If, like me, you’ve watched your share of traffic-accident-bad Lifetime movies, then I bet you too have longed for a wandering zombie to spice up those hackneyed SWF plots and excessive use of Aaron Spelling children. Well, this week’s Walking Dead episode "Prey," a.k.a. Mother, Why Did I Sleep With Danger?" was the answer to those childhood prayers. But be careful what you wish for because the TWD writing staff threw my last recap’s final words back at me. I asked for Andrea, and boy, I got her.
The show was pretty much All About Andrea, the show’s hardy ex-ACLU lawyer who gets as much love from Walking Dead fans as a real ACLU lawyer does at a Southern Sheriff’s conference. No character since Dale has seemed a choicer morsel of corpse kibble, with that golden hair the waxen color of zombie floss, and credulous eyes shooting skyward whenever a hunky psychopath tells her gullible is written in the clouds. It’s not just that her taste in men is worse than a small town beauty queen’s, from her suicide pact with Jenner in Season 1 to bedding Shane the instant he went Lord of the Flies to sticking it out with the world’s worst OkCupid match, the Governor. It’s that Andrea, in all her eye-rolling, zombie-filleting, needy-sarcasm glory, is the most frustrating character on TWD. She has such potential: She’s exactly the smug yuppie anyone would love to watch get fire-baptized by the Libertarian wet dream that is post-zombie Georgia. She’s become a card-carrying NRA member, made besties with everyone’s favorite katana artist, Michonne. And yet somehow, time after time, that exasperating eyebrow arch of hers makes me cringe.
Before I begin this week’s recap, pardon me, merciful readers, if I flash my TWD creds in the hope that slathering myself with zombie bona fides will let me pass (relatively) unscathed through the hordes of Walking Dead fanatics and Grantland commentators. Yes, I have seen the show, all of it. In fact, I just spent the better part of a road trip with my girlfriend binge-viewing Season 3, the upshot of which is we both agree she would survive the zombie apocalypse and I wouldn’t, based solely on my need for copious pee-breaks and her steadfast refusal to allow them. Further, I share everyone’s agonized memories of the mind-numbing yoga betrayal retreat that was Season 2, as well as despair at Season 1, Ep. 4, “Lowrider Rest Home Cholos.”
So, I’ve watched the show since it was the little phenomenon that could and Daryl accessorized solely with Squirrelly Couture. And while it might not always drive me to the same dramaturgical despair as Andy Greenwald — I think Season 3 has, overall, shown geometric improvement — I retain both a healthy dose of skepticism and an appreciation for a re-animated corpse creatively de-animated. For me, The Walking Dead is most like that smoking-hot-if-slightly-dim cheerleader/quarterback you can’t help fantasizing about even though he/she thinks Africa is a country.
The nature of television is less casual than it used to be, with media requiring more and more of a commitment from viewers, as well as offering more opportunities to indulge in meta-programming and shield themselves with spoiler-protection masks, reinforcing the bonds between audience and serial. It’s immensely gratifying, but it can also be daunting for an outsider. I hadn't seen an episode of The Walking Dead until last night, at which point I decided that I’d gone on for too long bluffing that I’d seen it when people asked me at parties, too daunted by the backlog to start from square one. I jumped in, Googling only to get the character names I couldn’t catch (baby Judith, I heard your name as “Sudoku”), without prejudice or the knowledge of how so many people lost eyes and limbs. It was disorienting, especially considering that Walking Dead fans are a pretty enthusiastic bunch and that even if you commit yourself to watching every episode, there’s still a comic book to tackle. Starting with Episode 30 felt a little like breaking the rules, but it reminded me of the experience of stumbling into something without expectations, without the queue and the space on the sofa meticulously cleared for a very long sit. It was refreshing, like a mutual and pure no-strings-attached fling: If it works out, it works out. If you hate these zombies, hey, man, no sweat.
Last week, Grantland contributor and longtime The Walking Dead recapper Andy Greenwald finally lopped off the head of his tenure as Senior Zombie Correspondent in order to better focus his energies on television shows with "plot development" and "three-dimensional characters." While we wholeheartedly support Andy's decision, we here at the Hollywood Prospectus decided we could not let a single skull crunch go undocumented, and will be featuring a rotating series of recappers to chronicle the rest of this season of The Walking Dead. First up: David Jacoby.
Take your brain out. To appreciate the televised zombie apocalypse, you must first make a zombie of yourself. You can’t be like Andy Greenwald; you can’t think about story development, character, continuity, performances, showrunners, sets, logic you can’t think at all. This show isn’t about thought, this show is about bullet holes in zombie faces, samurai swords in zombie skulls, gore, violence, and general badassery. Last night’s The Walking Dead was not unlike last night’s All-Star Game; there was no discernible strategy at play, there were long lulls between short bursts of captivating action, and there was no soul — but both televised events were thoroughly entertaining. Let’s recap this shit.
"You know, like a lot of liberal Americans, I was excited when Barack Obama took office four years ago. But it's a very different world now. And Mitt Romney is a very different candidate. One with the vision and determination to cut through business-as-usual politics and finally put this country back on the path to the zombie apocalypse."
Whatever your political leanings, you have to admit: The whole time Joss Whedon was delivering that speech, you kept a laser focus on that window behind him, expecting to see the beginning of the zombie invasion, didn't you? Or was that just us? Alas, the few glimpses of what we thought might be "walkers" seem to be regular old "pedestrians." Maybe that's what we'll end up calling them if things break the way Whedon describes. Especially if we get the "old-school, shambling kind." And if the apocalypse begins in L.A., the way we've always hoped.
