The Walking Dead Recap & Commentary

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Welcome to Amazing Stories’ weekly examination of television’s number one metaphor for a sick, dysfunctional world – AMC’s The Walking Dead.

Each week, James Weber and I (Steve Davidson) will discuss the week’s episode in a point-counterpoint style, alternating the lead. (I go first, next week it will be James’ turn.)

We don’t expect to reach any conclusions – but we expect that whether you hate the show (and still watch it) or love it to zombie death, you’ll find something of interest here.

Note that we are doing this without reference to the graphic stories the television show was originally based on;  we’re purists that way (and there are plenty of others comparing the two properties anyway).

The lead point is followed by italicized commentary for the counterpoint.  This week, James is in italics.

The Walking Dead.  Season 5, Episode 1.  No Sanctuary

Well, my job here is basically to point out how silly and stupid this whole five year mission has become.

And my job is to help us remember why we continue to watch each week . . . along with millions of others.

But I do want to say before I get to the gory details that I watch the show and enjoy it.  Mostly I suppose because, no matter how stupid some of their decisions are, they’re almost all interesting, compelling characters.

I don’t hate The Walking Dead (well that’s a relief) so much as I am disappointed in it.  Constantly.

Besides.  zombies.  It’s pretty tough to thoroughly and completely screw zombies up. (In both senses.)

Give me a good, splashy shotgun blast to the head (now you’re speaking my language) or a nice, crunchy skull caving with an unusual implement (yup Mmmhmm) and I’ll meet you halfway.  Throw in a good explosion of flaming zombies and you’re three quarters of the way there (Sounds to me like we’re all the way there).

When it comes to zombies, the bar is pretty low.  And that’s ok.

It’s just that I’m constantly reminded that AMC’s The Walking Dead is a number one rated show, a huge success and that means it has a lot of talent and money behind it.  It really ought to be better.

Wait. What?

At least better enough that I’m not constantly screaming “walkie-talkies!” At the television set.  (Yes, much to my wife’s annoyance, I talk to the television.  Scream even.  Of course the bonus is that I always make my points and never lose an argument….)

Maybe I should try that…

This lack of electronic communication devices, you see, is one of my chief complaints and is illustrative of the stupid I see all over the show.

Uh oh. Here we go.

We’re now four-plus years in – I guesstimate something like two years in show time (lots of internet punditry on this one, including a wiki timeline -) and Rick’s band has still not rounded up a handful of ‘talkies’ and a wheelbarrow full of batteries.

Well you know, times are tough. Zombies and all. I’m willing to give it to them.

Think back over past episodes.  Now think about how many “problems” would have been mitigated or eliminated if the survivors could have communicated over distance….

Inside those dark corridors of the prison…while attacking Woodbury…while the prison was attacked by The Governor…while on scavenging parties…and if you think back, Glenn initially talked to Rick inside the tank in Atlanta via “wireless radio”, so the idea and efficacy of having these high-tech devices always on hand certainly ought to have occurred to at least Rick or Glenn…

This is not the only major intelligence flaw.

The biggest problem I have with this show is that the show runners seem hell-bent on keeping the group on the road.  They’re not allowed to settle anywhere and ALWAYS make the wrong decision about doing so.

Let’s take the prison for example.  It was perfect.  Well defended, fairly isolated.  Well constructed.  With its own electricity and water supply – and, as we saw, plenty of land for growing crops INSIDE the fences.

Note for survivors:  finding a relatively safe haven that you can fortify and stock gives you the time and space to actually think about what you are doing.  Once you’ve got a safe place to go where you can get out of the weather, you can begin to coordinate your actions;  find or make a map of your local environment; go on recon trips and record your available resources;  look for an even better hideout;  look for other survivors;  protect yourself from those who would steal your stuff.

The group has been chased out of the hiway camp (not really great, but they did have a circle-the-wagons thing going on);  from Hershel’s farm (better, but still difficult to defend) and the prison.

