The Walking Dead has debuted to smashing numbers, based solely on CHUD.com’s business-altering preview piece.

We
kid. Frank Darabont is the man and television is the better for having
him creating horror shows for it. We will be doing Tag Teams of the show
(as we do with Boardwalk Empire and possibly more shows) as we go onward…

Previous Episodes
Days Gone By
Guts


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Episode 3: Tell It To The Frogs
Directed by Gwyneth Horder-Payton

Renn Brown: The Walking Dead unleashed its third episode of six last night, and started off with a big moment as Rick rediscovers his family. This was a character development-heavy episode with more violence heaped on misogynist assholes than the undead (who are actually progressive individuals, almost always appreciating women for their brains above all else), and it’s also the first to nearly impress me on any kind of storytelling level. I didn’t catch the first two episodes in time to participate in the reviews of the pilot and second episode, but my opinion of the series was fairly abysmal- so much so that I really looked at watching this week’s as a chore. I’m still not sold on the series, but I really appreciate the way Rick’s return played out, with the revelation that Shane blatantly misled Lori about her husband’s “death.” However, it doesn’t rewrite the fact that they’ve made some baffling choices with her character that are either unbelievable or unsympathetic. Perhaps it’s merciless to think this way, but outright dead husband or not, if you’re taking eyes off of your child to go bang in the woods that soon into an apocalypse, I’m not going to cry too much for you when Carl gets munched. All of that said, they’ve at least re-set the stage in a way I can get behind, and Shane decimating Ed’s face was a great way to take several straightforward character beats and smear a nice layer of complication and mixed emotions on them all at once.

Halfway through though, even removing the hype and my cold feeling towards the source material, I’m not seeing a lot here to keep me coming back. The zombie effects are good, but “groundbreaking for TV” gore or not, shit’s going to get redundant very quickly. I like where they could take Rooker’s character –especially if they draw him out as a shadowy who-knows-how-crazy threat to Rick and everyone in the camp– but there’s still no hook strong enough to keep me setting my alarm for this one. Until they deviate away from the comic in a more meaningful way, there’s always going to be the feeling of impatience as I countdown to the inevitable story shifts and deaths. I’m sure they’ll throw in some big twist that flies in the face of the comics by or during the finale (just to keep the longtime-readers guessing) but they’re still going to be painting the same overwrought picture, even if Darabont feels free to color outside of the lines from time to time.

Also, would it really be that hard to grab a big basket of batteries to power those ‘dos the ladies miss so much?

Nick Nunziata: Rooker’s scene at the beginning was amazing and it sucks that the character’s probably not long for the show (though in a short season like this it may not hurt too much) because he outclasses everyone else by a huge margin. You know something’s off-kilter when friggin’ Norman Reedus is a high point, but I agree that this episode being character development heavy is good…

…although the weakness of the comic was the quantity over quality of the text and none of these characters are all that interesting. And there’s also the fact that the worst actor on the show had the most screen time. I’m a sucker for frog catching lessons as much as the next guy, but Shane is a nightmare to watch as he veers from accent to accent and makes me sad to be a biped. So many of the characters are just plain unlikable, from the redneck brothers to T-Dog (played by a guy named IronE, which I mean indicates he’s a fan of flying Gedricks) to our hero’s wife. Yes, she thought the dude was dead and therefore got some forest sex but they are skimming too much for us to give a shit about this person.

Another thing that irked me, and this may be semantics but why did four guys smash the zombie in the woods for thirty seconds and still not kill it when they’re able to dispatch them efficiently in other episodes when the story dictates it.

I think what I’m saying is that I want the zombies to win.

Alex Riviello: I really don’t understand you folks, or what your expectations of a zombie show are. I’m completely enthralled, happy as hell that there was some more character development to shut up the detractors from last week’s excellent episode. I almost feel like everyone’s expecting to get all the background info on everything at once rather than let the show flow and take shape, and that it’s a huge mistake to take it that way.

Shane has shown himself to be easily the most interesting character in the show. Disagree completely about his performance, and I can’t wait to see what they do to this unfortunate soul in the weeks to come.
 
