TV Review: The Walking Dead 7.10 “My New Best Friends” (dir by Jeffrey F. January)


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Oh my God!

Is it possible that we’ve actually had two good episodes of The Walking Dead in a row!?

Indeed it is.  In fact, I would say that tonight’s episode of The Walking Dead was the high point of the season so far.  I don’t know if the show’s production team has been listening to the complaints that many fans had during the first half of the season but, with both this episode and last week’s, it’s hard not to feel that the show is trying to correct some earlier mistakes.

For instance, there was no Negan in this episode.  Now, don’t get me wrong.  Negan can be an intimidating bad guy.  But, like many great villains, Negan is at his most effective when he’s off screen.  The big mistake that the Walking Dead made during the first half of season 7 was going for an all-Negan, all-the-time format.  With each appearance, Negan became just a little bit more cartoonish and, as a result, he became less and less intimidating.

However, though this episode largely dealt with people trying to figure out what to do about the Saviors, Negan was still kept in the shadows.  As a result, Negan’s becoming a threat again.

Tonight’s episode followed two storylines, which is a definite improvement over the plodding pace of the first half of the season.  Both storylines were equally interesting, though I think everyone’s heart was invested in Daryl and Carol.

So, let’s get Rick out of the way.  Last week, I assumed that Rick had come across the Oceanside community but it turns out that I was wrong.  (And that’s not a bad thing because the Oceanside community kinda sucked.)  Instead, this is a community of people who live in a junkyard.  In many ways, they’re just as ritualized and borderline ludicrous as Ezekiel’s Kingdom.  The only question is whether or not the Junkyarders, like Ezekiel, realize how silly their little community is.  Are all of their rituals designed as an escape from grim reality or are they all just crazy?

The Junkyard is run by Jadis (Pollyanna McIntosh), who seems to have a permanent smirk and who speaks like an evil Queen in an Italian Hercules film.  But, and this is largely due to McIntosh’s performance and her chemistry with Andrew Lincoln, Jadis is still likable.  When she and Rick finally formed their alliance, I was happy because Jadis looks like she’s going to be a valuable ally in the inevitable battle with the Saviors.  Seriously, who doesn’t want to see Jadis kick Negan’s ass?

Of course, before Rick could talk to Jadis, he had to defeat an armor-covered walker that the Junkyard crew appeared to be using as a gladiator.  That was exciting and it’s nice to see that The Walking Dead is trying to think up new things to do with their undead.

But, ultimately, this show was all about Carol and Daryl.  Daryl has been hiding out at the Kingdom.  When Richard told Daryl that he had an idea for how they could convince Ezekiel to go to war with the Saviors, Daryl was all ears until he discovered that Richard’s plan involved leading the Saviors to Carol.  “She’s going to die anyway!”  Richard exclaimed.

Obviously, Richard doesn’t know Carol!

After giving Richard the beat down that he deserved for underestimating Carol, Daryl went to Carol’s cabin and seriously, their time together was everything.  For once, we got a moment of joy in this relentlessly grim series.

I always love the scenes between Carol and Daryl.  I love the way that both Daryl and Carol drop their guard when they’re together.  At its best, The Walking Dead has always centered around the question of how people can keep their humanity, even in the worst of circumstances.  Tonight, Carol and Daryl provided that humanity.

This was a good episode, one that reminded me why I watch this show in the first place.  Let’s hope that the rest of season 7 is just as good!

TV Review: The Walking Dead 7.9 “Rock in the Road” (dir by Greg Nicotero)


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Well, The Walking Dead is back and again, I am going to try to watch and review each episode for the Shattered Lens.  You may remember that I attempted to do this during the first half of season 7.  I reviewed the first five episodes of the new season and then…

Well, how to put this?

I got bored.

Seriously, I tried to make excuses for the glacial pace of season 7.  I kept telling myself that it was actually a brilliant narrative decision.  I defended the controversial first episode and I’ll continue to do so.  I enjoyed the second episode, largely because of the tiger.  But, after that, I started to get bored.  Each episode introduced us to a new community of boring people.  Each episode featured a lot of conversation but little action.  And what little action there was regularly interrupted by Negan popping up and screaming for half an hour.  As much as I like character development and conversation, this is a show about the end of the world.  There’s only so much time that I can spend watching Rick look depressed.

And so, after five episodes, I gave up on the first half of season 7.  It was just too slow and the show was spending so much time on what a badass Negan supposedly was that the zombies had become an afterthought.  Did season 7 really need a special 90 minute episode of Negan acting like a dick?  I still watched the show but mentally, I checked out.  And, judging by how the ratings cratered between the 1st episode (8.7 million viewers) and the 8th episode (5 million viewers), I was not alone in being dissatisfied.

But, in the break between the end of the first half of season 7 and tonight’s return, I’ve had time to recover.  Today, as I debated whether to actually watch the new episode of The Walking Dead, I considered that this show has hit rough spots in the past.  It’s never been a perfect show.  I wasn’t a huge fan of season 1 and, in later seasons,  I thought they spent way too much time at Herschel’s farm.  But, in the past, when The Walking Dead has needed to deliver, that’s exactly what it’s done.  In short, I decided to give The Walking Dead a second chance.