Last night’s episode of The Walking Dead introduced the Governor, a mysterious leader tasked with preserving a delicate fiction: that a return to civilization is possible, even while savage violence remains the order of the day. Winningly played by Brit David Morrissey — perhaps best known here for going face-to-face-lift with Sharon Stone in Basic Instinct 2 — the Governor seems genuinely torn between two warring passions: the love he feels from his citizenry when he keeps them protected and the primal euphoria only possible when jamming a machete into another man’s brainpan.
Is it a meta step too far, then, to wonder if showrunner Glen Mazzara can sympathize? Under his command, The Walking Dead returned last night to a more reflective state. Behind the Governor’s very big walls — in the macho apocalypse, barricades and fences are the new sports cars and yachts — there was finally time to ask the bigger questions: Why did this happen? What do we do now? And would you like some more eggs? For those who can’t help but find the living more interesting than the gnawing, this was a welcome sight. But even with the change in scenery — I’m particularly anxious to explore the inside of the Woodbury Antique Shop — this was still very much The Walking Dead. The episode’s most loving detail was reserved for its depiction of a bisected soldier, every strand of his glistening viscera captured in horrifically vibrant vermilion. As for a nerdy new character? Well, his name was Milton.
“Better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to speak out and remove all doubt.” A great man once said that — a vampire hunter by trade, I believe. But the wise words apply to those beset upon by all manner of monsters, especially the straggly survivors on The Walking Dead. After a massively troubled second season, one drowned in hokum and horseshit, the highly rated show returned last night with a burst of megaviolence and a deafeningly welcome blast of silence. The sight of a suddenly decisive Rick and his heavily armed compadres silently swarming a house like the military unit they’ve become (and without a trace of the squabbling, back-and-front-stabbing family they’d been) was both a self-referential wink from replacement showrunner Glen Mazzara and smart strategy on both sides of the camera. From the beginning The Walking Dead has worked best when brandishing a big stick, not when speaking, softly or otherwise. Besides, when someone’s trying to eat you the last thing you have time to do is criticize his table manners.
Late last night, in accordance with New Media for the Modern Showrunner Handbook guidelines, The Walking Dead executive producer Glen Mazzara took to Twitter to interact with fans of the series he inherited halfway through its tumultuous second season. While he did respond to queries — like, "Michonne is the most unrealistic character from the comics, why choose to bring her in?" and, "Which of the survivors from S2 would u want to party with?" (Answers: they have a good storyline for her; Maggie) — he notably dodged one inquisition, which, in fairness, perhaps could have been posed in a more clinical fashion to better communicate its unquestionable import: Do zombies poop?
I’ve spent a lot of time in this space ribbing Rick Grimes for his severe, nearly terminal case of the dawdles. But maybe Glen Mazzara was simply trying to illustrate how hard it can be to deal with even the most obvious of problems, particularly if they, like Randall, quite literally fall into your lap.
When Mazzara took the reins of The Walking Dead at mid-season, he found himself the inheritor of a number of increasingly untenable situations. The largest, of course, both in import and skull size, was Shane. Deposed showrunner Frank Darabont had committed the show to the idea that Shane needed to be transformed from a dick-swinging good old boy — and Rick’s best friend — to a shaven-headed rage monster, a shoot-first-ask-questions-never wild card that was somehow driven insane by his perfectly reasonable sacrifice of a slow-jogging farmhand in order to save the life of a child he loved. Over the course of this season, the only thing sweatier than Shane’s stubbly dome were the writers as they went to increasingly ludicrous lengths to amp up the tension between Shane and everyone in the group, having him trade punches with Rick, threats with Dale, bodily fluids with Andrea, and bouts of silence with T-Dogg because, come on, it’s T-Dogg. That’s all anyone does with him.
And so ends the first half of The Walking Dead’s deadly second season, thankfully not with a whimper but with a whole lot of bangs. Still, that’s all there is to be grateful for after seven episodes in which absolutely nothing happened, outside of Carol losing a child and Lori learning she's carrying one — which, when you think about it, is kind of a wash. Seven hours of going to the pharmacy and coming back from the pharmacy, of cooking eggs and crippling chickens, of plugging bottles and logs instead of gaping plot holes. All so Glenn could get some. A valid use of time if you’re Glenn, of course. But an infuriating boondoggle if you’re not.
Last week Grantland’s estimable Senior Hot Tub Hookup correspondent David Jacoby was kind enough to fill in on Walking Dead duties while I was away. In the recap, he took the time to elucidate exactly what it was he enjoyed about the show, namely “explosions, hot chicks and creative ways to kill zombies.” Let’s be clear: That sounds pretty good to me! Unfortunately, at this point, The Walking Dead is about precisely none of those things. Instead, it is about a group of shallow, unpleasant people who live on a horse farm.
The zombies that menaced Morgan’s suburban safe house back in the pilot of The Walking Dead could almost be mistaken for human. Sure, they stumbled a bit, had poor-to-nonexistent personal hygiene, and weren’t much good for conversation. (Mention a witty "Shouts & Murmurs" piece in the last — really, the last — issue of the New Yorker and they’re liable to bite your head off. Literally.) But they were at least feasible simulacra of the people they used to be — so much so that Morgan himself had trouble pulling the trigger on the ravenous corpse that used to be his wife.