Why did they let the Governor chase them out of the prison when they’d so easily beaten him before?  Because of one tank? (If I saw a tank I’d run) A tank that would eventually run out of ammunition? (True but I don’t think it’s natural for most to sit inside a building while it’s being shelled by a tank. I’d run again.) There’s always sticky bombs (Saving Private Ryan) and Daryl did for that tank anyway.  They ambushed the Governor during the first attack and have demonstrated some very sneaky, Sun-Tzu style tactical thinking (which was awesome!) from time to time (covering themselves in gore to walk through a herd, sneaking into Woodbury), so why didn’t it occur to them to abandon the prison until the Governor got sloppy (which we’ve also seen him do).  Nope.  Gotta run.  Gotta abandon everything, start from scratch somewhere else.  (The prison is now abandoned – why not go back and start over from something less than scratch.

They had had an escape plan but in the heat of the moment . . . it failed.

To be fair, the prison was pretty much useless. Most parts had either caved in due to tank fire, the fences were down and it was pretty much over run by zombies. They did have a rally point, the bus, but it drove off before everyone was on it. I think at that point the logic is: “well we’re screwed I guess we’ll hit the road”. Everyone for themselves.

tank

Why didn’t they round up some construction equipment and dig a nice, deep trench right outside the prison fences?  (Wait for it to fill up with zombies, set it on fire, repeat as needed.  (Although I do suppose that spending a lazy afternoon pig-sticking zombie heads through the fence does have its therapeutic value.) You can find screen captures from season 1 or 2 that have construction equipment in the background – and it’s not like the world, or at least Georgia, hasn’t become a scavenger’s paradise.)

Which brings us to the end of season 4 and the beginning of season 5 – the arrival at Terminus.

The group, after fleeing the prison, was broken up into several smaller bands.  (Rally points, people, rally points.  If you think things are going to fall into the shitter, you prepare a remote location that everyone is to go to.)  There’s the Rick band – Rick, Carl and MIchonne;  the Glenn group with Glenn, Sarge, Eugene and Rosita; the Daryl group – Daryl and Beth (who gets kidnapped, leaving Daryl alone to eventually hook up with the “Men-Like-Us” crazies), the Tyrese group – Tyrese, Carol, Lizzie, Mika and Judith and the Maggie group – Maggie, Sasha and Bob.

Daryl is looking to die, then, when he joins up with the other survivalists, not caring about anything.  Rick’s group is heading for Terminus; Maggie is looking for Glenn; Glenn is looking for Maggie, while Sarge and Eugene want to go to D.C.  Carol is heading for Terminus.

Some voice the opinion that they ought to find a place to hold up, see if they can’t find other members of the group, catch their breaths, have a few moments to actually think about what they are doing.  But no – the impetus is towards Terminus.

Which brings me to one of the more unrealistic points I wish to make (unrealism in a zombie tv show – nooooo).

People who spend time together in survival situations quickly develop a “sixth sense” about their fellows.  With enough time spent in similar situations (one zombie fight is pretty much like any other {agree to disagree}), the members of a group will learn to anticipate other’s actions, will easily be able to put themselves into another member’s shoes and will usually come up with the right answer to the question:  what would Rick, or Daryl, or Michonne or Sasha do in this situation?

It could be said that their enemies might be able to develop that same knowledge. I think what has kept this group alive is their unpredictability. Tell me Daryl wasn’t surprised when Rick bit a guy’s throat out (I sure was!). Unfortunately, that doesn’t help your teammates much.

Our plucky band of survivors does not seem to have developed this “group think”, this knowing what so and so will say before they say it.  That kind of relationship is crucial for the survival and well-being of any kind of group – be it volunteer firemen, an infantry squad or a band of zombiepocalypse survivors.  Rick’s group has none of this.  In fact, they’ve got almost the opposite – deep divisions in thinking about how to handle situations they’re constantly running into, where the group mind should have already learned the optimal decisions for.  Not only do they exhibit individual stupidity, they demonstrate group stupidity.

