Enjoy this Monday with Mildred!
This is also a Zombie World Tour post!
*WARNING!!!: This review is full of spoilers for all seasons of The Walking Dead (TWD)
*CAVEAT!!!: That doesn’t matter much for this show. You will find yourself not minding.
I’ll tell you up front that I’m not a huge fan of the show. Sure I watch it, but more for their incredible production values and because other people in the office are fans and I like being able to keep up with the conversations. I don’t have cable tv, so I have to wait till each season is on disk and then I get to binge watch. That means I haven’t yet seen season five, only read about it. (I’ve been a fan of binge watching since VHS came out.) I will also drag out the pilot episode now and then while ironing my Hawaiian shirts on a Sunday afternoon, because it’s still my favorite.
In zombie fiction as a whole, I think most people are especially drawn to the beginning of the apocalypse, and TWD pilot does that really well with an obvious theft of The Quiet Earth (which 28 Days Later also stole). If you want to jump right into the apocalypse with both feet, this is the way to go. The tricky part, one that almost no one ever tackles, is what happens after the first spasm of undeath is loosed on society? Because that’s what we’re really killing in zombie fiction, the fabric of society. Did you think it was personal horror and tribulations zombie fiction holds up to examine? That’s not nearly as scary as violently losing your world and your future. After the first die off, how does the modern American survivor proceed? Does she rebuild the old? Try to make a better something? Go crazy and kill other survivors? Attach herself to a psycho killer who will protect only her? Finally learn how to cook without a microwave? It’s wide open, and a shame that so few people will take it on.
TWD is set to enter its sixth season. Unfortunately for the viewer, that doesn’t mean a huge chunk of time has passed to give us a clear view of how society (in this story) is going to re-form, though the sorting out process is really, really violent. The dog years of TWD means while we have nearly six years invested, the characters are only into about two. It is to confuse.
Each season is different from the last except for a few things, like the show being a celebration of the stupid (one of my biggest and oldest complaints about the genre as a whole). For instance, even five years in a viewer can easily gauge the level of a character’s desperation according to the depth of the grime on their face and body. Yeah, I get y’all spend a LOT of time trudging through the woods. Would it kill you to wash your face when you fill your water bottle? Or, goods staying usable long after their expiration date. That’s fine, but can we get a scene where someone uses an antibiotic that has turned? So to speak.
The people who created the show didn’t intend it to run longer than a few episodes. Maybe that’s why the original survivors don’t do even the minimally intelligent things, like finding walkie-talkies to communicate or not lighting up their tents (TENTS! Seriously?) like Christmas bulbs at night, or repeatedly entering a city with a bazillion zombies in it armed with a half loaded six shooter. Gah.
Still, it was really cool to see a television show not a bit afraid to depict survivors chopping a zombie into tartar so they can smear themselves and go for a smelly walk. Or maybe give the moronic redneck a beat down after he turns dangerous rather than admiring him. Or turn the Hispanic gangbanger stereotype on its head. The zombies are beautifully rendered, and the zombie actors are incredible. They don’t flinch from a strike, they don’t walk around obstacles, and they all react the same to stimulus. There wasn’t really a lot of money spent on the show, if you look closely. There are no A List actors and few expensive sets (though the art department did an amazing job). A lot of action takes place in the countryside, or on roof tops or in alleys, all easy places to control and inexpensive. The original group coalesces next to a quarry that in the real world is inside Atlanta’s city limits but seems further away.
The first season is visually lyrical, using a lot of iconic images from the comic, introduces recurring musical and story themes that continue through the seasons and a lot of characters. Most of the Atlanta Originals have died in some horrible way or another by the end of season four, so enjoy them while you can.
The show runner (“person who has overall creative authority and management responsibility for a television program”) for season one was Frank Durabont, who fired a bunch of writers late in season one and ended up being forced out himself. Now, I’ve not cared for him much since the last five minutes of the otherwise wonderful The Mist, but he created a solid tv show. It’s too bad there was so much behind the scenes chaos going into the second season of TWD. Maybe it wouldn’t have reeked quite so badly. Or maybe it would have, we’ll never know. It still looks really pretty, but with double the number of episodes they managed to tell about one episode’s worth of story. I’ve still never seen all of season two thanks to this wonderful button on my remote that looks like >>>. In this season Sophia (little girl) disappears, giving Carol (her mom) and Daryl something to do (look and look and look) while they talk (and talk and talk and talk). Carl (little boy) gets shot and carried to The Farmhouse, giving Rick (dad) and Lori (mom) plenty of quiet space to walk and talk (and talk and talk and talk). Shane goes insane. T-Dog disappears into the African-American black hole. Andrea disappears into the feminist backlash black hole. Dale natters on about nothing to no one. Glen and Maggie make out. Shane, Dale, Sophia and The Farmhouse bite it and the rest are scattered to the winds.
