The Walking Dead 3.16 “Welcome to the Tombs” Discussion

How to encapsulate my thoughts on this episode? Let’s try: This was a good episode, but a very unsatisfying season finale.

Starting with Andrea and Milton in the Governor’s torture chamber, we get a nicely staged and paced event. Milton is dying from a stab wound, will soon turn into a zombie, and chew on Andrea who’s bound to a chair. But he hid some pliers behind the chair before the Governor gutted him, and we get to watch Andrea’s race against time to get those pliers and free herself before becoming lunch. This event, spread throughout the show into bite-sized scenes is really tense. It’s annoying that Andrea repeatedly stops her quest for freedom to have deeply emotional conversations with Milton–multitask, Andrea, talk and work–but dramatic license and all. And once again, the Governor is just evil. He’s gone total supervillian, not content to just kill someone. No, they must die in some extra horrific manner.

The other event insterspersed througout the episode is the Governor’s assualt on the prison and its aftermath. This is the really unsatisfying part for me. It sets up nicely. We see Rick and the gang packing up, apparently to get out of Dodge. We see the Governor and crew arrive with heavy weapons, blasting the guard towers with RPGs and mowing down zombies with a fifty cal. We, and the Governor quickly learn that it appears Rick’s group got out in time–the cell block is empty except for a bible with a knowingly highlighted passage which I could not read fast enough to gain any context from. Anyway, The Gov & Co continue on into the depths of the prison and we get to the part where things go south for me. There are alarms and zombies and smoke and gunfire. And the Gov & Co retreat completely out of the prison, back in their trucks. They come under fire in the yard from Maggie and Glenn in body armor from barricaded catwalks. Okay, so this was some sort of ambush. We learn that the non-combatants from Rick’s group, plus Carl, are hiding out in the woods. But this leaves Rick, Daryl, Michonne, and Carol unaccounted for. Were they in the prison? Outside the prison? Covering other avenues of possible escape the Governor might have taken? It’s unclear. And unsatisfying. A two second cut of Rick triggering the alarms, Daryl throwing a smoke grenade into the halls, and Carol opening a door that releases a bunch of zombies would have let us see through action that the chaos in the prison was actually a trap and shout “yes!” in support of our heroes. But it was all just mildly confusing guesswork.

That confusion continues with the Gov’s retreat. Once presented with the gunfight they were looking for (Maggie and Glenn) why don’t they bring their overwhelming firepower we were shown earlier into play? Why do they run in the trucks? It becomes clear in the next scene that the Gov wasn’t actually leading the retreat. His truck cuts off the truck carrying his “army” and we learn they’ve abandoned his fight. But this really should have been staged better in previous scenes. My brain had to retcon the prior scenes to fit what the show was telling me just happened–because I didn’t see it at all with what was shown. It would have been pretty cool to have experienced him losing sway over his troops to mounting panic, but I didn’t see that on screen. I just heard about it after the fact. Unsatisfying.

And then the big scene where all that becomes retroactively clear and he mows them all down. Surprising, but it really should have been shocking, and tense. We could have used some of the melodrama the show applies liberally elsewhere. We should have experienced the Governor’s mounting frustration, his loss of authority, and his final realization that his reign was over with these people. And then the machinegun should have come out. But it was very out of left field. Just an occurrance because the prior scenes didn’t develop well toward this breaking point.

And the storytelling weaknesses on the other side didn’t really make the Governor’s breakdown feel much like Rick and the gang’s victory over him. Man, this season really set things up amazingly for an epic confrontation between these two groups, and we get some confusion, a retreat, some after-the-fact piecing together of what happened and one side self-descructing. Unsatisfying.

In concept that all should have worked swimmingly. In execution, not so much for me.

And then he drives away in a funny scene where his two remaining lackies have to decide whether to get into a car with the nutjob who mowed down all their friends. Funny, but ultimately unsatisfying. The Governor plotline deserved a conclusive resolution. And he gets to drive off into the sunset, perhaps to terrorize our heroes in a future story arc, or perhaps not. I don’t like the not knowing here. A loose end that I would have preferred tied off.

There was a very strong subplot with Carl. He kills one of the Governor’s army in cold blood, a kid who surrendered out in the woods. When confronted by Rick about it, he says he did what needed to be done, and if Rick had done the same they wouldn’t have lost so many people. This was a real highlight. He’s his father’s son! (And by that I mean Shane’s son.) Wonderful.

And then we get to the big scene. So sad. Andrea didn’t quite get out of the chair fast enough and got bit. Rick, Daryl, and Michonne have dropped by Woodbury to see her final moments. I liked Andrea. She added to the show. The writers seemed to think her story was done with her failure to make peace between the two groups but I’m not on board. Last week Merle’s story felt complete. It was time. This one feels premature. I generally like how characters on the show feel very mortal (except Rick). It might have worked better as a counterpunch to a rousing defeat of the Governor, but as a coda to the ambiguity of the Governor’s fate it was just the show hitting my while I was down.