And, having just watched tonight’s episode, I’m glad that I did.  Rock in the Road was a good episode.  In fact, it may have been the best episode since The Well.  There were still flaws, of course.  As any true Walking Dead fan knows, this show has always been uneven.  The Walking Dead is a gloriously imperfect show but, at its best, it’s the type of show that can almost make those flaws seem admirable.  It’s easy to get frustrated with The Walking Dead‘s leisurely pace and rambling narrative.  But, ultimately, that leisurely pace has also led to some of The Walking Dead‘s most resonant moments.

Much like every other episode so far in season 7, Rock in the Road told its story slowly but, at the same time, it at least had a destination in mind.  Rick has finally snapped out of his self-pity and is now trying to build an alliance to fight Negan and the Saviors.  As this episode showed, it won’t necessarily be easy.  But, at least Rick is actually trying to do something!

There are several reasons why Rock in the Road was a noticeable improvement over the first half of the season.  Here’s a few:

  1. Action Rick is more fun than Shellshocked Rick.  As an actor, Andrew Lincoln is far more compelling when he’s standing up for himself than when he’s being grimly morose.  To be honest, I’ve never been sold on Rick as a leader.  When I watched him trying to build up his anti-Negan alliance, I found myself wondering if people were aware that Rick doesn’t exactly have a great track record as far as keeping people alive is concerned.  But, in the end, it didn’t matter.  Action Rick is fun, even if you know all of his plans are doomed to go terribly wrong.
  2. This episode actually had a few moments of humor.  The first half of season 7 was way too grim.  Just because the world is ending, that doesn’t mean people are going to stop being snarky.
  3. Ezekiel!  The first community that Rick and his group visited was the Kingdom so they got to meet King Ezekiel and Shiva.  Ezekiel and the Kingdom were the highlight of the first half of season 7 and it looks like that might be true for the second half as well.  I loved the entire sequence at the Kingdom, everything from Ezekiel’s promise to have an answer by “the morrow” to the wonderful moment when Jesus realized that he had forgotten everyone’s names.
  4. No Negan!  Well, that’s not quite true.  We heard Negan’s voice but, for the first time in a long time, we had an episode where the entire narrative didn’t have to stop just so Negan could launch another one of his insane gym coach monologues.  Like most great villains, Negan works best in small doses.
  5. That final scene!  I’m going to guess from the lack of men and children that those were Oceansiders who were surrounding Rick.  Rick’s smile provided a wonderful final shot for this episode.  When he flashed that smile, I realized that the old Rick was finally back.

I was really happy with Rock in the Road.  In fact, I’m happy enough to actually watch next week as well.  Hopefully, this episode will be the start of season 7’s redemption.

Review: The Walking Dead S5E15 “Try”


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“It’s their world, we’re just living in it.” — Enid

[spoilers within]

Tonight’s episode of The Walking Dead marks the penultimate one for the show’s fifth season. It has been a season that’s seen the series remain on a consistent high. It still had some episodes which fell a bit flat, but overall season 5 has been the show’s best and delivered on showrunner Scott M. Gimple’s promise to keep the story moving forward.

The episode begins with a cold opening that shows the aftermath of the deadly supply run to the solar factory warehouse in the previous episode. We have to stories being told. There’s Glenn still haunted by having to witness Noah’s death by zombies very up close and personal. We see him tell Rick about how he and the others made a mistake and how it led to the deaths of Aidan and Noah. He feels responsible and hopes that it doesn’t ruin their chance in making the Alexandria experiment work. He still believes in the concept that is the ASZ (Alexandria Safe-Zone) and even Noah’s death doesn’t budge him from that belief. Rick, on the other hand, only sees danger and trouble when it comes to the ineptitude of the Alexandrians. His fears and doubts about whether the Alexandrians can pull their weight when it comes to keeping everyone safe has been confirmed.

Deanna, on the other hand, hears a different tale from Nicholas. It’s a tale of how it was he who tried to save Aidan and not leave him behind. It was Glenn who distracted and caused the death of Aidan and whose bloodthirsty attitude got Noah killed. Nicholas spoke about how he would never leave Aidan, his friend, behind and even included newcomer Tara as someone he tried to save. There’s some hints that Deanna has a sense that Nicholas wasn’t telling her the truth of what happened, but we don’t get to hear her voice out these doubts.

“Try” is a very appropriate title for tonight’s episode. We see several characters attempt to try and find a way to make the combination of Rick’s people and the Alexandrians co-exists together peacefully. Glenn, despite what some of these Alexandrians have done, still believes that they need to make Alexandria work. It’s their last chance to go beyond just existing and surviving but actually living life. He’s become the show’s moral compass (hopefully not a death sentence) now that Hershel and Tyreese are gone. Yet, unlike the previous moral compasses in the show, Glenn does understand that sometimes pragmatism must rule the day above all else. He just believes that Alexandria needs a chance to survive the growing pains of their group’s arrival.

