Episode Two: “Guts”
“We need more guts.”
Although AMC’s The Walking Dead is thus far deviating from comics’ storyline, it’s not necessarily a bad thing. The second episode starts out with a gratuitous sex scene between Lori, Rick’s wife, and Shane, Rick’s law enforcement partner and close friend. After Mad Men’s licentious oral sex scene from this past season, the graphic sexuality starting out this episode isn’t surprising; AMC is really pushing the envelope in regards to sex and violence, trying to imitate HBO. Amazingly, it’s working since most of AMC’s original shows are captivating and clever.
Just like The Walking Dead comics published by Image, both episodes have ended on cliffhangers. This week’s episode doesn’t conclude with as much suspense as the pilot, yet the final scene – featuring Glen (Steven Yeun) driving a Dodge Challenger at full speed away from Atlanta – does contain a recurring motif: roads. I didn’t mention this in my review of the pilot, but the opening scene features a police car driving towards a crossroads – an indication of the unknown destiny awaiting the show’s protagonist. Even though this week’s episode doesn’t end in uncertainty, it does leave ask many questions which I’ll get to in a few moments.
Following Rick’s confinement inside a tank and a mysterious voice on a CB radio, episode two’s action begins with Rick exiting the tank, meeting up with Glen – the voice on the radio. Glen leads Rick to a department store where a group of survivors are hiding. Rick’s entrance into Atlanta in the previous episode culminates in a small army of the living dead, surrounding the department store and leaving them few options. Here we meet Merle (Michael Rooker from Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer); a racist redneck carrying a large rife and a vial of cocaine. A confrontation between the group and Merle lead to a criticism against racism with Rick stating, “There’s no more races; just white meat and dark meat.” This is a common theme in Kirkman’s comics, where the values of our social structure interfere with the new paradigm. The social values of our civilization disappear when confronting a new world and the characters in the comics constantly affix the old rules to the new order; a recipe that many times results in death. This theme from the comics is playing out in the series in this scene and I’m certain it’ll come up again as the series progresses.
Another instance taken directly from the comics is smell. The pilot episodes features swarms of flies covering a litany of corpses, using substituting one sense indicator for another. Again in the second episode smell is used, this time when the group tries to escape the department store. With limited options, Rick and Glen cover themselves with the blood of a dead corpse, hoping the scent will deter the zombies from attacking. It works until it starts raining, leading to Rick and Glen running through the street and killing every zombie in their path. The scene where Rick hacks up a corpse, harvesting its blood and organs, is particularly disgusting. Again the show is pushing its boundaries, depicting a large amount of blood and innards. Yes, I understand they’re zombies and maybe the rules don’t apply the same for portrayals of human gore, but nonetheless it’s quite brutal and uncommon for a show on basic cable. I said last week that I’m not puritanical in regards to violence, but it’s just out of place – I’m not used to this much violence outside of pay cable (HBO, Showtime, etc.). I applaud Darabont and crew for pushing the limits with this new series, since a tame representation of the zombie apocalypse just wouldn’t work in the second decade of the 21st century.
Aside from the sex scene at the episode’s beginning, this installment of The Walking Dead is devoid of overt melodrama. Yet since moments like Morgan’s confrontation with his dead wife paralleled with Rick’s killing of the crawling zombie – rife with melodrama – contained an excellent score. This is missing from this episode. The music from the first episode during the before mentioned scene reminds me of Brian Eno’s early ‘80s output, especially the album Apollo: Atmospheres and Soundtracks – beautiful, haunting, and (like the album’s title) atmospheric. This piece of the score takes the viewer outside of the larger context of the show’s world, bringing you into these single moments that touch on more than a simple zombie story. These moments question what it means to be human and how our previous values connect to this new world scenario. It’s like this scene transplants the viewer outside of the violence, immersing them in the human drama that makes the source material so rich.
This lack of score, for the most part since there is some music, also works well for the overall feel of the show. The natural sounds of the environment are more prominent, bringing the danger of the moment into the forefront. Instead of relying on somebody else’s aural representation, this absence permits the viewer the opportunity to actually listen to the sounds around them – a highly important matter in such times. Returning to the opening scene, where Lori and Shane copulate, this scene features minimal score and demonstrates the importance of active listening. When Lori’s in the woods foraging for mushrooms she constantly pauses, listening to the sounds around her. Is it a zombie or is it just nature? Distinguishing between the two is of prime importance; imparting this imperative skill early in the episode frames the minimal soundtrack for the rest of the episode. It’s also building on the importance of our senses in this new world, something The Walking Dead has done in both episodes so far.
My favorite character from the comics, Andrea (Laurie Holden), appears in this episode and my only complaint is that she looks older than her comic book equivalent. In the comic she’s a recent college graduate, working as a clerk at a law firm. In the series she looks at least 30. I’m not opposed to older women and my displeasure with this minor detail isn’t ageism, but I thought the best part of Andrea was her adaptability. Here we have a young woman, fresh out of college, that’s a crack shot and one of the strongest characters in the entire series. Andrea grows up very quickly in the book and reminds me of my girlfriend (who’s about the same age as comic book Andrea); a strong woman, able to adapt to most situations quickly and efficiently. The role given Andrea in this episode is minor and I’m hoping as the series progresses her character grows in a similar direction as the comic book.
The episode also features a line of new characters not in the comics, such as T-Dog (IronE Singleton) and a few of the others in the department store. I’m not opposed to this and any changes between the comic and the show can’t be all that bad if the show continues along the same path. This episode is genuinely scary and even though the audience is fairly certain the show’s protagonists will live through their various exploits, the cinematography and editing make you think otherwise. The Walking Dead is a very well crafted series, exhibiting cinematic qualities – a trademark of AMC shows like Mad Men (my personal favorite). I can’t wait for next week’s episode, as this week asks many questions: Is Glen leading a herd of zombies to the survivor camp outside Atlanta with the loud car alarm? What will Shane and Lori do when Rick arrives? When will we see our first batch of multiple deaths? Having read every issue of the comic so far I’m fairly certain where the show’s going, yet I’m horribly curious how it’ll get there. We’ll just have to tune in next week and find out.
Here’s the trailer for this week’s episode.