Well I think what we’re also witnessing is a bit of complacence (and you could perhaps even argue entropy, meaning that their skill sets are degrading. Perhaps that is more like atrophy). They haven’t had to fight as much as they used to while at the prison. They’ve started growing crops instead of fighting others for food or shelter or whatever else. And now that everyone is back on the road, we’re starting to see each group member build these ‘muscles’ again. Perhaps in new ways that we, and likewise the fellow group members, haven’t seen before. I never would have thought Beth wanted to get drunk and burn down a building.

But please continue.

Back to Terminus.

I don’t think there is a single person in the entire real world who believed the offer of sanctuary on the signs for one split second.  Not. A. One.

Oh I totally thought it was legit! Although Terminus sounds a little bit like ‘terminate’ now that I think back on it. Hindsight is 20/20.

Yet each of the groups just walks right in.  Woodbury happened so long ago that they’ve forgotten all about false promises and ugly truths hidden beneath a veneer of almost-civilization?

I guess so, because the Maggie and Glenn groups (now reunited) just walk right up, smiling.

Now Rick, on the other hand, starts to exhibit just a tad of distrust.  As he, Carl and MIchonne reach Terminus, Rick decides to jump over the fence and enter through the back door rather than walking right into the trap at the front door.

He makes a BIG mistake though.  Never commit all of your forces to a potential ambush.  You send in one person to reconnoiter. (I think I’d send two! Buddy system. Always use the buddy system) Someone with a – you guessed it –  walkie-talkie. (Womp. Womp.) At the very least you leave one of the group behind, outside the fence, outside of Terminus, until given the high-sign that all is well.

As it is (and I’m glad I watched the re-run of the last episode of season 4 because I missed this the first time around), as Rick, Michonne and Carl are running through the back area of Terminus, they pass a fenced in enclosure full of human skeletal remains.  These are clearly not zombies – they’re stripped human carcasses, the kind that anyone who has ever seen a cannibal-killer movie would instantly recognize as screaming CANNIBALS! (Maybe Carl hasn’t? . . . yea you’re right. No way in hell rick hasn’t been to see Hannibal. For shame Rick. For shame.) It couldn’t be any plainer if there’d been a gigantic kettle with missionaries stewing in it smack dab in the middle of the compound.  The scene is brief, but it is very clear that Rick turns his head and studies this tableau while running past it.

cannibals

But he keeps going instead of heading for the hills.

The result of course is that he – and the rest of the group before him – get herded into a cattle car.

And now, the season premiere of The Walking Dead, season 5.

Woot! Finally!

Rick, Glenn, Daryl and others are forced out of the cattle car (where they’d been preparing make-shift weapons) with tear gas and taken to the abattoir in a scene that was harrowing, disgusting, terrifying and

stupid.

What? Why was it stupid?

It was nothing more than a set-piece for trailer tease because, while we know that favorite characters have been killed off before, neither Daryl, or Rick or Glenn are going to be offed in a way that is anything less than self-sacrificing glory.  The only real question during that scene was how many of the non-entity characters would be killed before the ‘whatever’ happened that would allow our three heroes to escape.

I don’t know man. Game of Thrones, even other episodes of TWD don’t have me convinced that main characters are safe. Killing everyone’s favorite is ‘in’ right now and you won’t convince me otherwise.

The McGuffin was Carol, completing her arc of self-redemption by sneaking into Terminus as a zombie, blowing up a gas tank (very nice flaming zombie explosion there – gotta give cred where it’s due). I mean . . .who wasn’t happy to see that? It was super awesome to see her and Daryl re-unite. And then she lead Rick back to Judith, which is basically the reason he didn’t go all ‘Full Metal Jacket’ on the rest of Terminus (likely getting the group killed just after they’ve been saved!)

explosion

Please note that “the group” ended up doing what they should have done through accident and circumstance rather than through intelligent planning.

