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Who Wants to Talk about The Walking Dead?

By now you’ve had ample time to catch up on this series, including the newest episode which aired on Sunday night. This isn’t going to be a recap (Slay Belle already did a better job than I could); it’s just some musings about the show thus far, and I’m going to assume you’ve watched all three episodes. Let this serve as your stern warning that this post is going to be spoilerier than the spoilingest spoilers you’ve ever read.

So, full disclosure: I spent the greater part of the premiere episode cowering under a blankie. I spent the greater part of that blankie-time with my fingers in my ears. It quite simply scared the shit out of me. Also, it aired on Halloween and the hubz and I had turned on a lot of lights to make our house more inviting to trick-or-treaters (and zombies). The pants-shittingest moments of that episode were: the cafeteria door, the dark emergency hospital stairs, and Jesus tap-dancing Christ, the Zombie Mom trying to get in the house. (Yeah, the little girl was creepy, but she was in the trailer.)

The second episode was doomed to suffer by comparison. Everyone loves the beginning of zombie movies because it’s so scary/cool to see the abandoned, ruined world. Also, they set up a cool, relatable protagonist in Rick and a touching father/son duo in the premiere, so the obnoxious band of survivors in the department store were instantly annoying. It also seemed like the pace of exposition was about triple that of the premiere (which, admittedly, had had the luxury of 90 minutes to spend on its story). I know I wasn’t alone in hating and not really understanding the big showdown on the roof between the cartoonish “racist redneck” and “angry black guy,” although the third episode helped answer some questions (like why they were hanging around/dealing with “racist redneck” in the first place).

The ending of episode two was sufficiently horrifying (for once not in the urgent OMGZOMBIES! way), and led nicely into the third episode. This time around we had a lot of ground to cover; so much, in fact, that the family reunion that was ostensibly Rick’s entire purpose for living (as exposited in one of his Big Speeches in episode two) took up only a few minutes of screen time. Frankly, I was relieved. I like Rick but I find his family drama pretty boring. (Except! Did you notice the fearful look that flashed on Rick’s wife’s face after he assured him they’re son wouldn’t be woken by their boning? Loved it.)

We find out Racist Redneck (OK”¦his name is Merle) has a brother (Daryl) who, while also drawn as broadly redneck-y, isn’t a bad guy. I mean, I think you’re not supposed to like him, but everything he did in that episode was understandable or at least justifiable. He’d been out alone for more than a day expending energy and risking his life in order to hunt for the group, and he’s pissed to find out the deer is ruined. So he shoots the decapitated zombie head with a crossbow. (Like you do.) Then, his brother, who is probably the only person he loves that he hasn’t lost, has met a hideous fate due in part to the group’s negligence.

Seeing how the episode ended, I can already tell where this arc is going: Merle is alive, but has been driven mad by his experience on the roof and has vowed revenge against the others. Finding him alive and uninfected will force the rest of the survivors confront their ideas of what makes one human. Also, mark my words: Daryl will have to kill Merle. (Please note I’ve not read a word of the comics.)

I do like the fact that both Rick and Shane are cops and, when they’re not blinded with rage, they behave like cops. This was present in previous episodes but was more obvious on Sunday: Shane had taken a leadership role within the survivor group, the two of them together did a great job of subduing Daryl, and Rick knew how to organize the group to raid the department store during the attempt to rescue Merle.

My only problem with the show at this point is that it just feels a notch or two down in the complexity scale than it could be. Yes, I know it’s a zombie show, and I know its source material is solid but not necessarily admired for its nuanced characters. But it has a pretty good pedigree, both due to its creative team and the network that’s airing it. The Walking Dead is completely devoid of camp, which is the audience’s signal that the material is supposed to be taken seriously.

I think that’s why the weakest points for me have been the occasionally cringe-worthy dialogue and the poorly developed characters. Yes, it comes from a comic book. But they made it into a TV show, and had the opportunity to draw something out of these characters that may have only been hinted at in the source material. I just don’t see why there have to be so many volatile southern men on this show: racist redneck, wife-beating misogynist, friend’s wife-stealer, and even Daryl, who may not be bad but is a bit of a loose cannon. I’m interested to see how all of the characters progress, but so far the secondary characters as a group are the show’s only weak points for me.

Well, I guess that’s it for now. There are only a few episodes left in this season, but AMC’s already renewed it for a second so I’m really looking forward to where the show will take us. I’ll have my blankie ready.


2 replies on “Who Wants to Talk about The Walking Dead?”

I’m pretty convinced that the only reason Daryl came across as well as he did — clearly we both liked him — is because he’s one of the better actors of the bunch. A good actor can make weak writing shine.

I had a much longer piece on the archetypes that the show is using that I ended up cutting out of the recap for length, but I think it boils down to this: we’d like to think that in an emergency, people are at their bests. They’re able to put aside all their prejudices and pull together. We’ll like everyone that survives because they’re good people. Except life isn’t like that. Assholes survive. We don’t magically stop being wife beaters or racists or nags because there are things out there that want to eat us.

I can get behind them if this is where the show is going. Otherwise, it’s just damn lazy writing.

Excellent point (and BTW, I just looked him up, and that actor was in Boondock Saints! Impressive). And I’m totally fine with not liking every character, but there’s a good way to play a “Bad Character” and so far not everyone has stepped up to the plate.

It kind of reminds me of Zombieland in that sense; even though the tone is different, that movie kind of addressed the fact that the people who survive such things are either really asocial (Eisenberg) or totally ruthless (everyone else).

Our protagonist, whom I agree is a little too “Heroic! Hero!”, didn’t really have to come into his own because as a cop, he was already doing a lot of these Heroic! things. I will (hopefully) be interesting to watch some of the less-perfect characters as they progress. I really believe Daryl is going to end up being good.

In conclusion, yay zombies!

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