Sunday, November 24, 2013

Walking Dead - Live Bait Recap and Musings

This past Monday, I was so excited to discuss the latest episode of Walking Dead.  I loved every minute of it, and was delightfully surprised by the show runners decisions throughout the episode. My fiancée doesn’t watch the show (he’s still going through Breaking Bad withdrawal) and I knew that some of my clients were avid fans. 

So when I got into work, I polled my first group of the day – my teenage group.  They hated it.  Some choice phrases used to describe the episode are as follows - “OMG last night suuuuucked!”  “Seriously? That episode was dumb annoying.” (Apparently ‘dumb’ is now slang for ‘really’.  I dumb need to get with the times. Am I using that right?  I don’t think I’m using it right….)

I was shocked.  But only for a second.  Once I thought about it for a minute, I could definitely see how the show had set viewers up for a ‘Governor Vs. Prison-ites Cage Match to the Death’, and then disappointed when it didn’t deliver. 

In a nutshell, ‘Live Bait’ is a study in the Governor as man, not monster.  The episode begins with a flashback of the Governor directly where viewers left him.  After he slaughtered his people, he becomes numb and unfeeling, a shell of a man.  He leaves with his two henchmen, but wakes up the next morning to find that they have abandoned him.  

Here, one of the most captivating montages in WD history begins.  Taking an 18-wheeler, the Governor plows through the gates to his once idyllic Woodbury and literally burns it to the ground.  With no purpose, he begins to walk the earth from end to end like a deranged Forrest Gump.  He wanders the abandoned streets, without purpose, appearing to hope for death, when he spies a little girl in a window.  He decides that death on the street can wait, and investigates.  Within the building he finds a family – two sisters, Lilly and Tara, their father, and Lilly’s daughter Megan, who looks strikingly like Penny, the Governor’s once zombified daughter.

At first, our anti-hero is slow to warm to the family.  Not wanting to let them in, he rejects an offer of Spaghetti-Os, which is considered a five star meal in the zomb-pocalypse.  However, despite his rejection of their Southern hospitality, the family begins asking him for favors.  Grandpa requests that he go find a backgammon board in another apartment, and then Lilly asks that he go to a nursing home and procure tanks of oxygen for Grandpa.  The Governor does these things without much complaint, and following his trip to the nursing home he gets the opportunity to have a one-on-one chat with the precocious Megan.  Here, the Governor appears to be genuine and exposes himself to be an open, raw nerve.  He hoarsely laughs at Megan’s jokes, almost appearing to test what it’s like to feel again.  This exchange appears to give him a reason to live, and in the very next scene he is transformed.  We see him clean-shaven and playing a spirited game of chess with his new daughter figure. 

Grandpa dies, then reanimates.  The Governor saves Tara from being bitten as he smashes Grandpa’s zombie skull in with an oxygen tank, buries him, and then goes to leave.  Lilly runs after him and asks to come with him.  The Governor agrees, and takes his new useless lady posse on the road.  Of course the truck they are in breaks down, and they have to hoof it.  (Side note - In an interesting bit of conversation between Lilly and Tara, that could have easily been overlooked, we find out that Tara is gay.)  Very quickly into their walkabout, the group runs into a gaggle of walkers.  They break into a run, and the Governor ends up carrying Megan.  As he runs through the woods, he falls into a walker trap and has to fend off several walkers bare-handed in order to protect his new charge.  After the coast is clear, Megan reaches up and hugs him, making him promise that he’ll protect her.  Just as he starts to promise her the moon, the Governor looks up and sees Martinez hovering over them.  End scene.

Like I said, I enjoyed this episode.  I would go so far as to say that I am happy that we didn’t get a chance to see The Governor Vs. The Prison.  As I am a fan of the unexpected (see – my undying love for LOST and Breaking Bad) I felt that this episode was true to humanity.  This entire season is far more realistic in scope than previous seasons, as it is focusing on human tendencies, both good and bad, as well as problems within the scope of normal human existence, such as loss, illness and betrayal.  Yeah, sure there are still walkers/biters/monsters/whatchamacalits to deal with, but that just makes the stakes all the higher. 

Despite all the horrible things we’ve seen him do, the Governor isn’t a monster.  No man is a true monster.  We all live somewhere in a gray area.  Some are a darker shade of gray than others.  Some WAY darker than others, but the episode illustrated that there is even a glimmer of hope inside the nasty, evil Governor.  Now, do I expect him to turn the other cheek for more than one episode?  In all likelihood, he probably won’t.  Yet – a part of me thinks that it would be incredibly captivating to see him do something unexpected at the prison.  I hope that the explanation for the Governor’s presence outside of the prison isn’t as simple as an all out attack.  Perhaps he’s there to ask for asylum for Megan, his new Penny proxy?   Maybe to wave the white flag with a redemptive offer of supplies or information?  Or maybe he’s there for any single other motive other than complete annihilation of our gang. 

But, again, given the reaction of my clients, probably not. 

It was daring of the writers and show runners to take a breather from the smirking-Governor-outside-the-prison cliffhanger, especially with such a highly rated show as The Walking Dead.  While I hope for more twists in the plot, I know that the majority of America is hoping for that showdown. 