Another of Rick’s people trying to make it work is Michonne. She’s had her time in exile in the wilds of this new and dangerous world. Her survival to this point has been in part due to those solitary months on her own with only herself to keep safe. Yet, she has also found out that being alone was a detriment to her psyche’s well-being and finding Rick and his people was what ultimately saved her not just from the zombies but from her own self-destructive ways.

She sees what’s happening with Sasha. A friend and fellow survivor deep in the midst of PTSD who has lost so much in such a short period of time that she hasn’t had the chance to take in and accept those losses let alone mourn them. Michonne understands what Sasha is going through but also realizes that they need her for what’s to come. Michonne wants to make Alexandria work and instability brought on by Sasha’s death wish and Rick’s inability to trust the Alexandrians will only make that prospect harder to achieve.

It is no surprise that the episode ends with Michonne taking control of a situation brought on by Rick’s blunt force behavior in trying to convince the Alexandrians that the way they were doing things were not going to work going forward. Michonne’s belief in the Alexandrians’ survival skills might mirror Rick’s own thoughts on the matter, but where Rick wants a confrontation to be the catalyst of change she seems more than willing to lead by example.

On the other side of things are Rick and Deanna looking to be at loggerheads about what’s truly best of Alexandria. It’s easy to take Rick’s side that the way Deanna and the rest of the Alexandrians have been doing things were just not going to cut it in this new world. It’s a world that Rick and his people have experienced first-hand and lost people along the way, but in the end have survived all it has thrown at them. Deanna, on the other hand, still believes in the rule of law and order, civilization over anarchy. She doesn’t believe in killing those who could be a danger to the ASZ (like Peter who also happens to be the lone physician and surgeon), but instead would rather exile them out into the wilds.

It’s a way of doing things that Rick sees as another way of putting the ASZ in danger. Deanna doesn’t think so and this clashing of philosophies on how things should be done looks to be one that’s heading into a confrontation that puts everyone in danger. Neither side seem willing to try and compromise and find a way to make the two groups con-exist. No attempt to allow the Alexandrians to learn from what Rick and his people could teach them to be better survivors. No attempt from Rick and those who believe him to adjust to this new life. A life that they see as a danger in itself. They see Alexandria’s walls as something that could make them soft and distract them from surviving.

So, we have the extended season finale next week and the question of whether Rick is too far gone to stay in Alexandria will be one of the questions that need answering. Will the group have to suffer through another loss of one of their own for the Alexandrians to finally realize that their survival before Rick and his people arrived have been through blind luck not through the civilizing rule of Deanna? Will Rick and the others just leave Alexandria or will the group finally splinter-off from those wanting to try and make it work and those unable to?

Then there are those zombies with the “W” cut into their foreheads looking to crash the party.

Notes

  • Tonight’s episode of The Walking Dead, “Try”, was directed by Michael E. Satrazemis and written by series veteran Angela Kang.
  • “Keep walking” has become Rick’s version of Carol’s “look at the flowers”. Pete should’ve been sprinting away the moment Rick uttered those wordsa at him with those Rick dead-eyes.
  • Nine Inch Nails’ “Somewhat Damaged” plays during the episodes cold opening and was a nice reminder that both groupsm Rick’s and the Alexandrians, have been damaged in some fashion since the start of the zombie apocalypse.
  • Still wondering how Nicholas knew about the Glock Rick hid in the blender out in the woods (Nicholas was in the ASZ when Rick and the group arrived). Is there someone outside the walls that told Nicholas of the hidden pistol?
  • Talking Dead guests tonight are Yvette Nicole Brown (Community), series executive producer Gale Anne Hurd and Chandler Riggs (Carl Grimes of The Walking Dead)

Season 5

 

Review: The Walking Dead S5E08 “Coda”


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“You’ve all been out here too long.” — Ofc. Bob Lamson

[spoilers]

We’ve finally reached the mid-season finale of the fifth season of The Walking Dead. It has been a strong first-half that showed some major improvements in terms of strong narrative structure and pacing. The first-half also saw growth in the Beth Greene character which we saw hints of in the second-half of season 4. We didn’t get much of the so-called ‘wheel-spinning” episodes which literally went nowhere. The long existential philosophizing monologues were kept to a minimum and when we did get them they were essential to the scene and the episode (example: Gareth’s final monologue before dying all the way back in Episode 3: “Four Walls and a Roof”).

Last week’s episode could be considered the weakest of the first-half episodes as it focused more on setting up the the many different groups. All the groups eventually leading up to reuniting in one way or another with tonight’s mid-season finale. A finale that we’ve been told would see the death of a major character.

The guessing games have had Carol as being the one to die in tonight’s episode. It’s not a bad guess considering how much the show’s writers have been foreshadowing her death as something akin to a hero’s tragic end. She was the character who literally came out of nowhere from being one of the useless and weakest in the bunch to one of it’s strengths. The show and it’s writers have been notorious for removing very popular characters from the playing field and it wouldn’t have been surprising if that was the case with Carol with tonight’s episode.

