Review: Walking Dead: Made to Suffer

Every night I lock up my house. This isn’t particularly interesting. Despite certain fictional assurances that the Midwest is a place where you can leave your doors unlocked at night, I know for a fact that if your diligence wanes, someone might just walk into your house. In my case, it was many moons ago when my husband and I inadvertently left the door to our apartment unlocked ere we went to bed. We’d gotten sloppy; we lived in a relatively small apartment building with what looked like a good security system, and I’ve never been good at paranoia. So I woke up that night in a near panic because I knew I had not dreamed the sound of someone in our living room. I called the cops, and considered the angles out of the sliding window unit while my husband ventured into the dark unknown of our living room.

The cops frisked my husband as he shot out of the apartment, spelling his name and telling them his wife was still inside. I was back against the door, low to the ground, like someone might shoot through the shitboard that made up the material of the doors. I know I watch too much tv. They coaxed me out eventually; I can admit I’m a coward. We stood with some cops in our incredibly messy living room for a while – we were in the process of boxing our possessions so we could move into our house – and the cops kept shining their flashlights onto disheveled piles of our stuff and asking if the mess was normal. It was embarrassing. At some point we all realized there was someone else in the room, someone asleep under the laundry I’d washed and folded and left on the back of the couch. The cops shone a flashlight on an exposed arm and asked us several times, “Is this yours?” I still remember the odd phrasing.

I ended up back in the bathroom, I think all the way into the shower, while the cops woke and then sat on and cuffed an extravagantly drunk young man. He was naked but for a pair of socks and a baseball cap. After the cops fetched a truly scratchy looking baby blue cop blanket and swaddled him in it, they coaxed me back out of the bathroom to see if I knew him. I didn’t. He was just some kid who had three too many Long Island Teas at Liquor Lyle’s, pissed himself, doffed his clothes, and then went looking for the first open door. Ours was the first open door. We were diligent for a long while, but I know since then I’ve gotten lax again a few several times. We have a biggish dog, and I figure if someone really wants in, they’ll probably get in.

I’m really glad we don’t have walking cannibal corpses in the neighborhood though, boy howdy, because I figure most burglars are going to go for the tv and not try to eat my face off. Which is what brings this long winded anecdote to the the mid season finale of Walking Dead, Made to Suffer. This season the writers have been working the whole security state post-9/11 panic angle really hard, made obnoxiously manifest in The Governor’s use of the term “terrorist” in his final speech. I had a strangely fruitful conversation with a stranger on the Internet last week, where we talked about subtext of this season, how it seems on the face of it the writers are bagging democracy, from the “this is not a democracy” speech, down to the dark Mayberry of Woodbury with its soft spoken despot with democratical-sounding titles. Our hero is a grief-broken lunatic whose leadership style seems more chain of command than consensus. When he’s around to lead, anyway, and not howling through the prison making unilateral decisions about who lives and dies – though poorly – and talking to ghosts on the phone.

What are we to make of this? Of course, the Governor is eeevil, or at the very least, batshit insane, what with his heads in a tank and zombie daughter in the closet. The part when Michonne came to exact her vengeance was a strange sequence, because I found myself totally crushed by The Gov’s reaction to her killing his child. Yes, yes, she’s a zombie and all that, but Morissey was so stricken, so visibly destroyed by the loss that I really questioned Michonne’s motivations there. That was a bitch move. Andrea’s convenient arrival really showed the lack of backstory between the two women – I don’t think the writers can even imagine what those two might have talked about, they being women and all – and what should have come off as a tense interpersonal moment ended up being scene mechanics.

But back to the security state thing. Woodbury’s leadership seems hell-bent on insulating their town from what has happened, what having happened being the zombie apocalypse. They’re locking their doors against the naked drunks, but they are wide open for the canny burglar who wants to eat their faces off. Every single time we took off our damn shoes while going through the airport security this Thanksgiving, my kids asked me, why are we doing this? And my answer was that one time, there was this damned idiot who thought he could blow up a plane with a shoe. (Jesus Christ, Austen Powers called.) My country is busy rending people and throwing them into the screaming pits – which, good call with the name there, gov; shoulda gone with something like “School of the Americas” – and what we’re getting for our trouble is a bunch of Michonnes. Not to draw too hard of an analogy or anything.

