Fear the Walking Dead: Season 1, Episode 6 – The Good Man

“It doesn’t matter how you die. You come back. We all come back.”




This week saw Fear the Walking Dead reach its first season finale, and (finally) show some action. And some zombies. You know, more than one at a time. Continue reading “Fear the Walking Dead: Season 1, Episode 6 – The Good Man”

Fear the Walking Dead: Season 1, Episode 3 – The Dog

“She’s not sick. She’s dead.”



Fear the Walking Dead continues to get pacier in this third instalment, though there’s still a fair bit of the soap opera that pretty much dominated the pilot episode to the exclusion of most everything else. Like the second episode, this one follows the quasi-real time approach (with a significant gap in the middle) which is apparently going to be the show’s style – a nice way to extend a narrative that logically would be over pretty quickly otherwise. Continue reading “Fear the Walking Dead: Season 1, Episode 3 – The Dog”

Fear the Walking Dead: Season 1, Episode 2 – So Close, Yet So Far

“When civilisation ends, it ends fast.”



Civilisation may be ending fast, but there was still fairly little plot advancement in this second ep of AMC’s cash cow spinoff Fear the Walking Dead. And yet, despite that fact, this was a much tauter, pacier instalment than the pilot, due in no small part to being told almost entirely in real time. Like 24, but with zombies. Continue reading “Fear the Walking Dead: Season 1, Episode 2 – So Close, Yet So Far”

Fear the Walking Dead: Season 1, Episode 1 – Pilot

“She was eating them!”



There’s a fundamental problem with prequels, which is that you know how they’re going to end. Along the way, you often have to contort your story to make it fit with the pre-existing outcomes (“have the protocol droid’s memory wiped”). Of course, knowing broadly how a story will end doesn’t mean it can’t be enjoyable – otherwise nobody would have gone to see Titanic (SPOILER – the ship sinks). The challenge is to get your audience invested in the characters living through what you already know is going to happen, and hopefully show some spectacle along the way. Continue reading “Fear the Walking Dead: Season 1, Episode 1 – Pilot”

The Walking Dead: Season 4, Episode 3–Isolation

“Everything we’ve been working so hard to keep out – it found its way in.”



Things are looking grim indeed for the plucky band of survivors in another excellent ep of The Walking Dead. Scripted by original comic creator Robert Kirkman, if anything this outdid the previous two in terms of pacing, starting slow but building up the intensity and drama to a satisfying climax.

Continue reading “The Walking Dead: Season 4, Episode 3–Isolation”

The Walking Dead: Season 2, Episode 13


Beside the Dying Fire


So this is it – after thirteen weeks, it’s the culmination of The Walking Dead’s ‘difficult second album’. This has been a patchy season after the compressed, high-octane drama of the first. With more than twice the number of episodes for apparently about half the budget, the first half of the season was frustratingly meandering and slow-paced, with a restrictive claustrophobic setting that worked to the detriment of the drama, and a little too much post-apocalypse soap opera.

The show’s return after its mid-season break found a massive increase in quality. Its settings opened up to take in the town near Hershel’s farm, and most importantly we got a return of the show’s proper USP – zombies. After their near absence for most of the season’s first half, recent episodes have sated the audience with horde after horde of stumbling revenants, reminding us that this is a post-apocalypse scenario far more hazardous than that of, say, Survivors. Not that the character drama has been neglected for zombie action, mind – the two episodes prior to this finale have had some heart in mouth moments of tension with no zombie involvement at all. They’ve also had, it’s fair to say, a number of whopping great plot contrivances that don’t hold up to close scrutiny.

This mostly excellent finale had its share of those too, though I’ll come to those later. But with original comics’ creator Robert Kirkman co-scripting with new showrunner Glen Mazzara, this was for the most part a thrilling, gripping piece of TV that might almost redeem the uneven pacing of the season as a whole.

After last week’s cliffhanger ending of a horde of walkers stumbling towards the farm, this week’s cold open cleverly didn’t pick up right from there. Instead, cleverly, it eked out the tension with an epic sequence of how this previously unanticipated horde came to be there. Starting out in a city (presumably nearby Atlanta), they’d taken to following that helicopter we’d all forgotten about from way back in the first season. As in the behaviour described in the comics, more joined them and they continued to stagger in the same direction, gaining numbers as they went, until long after the object of their initial interest had been forgotten. Until, now numbering in the impressively visualised hundreds, the gunshots from the farm caused them to turn in a new direction. Seeing the end of last week’s episode, this time from their point of view, was an excellent lead in to the credits and the action proper.

