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Thursday, 22 of April of 2021

The Walking Dead – “What Lies Ahead”

“Hey, JC. You taking requests?”

Daryl and Rick cut open a Walker to see what its last meal was.

Little girls hide in the darndest places.

Last season’s finale was the worst. The big ending (spoiler alert — although you’re reading a review for the beginning of season two so season one spoilers are your fault) was dumb for a lot of reasons. Personally, it was ridiculous because I’m from Atlanta so I know the CDC doesn’t look like that (it’s a boring government building near the Emory campus) and I don’t have any emotional attachment to the Cobb Energy Centre getting exploded by bad CG. Narratively, it was terrible because the ending told us nothing that we didn’t already know and really only served to thin out the cast (which, admittedly, needed to be done) and making an already bleak forecast for our heroes even bleaker. How much does hopelessness make you want to come back and watch a show?

There was a lot of industrial drama, showrunner changes, and network chicanery during the off-season and I was curious about how it would affect the show, because, frankly, it couldn’t really get much worse than how it devolved over the course of six episodes. There was a lot of promise from the beginning of using the series to explore more than just raw survival of the human spirt. Pun totally intended, there was an opportunity to flesh the situation out more, to develop characters beyond archetypes and create a different kind of dilemma that the horror movie doesn’t have time to work out. Instead, we got a six-hours-long B-movie epic.

I like being right. More than I like barbecue. More than I like watching Green Bay win. Almost as much as I love gelato. I love being right. So I wanted to tune in to The Walking Dead season two and see it slop onto the screen in a hot mess. I wanted to see the hot garbage from last season continue into this one and justify my desire not to watch it. What I found, however, is a show trying to regain its balance. And a show that may have been studying Lost in the off-season for survivor dynamics. And I really like Lost. Dang it. I really wanted this show to not be interesting.

Maybe it’s just because Lost is the most recent survivor-based show that isn’t a staged competition or doesn’t start with a three-hour tour, but I see a lot of the group dynamic in this show to be similar to that one, if the individual characters don’t exactly line up. Clearly, Rick is Jack as the de facto leader even if he never asked for it. But what’s most striking is how self-centered everyone else is on the show, even if on the surface it’s for other people.

Just like Locke justifying the deaths of darling rich-boys as sacrifices for the Island and Sawyer finding a way to swim back to shore in the guise of an act of heroism, the people in this group are always looking out for #1 by masking it in the interest of others. Whether it’s Shane wanting to break off from the group or Dale keeping Andrea’s gun, it appears what television is trying to tell us is that people have a hard time getting into true pack mentality when they’re still suffering a “why me” dilemma. It becomes very apparent in the church (set off by Darryl asking Master J if he’s taking requests).

There are two out-loud prayers to Jesus in this episode: one by Carol in hopes that they find Sophia (even if that requires her own sacrifice — since when has he wanted a human offering?) and another by Rick, a self-proclaimed non-believer. Both feel equally put upon as individuals and beg Jesus for individual favors, wishes essentially. Carol asks for the health of her daughter but only because she feels like God is particularly interested in her personal cause. Rick begs for a sign, which, by the way, is usually something reserved for prophets and saints. Pretty heavy company to ask to be in, Rick.

This ties in with the dispute between Dale and Andrea. If you’ll recall from the end of last season, Andrea, mourning the death of her sister, chose to stay in the exploding Cobb Energy Centre with Jenner and Jacqui. Dale tried to get her to leave by any means necessary, even invoking the old “if you die, I die” ultimatum. Eventually, without narratively meditating on the struggle, we saw Andrea and Dale jump ship. In last season’s Walking Dead, I would think that Andrea had an epiphany, that she chose life, and Dale got through to her. You know, a lot of happy crap that doesn’t belong. But this season’s Walking Dead instead addresses the self-centeredness of Dale’s supposed bluff.

