Monday, November 22, 2010

THE WALKING DEAD Episode 1.04 Review

This episode is entitled "Vatos" and was written by Robert Kirkman, the co-creator and writer of The Walking Dead comic upon which the series is based.

Earlier this week, I spent the day re-reading the early issues of the comic, and was surprised to find just how close the pacing was between the source material and the television series.  There are changes, sure.  Some are pretty substantial changes, but key plot points are being hit in the show at just about the same pace as they were in the comic, with each issue corresponding pretty closely to the episode breakdown.

All of which is to say that I knew what was coming with tonight's episode of The Walking Dead.  For the most part.  But I have to admit, even though I knew what was coming (and hell, the previews were enough to let anyone paying attention know), it didn't lessen the impact.

Spoiler Screens Up!

I'm a little surprised by Kirkman's script.  As far as I know, this is his first teleplay, and while I enjoy his writing in the comic, the dialogue can, at times, be a bit much.  Which is understandable, given the medium.  In the comic, he can't rely on the body language and the nuances of facial expression and speaking tone, etc.

Which isn't a knock on the artists of the comic.  I think Tony Moore is one of the best artists in the business, and Charlie Adlard's work has been consistently strong.  But live actors allow the writer to rely less on the written word and more on the physical act.  And as each week goes by, I'm more and more impressed with the performances of all the actors involved.  There are definite levels of quality, but no one's outright bad, which really allows the writer to relax and concentrate on letting the actors bring it all to life.

This episode opens with a nice moment between Andrea (Laurie Holden) and Amy (Emma Bell), out on the lake, fishing and reminiscing about their father.  I was prepared for stiff writing, but it all flows naturally.  The fact that they're just discovering that their father taught each of them differently about fishing (Andrea was always about catching for food, Amy about catching and releasing), could have come off cliche, but the strength of the actors makes it work.

The scene also sets up the horror to come.

We also get a glimpse of Jim (Andrew Rothenberg) off in the distance, intensely digging holes.  Dale (Jeffrey DeMunn), on watch, is our eyes moving from keeping a watch on the ladies while they fish, to Jim off in the distance.

And then the opening credits roll.

It's a nice scene and relieved a lot of my anxieties about both Kirkman and the series in general.

After the break we cut to the boys in the city and discover that Merle is one tough son of a bitch.  Not only did he cut his own hand off and escape (seems the hacksaw blade was too dull to cut through the handcuff chain - take that Internet trolls!), he also killed two zombies with only a monkey wrench and then cauterized his stump, all before disappearing into the city.  Never count out any character played by Michael Rooker.

The boys decide that after they retrieve the guns, they can look for Merle, at least for a few blocks, anyway, but complications arise in the form of a Hispanic gang, alive and looking for Rick's bag of guns.  Glenn is taken hostage and the plot thickens.  Daryl (Norman Reedus) becomes an even more balanced character this week, even if it is by turning his racism toward the other brown people he can't stand.  He at least is considering Glenn part of the group and willing to fight for him.

I was a little worried at this point, afraid that Kirkman was going to fall back on either ideas he's already worked through in the comic, or worse, on more horrible stereotypes.  I mean, let's be honest.  This show hasn't really held back when it comes to stereotypical bad guys.

Luckily, Kirkman has a plan, and it doesn't entirely involve negative racist stereotypes.  Instead, it only seems to be using racist stereotypes in order to teach us a lesson about jumping to conclusions.  That the Hispanic "gang" is actually taking care of elderly patients in a nearly abandoned Old Folks Home, is almost too much for me.  But I'm a jaded prick, so I'll let it slide.  Plus, I was amused that he named their leader Guillermo (Neil Brown Jr.), in an obvious nod to Guillermo Del Toro.  At least, that's how I'm going to take it.

I appreciate the fact that it's not a gang that decided to do the right thing, but family members who've come to visit and then stayed on the help out.  Which is why they want, and need, Rick's guns.  They've dealt with scavengers before and that explains their aggressive behavior.

