and the other through clumsiness. To make matters worse, for fans of horror films, trudging through the swamp of clichés can be frustrating, particularly when they’re mixed in with derisory writing and nondescript direction.
True Blood is many things; boring isn’t one of them.
* The entire season comes down to whether a guest star is moved by one of Rick’s speeches. Fundamentally it’s just a big miscalculation to make the climactic episode’s emotional lynchpin a conversation with a character we really don’t know and don’t care about. That’s a Matrix-sequel-level flub, a really basic error in storytelling. And even though much of the rest of what went on in the CDC was pleasantly handled — I particularly liked the pseudoscience’s presentation as a planetarium light show, an enjoyably weird way to approach that if you had to approach it at all — it’s impossible to get around wrapping up the first season with a conflict that didn’t tie into any of the conflicts or relationships established in any other episode. It’s like if the season had ended after Rick and company’s confrontation with the nursing home locos.
* And thus the Walking Dead two-step continues. For every believable, well-played moment, like Rick getting in the shower with Lori at the first available opportunity, there’s something dopey or hackneyed, like cutting immediately to Shane alone in the shower drinking straight from the bottle. The show had five episodes to shake itself out of the “for every torso zombie, there is an equal and opposite Wang Chung music cue” strikes-and-gutters pattern it established in the pilot and failed. So that’s The Walking Dead: The TV Show, it’s safe to say.
* Wow, last week’s “next week on The Walking Dead” sneak preview was one of the falsest false-advertising previews I’ve ever seen. They made it look like the doctor poisoned Andrea! Sheesh.
* I feel like this episode had the highest percentage of good-to-strong material yet. Jim’s departure was well staged, right down to Daryl’s unexpected nod of the head. The approach to the CDC was good and creepy, and I appreciated how minimal actual zombie shots were in it — they were more menacing because they were treated as an inevitability, rather than a clear and present danger. Shane’s near-snap may have been played a bit heavily, but the way he got all huffy-puffy was weird enough for that not to matter. And I was particularly struck by Amy’s resurrection, which was, of all things, sensual and beautiful. I don’t think I’ve ever seen zombie fiction treat coming back in that way and I’d love to see more curveballs of that sort.
* But this episode was also a clear illustration of why I probably shouldn’t expect them. Of course Daryl’s the guy who says “I say we kill him now and shoot the dead girl in the head while we’re at it.” Of course the abused wife can’t stop once she starts hitting her dead husband in the head with a pickaxe. Of course we have someone who can’t let go of their dead loved one (cf. Romero’s Dawn of the Dead) and someone else whose inevitable death we have to deal with sooner or later while debating whether we do things like that or not (cf. Zack Snyder’s Dawn of the Dead). Of course the CDC couldn’t stop it, there’s only one guy left there, he’s breaking down, and the grounds are littered with dead soldiers. I mean, I read The Stand too. And of course when the door finally opens up, everyone’s silhouetted in enough white light to recreate that Golden Girls episode where Sophia goes to Heaven but Sal tells her it’s not her time.
* Point is, if there’s a zombie/post-apocalyptic trope or cliché, they’ll hit it, as hard and as dead-center as they can. If they have time to do some stuff differently, great, but it’s not where their bread is buttered. I don’t know if this is due to a lack of imagination on their part, or one of ambition. That is, are the filmmakers just kind of pedestrian, or do they not trust the audience enough to get up the gumption zig where they’re expected to zag? I was glad to see that Curt Purcell used similar terms to talk about the show’s decision to address the pseudo-science behind the outbreak, something the comic has hardly ever done — in fact, Robert Kirkman has said he will never reveal the origin of the plague. The last thing The Walking Dead wants to do is risk alienating the audience with mystery like Lost or Battlestar Galactica did.
* Fortunately, I’m not too disappointed at this point. I said I was going to do this last week, and sure enough, I seem really to have recalibrated my expectations so that The Walking Dead is for me what The Vampire Diaries is for my wife, say. I went into tonight’s episode thinking “Oh boy, I can’t wait to see some good zombie attacks” — not much more or much less than that. I am at least enjoying the show on that level. When the “more” comes along, great! When the “less” comes along, oh well, it’s only The Walking Dead.
* Prophetic dream, tough guys with hearts of gold, character doesn’t live to receive birthday gift from other character, least sympathetic and most sympathetic characters bite it first, racists are always vocally racist even in extreme danger when they’re relying on someone of another race, et cetera. No one’s reinventing the wheel here, is what I’m saying.
* That said, fun episode. The CGI blood remains really lackluster, given what Tom Savini did with a wing and a prayer three and a half decades ago, but it’s still always fun to see people get eaten and blown to smithereens in an emotionally resonant fashion. I actually think Jim’s stint as a captive was well-written, well-acted, and well-shot, maybe the first time since the pilot that the show hit the hat trick. And to the show’s credit I didn’t see Amy’s death coming, despite all the birthday rigamarole (and despite having read the comic!).