And action it certainly was. Taking the climax of most classic zombie movies as an inspiration, the episode showed our heroes’ refuge being overrun by a horde of ghouls so large it was quite simply unstoppable. Most of the episode’s first half was a frenetic melee of chaos as the farm was overrun, with the characters scattered hither and yon across the fields as they took to the cars in an attempt to shoot and then distract the herd.

Rick and Carl, for their part, were left hiding in the barn as they found themselves unable to make it through the hordes to the farmhouse. Everyone else being unaware of this, they had to fend for themselves by setting the barn – and the walkers Rick rather fearlessly let in – ablaze, in a set piece that surely consumed a fair chunk of the season budget.

With all the shooting, burning, and mad driving, the script took the opportunity to kill off those characters who’ve been a complete waste of space since the season began. Jimmy, the mostly mute teenage boy who was on the farm for some reason or other, perished after foolishly forgetting to lock the door of the RV, letting in some hungry corpses; catching light from the barn, the RV – so closely identified with the now-deceased Dale – is now toast. Back at the house, Otis’ wife Patricia, who’s uttered barely a word since her husband died, was dragged away from Beth for some chowing down.

These deaths provided some welcome gore – this is a horror story, after all – but served to underline how badly these characters have been served by all the scripts since the season began. Were they introduced solely with the intention of becoming zombie chow in the last episode? Even if they were, some kind of character description might have made us care, like we did about Dale and even Shane last week. As it was, I simply shrugged and considered the show well rid of them. It might have had more impact to have lost at least one of the main characters; but I suppose having killed off two in as many weeks, the writers didn’t want the action undercut by that kind of trauma.

This elongated sequence provided some memorable moments. Hershel, futilely blasting away at the unstoppable horde approaching the house; Lori, screaming for Carl and being dragged away to the pickup truck; Glenn blasting away out of the Hyundai’s window as Maggie drove like a lunatic. Some excellent direction from Ernest Dickerson gave the whole thing a real sense of urgency and tension; more than once, I found myself pointing at the screen and yelling, “behind you!”

Eventually though, everyone had the good sense to realise that this wasn’t a battle they were going to win, and to get the hell out of there. Along the way, Daryl rekindled the spark he has with Carol by sweeping heroically in on his bike to rescue her from pursuing walkers. Elsewhere, Rick, for a wonder, managed to convince the stubborn Hershel that the farm was lost, and there was no point dying for it. Even T-Dog finally got some actual lines, as he drove Lori and Beth away in that tatty old pickup that shows not all the vehicles in the show are product placements. Having all, independently, made the decision to flee the farm, these separate groups all, independently, decided to head back to the highway, and the place they’d left supplies for the missing Sophia way back in episode 2.

And this is the whopping great plot contrivance I had trouble with. Yes, it might have been annoying to spend the first few episodes of the next season with the group trying to find each other. But for all of them, independently, to have decided to meet up there having made no prior rendezvous arrangement? That, I’m afraid, is just not believable. I could have accepted it if some of them did that; hell, even if most of them did. But all of them? Er, no, I’m not buying that.

A similar thing happened way back in episode 8, when Rick guessed that the missing Hershel was in the town bar (and he was), then Lori, having no knowledge of this, correctly came to the same conclusion when she set out to find him. I appreciate that sometimes you just want to move the plot along to a certain point, but for heaven’s sake do it in a believable way that actually makes sense!

Having ranted about that, I’m bound also to say that the second half of the episode, with the action over, was much more slowly paced. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, as our heroes have to pause to take stock, count their losses, apportion blame, and so on. Dramatically it makes sense. But perhaps less so in a season finale, when you’re wanting to stoke the thrills to fever pitch and leave your audience hanging in eager anticipation of the show’s return.

That said, there was some good character drama in this latter part of the episode, as the group’s morale plummeted and Rick began to seem increasingly unhinged in a way that might have made Shane seem preferable. Carol’s all for splitting up; T-Dog just wants to head ‘east’; and Lori, having been told that Rick killed Shane “just to get it over with” finds it hard to even touch her husband.

