Category Archives: recaps/The Walking Dead

The Walking Dead, “Wildfire”: I’m okay!

I spent years working as a substitute teacher, then as a teacher, then as that creepy guy who kept showing up to high school football games, so if there’s one thing I know, it’s high school kids. And I’ve seen my share of kids freak out, start crying, or cuss someone out, because mister, I just can’t deal with this mess today. It’s stupid and I have about zero patience for it, so when Andrea sticks her gun in Rick’s face because he had the audacity to tell her that her dead sister is about to turn into an effing zombie, and they need to put a bullet in her head quick, I found myself grinding my teeth.

But everyone backs off, because hey, she’ll do it! And eventually Amy opens her eyes, takes a few ragged, shallow breaths and begins grasping for Andrea’s BRRAAAAAINNNSSS!1! Andrea says her goodbye’s, cradles her baby sister’s head in her arms, then proceeds to blow it off. Good thing she was wearing protective gear, shooting that Desert Eagle or whatever the hell it was off six inches from her own head.

Like the zombie attack in the episode before it, “Wildfire” was able to get rid of a few useless characters, chief among them the Mexican stereotype and his family. I believe his character was listed as Juan Sanchez-Gomez on IMDB. Of course, the big revelation was that Jim got bit in the attack, and doesn’t have much longer himself. Now, him I will miss. Because one, Andrew Rothenberg is a good actor, and two, I felt Jim actually brought something to the group. His heat stroke induced grave digging, his mindless, “I’m okay. I’m okay. I’m okay.” Every group like this needs at least one crazy person around. But it looks like we’ll have to turn to Shane for that, at least for the foreseeable future. That look on his face as he tracks Rick down the barrel of his shotgun was truly maniacal.

At this point it’s obvious that the Shane/Rick blowout isn’t going to play the same as it did in the comic. It’s a pretty big card to play so I can understand why TPTB would want to hold off on it, but I feel like the story needs to take a bigger leap than it has so far. That may be me fooling myself into thinking ‘The Walking Dead’ is a show that it really isn’t. This is a character drama, but the zombies and blood and guts have me treating it like a genre piece. I may half expect the Smoke Monster to fly out of the woods and kill all the zombies before they can hurt any of the survivors, but it just isn’t gonna happen.

After some tearful goodbyes, everyone jumps in their cars and takes off for the CDC in Atlanta in a nice little driving montage with some great scoring by BSG-alum Bear McCreary. When Jim gets worse, he asks Rick and Shane to be left on the side of the road. His thinking is that, once he becomes a zombie, he’ll be able to be with his family again. I understand that people in zombie movies have never seen zombie movies themselves, but man, Jim’s just an idiot. I know that Jim doesn’t really think he’ll be rejoining his wife and kids, but who would want that for themselves? What sort of weird fulfillment would it bring? My wife and I have already pinky-sworn to kill each other in the event one of us is ever bitten by a zombie, and waste no time getting freaky with the other’s attractive best friends. Double tap. Get freaky. That’s the plan. None of this quasi-spiritual BS about being reunited after being bitten ourselves. That stuff’s for the birds. And by that, I mean the Hitchcock movie.

So Noah Emmerich is the last man in any sort of official capacity who may know what’s going on with things. When Rick and the gang start asking questions about what’s happened, I bet he pops up with some brews and starts talking about high school, just to make sure they don’t notice all the cameras filming them, or how none of them have actually ever left the city. It’s always more realisitic to have characters in these sorts of situations seek out answers when some seriously crazy stuff is going down. We all remember how frustrating things got on ‘Lost,’ when everyone was stuck on this island with Others and polar bears and French women and didn’t really seem to care what it all meant. But, this could also be a serious misstep for the show. Introducing this sort of authority into a show with genre elements (even if the show isn’t necessarily genre itself) is almost always never good. And if they were ever to introduce the president, I think I might tune out entirely just on general principle. We’ll see what secrets are revealed in the finale.