For me, the most interesting showdowns are the internal, not the external.  This season we have seen many thought-provoking examples of internal struggle versus external.  Bob Stookey wrestling with the bottle of booze in '30 Days Without An Accident', Hershel struggling to decide whether to enter Cell Block A to tend to the sick and dying in 'Isolation', and in this episode, the Governor debating whether to reach out for human contact or die alone.  This is where the heart of The Walking Dead beats.   In the WD universe, the fundamentals of the world have changed, but human nature has remained the same. For better and for worse.   

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Walking Dead - It's the Story of a Lovely Lady...

Of course it happened.  I got the flu.  And as I watched the last two episodes of the Walking Dead, I sympathized hard with the characters in the prison.  I can’t imagine having the flu without the comforts of my couch, Netflix and a carton of Tropicana.  Yeah, I’m pretty much doomed in the apocalypse. 

Due to my illness, I skipped last weeks recap.   Instead, I was clutching my carton of pulpless OJ for dear life.  But I did watch the last two episodes.  And maybe it was the haze of congestion and a mild fever, but Carol started to fascinate me.  She has slowly and surely increased her value in the post-zombie world.  This season I’ve found that she has quickly become one of the most interesting characters on the show.  As her time on screen became more and more interesting, she got closer and closer to being off the show.  Now she’s gone.  Exiled by Rick.  And I can’t help but think that Carol is better equipped for this new world than Rick is.

Oh, Rick what have you done?

We have seen Carol evolve from a meek, frequently screaming woman to an unflinching woman who basically doesn’t scream at all anymore.  She makes hard decisions not based on personal preference or emotion, but makes rational, effective analyses of any given situation.  Due to her history with a seriously abusive relationship, Carol is operating on ‘Fight or Flight’.  While the pre-apocalypse Carol would have likely chosen ‘Flight’, the new Carol chooses to stand and fight every time. 

The first time we met Carol she was being harassed by her disgusting misogynist of a husband, Ed.  She hadn’t yet shed the trappings of her abusive relationship, and apparently Ed wasn’t having any second thoughts regarding his bad behavior even though the world was collapsing around him.  Thankfully, Ed the pig only lasted a few episodes before he became a midnight walker snack.  When he died, the rage and power inside Carol surfaced.  She surprised Daryl when she repeatedly hacked Ed’s dead head to pieces with an axe.  Daryl took notice of Carol, and one of the most interesting relationships of the show was born. 

Then, a season later, Sophia died…and then died a second barn zombie death.  It’s like a regular Oregon Trail up in this piece for poor Carol.  “Ed has died.”, “Sophia has died.”, “Sophia has died…again.”.  But she moved on, kept her head up, and kept herself busy.  Season Three brought us Carol as multi-tasker, and one of her most memorable moments was when she went out to the prison fence by herself and killed a walker for the sole purpose of C-Section practice.  Unfortunately she didn’t get to utilize those skills, and T-Dogg gave his life for her during the prison alarm debacle.  She went missing for a bit, but then her buddy Daryl found her.  She was a consummate survivor. 

The defining moment for New Carol came when she was engaging in a mild flirtation with Axel in the prison yard when, BAM! his head gets blown off.  Carol doesn’t miss a beat.  She doesn’t get emotional, she reacts, throwing herself behind his body as a human shield. 

This season, just as she gets a juicy storyline (and some pretty diesel boots) Carol is exiled by Rick.  Because he’s threatened by her.  Maybe it’s because of her choice to kill Karen and David in an attempt to curb the spread of the flu, but it could also be because she intimidates him as a strong and decisive leader.  He has a right to be.  She’s better adapted to this new world than Rick is. 

Rick continues to resist the realities of the new world.  He wants to hold on to the old.  Where he gets to be a cop, and hold up order.  Well, order in this world is different.  Carol knows that and has adapted.  Will Rick be able to adapt?  He is our consummate hero, and has been impressed/suprised by all the things that Carol has been doing on the show over the last few episodes.  His mouth was literally agape on multiple occasions, such as when she treated the hippie Sam's dislocated shoulder, and when she fixed the water pump .  But he's afraid because he cant adapt.  He can’t let the past go and move into this horrifying future.  He’s made the decision to step back up as a leader, and for that to happen he needs to oust another leader.  Unfortunately for Carol, that leader was her.  Somehow, I think she’ll be ok.

Carol’s evolution on the show has been slow, but steady.  Organic and believable. Carol’s character is an example of an individual who flourishes under pressure.  She is determined to not be a victim again.  No.  She is strong and will not let the world get her down, even if that means putting her guard up.  She has adjusted to the new world without having to be a warrior or losing her nurturing feminine side.  Sure, she’s brusque with Meeka and Lizzie, but it’s for their own good.  She’s straightforward with them, whereas Rick isn’t with his son.  He’s too permissive.  Carl is the strong one in that relationship.  Carl is going to be mad that Carol’s gone for sure.   So is Daryl.

(Aside – in the media, relationships always seem to need some sort of hard and fast definition as ‘romantic’ or ‘conflicted’, etc.  It was so great to see Daryl and Carol’s relationship as an ambiguous and undefined twosome.  I’m going to miss that a lot.) 

I’m curious as to how the other characters are going to react to Carol’s exile. Is Rick going to tell them the truth?  If he lies, it will be telling that he saw Carol not as a threat to the camp, but only as a threat to himself.  If he tells the truth, there might be hell to pay.

Carol was a likeable female character on the show, and just as she started to get really interesting, poof, she’s gone.  Hopefully not for too long though.  Maybe she’ll hook up with Morgan and they’ll be an unstoppable team.  That’s my dream scenario.   She's a survivor.  I bet she'll be back.