Episode 4: “Vatos.”
At least I can say The Walking Dead series celebrates cultural diversity, even if a diverse racial medley embraces American stereotypes. This episode, called Vatos, features a Latino group holing up in a warehouse. When Rick, Glen, T-Dog, and Darryl trek back into Atlanta looking for Merle and a bag of guns, a run-in with the “vatos,” leads to a hostage situation and a stand-off. Instead of the situation culminating in bloodshed, Robert Kirkman’s teleplay reveals another humane survivor group – the “vatos” are maintaining an abandoned nursing home, looking after the elderly and indigent. Their tough exterior gives way, Rick donates some weapons, and a kidnapped Glen is released. Here Kirkman’s episode demonstrates a positive outlook towards humanity; unfortunately it’s the last moment of stability the episode delivers.
It’s about time I come straight with the few readers I’ve had since recapping TWD episodes. I didn’t want to say anything about the characters since I feel one of the strong points in the comics is the uncertainty. So many times I’ve become attached to a character and they die; one of the strong points of the series. When beloved characters die suddenly its all the more devastating. I think adding the Merle storyline was clever since it allowed characters to build, only to break them down and shatter any illusions of security. Almost 79 issues into the series and any sense of comfort is impossible, even when the protagonists find sanctuary. I’m glad the television adaptation’s adhering to this trope. The episode’s climax – zombies attacking the survivor camp – is extremely violent and many characters die quickly, denying solace and making their world even more dangerous and final.
The episode’s opening sequence is quite foreboding and upon reflection is foreshadowing the events of the third act. The opening shot features a rowboat housing Amy and Andrea, fishing and talking about their father. The sisters reveal the differences between fishing styles they were taught: Andrea learned fishing for food and Amy learned so she could throw them back. This scene reveals the importance of their father’s teachings. Andrea, taught fishing for survival, lives through the zombie attack – Amy doesn’t.
Amy’s final moments, with Andrea holding her, are very touching and avoid the melodrama of the previous episode. Instead of being maudlin, the hushed musical drone accompanying the scene imparts Andrea’s sorrow. This drone represents Amy’s life fading away and the note’s conclusion marks her death. Although I believed Rick’s emotional display valid in the last episode, the scene itself was flawed; this week’s episode doesn’t repeat that blunder. This horrific moment maintains all the seriousness of the situation, not pandering with cheap sentimentality. Personally I liked this scene. Even though Andrea’s loss is heartbreaking, this scene marks the birth of Andrea as the character I’ve grown to love in the comics. She’s my favorite character in the series and I’m hoping Darabont and company develop her well. If they do, Andrea will become a valuable asset and an excellent character, filled with wit, intelligence, and sincerity.
The other portion of the opening scene involves Jim (Andrew Rothenberg) digging holes. The camp residents believe he’s going insane – “scaring people” – and later he reveals a dream inspired his actions. The episode concludes with Jim saying he remembers his dream and dug the holes for a reason. Considering the invasion and loss of life, Jim’s digging is quite ominous, even if this revelation is a little clichéd. I thought this forgivable since the episode’s events were so good. Rick’s group searching through the city and the battle at the episode’s conclusion all worked well together and Kirkman’s first teleplay shows his strengths as a storyteller – his script flows well, has a strong human element, and contains all the carnage any zombie fan expects.
Merle’s whereabouts are still unknown; even if we know he cauterized his arm and took off out a window. Since this episode features such a large loss of life I’m questions whether Merle will appear again. Michael Rooker is a talented character actor but it’s entirely possible he’s gone for good. Before I mentioned the uncertainty of the comic series and these deaths bring that home. The new characters, not in the books, were a little distressing at first but now I really appreciate it. For those not familiar with the comics every event is new; for the fans it’s creating that sense of ambiguity all over again. Characters like T-Dog are enigmatic, since I have no idea what’s going to happen to them. He could become a regular part of the show or die next episode – I really have no idea. I like that and I’m hoping the comic fans do too. It makes a familiar story unfamiliar. Instead of a verbatim copy, the television adaptation is fresh, taking all the positives from the original source and making it something new.
However, keeping with the themes from the comics, Shane’s descent into dangerous territory is still growing. There’s a brief reprieve in his violent outbursts, but Shane detains Jim and shackles him to a tree which questions his stability. This scene is ambiguous, since Shane acted out of concern for both the refugees and Jim, yet his handling of the situations may reveal his volatility. I still believe a showdown between Rick and Shane is on the way, although the catalyst isn’t clear.
The level of violence in the episode has surpassed previous episodes, making this the most brutal series not on HBO or Showtime. There were over a dozen headshots this episode and Amy’s death was quite bloody. I remember reading in an interview with Kirkman a while back his amusement seeing people on the set portraying characters he’d killed a long time ago; I just didn’t know how violent it would actually be. This show continues to surprise me, intensifying the anxiety with each episode. I’m only curious now how far into the comic series the next two episodes will go.
Here’s the trailer for episode four