A stunning, sometimes disappointing first season. And it’s all been building toward, what, we’re not really sure. But we can definitely say that we’re going to find out. Yep. We suuure are.

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The Walking Dead, “Vatos”: I’m glad that’s over.

I think most will agree that it’s a good thing ‘The Walking Dead’ is taking departures from the comic. It keeps things fresh and exciting, and keeps the fans guessing what’s coming next. So let’s see those new characters. And let’s see that horde of zombies bring God’s swift judgment upon their heads, because man, were they annoying. I mean, I can’t be the only one who thought the last ten minutes of the episode were the best part, can I?

Four episodes in, and I’m still waiting for the show to click. It’s doing so many things well that it hurts that much more when it does things wrong. “Vatos” touched on several ideas that felt like they sounded great in the writers room, but came out half-baked. Let’s take a look. ISSUE THE FIRST: The Mexican gang. These guys would have worked so much better had they been either a straight up gang or just a group of nurses, doing good, helping the sick and afflicted. There’s a really interesting idea that was touched on in “Dirty Hands,” an episode of ‘Battlestar Galactica’s’ third season. And that was, in a post-apocalyptic society, when the job you’re given is usually where your skills are strongest and where you’re needed the most, do you really have any freedom to move around, to eventually do something different? On BSG, you could see these people doing a certain job year after year, and got the sense that their descendants, years and years later, would be doing the exact same thing. On ‘The Walking Dead,’ I thought it would have been much more interesting to see the foundation being laid down for some sort of Canticle-of-Leibowitzesque guild of healers. All the guns and tough talk kind of ruined that.

If, on the other hand, they hadn’t been nurses, but just a group of Crips, it would have brought up questions of how different groups of survivors are beginning to govern themselves. Questions that the comic has raised already, and I imagine the show will eventually. Speaking of the gang, how much cooler would things have been if the leader was played by Ludacris? I imagine it would have gone something like this…

Rick: We came to get our man back.

Luda: I be that ni**a named Luda, A.K.A. L-O-V-A L-O-V-A, f**k that s**t, ni**a what you wan say one time, Southside let’s ride. And if you love what you do, do what you feel. Then I know you gonna mark my words. Y’all drop s**t like birds. Then it’s about the time for yo ass to get served. Just lay it on down. Just lay it on down, while we relax to the tight raps and the phat tracks that that ni**a Timbaland put down.

He was great in Crash. No reason he couldn’t work the same magic here. Anyway. ISSUE THE SECOND. I understand Rick is a tough guy who needs to show his mettle in front of the gang, but can we please stay away from these gruff platitudes about having blood on your hands? Who talks like that? I guess it should also be noted that “Vatos” was written by Robert Kirkman, the creator of the comic. Taking that into account, I feel like the episode would have worked much better in that format. At least it would have given Kirkman a reason to parse down some of the dialogue. It would have made things a lot tighter.

ISSUE THE THIRD. Jim’s “Aha!” moment at the end of the episode. That’s why he was digging all those holes; to bury all the dead people! This one is kind of a cop-out on my part, because I don’t have a really good excuse for why I took issue with it. It just seemed like the show was trying to be a little edgy and ended up falling flat. It’s like in ‘Boardwalk Empire,’ where every character has found an excuse to flip through a popular book that’s somehow thematically tied to the episode. After the fifth or sixth time, it was just like, alright already, we get it. So anyway, there’s that.

It wasn’t all bad, though. One thing the episode did unquestionably well: Killing off half of the survivors. It was necessary. Eventually the group is going to have to move on, and I don’t think it would have served the show very well to keep such a large group around. Although, on the other hand, there was always a pretty big group in ‘Lost.’ You just had a lot of background players who never had any lines. They just hung out, surfed and cooked ribs while Jack, Kate and Sawyer ran around the island, carrying out all their clandestine BS. Although here it seems that everyone is getting their own time to shine. The downside to that being, when a character doesn’t click, or feels like they’re falling a little flat, it’s that much more noticeable, stacked up against the other characters. Case in point, the Mexican guy and his family. After he compared Dale to a village priest, I knew it was time for him to go.

