Not unlike Fringe, there’s been chatter online about the past few episodes of The Walking Dead and whether or not they’re delivering the goods. Perhaps it’s the behind the scene drama (Parent company AMC slashed the budget by $250,000 per episode, prompting creator Frank Darabont to leave/be fired after Comic Con this summer), but fans are concerned about how the show will move forward and if the quality will suffer.
After four episodes in, I think it’s safe to say…the verdict is unclear.‘Cherokee Rose’ played a lot like a domino episode you might see on a more traditional network show (ie: one with 22 episodes that requires some filler): it served its function of setting up a bunch of storylines so that future episodes can knock them down. Did it do so in a spectacularly exciting or dynamic way? No, not so much. Was it a perfunctory attempt that did what it needed to do to uncover some juicy storylines that will play out in future episodes? Sure. So we saw tentative steps towards our wary band settling down on Herschel’s (Scott Wilson) farm, a burgeoning romance between Maggie (Lauren Cohan) and Glenn (Steven Yuen), Shane (Jon Bernthal) addressing his demons in the wake of last week’s murder (manslaughter?) of Otis (Pruitt Taylor Vince), and, the development that is sure to have the most dramatic impact on the series moving forward: Lori’s (Sarah Wayne Callies) confirmed pregnancy.
This final element was a bit of a gimme from the moment that Lori took Glenn aside and asked him to procure her a “feminine hygiene product” and be discreet about it. How often have we seen a character squat over a pee stick only to discover that “Thank god, the unwanted pregnancy with added moral quandry about who the father is has been avoided because I’m not pregnant!” Clearly there’s no dramatic payoff to that storyline, so we knew that Lori was preggers the moment she asked Glenn for a favour.
So good job, The Walking Dead: anticlimax achieved (unless you’re Glenn and Maggie, in which case, hot/dirty/horse-smelling convenience store climax was achieved).
What else was going on? Carl (Chandler Riggs) woke up and inquired about Sophia (Madison Lintz), who has now been missing for three days. We caught glimpses of how the group is handling this throughout the episode as Carol (Melissa Suzanne McBride) cleaned the camper, Shane and Andrea (Laurie Holden) accompanied her to the highway, and Darryl (Norman Reedus) took his crossbow for a stroll. In much the same way that it was obvious that Lori was pregnant, it’s becoming more clear that Darryl will be the one to find Sophia. I’ve been a Norman Reedus fan since The Boondock Saints (and Gossip if we’re really confessing), so it’s been interesting to see how the show has handled his maturation from white supremacist-problem causer to three dimensional, onion-layered decent guy. His exchange with Andrea around the hanging zombie and this week with Carol have tread a fine line between his prickly and Downy soft sides, so it doesn’t surprise me when friends select him as their favourite character this season. He’s clearly channeling bad-boy Spike (from Buffy), he can handle a crossbow like nobody’s business, but he still protects this rag tag band of misfits like they’re members of his own family. When his older brother inevitably shows up, it’ll be fascinating to see how he handles his different allegiances, but for now Daryl is easily one of the most interesting characters on the show.
Other interesting folk: Herschel, who is also treading a fine line. His interactions thus far have principally involved Rick and are often steeped in religious and morally superior tones. Which is not to say that just because he is a religious man he has adopted a superior tone, but there’s a suggestion that he and his kin have carved out a zombie-free eden on the farm and he’s not about to let just anyone ruin it for them. You can’t blame him for wanting Rick (Andrew Lincoln) and his group to leave as soon as they find Sophia: this is a group that courts trouble and dysfunction like nobody’s business. Listening to Shane try to talk his way out of his guilty conscience about what he did to Otis makes it pretty clear that he’s gonna snap, and that’s just one of Rick’s many messed up folks! We haven’t even addressed Andrea’s continued fatalistic interest in guns or T-Dog’s (IronE Singleton) bat happy kill of the swimmer zombie from the well.
All of this to say that although Herschel’s not exactly made of puppy dogs and hearts now that Carl is out of danger, he’s not exactly off base to want Rick and co to pack up their caravan and head out sooner rather than later. With the number of crazy folk handling guns, it seems like a safe suggestion that we all embrace these Glenn and Maggie scenes, folks, because this is the closest we’re going to get to nice, ordinary, sane people. *Sidenote: Holy eff there are a lot of people on this show. We need to off a few more of these characters because I’m developing carpal tunnel syndrome trying to track them all.*
So at the end of the hour we still haven’t found Sophia, we’ve lost a well to zombie infestation and Herschel is making vaguely ominous promises that if no questions are asked and no challenges are raised, he’ll consider letting the group stay. All in all, I’m not surprised that fans feel this was another slow/talky episode. But in reality, ‘Cherokee Rose’ is pretty reflective of the show we’re watching: if we wanted outrageous zombie action, we’d be watching a zombie attack a shark or Mekhi Phieffer die protecting his zombie baby. The Walking Dead is a character driven piece about how humans react in the face of overwhelming odds. Want further proof? Check out the lovely and succinct tagline that accompanies author Robert Kirkman’s graphic novels: “In a world ruled by the dead, we are forced to finally start living.”
So to those people who think the show is too slow, or less fun/cool/extreme/graphic this season, I say chill out. I’m sure there’s plenty of crazy zombie action on the horizon, and until then we’ve got some interesting human dynamics to contend with.
- So this is now episode 3 of Sophia being missing. Anyone want to lay bets on when (or how) she turns up?
- Lori’s pregnancy will clearly affect her in the wake of her near-sacrifice of Carl on the altar of “why raise a child in this shitty world.” Is this just adding more weight and horribleness on our survivors or will this be the bond that brings Lori and Rick closer together?
- Alternatively, what does the pregnancy mean for our dysfunctional love triangle? Shane’s already prepped to go off his rocker, so will this be the event that finally drives him over the edge?
- Is Herschel hiding some big, dark secret? Generally anytime someone institutes a don’t ask, don’t question policy, there’s either a really good reason, or there’s a shady past behind it.
- Yay for someone finally getting lucky! Amidst the concerns about Darabont’s departure and AMC’s treatment of their biggest hit ever, many fans have wondered why our survivors aren’t bonking like rabbits to fuck the pain away (NSFW). I mean, hey, you might as well use the condoms before they expire since the latex glove is probably not going to be at the top of any “must-have” list moving forward in this apocalyptic future.
Reminder for comments about texts that are adapted from widely available sources: please respect the decision by some readers not to read Kirkman’s completely addictive graphic novels. No spoilers about what happens next in the books will be tolerated. Stick to the show and focus on what we’ve seen thus far and we’ll all get along fine.