A quick review of the second episode of “The Walking Dead” coming up just as soon as I’m an organ donor…
“There’s us, and the dead. We survive this by pulling together, not apart.” -Rick
Of the three “Walking Dead” episodes I’ve seen, “Guts” was the most disappointing. It’s not that it’s bad, but that it’s familiar.
The story actually deviates a fair amount from the comic book (where Glenn is the only survivor Rick meets inside Atlanta, and where several of these characters, notably Merle Dixon, don’t exist at all), but the vibe overall – survivors under siege, fighting with each other as much the attacking horde – is one we’ve seen a million times before in both zombie movies and other siege or post-apocalyptic films, and without necesarily enough of a twist to make it more than a Zombie Cinema’s Greatest Hits compilation.
In contrast, while the pilot certainly wasn’t wildly original (many others have pointed out the “28 Days Later” comparisons), the grim, contemplative vibe of it still made it feel special. “Guts” was a solidly-executed example of the genre – when you have Frank Darabont again writing the script, and Michelle MacLaren (who proved her suspense bonafides once and for all with this “Breaking Bad” shootout) – but as I’ve said before, I went into this series as someone lacking in what Darabont has called “the zombie gene,” and solid-but-formulaic doesn’t really command my interest.
The strongest part of the episode came from a later comic storyline, with Rick and Glenn covering themselves in zombie blood and guts (and, um, hands and feet) in an attempt to walk unmolested through the mob. Graphic and disgusting and riveting, but I also liked Rick’s speech to his new comrades about the man whose body they were about to mutilate. As we saw last week, Rick is a relative newcomer to the zombie apocalypse. He hasn’t lived in it as long as the others, and while he talks a bit about how things have changed, he can still hang on to his morality and concern for other humans in a way that, say, Shane can’t.
In fact, in our brief glimpses of life back at camp, we see just how easy it is for Shane to let go of people. Not only has he embarked on a full-on affair with his partner’s wife (and stepped into Rick’s shoes as Carl’s father figure), but when Amy (kid sister to Andrea, the tough blonde hanging with Rick in the city) expresses concern about what happened to the Atlanta expedition, Shane seems awfully ready to write them off and move on. Some of that’s just the nature of life in zombie-land – chances are high that anyone going back into the city is going to end up dead – but the relationship with Lori doesn’t speak too highly for Shane (nor Lori).
Some other thoughts:
• In case you didn’t see the news earlier this week, “The Walking Dead” debuted to an audience of 5.3 million viewers (in comparison, the “Mad Men” finale only drew 2.5 million), which means a second season is all but a formality at this point. People love zombies.
• Lots of new faces to get used to here. To me, the ones that stuck out were either actors I already knew well (Michael Rooker as the angry racist Merle), characters who were prominent in the early stages of the comic (Steven Yeun as Glenn) or both (Jeffrey DeMunn as Dale, the guy with the camper, or Darabont veteran Laurie Holden as Andrea).
• As with last week, the Bear McCreary score continues to be effective in part because of how sparsely it’s used. A lot of other shows that over-rely on music to establish mood could learn a thing or two from this.
What did everybody else think?