The Walking Dead Shambles Back to Our Loving Arms
I recently reviewed Fear the Walking Dead and, essentially, praised the casting directors for saving a show from being unwatchable. (Good job, casting agent, Wendy O’Brien!) But now that The Walking Dead is back, I can say exactly what was wrong with Fear the Walking Dead: It’s not nearly as good as one of the best adventure series ever on TV.
Maybe it’s a mistake to draw comparisons between yourself and the greatest thing of its kind ever? For instance, I’m a writer, so I have the same profession as William Faulkner, sort of. But maybe I shouldn’t bring him up too much because I will suffer horribly by comparison. (As in, okay, how does this review compare to The Sound and The Fury?) Anyway, maybe the whole point of Fear the Walking Dead was to remind us how great The Walking Dead is. If so, well done, Fear the Walking Dead and everyone involved, except casting agent Wendy O’Brien. The Walking Dead is one of the best shows ever on TV, particularly since it has made some big mistakes along the way. But it usually does something most shows don’t, which is that it corrects its course along the way.
The plot of The Walking Dead is that society has fallen apart due to an outbreak of zombieism, the dead returning to life and feasting on the flesh of the living. Overnight, communication, social networks, the news, all fell away, leaving no one to completely understand what actually happened, except that now there are “Walkers” trying to eat them. The fight between humans for resources has become pitched in a way not seen since prehistory, meaning that when people get hungry, they will do truly loathsome things to each other. In this biblical hell, we have our ragtag group of survivors, trying not to just survive, but to live! Babies are born, lives are sacrificed, pudding is binged upon, Carol bakes threateningly!
The season premiere was directed by Greg Nicotaro, who is also a producer and, perhaps more noteworthy, the man behind the amazing practical effects on the show. In other words, he makes people into zombies. I don’t know all this for sure, but it feels like he is a driving force in the ideas of the show, such as, “I want a zombie without a lower jaw,” or “I want a zombie that’s been frying in the sun whose skin all sloughs off when he stands up,” or “I want a zombie who sadly tries to eat one of our main characters with soulful eyes, i.e., he’s the gore master and he has a plan.” Each season, Nicotaro will give us an interesting zombie showcase and they almost never disappoint. The episode was directed maybe a little too “art house,” with black and white flashbacks, but at least Nicotero had a vision. And that vision was more zombies per frame than most big budget Hollywood pictures!
The plot was that Rick Grimes, tough as nails survivor with a bad case of flip flop characterization of the soul (it works on the show, but he’s all over the map emotionally), discovers that the reason their walled haven, Alexandria, a housing project, hasn’t been overrun is because there is a natural zombie break nearby, a quarry (or something) where the zombies can walk in, but it’s difficult to get back out of. Naturally, the pit’s exit is hours or days from becoming open, but Rick has a plan to lead the zombie herd away from Alexandria.
One hilarious thing about The Walking Dead is that there are so many characters that I had to take a quick nip through Wikipedia to remember where everyone was at the end of last season. Because they have so many characters, the show often has to split perspectives over a couple of episodes. So the season premiere had a lot of the A team outside of the walls of Alexandria, but very little Carl, Carol, Maggie, and a whole bunch of others still inside Alexandria. But judging from the “upcoming scenes” after the show, a lot will happen inside the walls next episode with the “B” team. Too many developed characters is a problem I would love to see on other shows.
Something that The Walking Dead has that only Game of Thrones can match is the sense that just about any of these characters could die at any moment. The Walking Dead has not been shy about killing off great characters, sometimes to the detriment of the show. And they often make me like a character right before they kill them.
By the way, for you Hannibal fans who are missing Must-See Prime Time cannibalism, The Walking Dead has more cannibals per capita than any other show in TV history. Hell, most of our main characters accidentally ate some people when they stopped in Terminus.
I guess I’m trying to be funny, but The Walking Dead is a horror story that gets something right that so many horror stories get wrong, the characters. Often, horror means that you’re going to have character archetypes, the jock, the funny man– Hell, watch Cabin in the Woods if you don’t know what I’m talking about. But The Walking Dead is all about people living in a horrifying world. And people who wouldn’t normally watch a show as disgusting as The Walking Dead get hooked on it, not for the gross outs, but because they care about the characters and their relationships.
Anyway, if you liked The Sixth Sense, Silence of the Lambs, or any zombie movie ever, check out The Walking Dead.