Anyway, teetering metaphors aside, Made to Suffer was very much in the mode of this season so far, which is go go go go. Tyreese was introduced – who was Rick’s lieutenant in the comics – necessitating the death of the other black male character, T-Dog…I mean, whatever his name was who replaced T-Dog. I swear to God, I joked to my husband that that would happen the second Tyreese was on screen, and good golly, am I tired of how lame the writers are. Romanov-mustache dude turns out to be a pedobear and short hair doesn’t mean you’re a lesbian. But man, am I Team Tyreese at the moment. He’s, like, the only person who has ever behaved in a rational manner – letting the bitten woman come along so her living partner can work through what happened, not throwing a fit and glowering when tiny badass, Carl, locks them up until they can be vetted.

Michonne had an actual moment of emotion there when Rick almost tosses her out of the group, I think the first time I’ve seen that woman do anything but scowl. Glenn and Maggie, I heart the hell out of those two and their towering badassery. and I also appreciate that Glenn drops the knowledge immediately that Merle is with the Gov, given how much hiding the football they’ve been doing with him. Internet speculation has it that Merle is being planted as a mole in the Rickocrats when Merle and Daryl eventually escape from their predicament, but I’m not discounting how pissed the Gov is about Merle lying about Michonne being dead.

Well, anyway, I think a lot of this episode was rushed, and I’m somewhat unimpressed with the big battle stuff in Woodbury – why is that people can head-shoot zombies right and left, and can’t hit the side of a barn when living folk turn up – and I sprained my eyeballs eye-rolling at all the terrorist talk in the final Governor speech. Speaking of the side of the metaphorical barn, good god. Individual performances continue to impress, like Morrissey and Maggie and Glenn, even though sometimes I think the caliber of the performance might even undercut whatever bullshit point the writers were going for. Often my favorite moment in series are the ones where nothing happens and people just talk about stuff, which has been thin on the ground this season. We need more people being people before we can cower about how they have become monsters.

Review: Walking Dead: When the Dead Come Walking

I know that this is probably the wrong reaction to last week’s episode, When the Dead Come Walking, but pretty much all I want to do is ship for Daryl and Carol. I mean, their names even rhyme, and I’m sure without much workshopping, we could come up with a cute name like Bennifer or Brangelina. D’Caryl? ….aaaand a quick search of the Intertubes offers up Caryl, complete with tumblrs, twitter handles, and unbelievably adorable fan art. Holy hannah, but do I love the Intertubes.

Carol’s come a long way from her incarnation in the comics, or even from last season, where she was a dishrag in both incarnations. I can’t rightly remember if she had a daughter in the comics, but mostly last season she got to be distraught mom. But she, like Maggie, has done some amazing work this season, and it’s possible that it’s more the actress than the writing (like Maggie.) The actress who plays Maggie has this big expressive face, all eye-whites and teeth, and her reaction shots absolutely anchor scenes like Rick finding out about Lori’s death or Glenn’s torture. The actress who plays Carol plays it smaller, with more flicks of the eyes and sly humor, but she also just nails the small moments: a look passed to Daryl (♥♥♥♥) before he sets out, the wordless understanding that passes between her and Rick when she meets Asskicker/Judith without her mom. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: Walking Dead does so much better when characters don’t talk, but honestly, this is still pretty much up to the actor to bring it.

Which brings me to Michonne. I’m sorry I’ve been doing this so much this season, and I will throw in my hedging that comic and show have diverged so much that nothing I say about the comic could ever be a spoiler for the show, but I’m really bumming that two of my favorites from the comic, Michonne and Andrea, have become so shabby in the show. Andrea was a cold sniper in the comics, competent and hard-edged, and watching her blonde it up so bad with the Governor just depresses me. Michonne…I don’t even want to say this too loudly, but I’m thinking the actress just isn’t up to the task, short of some good physicality when it comes to fight scenes like the one that opens the show. Maybe that scene where she’s interrogated by Rick and Daryl is badly written, maybe not, but comics Michonne was a ton more sly than the bald-faced glowering that went on there, especially considering the smart reaction shot that had her observing the Rickocrats quiet emotional upheaval of Carol’s survival and her revelation of Lori’s death. We should have had moments of quiet and humanity from Michonne at any point to date, but we don’t have much more than nostril-flaring and hard stares.

