28
Nov
2010
The Walking Dead: Season 1, Episode 5
Wildfires
Jordan
Following my discussion last week of the two camps of people who are likely to watch The Walking Dead, I engaged in a further debate with my sometimes co-blogger here, Sam, in which he claimed that as a fan of both zombie entertainment and AMC dramas, he only watched the show as the former mostly because it doesn't meet his requirements for the former. He argued that he didn't care about whether any of the characters lived or died yet, especially because this season is only 6 episodes long and we barely know any of them. Because of this, he said, the show is at its best when there is a lot of zombie violence and less dialogue or drama. If you've been following my coverage of the show so far, it is probably pretty clear that I disagree with this assessment, but the man has some fair points. I think The Walking Dead is a better show than that, and I think that given a bit more time to grow and gain depth, I will really care about every character and what happens to them. The show has its flaws, yes, but I hope that in its forthcoming second season, it will overcome them. That makes judging these episodes in the interim a bit tricky, but that's what I've pledged to do, so here goes.

This week opens with Rick on the walkie talkie trying to communicate with Morgan to tell him to stay away from Atlanta. There's a hint of futility in his voice that I found fairly convincing--he knows how bad things have become, and he really doesn't see a way out. The sanctuary his group has made in the wilderness has been invaded, and people he has come to know (albeit only slightly) are dead all around him. While the men go about destroying the brains of their dead, burning the zombie bodies (but notably burying the bodies of their own dead) and clearly the wreckage, Andrea mourns Amy and refuses to let anyone come near her. Her grief is a little over done, but its convincing, and Dale's speech to her about how much he has come to care for her and for Amy was very moving. Watching Amy come back to life and scrape at Andrea in mindless hunger was very heart-wrenching, as Andrea screamed and put a bullet through the head of her baby sister.

Yet as decently as Amy's reanimation and death was handled, watching Carol beat Ed's head in was a giant, walking cliche. Every time an abusive husband is killed in anything ever, the wife always takes her anger out on the corpse. It may be a realistic reaction and a decent portrayal, but it comes across as false and forced simply because its been done so many times. While Carol and Andrea grieve in their own ways, Jim realizes he has been bitten, and is therefore in the slow, painful process of becoming one of the walkers. The debate over whether to kill Jim is short ("we don't kill the living" seems to be a code that Rick will stick to very strongly), but the question of what to do next is more drawn out. Rick wants to take Jim to the CDC in the (fairly naive) hope of finding a cure, and Shane hopes to get to a military base 125 miles in the other direction.

Shane continues to be possibly the most fascinating character on the show. He is quick to use violence to exert his authority, but seemingly does this because he knows that power must be consolidated or order will fall by the wayside. He believes in practicality over the righteousness that Rick clings to, which often sets them at odds. Rick is quick to hand out guns to those who choose not to accompany of them, and even to offer Jim one when he eventually decides to be left at the side of the road; Shane seems more weary of getting rid of the supply that most closely resembles any kind of currency in this post-apocalyptic world. Most crucially, this week, Shane considers killing Rick in the woods after Rick tells him he does not understand hat its like to have a family to consider. The moment is a tour de force for Jon Bernthal, who excellently portrays Shane's torment as he contemplates murdering his former partner. On the one hand, it would further consolidate power, which is practical. It would also give Shane a chance to be the father figure for Carl and the lover to Lori that he so wants to be. Most interestingly, it shows how quickly Shane has learned to resort to violence in order to solve even his smallest problems. Shane is a man who believes in keeping order even if he does it by breaking the peace, and the question of how far he will go to gain power or control is a fascinating one. The moment when Dale comes upon Shane with a gun trained at Rick is also a fascinating one--Dale clearly knows what he has just seen, and is obviously unsettled by it, yet what can really be done? Shane is the de facto leader of their group (though Rick consistently struggles for that position with him), and he clearly doesn't take kindly to those who question his authority. Dale, at least for now, chooses not to.

The moment when Jim asks to be left by the road, and when everyone says goodbye to him, is truly harrowing, a somewhat beautiful expression of how powerful every life is in a world with very few people left. This is one moment where everyone seems to come into agreement with Rick's fairly die hard view that every human life is sacred; each member of the group appreciates the quiet tragedy of Jim's decision, and realizes what a precious presence will be missing from here on out. Many members of the group had honestly considered killing Jim, yet no one is happy to leave him dying by the side of the road.

I would be remiss if I didn't discuss the awesome, shocking ending of the episode, in which a mostly abandoned CDC is still populated by one dedicated, if cynical, scientist searching for a cure. The man suffers a miserable setback when his best samples are destroyed--a setback so severe he contemplates suicide until he sees a small group of survivors. Rick has something of a breakdown in front of the CDC shutters, screaming "you're killing us!" and hurling himself against the shudders. Its another excellently played scene, and even though the shutters opening to reveal a Close Encounters style white light was a little bit much, the ending of the episode suggested a bold new direction the show could go in for the next several weeks.

This was another very solid episode of The Walking Dead. I do still think of the show as flawed, but I don't see a single flaw that can't be overcome with slightly better writing. That isn't to say that the uneven writing isn't a large problem for the show--it is. Moments like Andrea's tragic murder of Amy are seriously undercut by walking cliches like Carol's beating of Ed's corpse, and that lessens the quality of the show overall. This is not a great television series yet, but I can think of several series that had uneven shortened first seasons, only to come back with excellence when they had a full order in front of them (the first examples to come to mind are Buffy, which had a mixed first season of 13 episodes, and then a pretty stellar second, The Office, which aped its British predecessor a bit much in its first 6 episodes only to set itself apart in its next season, and Parks and Rec which felt derivative of The Office until the second season where it became a much, much funnier version of The Office). All of this is basically to say that The Walking Dead is far from perfect at this point, but its pretty damn good, and I can see many ways that it will become pretty damn great in its second season. For now, though, I'm just excited to see how this first season wraps up.

Grade: B+

Notes:

-Apparently the outbreak of zombies started 163 days ago. That may help us start to narrow the window of how long Lori thought Rick was dead before she started banging Shane. And, you know, its important for other reasons too...

-"We don't burn them! We bury them!"

-"Its not about what you want. That sound you hear is God laughing while you make plans."
Tags: The Walking Dead
comments powered by Disqus