“Coda” follows through on the full-speed ahead style Gimple and his writers have adopted this season by using a cold opening that occurs literally right after last week’s cliffhanger. We see Agent Sitwe…I mean Officer Lamson still fleeing from the Rick group with his hands tied behind his back. In the past, Lamson would make it back to Grady Memorial and we would have a major stand-off between Rick and Dawn. Not this season and too bad for Lamson. Rick chases him down with scary efficiency that gives us more hints that he’s starting to travel deep down the dark path that the Governor, Gareth and Joe saw themselves go down and not make it back out.

Rick doesn’t brook second-chances when it comes to new people (which might just mean bad news for Father Gabriel who put Baby Judith in harm’s way trying to confirm Bob’s story about Gareth and his Hunters). Past seasons would see Rick agonize over killing another human being. Not season 5 Rick who has seen how indecision has cost him his wife and many friends since he awoke from his coma. He has learned to compartmentalize that part of him which still sees the good in people. He has become pragmatic about the new world he finds himself in and in doing so could be losing that very humanity which has made him a leader everyone seems to gravitate to.

While Rick hasn’t gone full-on Shane he definitely would understand some of the dark things that Shane was capable of doing and had done in order to survive. We see this with how calmly he shoots Lamson in the head. He could’ve done it to save Lamson the horror and pain of being devoured by the approaching zombies since Rick’s driving broke his back. Or he could’ve done it just to shut him up from continuing his talk about how Rick has been out in this world too long and how it has affected him. Just like fans and critics of the show itself, Rick seems to have gotten tired of everyone telling him that he’s losing his mind and/or his humanity. If Rick has lost it at least we know that he still has his people’s well-being and survival in mind. As for anyone new coming into the group that would be a question that would have to wait.

Yet, despite how Rick has become hardened to this new world he still finds himself affected by the death of someone close to him.

Beth’s death (not Carol’s as many have been guessing) wasn’t as surprising, but still a shock at how it happened so close to her finally being reunited with her sister Maggie. Her death marks a further erosion of that innocence and hope the show has been trying to keep a hold onto since season 1. Like her character or not, Beth Greene remained optimistic despite all that this new world threw at her. She had taken over her father’s role as the show’s moral center and just like in season’s past it’s a role that continues to spell doom on whoever takes on it.

Tonight’s episode wasn’t as strong as past mid-season finales. While it had the requisite shocking moment it was still too similar to last week’s episode where the episode juggled too many groups in too little time (AMC’s getting ridiculous with its commercial breaks). There’s an understanding that seeing the different groups reuniting in the end would make for a much more dramatic conclusion to the first-half, but too little time was spent on the rescue itself that the writers were almost hoping the audience would make the necessary leaps in storytelling to excuse why the end happened the way it did.

It’s not a bad episode or even an average one, it was a good enough entry in this first-half that we get a definite conclusion to the final hanging plot-thread from season 4. Beth has been found and just when they (and us as an audience) was finally getting a stronger and more confident young woman the show yanks that hope away and we find the show much darker.

Beth’s death should reverberate through the second-half of this season (or it would’ve been for naught) and should affect many of the characters left in Rick’s group. Rick might blame himself for her death. Maggie has now lost the last remaining family member she had despite having a new one with Rick and the others. Daryl lost that bright, hopeful link that has made him less a lone wolf and more of a well-rounded badass.

As a character Beth Greene started out as weak, one-note and barely there with season 2. She became a running joke as the bard of this merry band of zombie apocalypse survivors in season 3 with her penchant for singing. Something turned with season 4 as Scott M. Gimple took over as showrunner. She became a rough gem that the show’s writers were attempting to smooth out and find the true character underneath. This season finally revealed that character. A character that continued to be hopeful despite the despair all-around. A character that learned how not to be a victim and became stronger as she remained separated from the rest of the group.

Even in the end, as she and Dawn had their final exchange that showed how she and not Dawn was the true survivor, Beth did what she did in order to try and save a friend who she had faith would come back for her. Beth went out the only way she knew how and that’s helping others.

“Coda” was an appropriate title for tonight’s episode. A musical passage that brings an end to a musical piece. Beth was the music to Rick and his group of survivors and tonight was her coda.

Notes

  • “Coda” was written by Angela Kang and directed by Ernest Dickerson.
  • Just like in Captain America: The Winter Soldier, Maximiliano Hernández’s character on The Walking Dead meets his demise after getting hit by a moving vehicle. Though in tonight’s episode it was a contributing factor.
  • This particular sequence is similar to a scene in the comic books which occurred earlier in the story and the character who gets run over is Martinez who was fleeing back to Woodbury to tell the Governor where the prison was located.
  • Probably only interesting to me, but the Atlanta PD at Grady Memorial Hospital using Smith & Wesson MP .40 which means the zombie apocalypse occurred before 2013 which was when the department began switching to the Glock 22 Gen 4.
  • Father Gabriel’s actions was very frustrating yet fitting in with the way the character has been adapted from the comics. This is a man who is just beginning to learn that not everyone who has survived out in the world will be as kind and forgiving as he expects them to be. It will be interesting to see whether the writers develop Gabriel’s psychological issues of survivor’s remorse further in the second-half of this season.
  • Noah’s character may end up being the key to Rick’s group heading up north and towards the Alexandria community which will lead into one of the longest-running story-arcs in the comics: War between Rick and his people against Negan and his.
  • Interesting how the Grady Memorial haven is now the second survivor group Rick and his people have come across since the show began. Will they survive the death of Dawn and now having five less police officers protecting them or will they end up like the Vatos and the nursing home group which we find out in a season 2 deleted scene that they were ultimately overrun.
  • The first-half of season 5 ends the way it began with the premiere and finale episodes featuring Morgan coming across the aftermath of Rick’s group passing through: lots of destroyed zombies. Will Morgan be a boon for Rick and his people if and when he finally catches up to them?
  • Tonight’s guests on the Talking Dead are Keegan Michael-Key (Key & Peele), series creator Robert Kirkman and, Beth Greene herself, Emily Kinney.