I also don’t see the problem with unlikeable characters. The great thing about using a zombie apocalypse as a setting is that it cuts down on the bullshit. Most people won’t smile and nod and quietly stew- they’re stressed and are going to tell you what they think, show you who they really are, not thinking about the consequences. Hence all the assholes coming out of the woodwork and tensions constantly running high, all the men trying to be alpha male, or a woman who thinks herself to be a widow getting herself laid.

Also- not to go back to the second episode, if you don’t think that a little stress-relieving sex might be something you need during moments after a crisis, well then I can’t help you. She left Carl with Jeffrey DeMunn, anyway. No safer person in a Darabont project.

Joshua Miller: It appeared last night that The Walking Dead was finally finding its footing. Then I looked on-line and discovered the season is now half over. We only have six episodes and this is where our story is at?!

I think only Nick hates Shane more than I do. In each episode thus far the show has aggressively TOLD US that Shane is a charming fun guy instead of showing us that he is a charming fun guy. And boy o’ boy have they tried. Normally I’d blame actor Jon Bernthal for this, but unless he has Darabont’s mother held hostage somewhere, it’s not like Frankie D had to cast him. Though I learned that Darabont had to duck out on casting one day to go shoot his cameo for Greg Nicotero’s short film, United Monster Talent Agency – so maybe he wasn’t in the office when Bernthal came in brandishing a gun and threatening Darabont’s assistant with violence if he wasn’t cast. I’m just spitballin’ here.

That said, I’m liking Shane a bit more now that Rick is back. Mainly I’m liking that the show doesn’t seem to want me to feel sorry for Shane. Shane’s beat down of the goon at the end was incredibly hacky, but I enjoyed it nonetheless. Which is much how I’d describe my feelings on the entirety of this episode. Looking back, I can find very little to single out as something I enjoyed (aside from the already mentioned Rooker cold-open), but I did enjoy the episode. I liked some of the smaller details we were given, like Jeffrey DeMunn’s hesitancy to give over his bolt cutters, or the way Daryl Dixon always retrieves his arrows (a detail plenty of shows/movies ignore). It is small bits of realism that this show needs… and has so very little of.

So things seemed like they were moving up in the world. I thought maybe the show had reached a place where I could start getting sucked in, maybe in the next couple of episodes. But the next couple of episodes will be the finale!

Jeremy G. Butler:  I find myself somewhere in the middle between Alex and the rest of the gang.  I’ve enjoyed the show thus far and have never felt like watching it was a chore, but I’ve certainly had my share of problems with it.  However last night I found myself getting past and/or over those problems and going on for the ride and I damn near loved it.  It wasn’t a flawless episode (I certainly agree with Nick about their beat down on the campsite zombie – didn’t one of those guys have a PICKAXE?  And he chose to just hit the zombie with it?  C’moooooon), but it was damn solid.  Our characters felt like real people instead of cliche-spouting robots and I’m of the opinion that Lori’s “You told me he was dead,” while kinda easy and convenient, puts everything we’ve seen with her and Shane in a different bit of perspective.  There’s a lot of context to consider in this situation and environment and I think Alex touches on it fairly well. The argument, perhaps, is that maybe Darabont and crew aren’t doing the best job at conveying that context – because it’s easy to lose sight of it from time to time – but that’s a blame shared equally by not only the writers but the cast as well.

This episode, I think, did a good job of getting back to the pilot’s ability to give us familiar ground but put just enough texture on it so that it doesn’t feel used up. The abusive husband and Shane’s handling of it, the “No man left behind” return to dangerous ground – they’re all familiar but there’s enough actual drama surrounding them and interconnecting them to make them interesting.

Another thing that made me happy, and this may just me being frivolous, is that in any other zombie movie, Rick’s reunion with his family is the end. That’s the big payoff. Here, it happens three episodes in and, again, not being familiar with the source, it leaves me incredibly excited about what that could mean for the actual end of the season. And that coupled with the announcement that we’re getting a second season as well? Yeah, I’m on board.