I really feel like the show is almost there. And I’m wondering if, with only a 6-episode first season, it’ll pull a ‘Parks & Recreation’ and really come together when it returns next year. We’ll have to see. We just found out today that Frank Darabont fired the show’s entire writing staff, so who knows how that will affect things next season. We’ll be waiting with baited breath, I’m sure. That, or ‘The Event’ will get really good and we’ll all start watching that instead.

The Walking Dead, “Tell It to the Frogs”: I gotta process this.

I’ll be honest. The show had me a little scared this week. When the first half of the episode so heavily featured Rick Grimes and The Background Players, I was worried we were in for as big a bummer as we got last week. Fortunately, that was not the case, and we got a taste of how good ‘The Walking Dead’ can actually be.

Miracle of miracles, Rick’s alive! And while it’s great because, hey, it’s Rick, and he’s alive, it sucks because it’s seriously going to turn out the lights on Lori and Shane throwing down and having sex in the middle of the woods. And while you might expect Lori to still struggle with her feelings for Shane despite the fact that her husband’s just returned from the dead, she’s having an easier time of it because, before leaving for Atlanta, Shane told her and Carl that Rick was dead. Now, I can understand Shane wanting to sleep with his best friend’s attractive wife. As a man, I can say unequivocally and without doubt that all men do nothing but think about bedding their friends’ wives, but telling Lori that Rick was dead? That’s pretty low, and feeds in to my theory that Shane isn’t just a man being led around by his circumstances. He’s using the end of the world to live out some crazy messianic delusion of his. He takes his best friend’s wife and is already raising his son, and he’s set himself up as the de facto leader of the survivors. He may not be the big boss, but people certainly acquiesce to him.

So Lori tells Shane that she wants nothing to do with him. No more talking to her. No more talking to Carl. Nothing. That’s the price he’ll pay for lying about Rick. Harsh words for any man to hear, but Shane’s in a unique position to blow off a little steam, and does so by beating the ever-loving hell out of Ed, the redneck, wife-beating a**hole who, come on, really had it coming. And it was here, friends, that we saw exactly what this show is about. The world’s gone to hell, and our heroes can try and set up a small oasis amidst all that chaos, hunt deer, wash their clothes in the lake and talk about how much they miss their vibrators, but none of it matters. As Doc Brown might say, they’re not thinking fourth-dimensionally. The walker (why the do people in zombie movies act like they’ve never heard of zombies?) they found in the woods won’t be the first they’ll encounter. There will always be more, and just keeping one step ahead of them will be a constant struggle. The question is, how do you keep your head, your humanity, in the middle of all that? Shane will probably face no consequences for what he did to Ed, and when that’s the world you live in, what’s to keep you from beating up the next Ed, or the one after that? Getting in the middle of all that is a little disturbing, and I was glad to see the show go there so early in its run.

Speaking of Ed, I thought it was a great idea to add a character like him into the mix. With these sorts of things, you usually see everyone pitching in and helping each other, and Ed is just not that person. He’s lazy and he hits his wife, and at the end of the world, he’s happy to be lazy and hit his wife. There may be something a little Sun-and-Jin about their relationship, but it’s interesting to see how the rest of the group reacts to him, and how that’ll play out going forward. I would say that it’d also be interesting to see how much his wife and daughter develop as they come out from under his thumb, but after all of her wailing and gnashing of teeth after Shane tussled him up, I’m hesitant as to whether or not that’ll happen at all.

And speaking of disturbing, Shane’s tussle wasn’t the only thing we got this week. Rick, after a sudden attack of conscience, has taken Short Round and some others back into Atlanta to rescue Merle, who was left handcuffed on top of a building at the end of last week’s episode. Merle’s delirious, probably suffering from heat exhaustion, and zombie literally knocking down his door. And what does he do to get away from them? He saws his own hand off. Once Rick and the others got on the roof and the music started playing, you could see what was coming, but it really was a great reveal, and was truly disturbing. And while Merle’s hand was there, Merle himself was nowhere to be found. Spooky, right?

