14 November 2010

Bullet Points of the Dead: The Walking Dead Episode 2

The new zombie series The Walking Dead is on in the UK every Friday night. I'm (hoping I'll be) posting up three bullet-pointed observations about each episode. Here's the first post from earlier in the week. These posts are deliberately "chatty" and written with the intention of being read as quick observations, notes essentially. Info/synopsis here.

Episode #2: Guts

  • Because it's a series certain scenes or sequences last longer than they perhaps normally would in a stand-alone film. This is obvious. But with zombie-based filmmaking the emphasis is often on making those we're-trapped-so-let's-escape moments feel as quick and frenetic as possible, so that we're put right there alongside the characters. This episode itself is the perfect example of that kind of moment being stretched out to fill (nearly) an hour: the whole of this second 47 min. episode was almost solely taken up by watching a gang of survivors attempt to get out of a building. Essentially this is what Romero achieved in Dawn of the Dead. Now, episode 2 of TWD reaches nowhere near the heights of his film, but it is cosying up to the memory of it in a somewhat enterprising fashion. Obviously much of current Mainstream cinema (think of the type of filmmaking TWD might fit into) would demand brevity in such a situation - get in quick, get out quick - but The Walking Dead creates both tension and space to breathe, in one, here. But that's because it can. It has plenty of time up its sleeve. (Well, six hours' worth.) And the makers clearly have an over-arching narrative to fulfill. One thing that may disappoint, however, is that if it's going to take so long for certain events to transpire, will it reach a satisfactory conclusion within the remaining four episodes? But, then again, asking this is jumping the gun. There's always that little thing called a cliffhanger...

  • The hacking up of the recently-dispatched body with an axe, and then two characters, Rick and Glenn (Lincoln, Steven Yuen), smearing its intestines, guts and general bodily grue (of the episode's title) over themselves to avoid detection (the zombies can't smell living flesh if it's covered in the innards of the dead, apparently) whilst they attempted an escape from the surrounded building was an inspired, sickly and unsettling moment. It had the feel of a set-piece. It may very well have been a moment from the original graphic novels (which I've not read any of), but it is of course rather derivative of the 'mimicking the zombies to avoid capture' sequence in Shaun of the Dead (2004). It's a moment that uses dark comedy well, and feels like the first genuinely subversive moment of the show. It begs the question, Just how compassionate are these people really? How desperate are they to survive? What other lengths will they go to? (Live bait next time?) This could hint at something more interesting lurking beneath some charcaters' personas.

  • The overhead shots of the street-level zombies. I'm thinking of characters looking down at Rick in the surrounded tank at the start of the episode, and them then again looking down to the ground below during the entrails-covered escape attempt. It all looks very well shot and the images are excellently composed, but aren't the zombies a bit too nicely arranged? Aren't they too perfectly and evenly spaced out? The stumbling undead would surely not be so well choreographed - this isn't Michael Jackson's Thriller. This is a minor quibble - and I've never been one to bemoan aesthetic invention, however stylised - but it strikes me that in some instances the makers are aiming for an effective slickness instead of an urgent and confusingly bewildering atmosphere. Zombies themselves are messy, so their formation should be too, yes?

Plus: I'm also aware that it's perhaps best not to either over- or under-praise the show too much as yet. It's got a fair way to go before it reveals its actual MO, and it's early days. But it stays insanely enjoyable for now.


  1. I kind of hated this episode. The hillbilly character was so ridiculous I couldn't take any subsequent tension seriously.

    I think the guts scene was already in the comic. None of the characters but Rick, Glenn and Andrea are, though.

  2. Thanks for reply Simon. I never knew that the graphic novels only had three characters. Interesting. Maybe it makes for the odd tone and lack of fully-rounded-ness in some of the periphery characters (and lack of decent female roles).

    The redneck guy was pure stock - and Michael Rooker playing him was rote - but maybe it's setting something up for a surprise later on. The 'guts' bit was an inspired touch, for sure.

  3. It didn't only have three characters, they just got rid of most to them in the second episode, created new ones. The third one brought a lot more characters from the comic.