Norman Reedus and Danai Gurira in AMC’s The Walking Dead
Well, this is likely to be a very short review. You should consider that a good thing. The reason it’s so short is that we really don’t have any significant complaints about or criticisms for this latest episode. Without getting too gushing and optimistic, this is the Walking Dead series we’ve always been waiting for. We realize that, much like life in the zombie apocalypse, this could all go south at any second, but for now, we’re digging this newfound focus.
And “focus” is definitely the word. We’re in the middle of a story in which not only every character appears, but every character has an emotional arc they’re going through. That isn’t easy to pull off even with a modestly sized cast, but the writers are managing to do it here, with their ever-expanding one. And that’s the thing: they’re accomplishing the triple task of helping to define long-undefined characters, adding much more depth to characters that actually have some definition to them, and at the same time, defining the relatively new characters to the group. That’s a damn impressive balancing act. What makes this particularly thrilling for us is that it’s a story that has no real antagonist, unless you want to call a virus the bad guy. This is pure human struggle, and in our opinion, this type of story is far more revealing of human nature and has far more depth to it than a hundred Mad Max-style “society has collapsed into violence and rape” scenarios. It reminds us of the very best episodes of early-season Lost, when the story was less about figuring out all the mysteries of the island and more about getting the hell off of it. Our heroes aren’t facing a violent enemy, they’re facing a quiet extinction and what few of them that are left standing are scrambling like crazy to stave off what looks like the inevitable.
In addition – and maybe this is just our nerditry showing – we’re the types of viewers who need to see how the sausage is made in a world like this. This is something the show has largely avoided up till now and it’s been the cause of mounting frustration on our parts. We need to see at least some details of how people are living and managing in this setup. Prior to this season, the prison was just a backdrop and we had no real idea of how they were living in it, but we’re getting some real idea of what they’ve built there. We’re fascinated by their water system, their wheeled contraptions for distracting walkers, the hierarchy of jobs and work assignments. Obviously, we don’t want entire episodes structured around these concerns, but this episode in particular did a wonderful job of integrating them naturally into the story and underlining why they’re important. Seeing not just growing crops, but actual flower gardens in the background tells you how “civilized” this group of people have become; how much they’ve allowed themselves to hope for a better world (much like Rick and his naive belief that he wouldn’t have to strap on a gun again). Seeing that empty mess tent with all the seats for all the people who are either now dead or fighting for their lives illustrated wordlessly and perfectly how much is at stake with this group at the moment. After all, the only reason they have flower gardens and water tanks is because there’s enough of them to collectively put together and work on systems like that. If significant numbers of the prison population die off (and it would be kind of nice to know how many of them there are – 50? A hundred?), then the group is back to hardscrabble living and might be forced to move on from the site. Those are real stakes, and we find ourselves truly worried for them in a way we never were before. The character stuff is clearly working.
In other news, Carol is even more badass than previously thought, possibly bordering on a little crazy. But it seems to us, if she really did kill and burn those two people, it was of a piece with teaching kids how to use knives and plunging one into the skull of a dying man in full view of his daughters. She believes, more than any of the other main characters, even Daryl and Michonne, that hard choices need to be made in this world and hard deeds committed for the sake of survival. That is to say, if she did do it, then she did it to save the group.
We say “if,” because we’re half-convinced she’s covering for someone else; someone with hands small enough to leave a handprint that clearly isn’t an adult male’s. Hmmm.
Oh fuck it. Let’s not be coy. We think she’s covering for Carl.
Anyway, good stuff this week. We’re deeply concerned about the fates of most of the characters and for once, they’re not in danger because one or all of them did something so painfully stupid it made us want to turn the TV off.
[Photo Credit: Gene Page/AMC]