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Thursday, 22 of April of 2021

The Walking Dead – “Seed”

“After all we been through, we can handle it. I know it.”

Lori confessing her fears to Hershel.

“I’m sorry to tell you this but — you’re having a weather balloon.”

This is a post-Zelda world and we’re just living in it.

I’m never sure if it’s because my adolescence was filled with level-grinding in video games or if our shows are written by the men and women who shared my hobbies, but, our heroes have seemingly assembled into a party complete with their own individual stats, abilities, and weapon upgrades. They fight enemies of increasing difficulties and, now, find themselves traveling into a labyrinth.

This first episode feels different than any of the entire last season, which I look back on a rebuilding year. It was that awkward period where the first season was pretty lame, kind of cheesy, and involved the worst looking explosion this side of a Ringer green screen. The second season was about fixing those mistakes, finding nuance and pathos, while trying to find the right balance of character development and walker killin’. While they worked out some things (Shane’s escalating instability was one of the highlights) and laid to waste others (Lori is the worst and her death would only make Rick seem more sympathetic), they constructed a show closer to the one that the pilot promised: a horror movie with more time to dedicate to building the storyworld and the population within it.

But now we find ourselves in a video game.

We have a lot of story to take care of in this first episode and a lot of connections to make quickly. There’s a whole “winter” that happened between the seasons and everyone’s a little wiser, a little older, a little pregnant-er. And some of them are noticing members of the opposite sex. And it’s not just horny Carol.

The problem is that we have a lot of ground to cover to set up the relationships between the characters but we need to keep the horror audience interested. And, come on: finding a safe place to hang out in is not the most exciting notion. Safety is not an interesting goal. Finding the CDC for the answers is interesting. Going to France is interesting. Chilling is not, at least not in a show premised on action and horror themes.

That’s what video games are good at (or strive to be). They alternate periods of story with periods of action. So we get the campfire with everyone sitting around and establishing character development but that’s followed by the battle party marching into dangerous territory to be randomly attacked.

They meet the regular walkers (of whom, I suppose, the party has conquered their qualms of destroying) and dispatch them quickly. Rick, Glenn, Maggie, Daryl, Hershel, and sometimes our new rookie Carl, have leveled up to a point where hand-to-hand combat with regular, slow-witted walkers is no big deal. But, just as when you advance through a video game, the monsters have to get harder when you enter a new “dungeon,” which, in the RPG parlance, is the labyrinth that hides the reward to a quest (in this case, an actual prison, the quest being for supplies). And how to walkers level up? Better armor.

Some walkers turned while still wearing their riot gear. Daryl actually shoots at one with his crossbow, which seemed more like something for us than it was for him. He couldn’t have actually thought that he was going to get in there, could he? Maggie is the one that figures out the vulnerability and has everyone stab them in the neck.

The pattern continues throughout the episode as they secure the cell block, which leads to some relationshippy stuff. I like that Carl is getting to be growns up and wants to be around Beth. They seem fond of each other but Beth is like a woman compared to Carl being a toddler. You can see them trying to work that magic but it might be difficult to pull that off since Beth looks like she could be Carl’s teacher.

Glenn and Maggie are still going strong which is mostly to position how far apart Lori and Rick have gotten. It seems that the winter has let Rick stew on how awful a human being Lori is. Which she admits to so at least she knows. We have a soundtrack here, a rare instance of nondiegetic song with lyrics, so we know that we’re safe.

That was the problem for most of the episode, the tension. The quest for safety is hard to make scary. The episode very obviously supplements its need for horror beats by creating false tension. Until the last chase through the dark maze, we had a good many instances where the beats come from members of the party bumping into each other. There’s very little intensity in that.

And maybe that’s because the model the episode seems to be based on also revolves around interactivity. It’s one thing to have a quest where you forage into a dungeon for answers. It’s another to watch it while someone else makes the decisions for you. The episode packed a lot of information into its forty-five minutes without feeling too expository but was lacking in the stakes department, leaning heavily on the spectre of the walker but, when they actually ran into a walker, they were no match. So, until the horde, there was no credible threat since we knew they could either outrun or slaughter anything in their path. It’s like they’ve been level-grinding for weeks.

Well, except for Hershel. But, let’s face it: he and Carol are the bum characters.

Other things:

  • I didn’t even mention Michonne (whose name I only know from the numerous interviews discussing her part of the story this season and the comics readers freaking out about her on my wall) and Andrea. Michonne’s part in this episode only established two things: (1) she’s a badass, and (2) she and Andrea, new besties, are Thelma-and-Louising it across rural Georgia. Andrea’s illness seems unnecessary for now but I’m hoping for it to contribute to something later.
  • I want Daryl and Carol to have awkward sex together. I don’t want them to cut away at all either. Don’t romanticize it. Just let it happen. Carol reminds me of the cancer patient that just wants to get laid in Fight Club.
  • Is Lori having a 20-pound turkey? Should they have fattened her up in other areas of her body to make her look pregnant and not like she’s hiding a beach ball under her shirt?
  • That being said, the most poignant moment is between Lori and Hershel and the question of reanimation, particularly since she’s pregnant. She deals with a lot of questions that no one knows the answer to and seem like the kinds of things nerds would ask at a Comic Con panel. If the baby is stillborn, will it turn walker and kill Lori? If Lori dies in childbirth, will she become a walker? This new line of speculation not only addresses some of the audience concerns but further complicates the idea of having a child in this post-apocalypse. She was already worried about bringing a new life into such a horrible world. What if she’s also introducing a new threat? What is she bringing on herself by continuing this pregnancy? Hard questions.
  • I guess the concept of bullets as precious things is different between The Walking Dead‘s apocalypse and Revolution‘s apocalypse.
  • Rick certainly has grown up since the first time they had to hack a dude’s leg off.
  • How does that last guy in the window keep himself in mustache wax?

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