I am not, nor have I ever been, much of a fan of torture sequences – it’s all so much Sun Tzu by way of 9/11 – and given the whole descent into feudalism we’ve got going on, it feels a little cheap. Which is not to say that Glenn didn’t bring it big time – Merle’s assessment that he’s the sneaky one is pretty right on, pulling out a can of whup ass when Merle unleashes a walker on him. But godamn it, rape. Shows like Walking Dead do not have the nuance to be able to pull off the Governor’s sexual assault of Maggie – and that was sexual assault, right down to his gross “comforting” of her – even while I admire the way the actress played some very tricky scenes. I get the whole “things worse than death” they’re trying to pull, but action-driven horror shows that are fundamentally about how two white men manage leadership should not fuck around with rape. You guys can’t handle the truth; don’t even try.

So, what else? Oh, the the sequence where they find the cabin-bound dead-dog dude was almost funny to me, because if this had been last season, we would have spent several long episodes getting to know dead dog dude, but here it was in the house, stand off, run through, out to the porch to be eaten by walkers. Why doesn’t he seem to know about walkers? Why does he ask for a badge? Whatever! Moving on! Merle’s racist stuff about T-Dog was also inadvertently funny: remember that dude who once had a line? Aww. I don’t know what to think about how dumb mad scientist dude is about his colon cancer friend, but it was nice to see Andrea not be a total waste. I still want to punch Andrea though. I think that’s probably it for incidentals.

This episode is obviously very much setting up the mid-season finale, moving the players from one place to the next for their inevitable conflict. The writers are also obviously playing hide the football with Merle and Daryl, and let’s hope they don’t fumble that meeting. This whole season for me has been met and often exceeded expectations for me, cut with horrible anticipation about how badly the writers might blow it. Which on some level is a pretty great metaphor for life with the walking dead.

Review: Walking Dead: Hounded

Spoilers, per usual.

This really strange dude who lived in my freshman dorm was fond of rolling up and saying to people, apropos of nothing, “100% of smokers die,” as he pulled hard on a smoke. Zombie stories are pretty much this statement, only with everyone, and real soon. It’s a numbers game, and we’re all redshirts.

In terms of narrative, this long, slow dirge for humanity is going to be hard to pull off long term, which makes Kirkman’s continuing comics (which I have not followed, past the prison sequence) such an interesting exercise  I can see how it might fall into holes, playing out Rick’s creation of new community, and then that community’s eventual demise like an episode with the A-Team where they roll into town and sort out the bad from the good and then roll on. Continued existence is going to boil down to soap mechanics, or action movie mechanics, and this episode does both in a way I found pretty satisfying.

“Hounded” covers a lot of ground, running at least three plotlines, maybe four if you consider the stuff in the prison as separate arcs. Most of this was taunt, almost understated stuff, although maybe understated is just in comparison to the usual histrionics. It opens with Merle and a bunch of redder shirts than usual hunting Michonne through the usual Georgia underbrush, and while the zombie cryptoquip was maybe lame, the sequence let Michonne be the badass she is. Everything Merle did was telegraphed 15 minutes before it happened, sure, but beheadings are always fun to watch.

Andrea continues to be terribly blonde, and while I’m not surprised by her falling into bed with the Governor – call me Phillip – in this incarnation, I’m not exactly happy about it. On the one hand, I like her admission that she likes the zombie fights, that she understands them. Things like the zombie fights are usually run to make us, the viewer, understand that the people involved are without morals or reason, so we can write them off and revel in their deaths. When someone like Andrea, who is, admittedly, still seriously blonde, can admit she likes the catharsis and action of the fights, it kinda validates all of our morbid rubbernecking from the couch. On the other hand, quit being so damn blonde. I say this as a blonde, so, you know, I’m not being racist.