Even as is, if this had occurred with 2 or 3 episodes left in the season I probably would have been fine with it. But as “the climax” of the story arc, it left me cold.


The Walking Dead 3.15 “This Sorrowful Life” Discussion

Wow. Finally the show is back on track. The previews for this episode had me fooled into thinking it would just be more wheel spinning.

So we start with Rick preparing to turn over Michonne to the Governor. We get a few quiet moments with the group, all strong: Michonne has a good defensive idea, Carol’s growth is acknowledged by Merle, and Glenn tells Daryl why he can’t forgive Merle, and Merle of all people recognizes that what Rick is considering is exactly what the group has condemned Merle for. All the while, Merle is planning to take matters into his own hands knowing RIck won’t follow through. Of course Rick reconsiders. I wish he could have done it without seeing ghost Lori, but, oh well, nothing’s perfect. And of course, Merle kidnaps Michonne anyway before he even confirms Rick won’t go through with it. All nicely staged.

From here things don’t go as expected. Michonne goes zen about Merle nabbing her. And she talks. (She also gets a cool zombie kill using the wire that’s binding her hands.) This is Michonne’s strongest episode. She opened up a bit with Carl a few weeks back and the writers are finally giving her some personality. It’s refreshing.

Soon enough, Daryl follows alone on foot and because of the small world syndrome established over the past few weeks he can’t be far behind and a brother showdown is on the horizon.

Meanwhile, we get a couple more nice, quiet scenes. Glenn asks for Hershel’s blessing, and then proposes to Maggie with a ring chopped from a zombie’s finger. Ah, romance!

And lo the moment of truth arrives. Michonne’s zen schtick works on Merle. He let’s her go. Color me surprised. But he continues on alone and engages the Governor’s thugs in a nicely staged ambush. Surprisingly, Merle gets to go out in a (small h) heroic fashion and I was suprised to find myself rooting for him. Alas, alone, he’s unable to get the Governor himself who then kills Merle by shooting him in the chest. Not a head shot. So Merle come back as a zombie. Man, the Governor is just an ass, even when he’s killing you. Poor Daryl arrives and is forced to do the final deed on his brother with, by my count, about 700 knife stabs to the face.

Back at the prison, Rick gets his single best scene of the entire series. He’s finally realized what the audience has known for a while–he’s been a terrible leader for a while and the group needs to be involved in decisions. Go Rick. Nearly three seasons to get to a single moment where I sympathized with the guy.

Great episode. Can’t wait for the season finale.


The Walking Dead 3.12 “Clear” Discussion

This week brought on some mixed feelings. It was an odd and disappointing choice to stick in a standalone episode at this poing in the season. I’m invested in the larger story. Last week they spun the wheels a bit on that story. And now, we get away from that story entirely for the entire episode. We don’t see Woodbury at all. And so I wonder–are they out of story beyond the climactic confrontation? Do we have two or possibly three more episodes of waiting? Ugh..

On the other hand, it was a pretty good standalone episode (unless you’re a hitchhiker.) So Rick drags Carl and Michonne on a random macguffin hunt so this other story can be told. It’s a story worth telling–what happened to Morgan who saved Rick back in season one before he found the group? That brings up the second downer of this episode: it takes place in Rick and Carl’s home town. This creates a really small world syndrome. They’ve been traveling for a year or more, and they’re a short drive from where they started? Wouldn’t that make the town of Woodbury and the prison familiarish places to Rick? I know where the prisons, towns and other major landmarks around me for a large radius. It feels a bit retcon to place them so close to home for the convenience of telling this story and not structure this as a larger, more critical, trip.

Back to the plot, Morgan has set up a really inventive kill-zone for zombies and (equal opportunity) any humans that stumble on him. I loved all the cool little touches like the warnings and the color-coded escape routes. They make Morgan’s lone wolf survival seem plausible. So our heroes stumble into Morgan’s trap and things aren’t looking so good until Carl saves the day with a point blank shot. Carl’s a stone cold killa even if it’s a human. But Morgan survives thanks to body armor and we learn soon enough that he’s three cars ahead of Rick on the crazy train. We get a nice moment where Rick is talking more to himself than to Morgan about how you can come back from crazyland–the trains run both ways. And I get the sense Rick has turned the corner while we learn that it’s too late for Morgan. I hope we’re done with ghost Lori. That’s a good step forward if it sticks.

Meanwhile, Carl and Michonne are off on Carl’s secret mission for Judith. And we get another quality character moment among the zombie killin’. Michonne finally gets slightly humanized. Her relationship with Andrea at the start of the season hinted that this side of her existed, but the writers have done a really lousy job of showing any hint of it in the screen-time she’s been given before this episode. Honestly, nothing before tonight has really lived up the the amazing intro she got at the end of season two. But tonight was good. She’s built a small bond with Carl, and with the audience. More progress. Don’t regress to brooding stares next week, please.

