Four episodes in and this program shows absolutely no signs of sucking. This fact should come as no surprise, because Sunday night’s chapter, “Vatos,” was penned by the writer/creator of The Walking Dead graphic novel series, Robert Kirkman.
Followers of the books (like myself) have to be impressed with how fresh this creative team has managed to keep these stories. Characters who weren’t originally conceived for the comic pages have blended nicely with those who were fully realized for the print version and no one is crying foul. If anything we’re grateful for the brand new revelations. Two such departures from the books are redneck brothers Merle and Daryl Dixon. Merle is openly and aggressively racist, while his brother Daryl seems merely mildly bigoted, but it’s nice to see neither character is a walking hillbilly cliché.
At first many of us assumed these newbies would only amount to so much zombie fodder, but it appears that the late additions to the cast are as compelling as any from the black and white monthlies. Merle is obviously not the type of character we’re used to rooting for, but you have to sit back and give the good ol’ boy his propers when it comes to kicking zombie ass and taking zombie names – especially after sawing his own hand from his shackled arm. Talk about literally winning a war single handedly. You may not like Merle’s world view, and you’re right not to, but if Rick can get this guy to be a team player, Merle would be an asset to a now depleted camp.
Little brother Daryl for his part showed himself to be more than a one-dimensional character as well. His ability with a crossbow is an asset in a world where a shotgun fire can give away your location to a certain flesh-hungry enemy. His bravery and determination are admirable, and the esteem in which he holds his imperfect brother is actually touching. My guess is Daryl understands Merle’s douchiness only too well, but at the same time, he marvels at his big brother’s physical and mental toughness. I’m betting we’re going to find out aside from Merle’s obvious social imperfections, he’s a loyal family man, and that’s possibly where Daryl’s determination to rescue Glen comes from.
As if to balance out the testosterone of the Brothers Dixon relationship, we were also introduced to the sisterly love of Andrea and Amy. Fishing in Dale’s boat, the girls had a much more hormonal moment of familial bonding, which of course in hindsight only foreshadowed Amy’s ultimate demise.
Family played a big role in this episode. Lori is trying desperately to keep hers together while Jim was out digging holes in the hot Atlanta sun because he no longer has a wife and kinds to protect and rely on. Easily the most chilling line of the series so far came from Jim after Shane subdued him, “The only reason I got away is because the dead were too busy eating my family.”
Just as I copied that quote down, it dawned on me that (unless I’m mistaken) we have yet to hear the word “zombie” come from anyone in four episodes. We’ve heard “walkers,” “the dead,” “geeks” and “those things.” We’ve even heard the “N-word” fly freely and effectively, offensively from Merle’s uncensored lips, but apparently, the Z-word” is taboo.
Ok, back to the family theme. Since these writers have made points to not present their audience with a bunch of stereotypical individuals, it was nice to see we weren’t handed a group of bas ass Mexican gangsta opportunists. The Vatos were in all likelihood an even closer knit group than the gang back at camp. I have to admit, I was a little skeptical of Rick’s plan, and if I had any negative criticism it would have been I found it tough to swallow that a trained officer like Rick would walk into an unfamiliar building, knowing full-well that he was completely outmanned, and outgunned. That said, I decided to forgive the scene when it was revealed the Vatos were not a group of bloodthirsty banditos and were much more concerned for the welfare of the nursing home inhabitants than shedding unnecessary blood.
This leads nicely into one of the other show’s other themes; social status. Janitors are running communities, pizza guys are brilliant tacticians, and Shane, a man who’s been a cop for his entire professional life, is finding being a cop isn’t as easy as it was. The world has changed, according to T-Dog, but as Guillermo points out, it really hasn’t. The weak still get taken.
Side note, I’d like to point out how dumb the name “T-Dog” sounds to me. Of course the name “IronE” (the man who plays T-Dog) seems a bit weird too, but at least that moniker doesn’t sound as hopelessly dated – it’s just strange. I’m wondering if T-Dog had a closet full of shiny suits and harem pants and a copy of M.C. Hammer’s “Too Legit To Quit” in his car’s tape deck before the apocalypse.
Side note, after that side note. I’m betting Rick’s hat, and the repeated retrieval of said hat is a tip of the cap to Indiana Jones. I’m curious if this will play out for the length of the series run, or if it was just a one episode incident.
Once again, back to the review. I have to admit, I was a little surprised to find it wasn’t Merle who was back in camp exacting his brand of misguided justice, but rather a pack of Z-words out for a midnight snack. This of course brings us back to the other theme of “surprise.” It really says a lot for this show to actually surprise the viewers of a zombie show with a zombie attack. And a bloody one it was. Sure we said farewell to some red shirts, as well as wife-abusing Ed, but also lost in the melee was soon-to-be birthday girl, Amy. Amazing as this seems, we were over 4 hours into this tale of undead cannibals before we ever witnessed an actual attack on a human.
We didn’t see it yet, but I don’t think I’m letting any spoilers loose in a zombie TV show when I speculate even though Amy and Ed won’t have any more speaking roles, I have a strong hunch they’ll be up and around in some form next week.
And with that, I’ll wrap up this review, but join me after next Sunday’s penultimate episode. Same Z-word time. Same Z-word column.