And Rick, ah, man. Here’s where the mortality issue comes in. We’re going to be dealing with character death for episode upon episode – 100% of Rickocrats are going to die, it’s just a matter of time scale. But this is the really shitty thing about death: they don’t all matter the same way. When Rick lost Lori, man, that was a mind job. You pretty much know he has to be bananas when he’s on that phone, his series of stark, honest confessions about what he’s done and why, but the writers play it pretty close. I kept watching that walker he shot and then gut-stabbed last episode like it was going to heave up and come for him, but it never did. Death is final in the end, it’s 100%, and the acting out of Rick’s grief was just right.

And Daryl, my God, his strange eulogy for his mother while he hunts through the prison for leftover walkers was just poetry, even if Carl’s “I shot my mom” felt accidentally funny. (Sorry Carl.) And Daryl’s realization that it must be Carol’s corpse banging the door in the closet was wrenching, even if I was pretty sure she was alive. (Seriously, why did they dig a grave for her last week if there was no body? Whatever, tv does as it will do.) But her being alive is a small bright moment against the horrible, inevitable statistics of this show, one I will take, given the end.

Because here’s where the soap mechanics come in: in all the shitty Georgia strip-malls, Merle’s gonna stumble on Glenn and Maggie in this one? Okay. I mean, sure, we’ve set up our antagonists, and we have to get them in conflict in some way or another, and this is it. I’m kinda dreading next week, based on some stuff I know from the comics, but maybe Kirkman & writers will avoid the mess they made there. Fingers crossed. Here’s hoping against the statistics.

Review: Walking Dead: Say the Word

Spoilers for everything!

Can I just say first that, holy crap, can Daryl rock a serape or what? He’s easily my favorite character on the show, and I think this episode has finally showed me why. It’s not necessarily because of what he does – although his easy slide into the leadership role once Rick goes off the deep end is very nice – but because we know stuff about him. He’s got a foil in Merle, the attack dog lieutenant for a smooth sociopath (and also, of course, his brother). He’s had little moments and big moments, so that when he drops the Cherokee Rose on Carol’s grave, you totally heave a sigh. We know what dude’s about, so his ease with the baby while still being a stupendous badass is perfect, giving the remaining group a moment of levity and wonder. Awww.

Contrast Daryl with T-Dog. Glenn runs an unconvincing eulogy about how T-Dog saved a bunch of kittens and old people from trees when Atlanta was being evacuated, and I’m like, why the hell am I only hearing this now? Nobody puts any work into the minor characters, and the writers squander the dialogue they have on these really baldly expository stuff. I re-watched last week’s episode because my husband missed it, and he was like, really? Michonne is going to pretty much tell the Governor she knows he killed all those National Guardsmen? Why would she do that? She’s already telegraphed her super-sleuth skills checking the bullet holes and stuff. Can’t you trust us as viewers? (This isn’t dissimilar from psychic Dale, who suddenly knew Shane was trouble due to magical zombie dust, and then told him so at every opportunity.)

There’s some credible work being done with the Governor (“No, randomly call me Phillip.”) His creepy hair brushing of his creepy zombie daughter was a super nice touch, especially when contrasted with Rick’s total melt-down at the prison over the loss of his wife. You’ve got a non-zombie baby, Rick! Man up! Lincoln is pulling out the stops with Rick, and he’s doing just an amazing job with his physicality. Morrissey is interesting to watch too, despite some really clunky lines, because he’s soft-selling the Governor’s insanity. But Michonne! So bad. We’re not getting any character moments with her, short of some glowering and an admittedly joyful zombie beheading sequence. But that doesn’t say anything about her, and when the fine people of Woodbury drag her back and start ‘sperimenting on her (or whatever happens), we’re not going to care. And Andrea: ugh. Her sole motivation seems to be blonde. The little moments have to be so much less expository if the big moments are going to work.