Season 5

Horror Review: The Walking Dead S5E03 “Four Walls and a Roof”


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“TAINTED MEAT!” — Bob Stookey

[spoilers]

Well, that was one hell of an episode.

“Four Walls and a Roof” was a surprising episode as it unfolded not because of the payoff in the end, but how it further signifies the changes in how the show’s writers have been handling the show’s pacing. This was a major development considering the criticism it’s detractors (and some fans) have had about the series.

In seasons past, The Walking Dead always had major issues with it’s pacing. Despite what some have been saying the show does have some great episodes, but we do get several slow and wheel-spinning episodes following it up. Almost as if the writers were trying to find a way to help the audience decompress after a very tense, action-packed and/or horrific episode. It wasn’t such a major issue during it’s premiere season which was only six episodes long, but as each season got longer there came a time when too obvious filler episodes were aired that sucked the momentum from the series.

Even some of the show’s most strident supporters have complained about the necessity for extending certain story-arcs when it was obvious that they could’ve been handled and resolved in just a handful. Tonight’s episode was such a surprise in that it resolved a story-arc that was a major one in the comics in so short a time. Yet, despite having condensed the “Hunters” storyline from the comics into just three episodes they still kept the impact that it’s much longer comic book version had on readers.

The episode itself begins pretty much right after last week’s episode. It’s a cold opening that’s eerily done with images of zombies and the Terminans eating meat interspersed to make the two groups indistinguishable. Calling themselves Hunters, Gareth and his bunch were still having a moonlit dinner with Bob’s left leg as the main course. Of course, Gareth continues to monologue his way through the cold opening as if he just can’t help do so now that he has such a captive audience in Bob. One could almost sense that his own people were probably sick of hearing him talk through dinner, but were more afraid of him to say so. Gareth’s moment gets a major interruption as Bob, in a fit of crazed laughter, finally tells them a secret of why he was out all alone in the end of the previous episode. Bob didn’t make it out of the flooded food bank unscathed and the festering bite on his right shoulder was evidence enough for Gareth and his Hunters to lose their appetite.

One thing that could easily have derailed tonight’s episode was to spend too much time trying to figure out what happened to Bob and if Father Gabriel was involved in some fashion. Even after last week’s revelation that the people who have been stalking Rick and his people was Gareth and his small band of Hunters there was still theories that Father Gabriel might have been involved in some way. Gabriel had survived this long without having to deal with the zombies and other survivors looking for sanctuary. Someone must’ve helped or made a deal to spare him and Gareth looked like someone pragmatic enough to come up with a plan and deal to keep Gabriel stocked with food and not bothered as long as he pointed some people towards Terminus.

The fact that we get to the bottom of Gabriel secret and shame in the very first ten minutes of the episode was a nice change in how the show has been treating major personal secrets. The expectation that the show would keep Gabriel’s secret for more than two episodes was a given, but to have it resolved in swift fashion showed that Scott M. Gimple and his stable of writers do understand that pacing on the show has been an issue and they’re trying to fix that.

To top Gabriel’s secret now out we also get another surprise in Bob being brought back by Gareth and his people to just outside the church. The plan by Gareth to traumatize and put Rick and his people back on their heels actually was a sound plan, but he failed to factor in the fact that this band of survivors was not the type he and the Terminans have had to deal with since their fall into the darkside.

Rick might be a leader who has had some bouts of indecisiveness and more than just a tad bit of self-loathing which made him a liability, but his dedication to keeping his family (which now includes those he has added since Atlanta) alive throughout this hellish new world has seen him go from an idealistic man of the law to one who now understood that pragmatism and controlled brutality was now the coin of the land. We saw the final nail in the peacemaker Rick begin to recede in the back of his mind when the Governor returned in the mid-season finale of season 4 and saw Hershel killed and his prison haven destroyed and his people scattered.

Throughout the series there has always been the main question of does someone get to keep their humanity in a world where it has no room for it if one was to survive. It’s a question that’s been answered in one form or another whenever Rick and his people come across other survivors who have discarded their humanity and done evil things to survive. Some have become haunted by their acts while others have embraced them. Rick has become the barometer by which we judge our band of survivors. He’s taken it upon his shoulders to be the one that makes the hard decisions.