To add to that, we finally found out what Dr Jenner whispered into Rick’s ear at the CDC last season. As we suspected after the last few episodes, it was, “you’re all infected”. That Rick had known this all along and not told anyone did not go down well; but it looks like, for pragmatic reasons, they’re willing to sullenly accept him as leader. For now. It can’t have helped when he declared that, “this is no longer a democracy”. Having killed Shane, it seems like he’s rejected Dale’s way of thinking and adopted Shane’s anyway.

This is an unusual way of developing your ‘hero’, but it shows that The Walking Dead is not going to make compromises about how nasty even the best of people can be. The Rick in the comics developed along similar lines, his worldview hardening in light of the circumstances. He’s hardly recognisable now from the clean-cut cop at the story’s beginning. The development is unsurprising with comic creator Kirkman on scripting duties, and Andrew Lincoln rose to the challenge well, managing to make us angry with Rick while still sympathising with his viewpoint.

And speaking of the comics (which I’ll try not to spoiler too much), we finally got the much-anticipated arrival of one of their most popular characters. As the abandoned Andrea, finally having run out of bullets after fleeing the walkers all night, was pounced on by a huge ghoul, it looked like the end for her. Until, that is, its head was unexpectedly sliced off by a sword, wielded by a mysterious hooded figure accompanied by two chained, armless, jawless zombies. Without wanting to give too much away, comics readers will know exactly who this is, and may, like me, have punched the air at that point.

Back at the camp, the arguing over, the episode climaxed with an impressive crane shot. As the camera panned up, and across the river, we saw something else familiar from the comics – a massive, fenced prison complex in the near distance. Again, without wanting to give too much away, it’s not hard to guess where this is going, particularly after the group’s discussion about finding a ‘safe place’. And given the major comic villain we now know will feature next year, I wouldn’t be surprised if he was accompanied by the popular TV character of Merle Dixon too.

The show is back “in the fall”, though I’ve seen no firm date for its return yet. Apparently season 3 will have 16 episodes, giving more scope for storylines. We can only hope that AMC will be generous enough to give it a commensurately higher budget, to reflect its undoubted popularity; and that the showrunner manages to keep up a better balanced pace across the season, with rather less of the endless chit chat that characterised the first half of season 2. Still, uneven though the second season may have been, its second half more than made up for its first, and I’ll certainly be back to watch when it returns.

The Walking Dead: Season 2, Episode 1


What Lies Ahead


A much-anticipated adaptation of Robert Kirkman’s ongoing comic book series, last year’s debut season of The Walking Dead was a huge success for cable channel AMC. Like many zombie fans, I love Kirkman’s comic series for its breadth; even long zombie movies like the original Dawn of the Dead don’t have the necessary running time for truly fleshed out characters and lengthy, complex plotting. A monthly comic (if written well, as Kirkman’s is) can do that, and so can a TV show.

With an impressive roster of talent – writer/director Frank Darabont, stars Andrew Lincoln, Laurie Holden and Jeffrey DeMunn, plus Bear McCreary on music duties – the TV version of The Walking Dead is an impressive piece of work that’s contributed greatly to the recent trend for genre television being taken seriously as drama. It also helps that cable television is free of the standard and practices imposed on its network equivalent, meaning that the show doesn’t have to stint on the outright gore and violence that’s so essential to the genre.

It’s easy to treat the zombie apocalypse genre less than seriously, and many exploitation movies (notably ones made in Italy) do just that. What Kirkman’s comic, and its TV adaptation, do very well is to create a believable, rounded group of characters within the situation, and make the story as much about them as it is about gory, ravenous walking corpses. In the process, you end up with a piece of work every bit as respectable as the giants of the genre – particularly Romero’s seminal Dawn of the Dead, the movie that really kick started all this.

With a tightly knit six episode first season, The Walking Dead was a great success both with viewers and critics, its validity as drama in no way stinting its real zombie action. A lot of people who normally wouldn’t go near a zombie story were hailing it as impressively watchable. Clearly then, this second season, and its opener in particular, have a lot to live up to.

It doesn’t help that there’ve been some fairly well-publicised ‘creative differences’ behind the scenes between seasons. Frank Darabont, the excellent writer/director who was the driving force behind getting the show on TV in the first place, departed as showrunner under circumstances that vary according to which reports you read. Some say he resigned, others that he was fired, but there’s general consensus that he was none too happy at AMC’s demand for a longer season on a smaller budget. Meanwhile, cast members have reportedly gone in fear that if they disagree with the producers in any way, they’ll be written out – easy enough in a series where violent death is a frequent occurrence.