Elisabeth Rappe: I was pretty disappointed in this week’s episode as well. I hate to be the nerd and consistently compare it to the comic, but this was an episode where it was like “All right, so why bother to option the damn thing?”  Because whatever the failings of Robert Kirkman’s series are (and I agree that it’s not perfect and has room for improvement), it’s better than this mess of Southern cliches.  Redneck racists? Check. Wife beater? Check.  If we can get a molesting uncle in there, we’ll have the full set.  And again, I hate to keep drawing comparisons to The Mist — but I was on board with what Frank Darabont was saying about humanity. “Yes, that’s exactly how that would go down!”  Here, I’m saying “No way would anyone be this bad.” I’ve run into plenty of sexist jerks in my time, but none of them barfed it up as quickly and succinctly as Ed.

I hate Lori even more than I did last week.  So, because Shane says “Yeah, Rick’s dead.”, you just go “All right, let’s fuck!” And then when Rick is alive, you’re furious because he lied to you? It takes two to make love in the mushroom forest, and a big “Leave me alone!” speech just doesn’t work here.  In the comic, it was one night and a very obsessed Shane, so it was right for Lori to attack him. Here it just feels like you have a really flaky and nutty woman who doesn’t want to take responsibility for her half of the coupling.

The reunion was sweet, though. See, what did I say last week? Andrew Lincoln is adorable when he cries. And even cuter when he trembles and hugs his family.

Renn Brown: I completely understand where Alex is coming from- this show shouldn’t have to live up to unnecessary hype, and doesn’t necessarily have to be anything but competent and entertaining to merit existence. That is cool, and I mean that in the least condescending way possible. I come from a place of not caring much for a weekly gore-fest though, so for me it’s a chore. Again, I know the major events that are going to happen, and I’m not intrigued enough by the gap filling that is happening (in either the literary, or “tee-hee” sense), or the exploration-of-character stuff to hang on. I’m hoping there are some serious tricks up the various sleeves behind this show, otherwise it’s going to remain a weekly live-action trot through a comic I never particularly latched onto in service of weekly gore gags I don’t need. But then again I’m boring. I’ll definitely stick with it for the back half of the season, but it’s going to be rough to justify picking it back up in a year.

Nick Nunziata: I don’t see how anyone could be thrilled or happy with this show. To me it’s all about the promise of a Frank Darabont/KNB zombie show. I’ve read the comic. It’s pretty mediocre. I’ve watched the show. It’s pretty mediocre. Zombies are done to undeath, so for something that’s considered an event to be based on zombies, it had better be fresh or at least riveting. And it’s not. As I’ve said before, all this feels like is a Stephen King mini-series. The promise of this show is simply not being fulfilled. When you strip away the promise all that’s left is a miscast, oddly inert thing that succeeds only in proving that good marketing and and familiar subject matter is enough for most people.

And the look of the show infuriates me. It’s desaturated, which is fine. But on top of that there’s something about it that feels cheap. The zombies look alright in this style but that’s about it.

Renn Brown: I want to hop back in and second the dig on the look of the show. TV has grown to be an environment with plenty of normal, cheap looking moving pictures, but there are also plenty of examples of really sterling photography happening. I get the show is supposed to look static, and sort of subtly lifeless, but “cheap” is the word. If all the money went into the effects that’s all well and good, but the Georgian countryside and the cinematography in general could look much more interesting. Cities tend to look like cities, but Atlanta is additionally smeared with sub-par apocalypse mattes which kill any eyeball enjoyment from those. Also, the opening credits suck.

Jeremy G. Butler:  Fuck yeah the opening credits suck.  And I’ll be honest, I hadn’t so much thought about the look until it was brought up, which probably serves to prove your points.  I dig it all from a framing and composition perspective – I still goddamn love that shot of the main highway in and out of Atlanta – but you guys are right, it does have this matted, desaturated thing going on that gives it a “made for TV” feel when we should be well beyond that.

As far as the rest of it – okay.  I can’t argue anything that Nick (or anyone else) is saying.  When you watch The Mist you watch society crumble in a believable, heartbreaking, totally real way – and you see it ALL take place in what…two hours?  With that sort of pedigree, there’s almost no excuse for this show to be as spotty as it is.  Especially when you have the time to stretch the narrative out and give even more time to these people.  So yeah, with that in mind, the show is a HUGE disappointment.