The same choice that everyone begs Jenner for after being closed up in the bottom of the “CDC” is denied to Andrea by Dale’s self-sacrifice and she’s pretty upset about it. “I saved your life,” Dale insists. “No, I saved yours,” she replies, specifically addressing that she didn’t have some catharsis but didn’t think Dale should die because of her. That’s a hint of the balance this show offered in the pilot, these dueling complexities of human character when simultaneously backed into a hopeless situation while trying to keep civility. That’s what promise this show has. Along with, you know, zombie autopsies. Which are also pretty cool.

The concept of “live together, die alone” is ever-present in Walking Dead except Rick isn’t the messianic figure Jack was so it’s a little harder to command everyone into a pack mentality. That makes this show interesting. This isn’t a show about a bunch of different personalities thinking mostly inline (except for rogues like Locke), fighting against a common enemy. It features different individuals believing themselves to be the center of the universe and struggling to fall in line behind an alpha dog, all while trying to survive an ever-present horde of villans. There are schisms and doubt and resistance and paranoia. I like horror movies for what they are but I really like horror movies that have the ability to explore what fear and survival in the long-term can do to a human, particularly when they are facing abject versions of themselves. What does murder do to a person, even if it’s out of self-defense? How does the post-apocalypse, martial law, and the erosion of civilization affect an inner sense of humanity? I really hate to admit this but — The Walking Dead might get better.

Ugh. I hope you know how hard that was for me.

Other things:

  • The montage of the undead infesting Atlanta landmarks was pretty neat for me. I used to live right down the street from the Wheat Street Baptist Church (just a block away from the more famous Ebenezer Baptist Church — of MLK Jr fame). Walkers are probably eating people at my old place!
  • I was kind of hoping Morgan would talk back at some point like Felicity’s teacher but I guess that’s just the WB in me.
  • I forgot how cool the opening credit sequence is. Suck it, most USA shows (except you Psych and White Collar — you guys are cool).
  • Another Lost parallel: making people “find a way to contribute.”
  • I like that they’re still coming up with terminology for things like calling a group of wandering walkers a “herd.” It’s really simple but they’re recognizing patterns. Maybe we’ll eventually get into the fluid dynamics of walker herds. Traffic engineering!
  • Hey, I almost forgot how Shane got drunk and almost raped Lori last season. That guy’s a total bastard. I like how he also says it was a “mistake.” “Remember when I tried to force myself on you despite your pleas and cries that I stop while I overpowered you? Yeah, my bad. Whiskey does that to me. Vodka makes me want to play truth or dare!”
  • Another Lost Parallel: radio message on a loop broadcasting from short range. No one’s curious where that’s coming from or hoping they can use it to broadcast to others? They need a Sayid.
  • Zombie autopsy has me thinking: if Walkers eat and digest their food (with working organs that can be dissected and have their contents checked), does that mean that there’re, like, Walker doo-doo piles everywhere? Do they have any need for privacy? Do they just doo-doo on themselves? Does their Walker body just process every part of the flesh so there is no doo-doo? These are the kinds of things that need to be addressed.
  • Walkers in the church: their being slain on sacred ground reminds me of the Walker the survivors found close to their camp that they repeatedly beat over and over until it was smashed into a pulp. I had a pang of sympathy for that Walker, particularly since it wasn’t immediately threatening. None of the Walkers in the church made plays to attack any of the survivors. In fact, the female one looked to be trying to escape. Is it possible that we’re dealing with different levels of Walkers and that some, although bloodthirsty, may also be sentient?
  • How long do you think Shane and Andrea would survive on their own? A day? A few hours? Both of them are pretty much too stupid to live.
  • Another Lost parallel: anybody can be a tracker but it’s usually the dude with the sharpest knife that knows how to do it right.
  • I’m honestly curious about where Sophia went. I don’t like it that I’m curious about this show.
  • Hey, your son wouldn’t get shot if you’d just tell him “no” every once in a while. Stop letting Carl do whatever he wants. Remember when he was trying to catch frogs and you scolded him? But letting him scour the forest and touch wild animals is totes okay? Priorities. Also, maybe we should start looking for orange vests in some of these cars.

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