I’ve actually heard some people say they like this season a lot because of the enormous load of character development, but I feel it’s simply a load.
The man who took over during the previous season, Glen Mazzara, changed the look and the tone. Now TWD is a nihilistic paean to desperation. We pick up the larger part of the Atlanta Originals plus Hershel’s family wandering the Georgia backroads, scrounging for food, always on the run, never safe, and the brilliant first sequence of season three depicts all this in two dialogue-free minutes.
When they run across a place that should be safe as hell – a prison – we find in their hands it’s no safer than outside, if you judge such things by how many people they lose. At least they’re not afraid to add new characters constantly. Because of the nearly equal threat to any character’s tenure, it’s easy to feel as close to regulars as brief entries. You want to have familiar faces to root for, of course, but if a new character comes in that you like you know you have to enjoy them as much as possible because they could get shot or gnawed five minutes later or catch the zombie train just as you thought they were becoming a regular after six episodes.
This is the season The Black Highlander Initiative becomes most apparent. There can be only one black man, it seems. Almost immediately after landing in the prison, T-Dog, an Atlanta Original, goes the way of the teeth, leaving hulking prisoner (but possibly nice guy) Oscar to take up the slack. Blink and you’ll miss him, though, because Tyrese is in town. And there can be only one.
For the first time the group runs into a big time bad guy in The Governor, who rules bucolic Woodbury. We also become reacquainted with a couple of lost characters, Merle from season one, and Andrea who was separated at the end of season two. We also pick up some awesome new characters, like the ultimate warrior, Michonne and gentle giant Tyrese.
Things go from bad, to worse, to kill-me-now, to what the fuck is next as the season grinds on, and we begin to experience nostalgia for the winsome days of yore when all you had to do was not get eaten by a walking rotter. You remember at the top of this review I had a caveat about spoilers? This is why. You see so many of them die, and the rest go through so much never ending hell that it’s actually kind of fun to go back and watch the old episodes to remember how simple it once was. Knowing how they end lends a poignancy to their early scenes. It also makes you WANT to know what will happen next to everyone, so you end up haunting spoiler review sites.
For example, in season one we see the womenfolk doing women’s work, hand washing the skid marks out of the menfolk’s undies down on the quarry bank. Carol’s husband Ed is hanging around, either watching for zombies or making sure they do their work, it’s hard to tell which it is until his wife makes a joke that everyone laughs at. Certain he’s being dissed (which he is but big deal) he saunters over to confront his wife. Andrea, who had been a lawyer, gets in his face a little, protected by the feminist utopia we’ve built with civilization (mostly) and is shocked when he throws laundry in her face, calls her a really bad name and hits his wife. Guess that feminist thing is as dead as the zombies. The girls, Jacquie, Amy, Andrea and Carol scream and cry and it’s up to an already pissed off Shane to run over and beat the hell out of Ed. By the end of the next day Ed and Amy are dead. By the end of the season Jacquie is dead. By the end of the next season Shane is dead. The only person from that quarry bank still around by the end of season three is Carol, and she has changed so radically it’s interesting to watch the scene again from a future perspective just to relish how far she comes in so little time. At the same time it’s heart wrenching to see Jacquie and Amy, as they are early great characters who go quickly. I don’t know about you, but I don’t typically find it so interesting to go back and re-watch character development in a tv show.
The end of the season sees everyone having suffered tremendously. Andrea turns into such an eye-rolling, hip-cocking, sigh-heaving princess that I was glad to see her go. Little Carl murders a guy in the last episode then whines when daddy takes his gun. Kindly Hershel becomes a crutches pro after losing a leg, post-bite. Rick goes insane when Lori dies. Then he comes back. Then he’s insane again. You’ll need a scorecard. Glenn and Maggie get tortured and then engaged. That’s love in the zombie apocalypse. Carol flirts shamelessly with Daryl who only has eyes for his brother. Unfortunately for Daryl he does find Merle and is reminded what a dirt bag the guy is. Then he has to kill his corpse. The Governor doesn’t get killed, though you REALLY want him dead, but his surviving townsfolk bus on over to the prison, where you know they’ll end up as zombie bait since by now the “memorable” deaths are in the double digits.
For months I didn’t bother watching this year because I just couldn’t work up enough enthusiasm. Then when I did spin a disk I ended up glued to the screen in a big time binge. This season is fantastic. A new showrunner, Scott Gimple, has changed the show yet again.