A rocky start, but “Frogs” really pulled it out in the end and showed us what the show can do. The season’s breezing by, which is unsurprising considering it’s only six episodes long. For those of you who were wondering, the show’s been renewed for a second season. Unsurprising, given the numbers it’s pulling in for AMC. So, six episodes to whet out whistles and then a long break. But the show will be back. And I have a feeling it’ll be sometime around Halloween. If I were a betting man, I might even place a bet on it.

The Walking Dead, “Guts”: D-d-d-do you have it?

Remember last week when I talked about your typical zombie story, with your typical group of survivors doing typical things? Well, the show gave us about as typical an episode as you can get this week, with Rick hooking up with a small group of survivors trying to get out of Atlanta. This is one of those instances in which the show strays from the comic book. In the comic, Rick meets up with Glenn and it’s the two of them who escape the city. Here, we were introduced to the blandest group of survivors imaginable who didn’t seem to have much purpose beyond being ethnic, cowering in front of the racist guy, and dropping little bits of knowledge to advance the story here and there. All in all, it was not great.

Well, I’m being too harsh. Overall, the episode wasn’t great, but there were great bits sprinkled throughout. One of those moments can be seen above, in which Rick and Glenn smother themselves in zombie guts in an elaborate attempt to hijack a moving truck. It’s beats like these in which I feel the show is treading some new ground, showing us things we’ve never seen before in a story like this. Other times, not so much. Case in point, the aforementioned group of stereotypes. If I were Rick and Glenn, I would have hijacked the moving truck and peeled out of there. What was so great about the pilot was the eerie quiet, the sense of desolation. I think a lot of this could still have been preserved with the hordes of zombies and even Glenn around, but with these other jokers there’s just no chance.

Another bit that rubbed me the wrong way, and that I’m having trouble finding an eloquent way to fit into this review: Before Rick and co. can get down and dirty with this guy they’re going to chop up, Rick pulls out the guy’s wallet and says a few words about him. I understand that the “walking dead” in the title refer more to the survivors than it does the zombies, and when all is said and done these characters may be in very, very bad places, so the writers need to show the gradual declination of their humanity, but still, can we get rid of trite stuff like this and just chop the guy’s head off? I’m sure there are better ways to show the audience Rick’s humanity, and none of them involve him saying, “Don’t kill the living!”

Back at the survivor camp, the writers are really trying to impress on us that SHANE IS SLEEPING WITH LORI. And for those of you who don’t understand the importance of this, Lori is Rick’s wife. And when Rick comes back, he will like finding out that his friend and ex-partner has been keeping his side of the bed warm none too much. Give us some credit. We don’t need EVERYTHING spelled out for us. I like Shane this week about as much as I did last week, which is to say not much at all. I think the real fireworks are going to begin in the next episode, when Shane sees his leadership role in the group threatened by Rick. That’ll be some good stuff (foreknowledge!).

I know I just spent most of the review hating on this episode, but my feelings toward the show aren’t that bad and certainly not pessimistic. I think the show has the potential to be truly great and a more-than-worthy addition to AMC’s lineup, but like so many shows before it, it’s got to find its way. I’m just hoping that way doesn’t tread too much through stock characters and trite platitudes about humanity.

Things that Happened In the Episode that Don’t Happen In Real Life:

  • People don’t call rainstorms cloudbursts.
  • People don’t slap handcuffs on some piece of white trash, then walk ten feet away to gaze into the distance and collect their thoughts.
  • Big black guys with backwards Kangol caps don’t go down that easy.
  • People don’t wait that long to step in when the aforementioned white trash is beating up on the aforementioned black guy.

The Walking Dead, “Days Gone Bye”: Where’s my horse?

How many different zombie stories are there really? Five or six? And those are all pretty repetitive. Every now and then, one will come along and put a different spin on things, but for the most part it’s the same old thing. Zombie apocalypse. Survivors come together. Some die. Some don’t die. Roll credits. Wash. Rinse. Repeat.