But, and maybe I’m just a sucker but so be it, there’s enough good going on that I find it easier to forgive it when we have those moments like we did last night and with the pilot.  We are only three episodes in, after all, and shows rarely find their full-steam groove that soon in a series.  The problems this has going against it (established source material and a short-ass first season) magnify that slow start, but I think it might be a little bit unfair to judge it so harshly so soon, even with unmet expectations.

Elisabeth Rappe: I should probably scale back if only to play devil’s advocate a bit. I don’t mind the look of the show, and so many shows do elaborate credits that I don’t mind it playing it quiet.  And I’m not completely burnt on the show. I’m intrigued enough to keep going, if only because I want to see if AMC can sustain a comic adaptation.

I’m definitely perplexed at many of the story changes, though. It makes more sense to me to stretch out Rick and Lori’s separation than to do this story with Dixon. Kirkman’s original plot — let’s go back and raid an entire gun store — makes more sense than throwing in an extra pair of characters and a foolish rescue. There was a moment in the comic where Rick is sitting with Lori  and he starts shaking. And he says “My God, I haven’t had time to be scared until now.” Wouldn’t that have been better and more telling than a very cliche “This is our new start to our lousy marriage”? I’m just really disappointed in how they chipped at the Grimes’ dynamic, and who Rick was as a husband and father.   It feels like “Character Complication 101″ to have Lori guiltily looking over Rick’s shoulder. “Oh, I know I SHOULD have sex with him, but you know…I’ve been doing it with Shane nonstop…gotta pretend to be into this.”

Still, I have to give props to Darabont because I actually feel bad for Shane. I hated Shane in the book, and here I’m like wow, he’s being played by Lori too. None of these dudes can win.

I know I keep harping on the Lori point, but I know quite a few women who are absolutely disgusted with the story so far to the point that they don’t want to watch it. This is the kind of story where you need average, relatable characters and they’ve done a huge disservice to the female characters. Even the laundry scene came off as some kind of awful gender stamp. Instead of the very funny “Please, Rick can’t even use a washing machine, let alone wash stuff in a river!” it’s this awkward Women’s Lib-ha-ha-vibrators conversation.  It’s much more natural for a woman to say “My husband sucks at laundry so I might as well do it myself” than HA HA VIBRATOR OMG. It’s like they are writing dialogue based on edgy female blogs or something.

Alex Riviello: Going back to Nick, I’d have to say that although yes, almost every zombie story that could be told has been done before, the real promise if this show is watching the breakdown if the remaining humans. It’s why the comic made so many fans- even in a 2 hour movie you’re not going to get much further into the post apocalyptic world of zombies, not going to see people struggling to live months and then years in this terrible and brutal new world.  Sure, Romero has tried to do it over his entire career with different stories, but to only limited success. The Walking Dead could change all that, and I’m willing to sit through familiar tropes and scenes to get there, especially when it’s so well acted and the characters are so strong.

Gong to have to agree to disagree on this one!

Joshua Miller: Nick’s parallel to a Stephen King mini-series remains sadly apt. The zombie subgenre is indeed done to “undeath,” but given how incredibly mediocre the majority of what we’ve been served thus far in films and literature, there is certainly room for something new and spectacular. The Walking Dead‘s problem isn’t that it is bad, so much as it just isn’t doing anything to justify its existence other than doing its familiar little dance in an untouched medium. And the television medium really don’t feel very novel once I’m actually watching it.

I am not expecting anything of true quality to happen this season anymore. I’ll keep chugging along (there are only 3 eps left, after all), but I’m emotionally checked out. Having said that, maybe it sounds silly to say, but I have hopes for Season 2. I’m hoping that once the show burns through all its cliches and unnecessary characters, it’ll be forced to go some place new and hopefully interesting.

Alex Riviello: Just keep watching- I want them to keep those ratings up so at least the people who appreciate it can keep getting new seasons.

Elisabeth, I don’t know how you can say that Kirkman’s original plot makes more sense for Rick. Why on Earth, after reuniting with his family after thinking them dead, would he want to take right off to stock up on weapons? His rescue of Dixon and his need to find that radio to reconnect with Morgan isn’t foolish to him- he’s got a very strong sense of honor, one that will be severely tested in the episodes to come. But right now he’s doing what he thinks is right, not realizing that the world operates under a different set of rules now.

