Last night’s episode of The Walking Dead was the best of the series to date (though that’s not to say it doesn’t have its weak points). Why was it so much stronger? Less zombies, less action, and a lot more laying on the feelings of hopelessness and separation. The group of survivors who are spread out along 2 miles of highway and farmland right now are all driven by each other not only to stay alive, but to stay together. This week it was an infected T-Dog trying to talk Dale into leaving. Last week, it was Andrea and Shane plotting an escape. As Lori says to Rick last night while he is stressing about Shane’s trip for medical supplies: “you can pray, or cry… but you’re not leaving.” Sometimes, the only things keeping you sane are the people around you, and that theme is quite evident on Dead.
There wasn’t a lot of plot advancement, but in a show where there really is no big picture (just a lot of zombies and long faces), Dead can stop for a couple episodes to delve into these characters a bit more – and after the one-dimensional mess of writing last season, it’s a necessary one to establish the people we are investing 13 hours into every year. Problem is, The Walking Dead still isn’t getting into these characters very deeply at the moment – and many never have the opportunity to, thanks to the ever-present danger waiting around every corner. It’s hard to stop and reflect when you’re running around, shitting your pants scared all the time, so Dead walks a thin line. But in an episode without any violence, what did we really develop about any of the people on the show? That T-Dog fears the same ending all black people receive in horror movies? That Shane is still on a reckless suicidal streak (which he might finally get his wish for, unless last night’s ending was something other than a big old shitty drama hook for next week, which it probably was)? In fact, the only thing I learned is Rick and Lori had a shitty relationship before the whole apocalypse went down, and that at times, she can be pretty strong-willed herself (the speech quoted in the last paragraph). Still, the show needs to improve on not just giving us situations for our characters to work their way out of: they need to show us how and why they are able to do it. In this world of death, what drives them to live? Fear? Family? For too many characters on Dead, this is still a huge question, and last night’s episode was a wasted opportunity in that sense.
I’m done banging on the overarching problems of this show, however. I enjoyed ‘Bloodletting’, if not for the opportunity to see these people relax and dedicate some screen time to something other than gratuitous zombie violence. I thought Daryl voiced my opinions well when a beaten zombie begins to rise and tells it to shut up before he drives an arrow into it’s head. The more those zombies are on the sidelines, the more of a chance Dead has to continue to improve on its many faults. The last 20 minutes of last night’s episode was a very small step in the right direction. Let’s see what happens next week.
Couple other thoughts:
– While I don’t think the show is quite done with Shane yet (too much attention on the secret between him and Lori thus far to kill him off), but did anyone think Otis was going to survive the episode? Whenever a character talks about bringing something back to them after a dangerous mission, it’s never a good sign (and a pretty old trick in the book of trying to get people to care about a character).
– The lower budget was in full effect here. Not a lot of zombies or zombie close ups, and again, I think the more the show keeps from doing this, the better it will be. Not to mention it will make the few times we see them much more suspenseful and creepy. All the gore and zombie action from the first 8 episodes wears on anyone who looks for more than blood and gunshots in television.
what did you think? Stop back next Monday, and see if The Walking Dead can continue to improve.