I’m not sure what to think about the zombie MMA sequence. I know it’s in the comics and everyone thinks it’s sweet, but the staging felt really small, with no real sense of danger. I was more worried during the netting and tooth extraction scenes. Or, wait, omigod, when Daryl and Maggie go to the daycare? I was really dreading a sequence where they have to mow down a whole house full of dead children. Walking Dead hasn’t been afraid to kill zombie kids before, but they tend to be individuals and used specifically. Anyway, the restraint there was nice, and made the whole sequence really melancholy and sad. And the character work between Daryl and Maggie was great: “I’m not putting that in my bag.” Compared to the pointless Merle-posturing and blonde-Andrea-ing of the MMA sequence, this scene does some serious work.

So, an uneven episode, but the writing is still markedly improved from last season, and Lincoln is really bringing his game. Let’s put everyone in serapes!

Review: Walking Dead: Killer Within

Whooo-ey. Spoilers EVERYWHERE. Both hark and behold.

I said somewhere in my reviews for this season that the writers were punishing me for my bitching about last season, and that holds with a bullet this episode. They pretty mercilessly take down both T-Dog and Lori, the first who has been a walking punchline of tokenism – a fair number of reviewers have been doing a T-Dog line count, which is not pretty –  and the latter a fan un-favorite to the n-th degree. On the one hand, that’s probably nifty, clearing the ground of characters like the rotting walkers that the Rickocrats are working on clearing in the opening scenes, so they can plant the ground for new crops. On the other it’s a bloody chicken out on characters who the writers generally suck at writing, and forget trying to improve on them, take ’em down.

Oh wait, nevermind.

I mean, we have already two other poorly sketched black characters, so buh bye Theodore Douglas. We didn’t know shit about your life previous to the zombie apocalypse, we could rely on you to stand blackly in the background, and maybe utter a line or two that literally anyone else could for the entire show. Sniff. Smell you later.

Which brings me to Lori. Her arc with the pregnancy has been riddled with some gender bullshit, down to whatever magical drug she sent Glenn off to get in whatever episode when she made the baby Jesus cry for even considering abortion in the zombie apocalypse. And Walking Dead isn’t the first or the last show that pulls out the egregious birthin’ babies scenes, but come the fuck on. The average labor takes twelve hours, which doesn’t do when you’re parceling out some ham-fisted dialogue and bloody body horror. OMG!! TEH BIRTHIN’ BABIES.
Okay, whatever, I’m calming down. I wrote on an envelope near my computer the following lines, spoken by The Guv: “The scenery has changed, the landscape, but the way we think…” He doesn’t complete the thought, but my widdle ears perked up at this statement because of some personal wacky theories that are mine and mine alone.

Zombie stories are on some level landscape pictures that run the slow pan over the American landscape and take our pulse or the lack thereof about what we think about soil and race and movement and teh wimmens. Landscape pictures tend to be male holdouts, Alamos of homosocial enclaves – like a prison? Just saying – and it’s not a huge surprise that a show that is setting up a soft-spoken lunatic against an ironically not-so-effective badass – seriously, Rick, make sure the dude is dead when you consign him to death, lest dramatic irony bite you (or T-Dog) in the ass – would spend this domestic death this way. Zombie narratives are hell on domesticity – they tend to make it shallow and worthless – but it really could have been something if Lori could stick around to do something other than die valiantly and womanly in a big freaking gross out. Jesus Christ.

I’m acting like I hated this episode, which isn’t really accurate. Lincoln continues to impress, with his near wordless reactions that cut more deeply than his wife’s loss, though Carl’s flinty-eyed pre-teen of death routine I could do without. I thought most of the scenes with The Guv were unnecessary – Andrea is being a big dumb girl; Michonne can scowl and make lamely leading statements – but other than my usual racial and gender bitches with the writing, the action in the prison was taunt and fun to watch. And I’m going to give the writers mad props for writing in this level of character death on episode freaking four. Let’s just hope it isn’t for nothing. Killing Lori off certainly clears the ground, but we’ll see what they plant in her place.

Review: Walking Dead: Walk With Me

I know I’m supposed to be serious and say some stuff about the arc of this series, but I really want to talk about rarr, Michael Rooker. He was used ridiculously badly in the first season, showing up as Daryl’s older, racister brother, given wholly lame scenery chewing speeches about how racist racist racist he was. Racist. But godamn, the man is Michael fucking Rooker, so I’ve been absolutely gagging for him to show back up. As something other than Daryl’s fever dream. Not that that isn’t hot too.

