I’ve been holding off on talking about “The Walking Dead” until after the season finale, because it’s a somewhat slow-moving show and I think it needs to be assessed in a bigger chunk than one episode at a time. Also, I feel like they got off to a shaky start in some respects—Adam is right that the cartoonishly racist Merle character was a misfire, and one that tends to reinforce the narrative that it can’t be racist if you fall short of donning white hoods—but on the whole, I think it holds together well. (They did the same thing with sexism, by taking a genuinely interesting look at sexism in the camp and then making it way over the top by introducing a man who beats his wife in front of others, which is super rare in the real world. Not the beating of women—that’s common—but the letting others know about it.) As regular readers may know, I’ve read the comic book series the show is based on and have my criticisms just on a suspension of disbelief level. That said, my favorite aspect of the comics is that they are genuinely scary, something that should be a baseline for anything deemed “horror”.
But there are a lot of things I don’t like about the comic that the TV show has been busy correcting. One is the strong libertarian streak that leads to a poor understanding of human nature. For instance, one of the most irritating aspects of the comic book was that the whole Rick vs. Shane thing had more than a glint of Nice Gy® logic to it—because Rick is the hero and his wife Lori slept with Shane, then that must mean that Shane is a horrible person and was always a horrible person. It didn’t even seem to occur to Kirkman that for this to be true, Lori would basically have to be the kind of woman not worth being married to in the first place. A more interesting and realistic story would be that Shane and Lori both had much love for Rick, and when they thought Rick was dead, they fell in together, because presumably they were already friendly and have a lot in common. And voila! That’s exactly how the show decided to roll with it, and it’s been far more interesting for it. Now it’s about Shane falling apart under the various stresses he’s under, which is more interesting that the “turn your back and your stupid wife sleeps with an asshole because women are weak and needy” narrative of the comics.
In fact, before things degraded into an too on-the-nose wife-beating scene, there was an interesting rewrite of the sexism of the books, at least early in the books. In the books, the women complain a little about being shoved off into traditional gender roles of washing and waiting on men, but then cheerfully accept the strange notion that feminism is a luxury of civilization. (To be fair, the books do get away from this, as I believe Kirkman realized that you can’t exempt half the human race from his notion that people discover new sides of themselves in emergency situations.) On the show, there’s no indication that the women accept this. So that was another example of how the TV show gets human nature much better than the books.
The one thing the show does that the books did that makes me irate is it makes supply-gathering an ongoing problem. I’m sorry, but the entire area around Atlanta is filled to the brim with rural and suburban areas that would be less zombie-clogged than the city and far more full of supplies that you could ransack until the end of time. Including guns. It’s Georgia. Don’t tell me you couldn’t arm yourself to the teeth in under an hour if you had the ability to ransack any sporting goods store you came across.
As for the finale, I agree that it was a dramatic shift away from everything that’s gone on, but I feel better about it than the Onion AV Club did. They’re right that it didn’t feel like a season finale, but more like a mid-season break. In a sense, that’s what it is—they’ve only had 6 episodes, which is really only enough time to get the characters to make their first big move, which is what happened. I was a little annoyed at how the characters aggressively questioned Dr. Jenner, which was only done to raise tensions in what was basically a big exposition scene. I believe people in that situation would be grateful and conciliatory, especially towards a government official who is the last person they’ll probably ever see who still has some semblance of official authority behind him. Nor should the director have feared that the audience would tune out during this long exposition. I’m actually grateful that it was done early on—if you have to do it, get it out of the way so the actual story can continue. None of this “Battlestar Galactica” crap, where you wait until the end.
All in all, I think this is a pretty interesting take on the zombie genre. The problem with zombie movies is that the genre really does demand more of a slow burn, which is why George Romero kept being able to return to that well. So even with all its flaws, I’m addicted to “The Walking Dead”. What do you think? Have you been watching?