I noticed, amongst the Geek Pride writers, that no-one had baggsied reviewing The Walking Dead, even though the series was two episodes deep on Sunday. Seeing my opportunity, I jumped and took the responsibility. I have missed my weekly reviews of Game of Thrones, and relished the thought of doing more, even for TWD.
The lack of excitement for the series’ return seems to have been mirrored online: I have not seen anyone saying how excited they were for TWD to return on Twitter, nor on Facebook. There have been some comments during or after episodes but they have not been… glowing, shall we say. Like an actual rotting corpse in your living room, it seems like people are pushing the series away and out of their homes, then trying to forget it exists.
Sadly, the first episode doesn’t provide much reason not to drop the series. Main character Rick has relinquished his Ricktatorship and has now become a farmer, forcing Carl to accept this simpler life as well. A bunch of new characters are floating around – people who might as well all have been wearing redshirts and asking to go on away missions – and everyone’s favourite character Daryl has become something of a hero. There is a bunch of talk. Too much talk.
This is one of the main problems with The Walking Dead, for me. The character building and scene-setting is quite ham-fisted. It feels mechanical, as though the writers and actors know they need to do this stuff so they allow a machine to churn through the scenes. There is rarely much of interest in these scenes, perhaps because the characters themselves are not brilliant.
After some talk, there actually is an away mission for the redshirts, along with Daryl, Michonne and others. Rick also goes out on his own to check the animal traps for… animals. They each find different crumbling structures.
The first is a supermarket which the Army had quarantined, but which had since been overrun by Walkers. After clearing out the herd, the group head inside, searching for supplies. What they don’t know / didn’t think to check for / should have been able to hear by all rights is that the roof is covered in Walkers and exploded helicopter. When inside, we get a really ridiculous scene where one of the redshirts battles with smuggling some alcohol back to the Prison but decides not to, and somehow putting a bottle of wine down not only breaks the shelf it was on but brings the whole damn shelving unit down onto him. It was stupid.
Stupid is not good in TV shows. It just isn’t.
Meanwhile, Rick finds an Irish woman who begs for help. She says that she has someone with her – Eddy – and that they are not doing very well. Rick agrees to follow her back to her camp, where he will ask three questions to confirm whether she and Eddy will be allowed to join the Prison. Along the way, we get some interesting examination and comparison between the two characters: the woman who has struggled to cope with the new world and Rick, who is now struggling to cope after having done so for so long. It wasn’t stupid.
Back in the supermarket, a visually-interesting but ridiculous scene unfolded when the Walkers walk across the roof and fall through damp patches and onto the redshirts and interesting people. A fight breaks out which was actually alright, and then a redshirt who was going out with the blonde farmgirl died. I doubt anyone cared. The farmgirl certainly didn’t.
Rick, however, follows the immigrant to her camp, where is seems she has been living alone. She points to Eddy, who is interestingly obscured, never shown, and goes to check on him. Rick looks around before she attacks, using a machete, trying to kill him: she then admits that Eddy is a Walker, that she brought Rick back to feed him to her partner, that she needs him. The realisation of what she has become seems to break her, as she uses a knife Rick gave her to kill herself. We then hear the 3 questions anyway, because of reasons.
At the Prison, Carl has children his own age to annoy. He does so. Afterwards, he follows them to ‘Storytime’, which turns out to really be ‘Carol’s Badass Lessons for Kids’. One of his friends is excused with an illness. Carl is then noticed skulking around the library, where Carol asks him not to tell anyone about the secret lessons.
There’s a little fallout from the mission and then Carl’s friend, bleeding and coughing, dies in the shower. We all know what that means!
The next episode, there is some ultimately boring character ‘building’. This is eminently skippable, which is not a good thing for a TV show. Alongside it, though, are two interesting threads: someone we don’t see feeds live rats to the Walkers on the fences, who have been gradually becoming a problem, and Carl’s young friend rising from the grave and goes after the living. The zombie nearly eats the redshirt Tyreese is in love with but instead goes after Unnamed Redshirt #13, who for some reason makes no noise as he is eaten. This meal goes on all night, which means no-one hears the zombie chewing, swallowing or moaning which would follow such a meal.
