Thursday, 25 November 2010

Just Keep On Walking

We're halfway through The Walking Dead's first season, so it's probably time to have another look at what's going on.  Once again, spoilers under the fold.

One thing that's becoming more and more obvious as the show progresses is how different Darabont intends this story to be to pretty much any other take on the zombie idea.  I haven't seen such a lack of violence since I Walked With A Zombie, and that was back before the shuffling Bokor creations even developed a taste for human flesh (which, incidentally, makes I Walked... a very interesting film, if you ever get the chance to see it).  It took me two episodes to realise that we'd not seen a single character (or even red-shirt) die.  Sure, it's clear lots of people have died, but like Rick, we missed the apocalypse.

Episode 3 continues this unbroken run, and indeed goes even further.  With the exception of a single "geek" found in the woods, the entirety of the story told at the campsite could be directly inserted into just about any story about a civilisation-wrecking event.  The zombies are entirely incidental; this is simply about survival in the most general terms.

Well, that's not all it's about, of course.  It's about how people survive, and what it does to them.  This is probably most obvious when it comes to Shane, who so far sticks out as the most interesting character by some distance (helped by an impressive performance by Jon Bernthal).  Having to deal with being in love with his best friend's wife is difficult enough.  Now add to that the fact that he's managed to achieve his dream and get together with Lori, but at the price of losing Rick and the rest of the world.  Then of top of that, he's been thrown out of paradise because the husband he told his lover was dead has come back.

That's a hell of a head trip for anyone to go through, and it's difficult to not feel at least something for the man. Plus of course Sean isn't played exclusively as a bad guy, despite having lied about Rick's fate (and note we only know that Lori thinks he is a liar, we don't know the circumstances that led to Shane's conclusion): he clearly desperately wants to be a surrogate father to Carl, and continues trying even though he knows it's become - and might always have been - impossible.  His vicious, brutal beating of Ed was clearly one part defending Andrea to at least nine parts just needing someone to hit.

Actually, I think that one scene is the most important part of an episode that is otherwise surprisingly sedate - particularly for a season only six episodes long - which again shows Darabont's determination in ensuring The Walking Dead differs from what one might expect (though in tone the languid pace owes some debt to the comic as well).  Shane's attack deliberately mirrors the survivors' savage assault on the woodland zombie earlier in the episode.  The focus is not on the attack itself, or the victim, but on the attacker.  In both cases, we gain a glimpse of what is surely to come; the dehumanisation of the survivors and the ??? of violence.  Moreover, by having Shane attack a thoroughly objectionable women-hating wife-beater, we're placed in the position of (potentially) cheering Shane on at first, and slowly becoming more and more uncomfortable.  The whole thing rather reminded me of A History Of Violence, which to my mind is no bad thing.  You could even try to work out at exactly which punch our sympathies start to change, and our enthusiasm starts to wither.  If the show continues to follow so closely to the ethos of the comic, these shifting currents of sympathy and identification will only intensify.

Shane isn't the only one who tells us something about how people survive.  Rick has his own answer: to stubbornly cling to his own code.  He resolves to find the man they left behind in Atlanta, despite him being a deeply unpleasant and violent man, because it doesn't matter to Rick what others would do for him, only what he's prepared to do for them.  Again, I'd expect this to be something we return to in later episodes.  Codes like that are much easier to stick to before the first time they get you into trouble, and the first time they end up getting someone hurt or killed. 

And if the lone, pathetic first zombie on the hillside is any indication, it might not be too long at all before that's exactly what happens.

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