After careful and thoughtful study, I’ve come to the conclusion that I don’t care. I don’t care if I’m watching the same movie in slightly different packaging. I love them. There’s something about that story that keeps me coming back every single time. I’m not sure if it’s the people from different walks of life coming together, the visions the story conjures up of society crumbling before our eyes, or all the zombies being shot in the head. It’s probably that last one. Because I’m young, and guns make me feel like a big man.

So you can imagine my excitement when I heard that AMC had picked up ‘The Walking Dead’ as their fourth scripted television series. First, it’s got zombies, which we’ve already talked about. And second, it’s AMC, who’s really become the go-to place for good television these days (HBO’s making a comeback, but that’s a different story). If anyone was going to do a story like this justice, it would be them.

And I was not disappointed. The pilot episode was written and directed by Frank Darabont, of Shawshank Redemption and Green Mile fame, and his work on the big screen has really made for an amazing looking TV show. And while we can thank Darabont’s vision for that, we also have to give the network its due for pulling out all the stops with this thing. I mean, everything here looks gorgeous. The sets, the makeup. There are a few effects shots that mix in with the action pretty seamlessly. I really don’t want to think about what a show like this costs to produce, not to mention market, which AMC also did a great job with. And it all looks to have paid off. The pilot drew in more than five million viewers (more than the Mad Men finale! (I think I’m the first person to say that)), making it the most watched premiere in AMC’s history. So myself and everyone else who pays attention to these things is just waiting for a second season pickup.

My biggest concern with making a show about zombies is what it chooses to focus on. With a movie, you’ve got about an hour and a half and you’re out, so you don’t really get a chance to delve into all those nice character beats we love so much. Obviously, you’ve got more time in a TV series, so it’s really got to be character driven. Of course, we want the zombies, the frantic running, the headshots, the kill shots, the whiskey shots (when they’re celebrating after killing the zombies), but you really can’t see this stuff every week. After a while it just grows stale. ‘Friday Night Lights’ couldn’t do a football game every week. And that’s applicable here, too.

Luckily, this doesn’t seem like a problem the show’s going to struggle with. There were parts of the pilot that were surprisingly emotional. One scene, in which protagonist Rick Grimes (played by that dude from Love, Actually) tracks down a zombie he saw after stumbling out of the hospital he woke up in, may have been one of the best sequences of the entire show. That, intercut with Lennie James trying to kill his wife, herself a zombie, really took it a level that I can’t remember seeing in many other shows. If the show continues to strive for that level of emotional involvement, I think we’re all in for a treat.

Of course, it’s still early days, and there’s still a lot about the story the show has yet to introduce. While much of the pilot follows Rick alone on a Castaway-esque journey through this strange, new world, there’s still a group of survivors, including Rick’s wife, son and ex-partner we only caught a small glimpse of. So there’s a lot of character interactions we haven’t seen yet. Readers of the comic will know how things there pan out, and I’m looking forward to seeing how the show handles them.

The show’s ensemble seems like it’s up to the challenge. Andrew Lincoln performed much better than I thought he would, although the verdict is still out on Jon Bernthal, who plays his ex-partner, Shane. He’s a good actor, although I think he may be pushing the southern, good ole’ boy thing a bit too far. And if anything has to be viciously taken down by a pack of zombies, it should be his southern accent. For those of you who love the blood and gore, don’t let all this talk about emotional BS turn you away, because there’s plenty of that here, and in stunning HD, too.

Fun! Amirite? I don’t know exactly what kind of voodoo magic AMC is playing with over there, but I wish I could grind it up and stir it in my Kool-Aid. They really do seem to have another hit on their hands. Which makes me happy and nervous at the same time. Happy because this is truly great television. Nervous because how long can they really keep up their record? The other foot’s got to come down sometime. I’ll wait until they announce ‘Hunger Games’ the TV series before I get too worried, I guess.