He’s always tried to deny the role of leadership and just want to be there for his son and daughter, but we’ve come to realize through his own personal revelations that people would always look to him as their leader whether he wants them to or not. Others see it in him and even Gareth, right up to the end, sees that this was a man who has done terrible things to survive this long to save his people. Where the difference lies between Rick and Gareth (and the Governor and Joe in past encounters) is that Rick still strives to keep some hold on his personal moral code. He might be setting aside his humanity to get the job done, but he does it as a necessary evil and always looking back to make sure that his humanity still waits for him once the task was done.

Tonight’s episode was a perfect example of Rick finally accepting his role as group leader and doing what must be done to keep everyone safe.We’ve only seen glimpses of this through the first four seasons of the show and it’s refreshing to finally see the writers stop waffling about Rick should continue to torment himself about doing the right thing.

Does this put him on the same path which tainted the Governor, Joe and Gareth?

There’s a good chance that it could, but as we’ve seen Rick has something those other men never had to keep him from falling to the darkside. Rick has good people around him to offer friendship and moral advice. They understand that Rick has taken on much to keep them alive and it’s their job to help him keep his humanity intact once the nightmare ends.

Bob might be gone from the group, but just like Hershel before him, his very optimism in a world that rewards nihilism and brutality has left a mark on everyone. His parting words to Rick showed that Rick still remains a good man despite doing things that Gabriel and others would call evil.

The Walking Dead has had it’s ups and downs since it’s first season and I don’t think a barreling first three episodes of this new season could solve all the problems it has had. But it’s encouraging to see that the producers and writers haven’t been tone deaf to the complaints about the show’s storytelling and its work on making the characters believable and complex. Even with its ridiculous ratings with each new episode they do understand there’s room for massive improvement and if what we’ve been witness to this early in the fifth season then The Walking Dead might just have it’s best days still to come.

Notes

  • “Four Walls and a Roof” was written by Angela Kand and Corey Reed and directed by Jeffrey F. January.
  • Like how even the smallest details in this young season has become a major factor. An example was Glenn finding the three suppressors in the looted gun store in the previous episode feeling like some throwaway moment, but it sure made a difference in tonight’s episode.
  • It looks like there might be further issues between Rick and Abraham if tonight’s episode was any indication.
  • One of the best scenes in tonight’s episode happens in the end as Michonne glances down at the carnage they heaped on the Terminans and notices that one of them was carrying her katana. The look on her face she drew it out was priceless. She’s whole once more despite telling Rick last week that she didn’t miss it.
  • Tyreese and Glenn look to be the frontrunners on who should be taking on the role of moral center since Hershel left the group midway through last season.
  • Surprising how Larry Gilliard, Jr. wasn’t a guest in tonight’s Talking Dead episode.
  • Talking Dead guests tonight are Slash (Guns ‘N Roses, Velvet Revolver), Mary Lynn Rajskub (24, Californication) and Gareth himself, Andrew J. West.

Season 5

Horror Review: The Walking Dead S4E02 “Infected”


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“I see when the shit hits you’re standing there with a shovel.” — Daryl Dixon

[some spoilers]

Last week saw the return of AMC’s wildly popular horror tv series, The Walking Dead. The show ran huge ratings numbers which seems to still confound it’s critics. These are numbers that rivals Sunday Night Football ratings numbers. Yes, the show has had issues with character development and acting, but it continues to bring in more and more viewers. Could it be that the show is satisfying a jaded public’s appetite for bloodlust? If that’s the case then gory horror films should be doing much better in the theaters, but that’s definitely not the case.

With the show’s return we get to see what sort of long-running arc new showrunner Scott M. Gimple has planned for the series. With the first truncated season it was all about Rick adapting to this new dangerous world and reconnecting with his lost family. The second season saw a change in showrunners with series creator Frank Darabont fired and replaced by veteran producer Glen Mazzara and we saw the change in the show’s pacing and storytelling. What was a much more deliberate pacing under Darabont became much more about forward momentum. This worked for the most part and complaints about the show going in circles and nowhere died down, but Mazzara was soon replaced by the end of season 3.

So, the Scott M. Gimple era has begun and with last week’s premiere we found a season the started off full of hope and normalcy, but since this is a horror series that peaceful serenity ended just as fast as it was introduced.

“Infected” takes up very quickly after the cliffhanger of the season premiere which saw one of the new cast members die of some disease (I’m guessing a strong strain of the flu) in the showers and left unattended. If we’ve learned through the three seasons of this show that any death will cause the body of the deceased to reanimate and go looking for living flesh. So, that rule hasn’t changed and we see Harry Potter, I mean Patrick, get up from where he died in the showers and into a cell block full of sleeping people.

Tonight’s episode played out almost like a sort of crucible that Rick had to go through once more to find his true self. Last week’s episode showed us how Rick has turned his back on being the group’s leader. He’s stopped carrying his revolver when stepping beyond the prison’s fences. He’s trying to be a better role model for his son Carl who we saw last season become much colder and murderously pragmatic. Tonight we saw Rick having to face that decision to stop being a fighter and leader to become a farmer instead.