So, in the final analysis, not the episode I wanted to see, but an episode which told a story well and provided some nice character work for the few that appeared in it. Can’t complain about that.

New Story in Return of the Dead Men (and Women) Walking

Whee… always fun to see something new in print. “Bring Me the Head of Pepe Cortez!” is now available as the lead story in the Return of the Dead Men (and Women) Walking anthology from Bards and Sages Publishing. They tease the story with:

An old gunslinger and a horse thief hunt down a rather peculiar prize that does more than haunt them in Bring Me The Head Of Pepe Cortez!

Sounds good to me.

It’s available in paper and ebook at Amazon as well as other retailers.

So, welcome to the big board just outside Casa de Tanner, Bards and Sages. Updating it isn’t easy, but I’ve managed to not fall off the ladder once again…

Five Favorite Zombie Movies

Between watching 28 Days Later again, reading Steven Knight’s Left with the Dead, and sketching out an idea for a new short story, I’ve had zombies on the brain. So here’s a little list of some of my favorite zombie movies excepting zombie movies that already made my favorite horror/comedy movies list. Several of those would have easily made this list had they not been there, but there’s little fun in repetition. In no particular order…

28 Days Later
Since it’s fresh in my mind and the primary catalyst for thinking about zombie movies we’ll start with this movie that technically isn’t a zombie movie at all. The foils here are still alive and infected with a rage virus. But they function basically like zombies, and the movie is built around all the tropes of a zombie move aside from dying first so close enough. The setup may be a twist, but the rest falls right in line. Danny Boyle has made a lot of great movies in a variety of genres. Shallow Grave, Transpotting, Slumdog Millionaire and 127 Hours are all fantastic too. Even Millions is a very good kid’s movie. It’s hard to single out his best movie but 28 Days Later is in the running.The opening, with Cillian Murphy waking up from a coma in an empty hospital, and empty London, is haunting. Act II is just as strong as the film goes through its zombie apocalypse survival sequence. And then the movie takes a beautifully unexpected turn as the survivors reach the relative safety of a military base.

Night of the Living Dead
It’s been a while since I’ve seen it, but George Romero’s film sets the stage in almost every way for what we think of as a zombie movie today. I can’t recall a zombie movie since that doesn’t include or intentionally play against the basic concepts in this film. And it’s creepy despite its age, old even when I saw it years ago sitting in the dark alone late at night. The black and white only adds to the atmosphere. The final scene is gloriously bleak.

This is hands down one of the funniest zombie movies ever. If Shaun of the Dead didn’t exist, it’s easy to argue it would take the prize. It’s gruesome at times, but not particularly scary. While lacking straight up scares, it is incredibly clever and has characters with real charisma, characters you’re rooting for rather than waiting to see get eaten and that carries the film a long way, through a climax that isn’t as strong as the rest of the film. But despite the slightly weak ending, I really love this movie and can barely believe I didn’t even note it in the honorable mentions of the horror/comedy list. How could I forget? (In hindsight, I think swapping this and Return of the Living Dead between lists might be more representative.) Anyway, Ruben Fleischer’s feature debut is unusually assured and shot inventively particularly in the earlier stages. Jessie Eisenberg plays a thinly disguised neurotic Woody Allen cypher and his list of unexpected rules for surviving the zombie apocalypse are a running joke that even manages to pay off at the end. Woody Harrelson, Emma Stone, and Abagail Breslin are equally strong in their roles as the rest of the survivalists. And the second act features a cameo that you really, REALLY do not want to have spoiled before you see it in context because it’s one of the funniest scenes in recent memory.

Army of Darkness
Ash and his chainsaw return for their third Evil Dead film with a movie that originally had a much cooler name in Medieval Dead. Ash goes from hero to zero in this installment when he is thrown back in time and accidentally releases the army of the dead on Lord Arthur’s keep which is woefully unprepared to fight back. The movie mostly plays the situation for laughs and it’s not much of a surprise when Ash is once again the reluctant hero by the end.

Dawn of the Dead (2004 remake)
Romero fans freaked the hell out over this movie playing fast (literally!) and loose with the zombie lore of a film they treasure but I found it energetic and incredibly effective. Maybe I would feel differently if I’d seen the original. Alas, it remains a gaping hole in my zombie filmography. The first fifteen minutes are terrifying and set the stage for something that’s clearly not intended to be a retread of the original despite being slapped with the same name. Zack Snyder’s debut feature (like Fleischer’s) runs out of steam a bit as it moves along without ever dropping below pretty good. The cast does decent work in time-limited roles due to the number of characters holed up in the shopping mall waiting to be eaten, but the atmosphere and set pieces are the stars here anyway and they shine.