Friday, November 12, 2010

Review: The Walking Dead "Guts"

Non Spoiler Review:
Rick is stuck in the tank, but has the help of mystery voice Glen (nicely played by Steven Yeun), who ultimately reunites him with another band of survivors on a supply run into Atlanta. Trapped by Rick's noisy entrance into the city, they're forced to come up with some out of the box thinking in order to get passed the hordes of zombies surrounding them. Meanwhile, we get a better look at Shane's survival camp and leadership style.

Another gripping episode, this one did not slow the pace set by the pilot at all. In fact, it continues to leave us wanting more and eats up the hour before we know it. Walking Dead continues to establish the rules of this universe, and also presents us with logical and reasoned thinking for our characters to get themselves out of their binds—a novel approach to this type of horror story. 

There's a bit more dark humor injected into this episode, which works quite well in measured doses. Characters continue to be fleshed out, including the introduction of graphic novel heavyweight, Andrea, and more of Shane, Lori, and Dale. The television series continues with pleasing diversions from the source literature, including new characters. Another winner of an episode.

Spoilers Now!
Rick is advised to try to make a break for it, given the zombies are busy chowing down on the horse. Rick grabs whatever weapons he can find, including a grenade (notable in that it was not used this episode and remains a plot device for the future). He succeeds in breaking away, meeting new character Glen, who guides him to a fire escape to the top of a department store where several other survivors are holed up after their supply run went awry.

We get the introduction of Andrea (who is Amy's sister in the camp). I'm a big fan of Laurie Holden, and she doesn't disappoint. She at first pulls a gun on Rick, angry that his noisy shenanigans drew all the zombies to their location. We also get several other characters, including Merle Dixon, a coked up redneck racist who immediately tries to seize control of the situation, beating up T-Dog while uttering racial epithets and electing himself leader. That is, until Rick beats him down and handcuffs him to a pipe. Rick calmly assumes control of the situation, suggesting they try to find a way out through the sewers.

Here we get a breath of fresh air—not only does Rick concede to the wisdom of Glen (to not all pile into the sewer and thereby trap Glen from retreating if he should run into zombies), but they calmly assign roles to everyone for their little scouting operation. The sewer turns into a dead end (pun intended), so Plan B appears to be getting to a construction van a fair walk away and through crowds of undead.

After debating the traits the walkers seem to possess, they come to the conclusion that zombies can smell the living, so Rick gets the idea to hack up a zombie and smear him and Glen with the entrails and just walk through the crowd. They do so, providing a lot of humor as the characters deal with the horrendous situation of mutilating the corpse and dowsing themselves in its entrails. But the plan works, until an abrupt cloudburst washes everything away and they're left to sprint to the construction site, get the vehicle and proceed to rescue the group. Glen is driving a sports car they commandeered in order to draw the undead away, and the rest of the group proceeds out of the city in the van, for what will undoubtedly be an interesting reunion next week.

Dixon, however, is not so lucky, as T-Dog drops the handcuff key and kicks over another bag of plot devices, namely a tool box with a hacksaw, which we don't see again as we leave crazy Merle screaming and locked on the roof.

In camp, Lori and Shane share a tryst in the woods, but when they later hear from the stranded group, Shane is ready to write them all off, despite Amy's protests about leaving her sister. 

What Worked:
Lots of gore! Yet it didn't seem overdone considering the situation. This was more of a character introduction piece, given not much plot was advanced, but it was necessary to get Andrea and Dale and all the newer faces thrown into the mix. Particularly, Glen's character adds some nice bits of levity to some scenes with his pragmatic, but humorous survivalist take on things.

Most important is Rick's development, a stark contrast to Shane who assumes complete control and does not listen to debate. Rick immediately yields to the greater wisdom on the subject of survival and hands authority over to Glen to dole out tasks as they try to search the sewers for escape.

The zombie guts bit is right out of the book, but in this version they've brought in several more characters in contrast to just Rick and Glen in the comics. The scene where they first pay respect to the dead, and proceed to hack him to pieces was a nice bit of grotesque humor. And again, kudos for the rational discussions in thinking their way out of situations.

The introduction of additional characters outside the books is also a nice touch, including T-Dog and Jacqui, given we could rely too much on our knowledge of the fates of individual canon characters. Though part of me wonders how many of these are canon fodder (ha ha). That includes the many faces at the camp, some of whom I guessed from the book, but others who have taken on the same feel as the background survivors in Lost for the first few seasons, and we all know what happened to them.

And the fade out song was a tad better than last week's too, given this was certainly a more upbeat ending than last—a nice little homage to The Omega Man as Glen drives his red sports car through the vacant streets.

What Didn't Work:
I'm currently on the fence with Dixon's heavy-handed characterization, depending how his story unfolds. We get a clear indication he may hack off his arm to escape the handcuffs (shades of Mad Max!), given T-Dog knocked the tools down in front of him. That leaves open the possibility of the crazy man seeking them out for revenge at some point. I hope something more novel happens with this, as he seems a blatant antagonist to be introduced when the series really doesn't need additional ones.

They also avoided any real debate on what to do with Merle, and Rick was left conveniently out of the decision making on that. The situation dictated a quick resolution and then ultimately T-Dog drops the key, so it was a bit of a cop out. The notion of how to handle bad people in this new world is definitely going to come up again, so they probably will devote enough time to that later.

And a final point about Merle, if I haven't beaten this character to death—how did he get to be a part of this group anyway? Why would Shane send him along with that expedition when he is bat shit crazy and coked out of his head? How did they survive the drive into the city with him like that without things coming to a head much earlier? It was the only bit of plot that was overly contrived.

I may be premature, given it's only the second episode, but Carl is a very important character, and he's had maybe two lines? He needs to talk! But perhaps they're waiting for his reunion with dad to bring him out of his shell. 

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