I’m not liking how everyone’s not giving this one a chance just because it has a few things that are familiar to those of us who have seen dozens of zombies films, or because it’s changed a few things from the comic. Nearly every change from the comic has made it superior, and everything that we’re getting now is setting these characters up for a long time to come. We’re going to be spending DAYS with these characters- give them a second to breath before jumping to assumptions about each and every one, will ya?

Elisabeth Rappe: How can it NOT make more sense, or just as much?   T-Dog and Glenn both know where Dixon is. They could just as easily go without Rick, or big bad alpha male Shane could go in Rick’s place.   I realize Rick has a sense of responsibility and honor, but it’s a guilt shared by all.  Rick is pretty superfluous in this scenario, frankly, and it’s a contrived story to separate him from his family and tempt Lori and Shane.

I didn’t necessarily agree with his actions in the book, either, except that the entire group was sitting there stymied, and it was a sign of Rick emerging as their leader. He’s willing to risk his life to protect them more effectively, and it was the first line in the sand between him and Shane.  Shane just sat around hoping they’d be rescued. Rick felt they needed to stop waiting, and look out for themselves.  Plus, I remember that a few days had gone by. He kicked back, got to know everyone, and spent time with his family.  The show is literally hurtling him out the next day, and that strikes me as more troubling and upsetting than a guy going “You know what? Someone HAS to take action and get us out of here.” 

Again, I’m not saying Kirkman’s story was perfect, but it felt a lot more organic as a character and group dynamic. It made sense within the rules he’d set up — Glenn gets in and out faster alone, so no one goes with him — instead of “the more the merrier, damned be the consequences.”

Creating this really outlandish Black Hawk Down scenario just to send Rick back into danger strikes me as a lot more clunky. But it might solely be the heavy handed social commentary that plagued it from the moment Dixon showed up spewing about sugartits….seriously, how can this be a more acceptable storyline than Rick going “Damn, we need guns. We can’t just sit and wait to die.”

I never said I was quitting it, though.   I’m just frustrated because I see a lot of troubling changes (particularly in its female characters) that undermine what the story is. I don’t care about seeing the same thing in a zombie story — I honestly haven’t seen enough zombie movies to complain.  I don’t care about slavish devotion to a comic, eitjer. Again, I liked what the pilot did all the way.   But I’m troubled that the rescue of a cartoonish racist is seen as complex character development. We don’t NEED to even jump to these assumptions because the show has done it for us.  Honestly, how the hell are Dixon and Ed going to redeem themselves on any level or in any honest way? Last I heard, wife beaters don’t become good guys after swallowing their own teeth.  If this was a Southern melodrama sans zombies, set in the Depression or a drought, would you give this kind of character work a pass?

Alex Riviello: I just find it curious that you think they have to redeem themselves. They’re not nice men. We even saw a little glimpse into Merle’s madness via the opening scene- this isn’t someone that’s just going to turn around and start playing nice with others.

We know that Rick knows this and he STILL wants to save this man’s life, just because it’s the right thing to do. It’s a perfect (and simple- remember, they only have six episodes) way of showing that Rick is still thinking like a cop- something that will end only when all his values are crushed and broken by this hard new life.

Elisabeth Rappe: I believe we were asked NOT to write these characters off, correct? So that would imply you’re thinking that they deserve to stick around and have the potential to develop as richer people? There’s not a lot of nuance to racism or wife-beating — unless the characters they abuse are somehow ASKING for it because of their color or gender? Maybe there’s two sides to their hate, and they’re justified in their feelings or something?

If not some kind of redemption, where are they  supposed to go?  The most neutral storyline would have the Dixons cast out from the group because they are dangerous and crude.  That would essentially undermine Rick’s “no man left behind” mission though, and waste two hours (or more) of story.

If you’re shrugging and saying “They’ll probably be eaten by zombies” then isn’t that a pretty childish way to dispose of socially troublesome behavior? If the show is saying “Humanity is more terrifying than the undead” then it seems awfully cheap to use the undead to get rid of those undesirable elements.

