"The Walking Dead" Needs to Use its Brains

Spoiler-free discussion of "The Walking Dead.

"The Walking Dead" seems to be in a gross-out contest with itself.  Last week I talked about how the pilot pushed the boundaries of violence and gore on cable, but with A-list production values.  The second episode, aptly titled "Guts," continued to shock and disturb like nothing I've seen on television.  But if boundary-pushing and not storytelling is "Dead's" ultimate goal, then the show may fizzle into the worst horror movie genre: B-list that takes itself too seriously.

If "The Walking Dead" can create sympathetic characters and force them to navigate changing survival situations, the overexposed gore might make the show calloused and gritty and wonderful.  But if "Dead" continues to rely on the same trapped-in-a-room-with-zombies-outside scenario, and combat it with isolated action sequences and throwaway tough-guy lines, they risk making carnage its most interesting attribute. 

The Sheriff could ride a dolphin into downtown Atlant(is)
Now, I'm not saying that I want mushy emotional stuff to replace all the zombie-killing.  I watch the show for the main reason that it allows me to vicariously beat up zombies, one of my favorite imaginary hobbies.  What I'm saying is, "The Walking Dead" has the capacity to be something truly revolutionary in the worlds of both horror and television, and in that relatively new world where the two intersect.  If gore is incidental to the plot, part of the overall style and timbre of the show, then I'll embrace as many corpse-guts as you want to smear on yourselves.  But I hope that the show finds a way to make the characters tackle bigger problems than dismembering zombies like rebuilding civilization, or killing survivors who contract the zombie sickness.  Or, you know, dismembering underwater zombies.

If "Dead's" pilot is any indication, the writers are capable of developing great characters, even without words.  The genius of the premiere, and the part that motivated me to preordain "Dead" as A-list, was the wordless composition of its most memorable scenes.  Sheriff Grimes sneaking down the dark hospital stairwell, Morgan agonizing over shooting his zombie wife, the Sheriff's horseback ride through Atlanta...we didn't need words to underscore these perfect moments of storytelling.

Those vivid, perfect scenes from the pilot give me confidence that the rest of "Dead" can be just as poignant.  Here's hoping the second episode was just a short dip into obvious dialogue, stereotyped characters, and bland heroism.  Because if tonight can back with the same stellar, humane performances and brutally beautiful scenes of the pilot, it'll be a sign that "Dead" can have it's brains, and eat them, too.
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Write comments
November 14, 2010 at 4:56 PM delete

I'm with ya here. I liked the second episode but it wasn't as strong as the first.

That being said, the second episode did open with some sex, giving it a full 100% more sex than the pilot.

November 14, 2010 at 11:38 PM delete

Totally agree. The third episode would've been so much better with a flashback...Sheriff's friend starts romancing wife, and tells her that Sheriff is dead. Flash forward, and uh-oh, somebody lied...

Alison Lee
November 16, 2010 at 9:24 AM delete

I'm going to strive really hard to make sure my next blog post about "The Walking Dead" has 100% more sex than the last two.

December 11, 2015 at 7:42 AM delete

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