Monday, 29 November 2010
Walk Like Robert Kirkman
On to Episode 4 of The Walking Dead, the first installment to have been written by the comic's creator, Robert Kirkman. I was curious as to how natural a fit he would be for television, partly because I think his dialogue is one of the weakest elements of the comic itself (great ideas, strong characterisation, lousy words). So how did he do? Spoilers follow...
I have to hold up my hands and admit I was genuinely fearing a total car-wreck. Happily, it wasn't nearly that bad. In fact, it would be unfair to call it bad at all. What it was, though, was the weakest episode so far. Whilst the dialogue wasn't stilted or leaden as I had feared, it never really progressed beyond workmanlike (it probably doesn't help that the best scene in the episode occurred right at the beginning). It's also deeply frustrating that after three episodes that deliberately took pains to steer clear of cliche, both in zombie film terms and more generally, that this episode featured both a) a character announcing their sister's birthday is tomorrow - an immediate gift to "Spot the Stiff" players if ever there was one - and b) a sudden inexplicable massive zombie attack that only gets anywhere because nobody is on watch.
That's two pieces of bullshit right there. It's made still worse by the fact that the show has spent half its initial run without a single casualty, and with its characters - Merle aside - being eminently sensible and practical. Whilst the episode gets points for the fact that in effect events have proven Shane's "You're not just endangering yourself" speech to Rick entirely correct (as previously mentioned, TV Shane is far more interesting than comic Shane), but since the immediate response is "I wouldn't have gone if I'd known you were incapable of guarding for zombies because you could smell fried fucking fish", the impact is somewhat lessened.
I was also a little irked about the attack itself, beyond how stupid it is that it ever happened. Killing Ed rather suggests his only role was to set up the admittedly very powerful scene last week - though since I haven't seen what follows I could obviously be off the mark here. Mainly, though, I found it very confusing. Sure, that's partly the point, the editing was clearly supposed to reflect the chaos of a full-on attack. But neither The Other Half or myself was able to entirely work out who was and wasn't bit. TOH tells me Jim got a chunk taken out of him, but I couldn't tell (though of course I assumed he would, given that the show seems to be following the plot of the comic exactly, merely with extra material). I think someone else was killed as well (unless the walkers had dragged Ed out of his tent), someone who as far as I can recall was never even introduced.
That's a far worse crime, I think. This show, even more so than Lost or BSG is based on the necessity of survival. I always thought that particularly in Lost's case reducing most of the group of survivors into faceless redshirts was somewhat unfortunate, much preferring BSG's attempts to keep tally of casualties by giving at least some shape to those minor characters killed, and by use of the survivor count. The latter made the struggle seem more real, the former as though the other "Losties" were simply an inconvenience for the writers to discard as soon as possible.
One of the greatest strengths of Walking Dead as a comic is that each character the survivors lose has a name and a history. Yes, some are better sketched out than others, but there's always a genuine feeling of loss when another person is killed by zombies or scavengers. This extends, at least for me, to seeing characters in terms of the groups they belong to before they join our tribe of survivors. Losing some characters is particularly hard when you realise they were the last of their group, as though a piece of history has been wiped clean. And all of this is damaged by the idea that there are people who you don't know, don't care about, and have no idea of the origins who just get eaten at random to show that the zombies mean business.
Again, there's time for counting the cost next week, and I hope that gets done (especially following Rick's brief speech about the wallet contents of the first zombie he ever searches), so this complaint may not last the week. We shall see.
In general, then, this is an episode with problems. On the other hand, the vatos themselves are brilliant. The idea of taking a third cliche - armed gang survives apocalypse, become massive pain in the arse - and turning it on its head is inspired. One thing I've always liked about Kirkman is his ability to take the ubiquitous zombie apocalypse idea and go in directions no-one else has thought of (I was particularly impressed - and annoyed that I'd not thought of it myself - by the idea of one group of survivors taking pains to keep their zombies "alive" whilst waiting for a cure), and having hard-case vatos defending the residents of a retirement home definitely applies.
Pretty much a B+, then, which is a bit disappointing after such an exceptionally strong initial run. Having said that, it's disappointing mainly because it's as good as the comic it follows, rather than better. And since the comic itself increased in quality from the second chapter onwards, using it as a lower bound for the TV show is probably far from being the worst idea in the world...