Though I have read the comic compendium that arcs through the Rickocrats sojourn on the farm and the prison, I haven’t really had a problem separating page from screen until now. So many things were different in the beginning, from Shane’s continued survival to general character shuffling. Which is mostly awesome, except for Lori. Andrea and Michonne fall into the sketchy utopia of the Governor’s town, and it’s pretty neat how softly David Morrissey plays a dude who is obviously going to turn out to be evil. But then maybe I’m just saying that because I’ve read the comix?

No, no, for sure, any show has to have an antagonist, and there is only one Rick in the Ricktatorship. As close to the edge as Rick is, the Governor’s calm and soft-spokenness reads as a warning. Seriously, folk, screaming your head off might be the right reaction to the zombie apocalypse, and barring that, as it might draw out the walkers, some eye-bugging might be in order. Anyone drinking tea should be watched.

Which brings us back to the spectacular Merle. He was written for shit first season, but he finally makes sense here as a bigger psychopath’s lap-dog – the “hammer” as he’s characterized by a somewhat wobbly-played mad scientist. Splendid Mr. Rooker’s swaggering and Ash-esque brandishing of his stump is neat within a community of larger, fell purpose, where it wasn’t all by its lonesome on a department store roof. Someone like Merle only makes sense in context. Yeeee haw.

Which brings me to Michonne. I have a several page rampage about how her character arc works out in the comix – most of it boiling down to how badly Kirkman writes women, so when he hits the topic of rape, he trips over his own dick and makes a serious mess – but I loved her character so wholeheartedly. Which is another place I’m finding it hard to separate comic from screen, because I’m bringing my love for a page Michonne to the screen, and I’m pretty sure the screen Michonne doesn’t deserve it yet. Yes, she can glower like a boss, and she is clearly a stupendous badass, but I’m not sure that’s enough.

Andrea’s characterization in the town is a little iffy, I think mostly because the writers are holding Michonne back to lend her more mystery or something. So Andrea’s stuck flirting and asking leading questions, because if she didn’t do it, no one would. I invoke Bechtel way more often than I should, but I think that maybe there is a general problem writing women on this show, because when Andrea berates Michonne a little for not knowing her despite their hanging out in the zombie apocalypse for the last seven months, I think, really? That doesn’t make any sense. The Governor’s town is so obviously overlaid with all this manfolk manliness, and Andrea’s openness and Michonne’s closedness feels a little weird.

But whatever. This episode was much more about sketching the Governor, and we’ll probably get our Michonne episode soon enough. And I liked the Governor sketch much more than in the comix, despite some lame dialogue – Andrea again with her “never say never” – because he’s so much less of a cartoon evil, ahem. They’re playing up his likeness to Rick in an almost ham-handed manner – token Asian guy: go kill that dude! token T-Dog looking guy: have no lines! token brown-haired lady: sleep in his bed! – but that’s what I’m really hoping for this season – a real conflict between just barely unsimilar leaders. And I did catch the barely coded “The South Will Rise Again” stuff, screenwriters. Good job.

Review: Walking Dead: Sick

Spoilers for everything.

The series opener of Walking Dead, Days Gone Bye, starts with our hero, Rick Grimes waking up in a hospital in Atlanta approximately 28 days after the zombie apocalypse. (See what I did there?) He’s the fish out of water, exploring the new normal of the world he inhabits, a normal that unfortunately includes walking cannibal corpses. Beginning in medias res allows the narrative to leapfrog over the action movie histrionics of First Night – histrionics I often enjoy, I’ll have you know – and get down the the dirty business of survival. The boat has sunk. Here’s the raft. Watch him try to patch the leaks.

Rick missed out on the 24 hour news cycles debating, then crying doom, then cutting out, the slowly dawning realization and then adaption to this new environment, watching friends turn, having the electricity cut out, packing the car, running and running and killing and running. He was just thrust into it, and the scene where he pats the floor with his hand, muttering, is this real? Is this real? is the posture d’être for Rick for the next two seasons. Over the next two seasons, he clings to his uniform, to often ineffectual or dangerous senses of order and authority, but it makes a kind of sense. He never got the call that the Twin Towers had fallen and that we’ve always been at war with Eastasia. 

