When we last left our hero, Rick, he was hunkered down in a military tank, right smack in the middle of “The Athens of the South,” surrounded by more Atlanta zombies than a typical Braves game. (That’s an indictment on that city’s baseball fans for those of you who don’t care for our national pastime.) Suddenly from the radio we hear the wisecracking gallows humor of a character who is certain to play out as this show’s comedy relief – Glenn. (Played with a perfect amount of reluctant bravery by Steven Yeun.)
I’ve been an avid reader of The Walking Dead graphic novels, and was looking forward to the introduction of Glenn. Being a fan of the books however, I was confused by the addition of some of the new characters. At first I felt a little aggravated by the addition of extra members to a cast that has worked so well in black, white and gray-washed paper form for 7 years. This script doesn’t need improvements from anyone I silently bellowed. It then dawned on me how this TV version might be more entertaining for me, since part of being entertained is the surprise of not knowing what comes next. This team has won my trust based on the sheer brilliance of the pilot episode, so I will allow for the variations for now.
Speaking of the pilot, while last week’s high on tension, low on dialogue premiere was a fresh take on your archetypal zombie flick, this week was a familiar plot to the undead genre. The hungry husks hammering at the department store doors were reminiscent of granddaddy Romero’s own creations, though I remain impressed with the level of just-humanity-enough-to-elicit-sympathy-for-their-plight make-up on these zombified film extras.
I was glad to see the zombies seemed unable to climb the fire escape. We know they’re clever enough to crawl under tanks while in pursuit of their prey, but climbing fire escapes would seem out of a zombie’s skill set. I haven’t quite figured out the level of zombie intelligence on this program yet. Morgan’s zombie wife may or may not have a faded memory of her former home, but she certainly didn’t have the intelligence to pick up a rock and smash through the living room window, so I was surprised to find at least one zombie in Sunday’s installment had that type of strategic logic.
Speaking of strategic logic, Michael Rooker has a knack of playing intensely relentless douche bags, and he once again strikes that note in the character of Merle. Now I don’t understand the need to spew racial epithets in any circumstance, but even if I did have those feelings, I think I’d be bright enough to keep those sentiments to myself if I felt I might have to rely on a different skin color to help me escape a city of flesh-eating monsters. It’s a safe bet you don’t sign Michael Rooker on to a show like this only to have him die off camera after one episode, so it looks like he’ll somehow free himself with the help of the tool belt that T-Dog accidentally kicked over. My hunch is Merle will be itching for another fight the next time he runs into his old rooftop companions.
Even though T-Dog had legitimate reasons to leave Merle cuffed to the pipe, he risked his life to rescue the ill-tempered redneck. Of course he’s going to have a hard time making the rest of his surviving team members believe he honestly did lose the key in an attempt to free the raging racist, especially, judging by the coming attractions, the raging racist’s little brother.
Ok, let’s get to the heart of this episode, or more specifically, the guts. In a considerable leap of theoretical faith, the gang assumes the chief reason zombies hone in on them is their odor. The thinking here is if the living can so keenly smell the rotting soft tissues of the walking dead, then conversely, the existing humans must too give off a scent, and that scent is what attracts the zombies their way. Ipso facto, let’s all smear the putrid innards of a “turned” human on Rick and Glenn, and let’s see if they can Thriller-walk their way out of danger and return to help the others escape.
In what has to be one of the grossest moments in all of television history, the body is chopped with an axe and our protagonists are painted with the blood, entrails and bowels of an ironic organ donor. If you as an audience member had managed to keep your gag reflex in check for the entire scene, bully for you, but I suspect Glenn’s vomitous expulsion caused an extra dose of dry heaving for some.
If there’s a concern for the series on my part it’s this: with only 4 episodes to go this season, we still haven’t met up with Rick’s wife and son, Lori and Carl. That naturally means Rick hasn’t witnessed the relatively new relationship between his trusted cop partner Shane and his aforementioned spouse. Anybody expecting civil discourse when these two buddies get reunited?
I won’t say this chapter was as good as last week’s episode, and part of that was the fact that I was so captivated by the isolated horror coupled with the genuine heart and sadness in the hour and a half pilot episode that this week felt a bit less original and more traditional in terms of zombie stories. That said, it was still a great hour of entertainment, and as the rest of the cast is fleshed out, I have no doubt this series will only get stronger.