22
Nov
2010
The Walking Dead: Season 1, Episode 4
Vatos
Jordan
There is no doubt about it, The Walking Dead's biggest problem is the two masters it is serving. On the one hand, people who have become accustomed to a certain level of depth and quality to their AMC programming, through Madd Men, Breaking Bad and to a much lesser extent Rubicon are watching the show expecting a more meditative, complex, and deeply wrought version of the standard zombie storylines. On the other are the zombie people who come to the show (probably in much larger numbers than the former group) possibly entirely unaware of AMC's track record and just looking for week-to-week thrills and gore. Personally, I fall more into the former camp than the latter, but I understand that the show will always have to deal with those who are around just to watch zombies get slaughtered. The Sopranos often drew complaints from people who thought there should be more wacking, and a similar contingency will likely be clamoring for more gore if the show goes too philosophical for too long. Personally, the more introspective The Sopranos got, the happier I was, and the same will be true of The Walking Dead, I'm sure. I hope that in the long run, the show leans less on zombie violence and more on thought-provoking ethical conundrums, but for now I understand the need for balance, and I think the show has done a pretty solid job of doing that so far.

This week's episode opens with a subtly heart-warming discussion between Andrea and Amy as they compare notes about their father's fishing style. At first they think that they're memories are failing them, but they soon come to realize that their dad knew the differences between them and accommodated them both as best he could. What starts as a nice moment between two characters quickly becomes a quietly tragic contemplation of the pain of outliving those you love and the marks that parents indelibly leave on their children. I should have seen this as foreshadowing of what was to come, but the scene was so tranquil, I failed to notice it as the calm before the storm. Jim, meanwhile was a few steps ahead of me, having apparently dreamed of a zombie attack and spending the day digging graves in a nearby field, refusing to stop for anyone until Shane broke out his trusty violent tendencies and subdued Jim. I like how the show plays Shane so far as a man who truly wants to do good for everyone around him but is discovering the most efficient way to do that is to rule like a dictator, through violence and fear. Shane may be corrupted by the power he wields, and he may stop using violence for the greater good, but at the moment he is a kind, contemplative man of action with a dark side brewing under the surface. I'm excited to see where this internal conflict takes him. Jim was also deepened in a fascinating way tonight, with the discovery that his wife and children were eaten in front of him, and he only escaped because the zombies were to busy eating his family to notice him.

In Atlanta, Rick, Daryl, Short Round, and T-Dog search for Merle and get into a conflict with another group of survivors, who kidnap Short Round to extort the guns out of the group. What begins as a showdown between a ruthless "gang leader" in Guillermo quickly gains added depth after it is revealed that Guillermo and Felipe, his right hand man, were staff at a hospital who stayed behind after everyone else fled the city to assist the elderly who couldn't make it out. Even better, while Felipe is a nurse, Guillermo was only a janitor before the zombie apocalypse began. This was a nice way to give depth to a storyline that would otherwise have been pretty straightforward "people are assholes" schtick. While The Walking Dead seems perfectly willing to show us that in a post-apocalyptic world, people are the real enemy, not zombies, I appreciated the color that was added to Guillermo's character with the revelation that he is not a cold gang leader, but rather a janitor trying his best to help people in need. Not everyone on this show is a hero, but its nice to know that not everyone is an obvious villain either. The scene was played out in almost eye-rolling fashion, especially in Guillermo's dialogue, but the heart was in the right place, and for now that's enough for me.

As the episode ends, the Atlanta group has rushed back to camp on foot, thinking that Merle was driving back to get some revenge, only to discover a zombie horde attacking their peaceful camp. The night fight scene was incredibly well executed and should have made any of the "watching only for the gore" group pretty happy. Yet it also packed the emotional punch that this show does best, taking Amy on the eve of her birthday, and leaving Andrea crying over the loved one she has now lost, hearkening back to the beginning of the episode.

In all, this episode is definitely a step down from last week's. While I appreciated the shading on the Vatos, I still think their plotline was a bit sappy, and ultimately felt like a stall rather than a necessary cog in this season's story arc. The opening and closing scenes were incredibly strong, though, and there was enough thoughtfulness, and yes, action in between them to call "Vatos" a solid, if not stellar, installment of The Walking Dead.

Grade: B

Notes:

-While seeing Amy go was sad, I was actually relieved to watch Ed be devoured by a zombie. One asshole down.

-"Guess the world changed." "No. Its the same as it ever was. The weak get taken."

-"How long do you think they got?" "How long do any of us?"

-"I give this to you not so you can remember time, but so you can forget it, and not waste your every breath trying to conquer it."
Tags: The Walking Dead
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