Review – The Walking Dead: Season 1 Episode 2

cross-posted from Simply Television.

Another excellent episode of this groundbreaking series.  Introductions continued this week as we met additional survivors and learned more about the walkers, while the how-do-we-survive-while-keeping-our-humanity-intact theme was taken to the next level.

The ensemble was an interesting mix, though we only spent time with a few of them this week.  The showrunner seems to be taking his cues from the late great LOST in how he handles the introduction of these archetypal characters, by separating them into smaller groups.  At this point we have met The Walking Dead’s versions of Lost’s Jack in Rick (Andrew Lincoln), Kate as Andrea (SGU’s Laurie Holden), Sawyer (or at least the worst of him) as Merle (played to perfection by Michael Rooker).  Of course there is no denying that The Walking Dead’s version of Miles is Glenn (Steven Yeun).  He gets all the snarky lines –  “Bright side? It’ll be the fall that kills us. I’m a glass-half-full kinda guy”; “if bad ideas were an Olympic event, this would take the gold”; and “a diversion – like in Hogan’s Heroes” (an American sitcom from the 1960s).  Fortunately those lines are delivered in a straightforward and tempered way; in the hands of a less-gifted actor and director they could have been distracting, but were so subtlely delivered that several were missed on a first watch.

In spite of the action movie feel to this episode, the question of how well a person can cling to humanity while under attack by – subhumans? – continued unabated.  Merle Dixon was merely the loudest beat of that theme, but there were many more subtle points made.  It was interesting to note that the group in Atlanta called walkers “geeks,” just as enemy combatants often call each other perjorative terms, or the way that bigots refer to their targets.  We learned the more respectful and elegant term “walkers” first, admittedly from a man whose wife is one of them.  To the survivors in Atlanta they are a swarm, their inhumanity visually underscored by the early overhead view.

The guts scene.  The scene that most people referred to as “THE scene” or “you know which scene.”  It was wonderful that Rick couldn’t chop up the body right away.  That he thought to honor the person who once inhabited that body, honor the person and his humanity, before hacking him to bits, was a clear indication that he still has a firm grasp of his own humanity.  But what I found so interesting about the scene was that, for all the fan reaction for its gruesomeness, it was actually fairly tame visually.  It was in fact the reaction of the Atlantans that sold the gore, horror, and revulsion, not the actual effects – though the entrails were pretty disgusting.  While this may not have been Hitchcock-level implied gore, it was still sold by a great performance by the ensemble. The walker eating the rat in the sewer was much more visually appalling.

I loved that the group, once rescued and in the van, obviously was wondering about Merle but didn’t ask, and that T-Dog offered up the news that he had dropped the key.  That they didn’t ask and he didn’t try to cover it up was an indication that they are all still holding on to their humanity… for now.  Glenn’s joy-filled drive of freedom was a terrific exclamation point to the Escape from Atlanta that was this episode.

Bear McCreary’s excellent tension-building score continues to be wonderfully subtle and eerie and is used so sparingly that it’s almost a shame that his talent seems underutilized.  A heavier hand would ruin it, though, so much appreciation to the showrunner’s and Mr. McCreary’s willingness to use it so lightly.

Next week’s episode will apparently address what happens when the group in Atlanta reunites with the group outside of town, which includes Rick’s partner and wife, Laurie’s sister, and Merle’s brother.  Such a setup could easily devolve into a tiresome melodrama, but with the inclusion of the zombie factor, and the excellent work of this series so far, I’m not too worried.

Favorite line of the episode:  “One more thing – he was an organ donor.”