Is The Walking Dead living up to its potential? Kieran Mathers takes a look at the latest instalment…
Zombies have it pretty easy. Robbed of their higher brain functions, all they have to worry about is food. (And what exactly happens if a zombie doesn’t eat? Can they get any deader? All comments gratefully received). They certainly don’t have to contend with the existential crises that beset our heroes this week; is life worth living and what are they prepared to do to save themselves?
As Lori (Sarah Callies) and Rick (Andrew Lincoln) watch their son Carl (Chandler Riggs) slowly succumb to his injuries in the farmhouse, they are forced to wonder whether it would be kinder to let him die. We’re forced to wonder too – Carl’s distended belly and seizing fit are really tough to watch and his parents’ helplessness makes it all the more harrowing.
A great counterpoint to this is the horror of an entirely different nature taking place in the zombie infested high school, where Shane (Jon Bernthal) and Otis (Pruitt Vince) confront the horde. The gunfire is suitably loud and the gore – while largely computer generated – is top-notch. We also get our first proper scene of zombies feasting. This is a staple of zombie movies, from Night of the Living Dead to Zombie Strippers, but it’s been largely absent from The Walking Dead thus far. Luckily, this episode doesn’t disappoint – ears are torn off, limbs are ripped apart and blood spatters everywhere. The show hasn’t been this violent since the attack on the camp in Season 1 and it looks so close to a George A. Romero scene that I’m not sure it isn’t an intentional tribute.
This week’s message seems to be that, in order to survive, you have to choose. Redneck Daryl (Norman Reedus), who is steadily evolving from an unpleasant reflection of his racist brother to a full-on hero, sums it up nicely when he asks, “Do you want to live?” The Walking Dead is honest enough to say some of its characters don’t want to, or are no longer sure what they are living for.
Such tricky ethical issues aside, the episode isn’t helped by some uneven pacing and terrible lines. The writing, which can be brilliant when it wants to be, is too ready to fall back on cliché. The resolution of Lori and Rick’s dilemma is so trite it’s almost offensive, and I couldn’t believe even grieving parents were able to take such banality to heart.
Equally, there is too much flitting back and forth between scenes and I’m beginning to suspect that, despite my earlier praise, there may be too many over-arching plots threads. Otis and Shane are supposed to be escaping the zombies to deliver the medication that will save Carl, but the focus rapidly shifts to their own survival. This only serves to negate the tension back at the house, making those scenes seem oddly limp in places.
On the plus side, this episode boasts the strongest and most frightening opening of the season so far. It doesn’t even feature any zombies. Instead, the show opens with a mystery and allows us to theorise for the rest of the episode. It drives the plot very nicely indeed and is a great change to the usual run-and-hide antics.
All in all, a better episode than the previous one, and I’m looking forward to the next…