* I guess what I’m going to do is watch the show like I would a much more self-serious, less sexy Vampire Diaries. It hits some genre buttons I like having hit, and maybe once in a while I’ll get lucky and it’ll do more than that, but that’ll just have to be a pleasant surprise. The Walking Dead: good enough!
* I wonder what the Vegas oddsmakers are laying on “Merle is the Governor” now, god help us all.
* Much, much better this time around! I mean, seriously, that opening scene with Michael Rooker was almost like it was crafted as a way to say to that terrible character’s many many detractors “On the other hand…” (Yikes, no pun intended!) It put you right there with someone buckling and breaking under the weight of what zombies hath wrought, which is where you want your zombie fiction to put you.
* Similarly, while I understand Sean B.’s reservations about Ed the Wife Beater, I feel like he too was a case study in how to do things done wrong in Episode 2 better here. Sure, his stampede toward misogynistic epithets at the drop of a hat was a bit much, but at least he didn’t do it three or four sentences into his introduction, which is about how long Merle lasted last week before dropping the n-bomb. Instead, we meet him in the throes of a sullen little you’re-not-the-boss-of-me bout of passive aggression around the campfire the night before. Al Swearengen he ain’t, but nor is he Episode 2′s Merle Dixon.
* And I’m with Curt on how much more effective the zombies themselves were in this episode.
* There was also some welcome zagging where I expected things to zig. Lori’s brutally abrupt cut-off of Shane from her and Carl, and the apparent revelation that Shane told her Rick was dead in no uncertain terms–I didn’t see either coming, whereas turning what was (if I recall correctly) an ill-advised one-time thing in the comic into a full blown love affair in the show was more or less where you’d expect the adaptation to deviate if deviate it must. It helped that actor Jon Bernthal gave his all this week, believably portraying an equilibrium-upending emotional swirl of relief that his best friend and partner survived, joy that the woman and child he’s come to care about are reunited with the husband and father they love, guilt over what he’d said and done in Rick’s absence, jealousy of his relationship with Lori, fear that he’ll get found out, regret that he’s lost his ersatz “son,” and on and on.
* The “Hattie McDaniel work” bit was nice, and again, welcome. A smart show could return to the reestablishment of traditional gender roles often and weightily. We’ll see if that’s what we’ve got.
* Merle’s brother name is Daryl? Does he have another brother named Daryl too? Good gravy. Norman Reedus did a pretty good job, though–not unnecessarily belligerent, which is what I was worried about.
* I love Bear McCreary, but the music cues hit things a little hard, I thought. And knocked off 28…Later a bit too heavily too toward the end.
* If, goddess forbid, Christopher Lee dies before he can finish his role as Saruman in The Hobbit, have Jeffrey DeMunn grow his beard out and drop his voice a few octaves and blammo, instant White Wizard.
* I’d been dismissive of the idea that Merle would end up being the TV show’s version of the Governor at some point, but him losing his hand makes me worry, given all that easy eye-for-an-eye (so to speak) potential.
* In a way, I think that this series is a mug’s game. No no, bear with me, I’m not writing it off. It’s just that–well, okay, before it aired the show had three things going for it. 1) It’s based on the most successful, widely acclaimed, and influential horror comic of the past decade, and probably of a few decades before that; 2) It’s on the network that airs Mad Men and Breaking Bad, the two of most widely acclaimed television dramas currently on the air; 3) Less directly but still importantly, it bore the promise of being to its genre what The Sopranos was to post-Coppola/Scorsese mafia dramas, what The Wire was to police procedurals, and what Deadwood was to the Western–an incisive take on a shopworn drama that succeeds partially through genre revisionism, partially through intelligent application of genre, partially through a singular creative vision on the part of its creators, and partially through its ability to use the serial mechanisms of television drama to tell its story and explore its characters in themes at ruminative length.
But here’s the thing about point #3: Length and serialization aside, isn’t that stuff basically true of all the great zombie movies? I mean, the very first canonical zombie movie was itself an act of genre revisionism. George A. Romero’s Night of the Living Dead stripped zombies of their voodoo/hypnosis origin, added the cannibalism, made them an apocalyptic event, used them to light a fire under pressure-cooker human drama, and injected a healthy dose of social commentary into the proceedings. Dawn of the Dead, Day of the Dead, Land of the Dead, the Dawn of the Dead remake, 28 Days Later, 28 Weeks Later, even Shaun of the Dead–these all already basically do what you’d want “The Sopranos of zombies” to do. I can think of very very few potentially canonical zombie movies that are simply “zombies run amok amongst basically flat characters, and you like it anyway because the zombie shit is so rad”–Zombi 2, perhaps? Return of the Living Dead, which I haven’t seen and which is probably not a good example because it’s a comedy? So anyway, barring some truly spectacular filmmaking, The Walking Dead suffers from a duplication of services problem with all the zombie material its audience is likely to have seen. After tonight’s episode I’m reasonably sure I’ll see it through to the end of its very short first season, because after all I feel warmly disposed toward zombie stuff, and this seems to be reasonably to quite well done zombie stuff. But it’s probably never going to be an hour of peak-level Romero- or Boyle-type material every week.