In Sick, the uniform has come off. I’ve noticed our merry band of Rickocrats (I know the fanterm is Ricktatorship, but Rickocrats works better for everyone who isn’t Rick) have been elbows deep in grime (Rick grime?) for the season so far. They don’t bother even to wash off the blood anymore, making bloody handprints just like the walkers as they go through their now almost rote survival. It’s a sharp contrast with all the damn bisquit-making and down-home folky farmin’ that was going on last season, clean pretty white curtains fluttering in the breeze. I bitched a fair amount about that, but I’m getting punished for my desire to see Rick Shane up just a little and acknowledge he’s living in a world that demands quick, hard moral choices. It works when he lops off Hershel’s leg, saving his life, but he’s hardened so much that, Rick, man, loosen up. 

In a pretty neat parallelism, Rick & crew find a group of prisoners as ignorant as Rick was at the beginning of the season one. They’ve been locked in a cafeteria for 10 months (28 weeks later, maybe?) and are fully ignorant of the walking dead or the world as it is now. Rick’s short explanation of all they have lost – no phones, no hospitals, no government – is pretty stark, and lays out the stakes in a way I thought was missing in season two. But the prisoners’ ignorance is different from Rick’s – they are not boy scouts – and the way they cling to past methods of survival is going to be different. Much of this is played for both comedy and bathos, which is pretty refreshing in a series with as grim (Rick grim?) a set-up as this one. I didn’t catch his name – that I didn’t catch any name other than Big Tiny, which is a serious bullseye in my book, was a sign I shouldn’t worry too much about these characters’ continued survival – but the way the long-haired leader psycho keeps shiving walkers in the gut was pretty funny. T-Dog and Daryl’s get a load of these idiots looks are priceless. 

But long-haired psycho keeps pulling all this prison yard puffery, going at Rick in a zombie melee in a way that is clumsy and obvious. Shane would never have done something so bald – shit happens, indeed – because he wouldn’t assume that there was an authority other than Rick’s machete in his skull to end that conflict. There’s no guards, no law, nothing to break this conflict up. I’ve had my reservations about Lincoln’s acting, although mostly it was centered in his questionable Southern dialect, but he’s really kicking ass here. You can see him make the decision to kill long-haired psycho, and it’s well before the dude takes a sloppy swipe at Rick. His reaction to leaving the one prisoner out to be eaten by walkers is effective as well, but the choice itself is awful, a total Shane-move that is nowhere near as justified as his killing of long-haired psycho. 

The sparse dialogue, in addition to not treating the secondary (and therefore largely female) characters like completely irrational idiots, continues to be as effective as the season opener, Seed. Which is so encouraging. Lori is our biggest improvement, with her tete a tete with Rick about how fucked their marriage is actually wringing some sympathy for her from me. Her “you should just go out there and murder folk with a clear conscience” speech is maybe more a throwback to old Lori, because it casts her as this big dumb girl, lol, whose conceptualization of how the menfolk are managing their ethical choices is quaint and outmoded. It’s not about ethics, lady. Maybe that’s okay, but Walking Dead has always had a problem writing some seriously regressive shit into the mouths of its ladies. I broke my heel. Carry me! But other ladies are improving as well, with Carol pulling a decidedly not insane (Glenn’s monologue is hilarious) vivisection of a walker to ready her for the coming c-section. Hard choices, you makes ’em, gurrrl. (Ooo, also, who is watching from the tree??)

By the end of Sick, we’re down to two prisoners – and I’m way hoping for more screen time with pointy mustache prisoner – and Hershel’s up and not a walker, despite some cheap scares. Rick says to Lori that tomorrow they’re going to start cleaning, and I hope that once they wash the blood off, they don’t fall into the farm quagmire of last season. It’s tough in a show predicated on action to take a break and do the character work that it needs to make the action pay off, but given the strength of the first two episodes, I continue to be cautiously optimistic. Oh, and more Michonne, please. Remember Michonne? I sure as hell do. 

Review: Walking Dead: Seed

(Spoilers for season two.)