Rick and Carl are out farming, talking about pigs who seem to be ill. They also discuss how the Walkers are grouping up again. Michonne leaves to continue to hunt The Governor. But then there are gunshots inside the prison, and people come screaming out about Walkers. Rick goes inside to deal with them. Carl, who has been banned from gun ownership like any tween should, helps to rescue Michonne when she inexplicably returns to the prison and fails to fight two Walkers.
Inside the prison, it’s chaos. Redshirts are now Walkers, and they’re attacking everyone. Rick, Daryl and the Important Characters kill all the Walkers, then make sure the redshirts who fell are properly dead. When this is done, they realise that Carl’s young friend died of a disease, one some of the Walkers have exhibited. There is an plague, one which would absolutely love a Prison environment.
If I may take an aside for a moment, a slow-building infection which eventually explodes in bloody gore is a great metaphor for TWD as a whole. The only cure, unlike for real people, is more gore. Metaphorically, that is: you couldn’t get much more actual gore.
The council of Important Characters who now run the prison decide that those potentially infected with this plague must be kept as separate from the others as possible. Those already exhibiting symptoms should be quarantined in case they turn suddenly. Tyreese’s lover and someone else are taken to Death Row, in the hope they’ll recover.
Meanwhile, outside, the Walkers have gathered in such great numbers that they are bending the chain fence which protects the prison. Rick, Darryl and the other Important Characters go to try and alleviate the pressure with stabbing, but stabbing proves ineffective with the pile of rat corpses driving the Walkers on. In a well-done scene, they struggle to keep the fence secure until Rick, against his wishes, takes charge of the situation.
During the first attack, Father of Two redshirt was bitten, leading Carol to have to kill him. For some reason, his two daughters wanted to be in there when this happened. The eldest actually wanted to do the killing, but couldn’t. Carol did it instead, and, having promised to look after the girls, she tries to explain the way of the world and why their Dad had to be killed. The eldest daughter, though, seems more concerned about one of the Walkers she named, who was killed during the routine Stabbings which the cast engage in.
Carol also has to deal with Carl, who knows her secret. It’s a tedious scene which only really serves to set up stuff for Rick. In fact, the problem seems to be at the moment that too much of the plot is Rick-centred, and he doesn’t want to do anything but farm. Basing a plot on someone who wants to do nothing does not make for good TV.
There is a little pay-off though when Rick enacts his plan to protect the prison: he gathers his pigs and slaughters them outside the fences, which pulls the Walkers away long enough to allow the fence to be shored up. It’s actually a great metaphor for a man having to shrug off his wishes and do what’s best for the group, which is something he resents doing. He literally has blood on his hands, is covered with it, and must sacrifice Farmer Rick to protect his people. It wasn’t worth, though, the half an hour of boredom which supported it.
This notion of Rick taking control back continues when Carl comes to him after the sacrifice. He is burning down the pig pen, and his farmer clothes, when Carl presents him the dilemma of Carol’s Secret Kickass School. Rick must make a decision then, must take charge again, and he barely hesitates to agree with Carol’s decision as he prepare to burn his Farmer self. To cement this new position, he gives Carl his gun back, reverting almost. It again works quite well.
Then, in a final scene, Tyreese takes some flowers to his redshirt lover… and finds her cell empty. There are bloody dragmarks out from her cell, and the cell besides hers. He follows them out into the open, where we see two corpses smouldering next to a petrol can much like the one Rick used to burn his pig pen…
This mystery of who the killer is keeps The Walking Dead on the right side of watchable, I feel. As does the increased intelligence in the use of visual metaphor: ants covering a dead beetle, Walkers pressing in on defences, a shower draining away as someone dies. There is some spark to the directing, if not the writing, which was not present before. Hopefully, Season 4 of The Walking Dead will be like Season 3 of Game of Thrones was: a poor episode to open but an improving series. And not like Season 2, where almost nothing happened.