There is a renaissance of zombie kills. Much enthusiasm is spent on showing a million ways to walk around dead, and fantastically gory and clever ways to kill them. I even recognized one of the “tribute” zombies sprinkled through the series. The show gives our beleaguered heroes a sweet and of course short period of peace and then laughingly shows them what a REALLY bad time looks like, scything through (mostly) Woodbury people with a touch of swine flu. Then there is a murder, and oh hey look The Governor is still alive and he’s working up a new head of steam. This time he has a tank.
Something has changed, though. Sure, they still do stupid stuff, but they’re getting pretty tough. Who needs a gun when you can knife ten zombies in the head before dinner? They get all blow’d up and scattered, again, with the fragments of the group wandering around pretty much aimlessly at first, shocked at the brutal death of Hershel at The Governor’s hand and the violent end of a place they’d been calling home.
The second half of the season finds you following several oddly matched sets of people. Unlike season two, they don’t just walk and talk. Carol ends up with Tyrese, whose girlfriend she has recently murdered, plus Rick’s infant girl and a couple of little cuties – one of whom firmly believes zombies are simply misunderstood. To its credit TWD does not shy away from having Carol, who has grown from a cowering domestic abuse victim to the world’s toughest pistol packin’ mama, execute a nine year old girl because, really, what DO you do with a murdering sociopath in a world without insane asylums? Rough biker with a heart of gold Daryl ends up with sugar sweet Beth and of course just when they finally bond he loses her. No, he just loses her. Maggie chases down Glenn till he catches her, and along the way expands their splinter group. Rick limps off, nearly dead, with son Carl who soon believes he’ll have to put down dad like he put down mom. Michonne briefly falls off the sanity wagon then hooks up with Carl and Rick just in time to nearly be raped by the gang Daryl has fallen in with. Their big mistake is trying to rape Carl as well, reopening the can of worms in Rick’s head, much like his teeth open all the arteries in the bad guy’s throat.
Did I mention this season is gruesome?
Finally everyone arrives at the destination of season four, a little place with a big PR campaign called Terminus, which has been putting signs up on the railroad tracks saying, “those who arrive survive”. Shockingly, the place whose name literally means the end of the line DOES turn out to be a bunch of cannibals, and before you can say Crazy Rick, everyone is locked up in a rail car waiting to be fattened up.
Again, I haven’t actually seen this one, or read the comics, but I know that eventually our gang finds their way to an actual nice town that ISN’T run by a raving psychopath (or at least, not raving). Alexandria has actually gotten it together somewhat, though TWD being a show that celebrates the stupid, when you gather a larger group of people you have a larger celebration.
Traditionally, TWD is split into essentially two seasons, with a blockbuster episode at the midseason break and a story that veers away from the first half to finish the year. This season is even more fragmented, with the first half split again between teaching the cannibals a lesson and eventually finding the town. On the way we have a sort of mini season where we discover sweet Beth has been taken by some loons in a hospital. Daryl finds her, but not in time. The second half finds our gang learning to play well with others in Alexandria. Civilization takes practice and they’re rusty.
There is a major character return, though he has only appeared twice before in season one and three. I’m looking forward to that.
I’ve read rumors that they’re going back to the comics more closely next season, which could be good or bad, according to your preferences. In the comics, Carl gets his eye shot out and Glenn dies a gruesome death. I wouldn’t want to see either of those things. Of course, in the comics Andrea becomes a sharpshooting Soldier For Rick and I would have enjoyed that over what she became in season three.
Fear The Walking Dead – The Walking Dead spinoff
There is a pilot in the works, beginning at the start of the outbreak somewhere else in the country, with a new set of characters. Beyond that I know nothing, but I do have my doubts. It’s rare to see a really good spinoff, but you know I’ll watch it because I love zombie fiction.
There you have it for The Walking Dead, the show that surprised everyone but zombie fans with its popularity. Drama doesn’t get more dramatic than this, and if you can take the gore and extreme stupidity of the characters, I believe you will enjoy the show.
The Walking Dead – Season 1 – Official Trailer
CFR: In Addition: WARNING! SPOILER! I watched the first episode of The Walking Dead thoroughly looking forward to having a new must watch show on my list. Uh, no.
You do not, repeat, DO NOT, ride a horse into a city that might have zombies in it! YOU KILLED A PERFECTLY GOOD HORSE THAT WAS INNOCENT IN ALL OF THIS NONSENSE YOU STINKING IDIOT RICK GRIMES!
I stopped watching after that. That kind of stupidity I cannot abide. Mildred is so right about that. I just can’t watch, well actually, tolerate stupid characters. Just me.
Also I find end of the world shows too depressing so I tend to avoid them. And Rick is stupid.
However if you love this show then watch, enjoy, and I hope you have many seasons of undead fun. 🙂