It's not the greatest moment ever, but it's good to know that in the world of The Walking Dead, on TV anyway, not everybody our heroes come across are utter bastards or mental cases.

While everyone's working out their differences in the city, Shane (Jon Bernthal) has had to play the enforcer back in the camp.  Jim's obsessive digging was freaking out people in the camp, and he wasn't about to stop, serving up an open challenge to Shane's authority.  And Shane rises to the occasion, wrestling Jim under control, but not in any way that makes him seem threatening or puts him in a negative light.  Again, I'm liking Shane.

Turns out Jim had a dream that he can't really remember, and the heat made him a little crazy.  Or that's his story and he's sticking to it.  After some time tied to a tree, he becomes much more reasonable, and when it comes time for the big fish fry (Amy and Andrea caught a crapload of fish), he's set free and all is well again.


This is the point that I knew was coming, thanks not to the previews, but to the comic.  I think it's kind of appropriate that the co-creator of the series is the one to write the moment when we lose our first "major" character, and it's in a scene straight out of the comic.

Amy's death was kind of telegraphed, both by the opening scene of sisterly bonding and by the later scene where we find out that the mermaid pendant that Andrea snagged for her in the city is a birthday present.  You see, tomorrow is her birthday.  That obviousness aside, it works here just as it did in the comic.  It lets us know that nobody's safe.  Anyone can die at any moment.

You know.  With one or two exceptions.

In the city, it appears that Merle stole our boys' truck, so they've had to haul ass back to camp, worried that Merle was going to go wreak some revenge.  Instead, they arrive during a full-blown zombie attack, just in time to utilize some of those guns they went looking for (half of them anyway - they gave some to the guys defending the old folks).  Anyone concerned that they'd be toning down the gore for the television audience will be in for a surprise, as the zombie killing is brutal and bloody, and the zombie victims are eaten alive with graphic effects that don't shy away from anything.

This is really just about everything I was hoping for when I first heard they were making The Walking Dead into a series.

We end with Amy dying in Andrea's arms, lots of tension, and Jim getting the last word: "I remember my dream now.  Why I dug the holes."  It's a helluva strong ending and wraps up another helluva strong episode.  Looks like "Guts" was an anomaly and this series is going to be just fine.  My only real complaint is that there are only two more episodes, and I don't know when the second season will air.

I guess as far as complaints go, that's a good one to have.


  1. I didn't have a problem with the gang being elderly caretakers. It would have been different if I had seen it coming, but it took me by complete surprise. They played it honestly and without too much melodrama, so I liked it. Kirkman did a helluva job; best script so far. I told S that the show finally feels like the comic. The characters are full of surprises, either being or not being the people you assumed they were. I'm very excited to see where this show goes. And I think I'm going to be very surprised in spite of having read the comics. Great review, by the way. Lol.

  2. I will be fascinated to see if they ever revisit the folks holed up in the nursing home. Remember the guy Daryl shot in the ass with the crossbow? Just exactly how many zombie heads had he pulled that bolt out of before shooting the guy?

  3. Gah! I hadn't thought about that!

  4. Actually, a bolt coming out of one of those compound crossbows would probably be traveling at a high enough velocity (300-350 feet per second)that it would go through a zombie head(and possibly a pelvis) and just keep on going.

    I try to ignore that the same way I tried to ignore the bit early in the first episode where Rick told the other deputy to take the safety off his Glock. Glock handguns use a trigger-mounted safety that is disengaged by the act of firing.

    There have been some pretty amusing tactical critiques of the show over on the gun board where I hang out, but most folks over there love the zombie genre, so it's all good.

    Given the fucked up things Kirkman has done with his characters, it wouldn't surprise me a bit to have it revealed later that the guy who got ass-shot this week turned and killed a bunch of the old folks, who in turn would have gotten a lot more spry once they reanimated.