And now, another location that might have been less destructively taken, burns to the ground, forcing our dear friends the survivors back onto the road again.  Direction?  Probably to get Eugene to D.C. where his sketchy knowledge of the supposed genetic engineering that might have created the apocalypse may “save the whole world”.

But you heard Sarge and Rosita right? There’s got to be another wrench. Can’t wait!

Here’s a few things I know about the Walking Dead:  first, if you sit through one of the “all seasons” marathons, you’ll quickly discover that –

the main characters spend a fair amount of time discussing what they ought to do and every single one of the decisions they make turns out to have been the wrong one.  Every single one.  This is obviously something that’s been written into the show’s bible;  we’re going to torture these poor souls by playing a constant game of Lady and the Tiger – except on the TWD, there’s a tiger behind every door.

Are some perhaps lady tigers?

Daryl is the only exception to this rule.  Daryl has angel’s wings on the back of his biker vest.

You know, now that I think about it, I’m more disappointed with the transparency of this show than I am the stupidity.  Or maybe it’s both.  Perhaps the Walking Dead can best be summed up by the phrase “stupidly transparent”.  Or maybe that ought to be “Transparently stupid.”

Ooh. Shots fired. I think it’s important to remember who we’re dealing with. We’re dealing with people. People don’t always make good decisions. Something might seem as clear as day to one person may be beyond comprehension to someone else. That’s what makes people interesting.

I’ll end with a bit of personal experience (though thankfully not of zombies!). I used to play Rugby, and during one of our games, this one player kept slipping our defenses and scoring. Every time he touched the ball. It was obvious to all of us on the sidelines what was going on, but everyone on the field was powerless. I told coach to put me in. That I’d get him. Coach put me in and the next time that player made his move, I was right there waiting for him. He scored anyway. I hit him too high and he was able to get out of the tackle. I’d tackled hundreds of times before that, in both practice and in other games (I suppose earlier in that game too) but for whatever reason, in that moment, I didn’t execute.

Imagine that moment is your house being shelled by a tank, and the living dead are chasing you out of the back door. You’re not sure where your little sister is and you need to find her. Never mind the fact that she taught you the technique you used to kill the last zombie and set up the perimeter that kept 13 other zombies out even though one still wondered in. Imagine the panic you’ll have even though you’ve been in similar situations, with equal stakes, a hundred times before. Sometimes you still miss the tackle. I think that is a lot of what we see in The Walking Dead. The best laid plans often don’t work the way we think they will. And sometimes we don’t have time to plan at all. And once we are safe, maybe we are tired from growing crops that we don’t have the energy to dig moats. I love watching The Walking Dead because it isn’t stupid. Each of these characters are placed in inventive scenarios which the directors are able to create for them, and the ingenuity (and yes sometimes luck) by which the characters are able to get out of those scenarios. Perhaps the transparency lies in the viewer’s ability to see more than one perspective.

Well – agree to disagree again here: survival situations – life-threatening situations – make for fast knowledge (or death); I was willing to give the character’s stupidity a pass for a couple of seasons, figuring that most people faced with a real zombiepocalypse would be just a tad wigged out and perhaps not thinking all that clearly. Two+ years have gone by in “show time”; we, the audience, have learned a host of survival skills. Unfortunately, the characters ON the show have not benefitted nearly as much as the audience, as they keep on repeating the same mistakes. Mistakes that usually create empty dramatic tension, ones that would not have happened if the characters exhibited even a small bit of survival memory.

The tank was ultimately taken out by Daryl (in a manner that probably would have only resulted in destroying the barrel but not the whole tank in the real world); the fact that it was taken out “so easily” is yet another demonstration of stupid on the part of the characters – the Governor in this case. The tank has RANGE. Use it to harry and confine your opponents, denying them mobility. Why put your infantry at risk at all? They should basically be just protecting the tank while it does its awesome work. But everyone in that episode had to be “tactically stupid” in order for the episode to work.

I’m tempted to back over other points, but will leave it here; I’ve not convinced James of anything, nor has he persuaded me.

Next week it will be Jame’s turn to lead and mine to snipe!

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