From the very beginning of the episode we see the seeds of doubt being planted in Rick’s mind that while his decision to forgo being a leader and fighter may save his son Carl from lsoing his childhood innocence he must believe deep in his heart that it’s a fool’s task. Rick is trying to regain a semblance of pre-zombie apocalypse world by being a better father to Carl, yet in doing so the group lost a person who had protected them from Atlanta and through Woodbury. It takes and outbreak within Cell Block D and the sorry state of the prison fences to finally wake Rick up from his utopian dream. By sacrificing the piglets Rick was dropping the act of being a farmer and going back to what he was good at doing and that’s protecting the group and killing zombies.

We see the opposite happening with the once meek and victimized Carol who has taken all the personal loss she’s had to go through the last three seasons and allowing that crucible to forge her into a survivor of this new world. She might’ve sounded harsh when dealing with the young girls and how they must learn to defend themselves even if it means killing a dying loved one, but nothing she said tonight was in the wrong. She’s adapted and accepted her new role as protector of the group even if it means she might alienate some. Rick was like this but could never find the balance between ruthless efficiency and empathy towards other survivors. It’ll be interesting to see what sort of pay off Carol’s character growth will mean not just for the group as a whole, but for Daryl who has formed a close relationship with the former victim.

Tonight’s episode was much stronger than last week’s by a wide margin. Where last week’s season premiere seemed like a new showrunner playing it safe with tonight’s episode we see a stronger and more focused narrative that looks to dominate at least the first half of this new season. So far, the new season had promised a new danger to harry the group and now we see what it is and we still haven’t seen the absent Governor. Scott Gimple promised that the show was going to go back to making the zombies a true danger once again after the human-on-human carnage from last season and if the first two episodes for season 4 were any indication he’s keeping his promise.

Notes

  • “Infected” was written and directed by series veterans Angela Kang and Guy Ferland.
  • Just when I thought Greg Nicotero and his make-up effects wizards at KNB EFX couldn’t top themselves they come up with several gory gags in just the first 20 minutes of the episode.
  • While some think it unbelievable that no one heard Patrick chowing down in the next cell one has to think that these people thought they were safe. The way the dead just geometrically expanded from Patrick to suddenly many in less than a morning was a nice touch.
  • It looks like we now have two new medical professionals with unnamed dude with the beard and Bob “On the Wagon” Stookey.
  • Carol has definitely grown as a character from the damaged housewife from season 1 to growing badass in Season 4. She’s even dressing up to look like one to match the new survival mindset.
  • The show has never been gun shy of putting children in danger but it was a tough scene to watch the one young mother carrying the small, bloody bundle out of Cell Black D to be buried.
  • I was very surprised at the event which finally looks to bring out the badass locked inside bug teddy bear Tyreese. I was thinking that it was something terrible happening to his younger sister, but definitely did not see Karen’s death at the hands of an unknown assailant as being the catalyst.
  • One the best gags in tonight’s episode was a nice homage to George A. Romero’s Day of the Dead were Greg Nicotero apprenticed with FX master Tom Savini and also appeared as one of the soldiers tasked with protecting the scientists. Here’s the scene in question from that film…
  • Tonight’s episode will definitely not amuse PETA. Not one bit.
  • Talking Dead Guests: Series exec. producer Greg Nicotero, comedian Doug Benson and Paramore singer Hayley Williams.

Season 4

Review: The Walking Dead S3E11 “I Ain’t a Judas”


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“You once said this wasn’t a democracy. Now you have to own up to it.” — Hershel Greene

This Sunday wasn’t just the premiere of a new episode of The Walking Dead, but also the airing of the 85th Academy Awards Show. So, my ind was being pulled in two directions all night. This will account for the lateness for this latest episode review. When I finally was able to actually sit down and watch “I Ain’t no Judas” properly with no distractions I found the episode to be one of the better set-up and filler entries in this highly popular, but uneven series.

This latest episode finds Rick’s leadership being questioned by those in his group. Whether it’s Glenn who is still angry at the treatment he and Maggie received from the Governor and his lackeys. It didn’t help Glenn’s temper much that one of those lackeys happen to be one Merle Dixon and now becoming a part of Rick’s group by necessity. If it wasn’t Glenn then there’s Hershel who knows what Rick has been going through mentally and the cause of it and sympathizes, but at the same time wants Rick to cowboy up and take responsibility once more for naming himself their dictator. It was a nice moment to see Hershel voice what every fan of the show has probably been saying since the death of Lori in the first half of this third season. While Rick going through some mental instability does make for some interesting paths the show can take in the future it doesn’t help this current narrative where the prison group must now contend with the Governor and his army which has them outmanned, outgunned and literally put under siege.

The surprising part of this episode was to have Rick’s own son advice him to relinquish the role of leader to someone else. Let Hershel or Daryl take charge from now so Rick can find some peace and time to mourn what he has lost. Chandler Riggs as an actor still has a ways to go before one can call him a very good child actor, but this scene was another step towards that as we see him not just as a young child having to grow up quickly but as one of the grown-ups who has taken it upon himself to lead the group. That scene alone shows just how much Rick has fallen into despair and how much more tough-minded Carl has become. One could easily see the son taking over as leader in the future either sooner or later.