If you’re saying oh no, I think they’ll stick around, persisting in ugly and violent behavior, until Rick or Shane is forced to deal with it … well again, we’ve already HAD that story this week (*and* in “Guts” with Rick handcuffing Dixon) and I fail to see what else would be mined by circling it again.   Does Rick bring Dixon back, and then go “I never should have done that!” and cap him? Because what does that serve other than reinforcing a point the audience has already figured out?

Saying “Well, they only have [x] left” isn’t an excuse.  Movies can tell a complicated and nuanced story in 2 or 3.  Arguably, one of the huge themes (if not THE theme) of The Walking Dead is “wake up, it’s a new and awful world” and how the characters deal with that.   The comic did that with fairly nice and ordinary people (up to a point), as have a lot of other stories about post-apocalyptic scenarios.  So I fail to see how using the dregs of society illustrates the point any better or more elegantly.

Jeremy G. Butler: I think the key in this scenario, for better or worse, is that it’s more of an examination of Rick and Shane as opposed to saying anything in particular about Ed or the Dixons.  When Shane beat Ed to a bloody pulp, it wasn’t just because he was doing the Heroic Rise to the Occasion routine – the majority of that beatdown was Shane taking out his Lori frustrations on someone else and it did serve to give HIM a little bit of nuance.  The same with going back to get Merle – I think Alex is right in that it’s trying to show Rick’s value system and set him up to fall once that system is broken.  He’s the quintessential “Good Guy,” he even goes back to save the awful racist!  What happens when shit gets bad and he can’t be a good guy anymore?  I think THAT’S the setup we got here, ham-fisted though it may have been, because I certainly see Elisabeth’s point as well.  By making Ed and the Dixons who they were, it sort of robs the entire scenario of any sort of thematic depth because they ARE cartoons.

I also think Joshua’s right – Season 2 is where this series is going to make or break itself for realz.

Nick Nunziata: Here’s how The Walking Dead salvages itself, it follows Dexter‘s lead and veers off the source material and explores its own possibilities. Now that it’s a massive hit the only thing it has to prove is that it can be really good.

Renn Brown: This may not be the most graceful shift in topic, but another thing that’s been bugging is the occasional reliance on convenient but out-of-character stupidity for drama or cute moments. We hit on it earlier when Nick mentioned the woodsy beatdown of the zombie, which suddenly had the whole group of competent gentleman beating the ghoul like he was an Italian in a cornfield even though each knew the rules. It was obviously in service of a cute gore gag, yet there’s still another needless “you gotta hit the brain” moment. T-Dog dropping the CGI key into a tiny spout and having the guilt and presence of mind to chain the door is a little silly, but it’s extremely silly when he doesn’t even kick over the hacksaw they were discussing earlier in the show. Or the fact that Merle weeps and wines and cries before sliding the damn saw over with the belt- that’s the first thing he would have tried (Rooker’s effective performance notwithstanding). It’s lazy storytelling to rely on these trick over and over instead of letting the characters naturally dictate what happens and where the plot goes. It’s something the comic suffered from and was intensely irritating on the page as well. So often a character would do something silly or unrealistic, or the group would prepare to do something unclear, and then the two pages and a thousand or two words of dialogue later, we had a stilted unnaturally delivered explanation.

In any event, as Alex has just recently reported, it’s probably going to be at least a year before Season 2 hits and the opportunity for the deeply nuanced character work to present itself. That’s not much different than any other big-budget basic cable show, but with the shorter opening salvo, it’s still a big hurdle. The obvious comparison here is Boardwalk Empire, which even with its creative team that combined a beloved filmmaker, a fresh setting, known actors, and the best production team TV has to offer it’s really taken up to the last few episodes (eight and nine) for everyone to resoundingly jump on board. The Walking Dead is a very different animal, but the point remains the same- it’s only got so much time to grab attention and then maintain it. The problem for comic readers is still the issue of knowing the major beats, while for those fresh-eyed viewers I’d assume its more an issue of getting past the cliche and overwrought melodrama of Kirkman’s source material that is still shining through.

Elisabeth Rappe: I would like to temper my bitchiness by stressing that I’d still hop into Andrew Lincoln’s tent, zombies be damned.  I’m still digging his Rick Grimes, and not just because he’s easy on the eyes and all sensitive.  He and Glenn are the two good things I come back to even as I bitch, piss, and moan about what I don’t like or find offensive.

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