Season three of AMC’s The Walking Dead started with what is beginning to be the show’s usual bang up premiere episode. Like the first and second season premieres, “Seed” uses action and set pieces to convey stakes in a spare, compact manner. The opening sequence right before the shrieking violins of the titles has minimal dialogue and no music, a silent evocation of how dire things have become. The members of the Rickocracy – I still haven’t quite forgiven the season two finale’s hammy “This is not a democracy!” speech, delivered in Lincoln’s questionable Southern dialect – are functioning now as a well-oiled (if somewhat oily) team. In the house, walkers down, into the cabinets, collapse on the floor. Season two was eventually a quagmire, despite the masterful zombie herd on the highway sequence it had as opener, so we’ll see if season three can keep up its game.

There are some auspicious changes to our less than merry Rickocrats though. Post-apocalyptic stories tend to have close to their little hearts a commentary about the construction of society, the nature of leadership and the led, an us versus us versus them. These are lifeboat situations writ large, and with teeth. When you get right down to it, the zombies (or walkers – which, why are they never called zombies?) are such formidable creatures because they have no individuality. There are no leaders, no orders, just an infinitely scalable motive-of-one: consume. Survivors survive by being more like them, not by wandering off individually after bickering about shit that doesn’t matter.

In the second season, Rick’s strange deference to Hershel’s insanity, though understandable to a degree because of what we know about Rick, and all that mooning around after undoubtedly zombified children didn’t make for the best of television. All those monologues looking out over the fields with Hershel’s watery, soulful eyes – what we need here is a walker attack. Wake up. But even when we got them, Hershel persisted in a leadership based on fantasy, and it got hard to respect Rick for respecting Hershel. It gets to be a problem when you’re rooting for the bad guy, Shane – though, of course, on some level you’re meant to. But it’s an even bigger problem when Shane’s often cogent critiques of how they were living were buried under a bunch of cartoon villainy.

Hershel, Shane and Rick were three different models of leadership, and it bugs me that Shane’s more reality-based model – he was right a thousand times about the group’s need to sac up and learn some real skills – was run to such ridiculously self-defeating nihilism. Hershel was there to act as counterpoint to Rick’s boy scouting; he clung to the old world so hard that he denied reality itself. Sure, it got most of his family killed and the farm overrun, but it’s not like those characters showed up with anything but bullseyes on them, so it was hard to care. I guess my real problem is in characterization, again and again, where Hershel seemed swathed in this Quaker Oats commercial aura, lending his absolutely indefensible position – this is not happening – a gravitas it didn’t deserve.

In “Seed”, Rick is obviously just holding it together, and the group is exhausted and beset. But they are finally a group, and despite a few questionable decisions, they are not behaving like idiots right and left. And the questionable decisions were obviously made to heighten spectacle, which I don’t really count as a bad thing. Sure, they probably should have just banged at the gates and poked zombies in the head with sticks to clear the yard – ammunition does not grow on trees – but the clearing scene with everyone, including last season’s deadweights (har har), taking down zombies was pretty thrilling, and showed us how much this group has changed. What happens to Hershel though, that was a questionable decision that could have been better played.

Though the finding and clearing of the prison didn’t have much of a narrative arc – in many ways, this felt like a part one – it was heartening to see the minimal dialogue be functional. (And to see T-Dog get any lines at all.) The problems tend to happen on Walking Dead when people open their mouths, with characters espousing positions willy nilly without regards to character. But here, the one monologue was grounded in the situation, working out a number of logical if unpleasant consequences of them all being infected. And it was delivered by Lori(!), whose sole motivation in the past has been “womens be crazy and inconsistent lol.”

There’s a good chance this season will mire in the same crappy characterization and bad dialogue, but this was an exciting beginning. I know that the showrunners have said that the show will not follow the plot of the comics, but given how The Governor played there, the potential for corny cartoon villainy is still very much present. Which would be a shame, really, because having Rick run up against a leader almost, but just not quite like him would be a much richer conflict. It would probably be less badass though, I admit, and the badassery of Walking Dead is certainly its strong point. Viva le Rickocracy.

And speaking of badass, more Michonne please.