The rest of the episode was focused more on Andrea as she finally realizes that the two groups she has come to see as family were now gearing up for a bloody war that she knows there’ll be no winners. On one side is the people of Woodbury who she come to care about and want to see protected. Then there’s her previous “family” which some have called a band of killers, but who she knows better as misunderstood and scared enough to lash out violently at any hint of violence from the Governor and his people.

It’s interesting to note that while both sides were gearing up for a fight that could easily have been avoided as Andrea puts it to Rick and the Governor, this also makes her look so cluelessly naive. She might have learned how to survive alone in the wilds and take on zombies without flinching, but she still clings to the old ways that everyone should and could get along. Andrea continues to either ignore or hope for the best when it comes to the Governor and his inner circle when she knows deep down that the Governor instigated everything and put this war into motion. It was a nice moment when Andrea meets up with Michonne once more in the prison and the latter pretty much acts like she has been vindicated in her decision to leave Woodbury. Andrea was wrong and continues to make the wrong decisions. Sooner or later she will have to pick a side and the way the show has deviated from the comic books there’s no telling that she would pick Rick and her old group over the Woodbury group.

For a set-up and filler episode this was one of the better one for the series as regular series writer Angela Kang seems to have a better grip on the series narrative and the characters. While the episode was one of the so-called “talky ones” it didn’t drag the pacing down. Part of that has to be due to the reunion of Andrea and the old group and the tension that came with it being written and handled well by all involved. Then when things did look like it was about to slow down we got Greg Nicotero and his gore-wizards at KNB EFX come up with one of the more gruesome and disturbing zombie gore scenes for the show. For a series that’s been quite liberal in showing gore and violence on the screen the impromptu curb-stomping and limb-chopping done by Andrea and Milton on a zombie was even more gruesome than usual.

There’s now 5 more episodes left to this third season and we’re seeing the two sides begin to moves pieces on the proverbial board as the inevitable final showdown between Team Rick and Team Governor will resolve itself by season’s end. There’s a good chance not everyone will make it out alive by the time this third season ends. The question now is whether the writers will follow the comic book path and abandon the prison and go back on the road or will the survivors of the two warring parties finally unite to create a safe haven for everyone.

Notes

  • Tonight’s episode, “I Ain’t no Judas”, was directed by series regular and make-up effects maestro Greg Nicotero and written by series regular Angela Kang.
  • Even with most of the group of the mind to take Merle out the back and feed him to the zombies for his actions while in Woodbury I actually do believe he’s the best chance this group has got against the Governor and, in his heart, Daryl knows this too.
  • Great to see Hershel doing more than just trying to channel his inner-Dale and actually letting it be known to Rick and everyone else that their leader needs to get his mind out of his ass and get to leading.
  • Which is what Carl seems to think Rick has lost the will and stomach for. Hershel and Carl are both right. Whether Rick listens to one or the other is a different matter altogether with the ghost of Lori leading him at the moment.
  • Tonight’s episode was Andrea-centric and I think it suffers not because of dealt with the story from her perspective but because the actor playing Andrea just seem to have lost any sense of portraying the character with any subtlety at all. Just how much better would the Andrea character would be if it was being played by someone else is something future pundits would be talking about for years to come.
  • Glenn, Glenn, Glenn…you seem to have become this season’s second half idiot with the way you’ve been acting. Nice work by Steven Yeun, but this current state of the Glenn character could easily derail one of the show’s more pragmatic and even-handed characters. He’s really toeing the line of turning into a hysterical character ready to pop-off at anyone at a moment’s notice.
  • Hate him or not, Merle’s a survivor and understands his best chance of living is with Rick’s group despite being outnumbered. Great scene between him and Hershel who looks to try and bridge the gap between the Merle he probably hates for putting Maggie and Glenn through the ringer while in Woodbury and the Merle he knows has the skills the group needs to weather the storm on the horizon that is Woodbury and the Governor.
  • Not many zombie kills tonight but there was one highlight scene that will go into KNB EFX’s growing portfolio of great zombie effects work. It’s a scene that has arms being chopped off and a curb-stomping sequence that would make those who winced at a similar scene on American History X turn away from the tv.
  • The episode ends with Beth Greene singing a song (she’s become like the groups bard or something) straight out of Tom Waits’ 1999 album, Mule Variations, and that alone makes “I Ain’t no Judas” worth watching.
  • Zombie Kill Count of tonight’s episode: 3 zombies (a very slow zombie-killing episode).

Past Season 3 Episode Review

  1. Episode 1: “Seed”
  2. Episode 2: “Sick”
  3. Episode 3: “Walk With Me”
  4. Episode 4: “Killer Within”
  5. Episode 5: “Say the Word”
  6. Episode 6: “Hounded”
  7. Episode 7: “When the Dead Come Knocking”
  8. Episode 8: Made to Suffer
  9. Episode 9: The Suicide King
  10. Episode 10: Home