While I’m sceptical about that last claim – other reports indicate cast members having contracts for multiple seasons – it rarely bodes well for a series to have such ructions in its production team. Thankfully, comic creator Robert Kirkman is still heavily involved with the show, so at least there’s a strong continuity there.

So, there’s a lot riding on this season opener. Penned by Kirkman himself along with Darabont (his final contribution to the show, credited under the pseudonym Ardeth Bey) it had to live up to the excellent first episode of season one, and reintroduce the zombie action that was rather lacking in the previous year’s season finale. It also had to pick up numerous character arcs, notably the one about hero Rick Grimes’ wife Lori having an affair with his best friend Shane, believing Rick to be dead. And a major unresolved point from last year’s finale – just what did CDC scientist Dr Jenner whisper into Rick’s ear shortly before blowing himself up along with his facility?

Thankfully, I can report that this opener acquits itself rather well. Handily opening with a recap of recent events as Rick reports them via walkie talkie to fellow survivor Morgan (yet to reappear after episode 1), it’s intercut with some impressive scenes of various zombies staggering around the deserted Atlanta. Significantly, one of the show’s best assets who’s not been affected by behind the scenes changes is veteran makeup guy Greg Nicotero. Nicotero, who cut his teeth working with Tom Savini on Romero classic Day of the Dead, serves as chief effects bod on the show, and after years of practice is producing some of the best zombies the genre’s ever seen. These are realistically ragged, rotting, mutilated things that look so convincing you can almost smell the rot off them!

The ep really gets going with a superb, lengthy set piece as our heroes get stuck by a broken radiator hose on Dale’s RV, amidst one of mankind’s final great traffic jams. I’ve always found post-apocalyptic drama rather patchy on this whole traffic thing; some show the roads eerily empty, others decide that they’d be clogged with people trying to escape from whatever’s ending the world. I’ve always contended that unless the apocalypse happens in an instant, the latter approach is more believable. Luckily for me, so do the producers of this show, and a sizeable portion of that reduced budget must have been spent on putting together this motley collection of stalled and crashed cars to block our heroes’ way.

And of course, a mammoth herd of zombies turned up to add to the problem. If you’re going to grab viewers with your zombie drama, it’s best to start big, and this episode did. It was a long but heart-poundingly suspenseful set piece as our heroes were forced to hide, mostly underneath the stalled cars. I’d have thought they might be better off inside them, but that was dealt with too as Andrea (Laurie Holden) cowered inside the RV, trying incompetently to reassemble the gun she’d taken apart for cleaning. Of course, if she’d managed, the shot would have brought more zombies running (or staggering, anyway), but she managed to dispose of one curious (and gruesomely made up) zombie that got in by means of a screwdriver handily given to her by Dale, who was hiding on the roof. And thus we got the first (but not the last) bit of real nasty gore in the episode as she rammed the screwdriver into the zombie’s eye socket. Really hard. And repeatedly. Ewww…

Elsewhere, T-Dog and Daryl took an alternative approach to hiding by dragging rotted corpses out of the cars and pulling them on top of themselves, in another nice grossout moment. Actors IronE Singleton and Norman Reedus gave convincing grimaces which conveyed quite how nasty this must have smelled. Indeed, this was a continual motif throughout the episode whenever anyone got near to a zombie, and it’s an aspect that I think has never really been dealt with before in zombie films, so it’s good to see it followed up on here – if you recall the first season, we were shown that zombies don’t chase each other because of the smell of rotting flesh, leading to a really icky sequence where Rick and Glenn had to cover themselves with zombie innards to walk among them undetected.

This whole set piece must have taken up near a third of the episode by itself, and was extremely well-directed. It’s fair to say that the pace slowed a lot after this wound down, as the story concentrated more on the characters. That’s no bad thing (though hardcore zombie fans who just want blood and guts might disagree), as the pared down group left at the end of last season is small enough for some interesting dynamics to be emerging.

Among these is Andrea’s antipathy towards Dale, who last season forced her to flee the impending destruction of the CDC by threatening to remain with her if she didn’t leave. Andrea, it turns out, really resents Dale for this, feeling that he undermined her choice to end her life by guilt tripping her into leaving. Dale, for his part, is worried that her desire to commit suicide is far from gone, and is reluctant to trust her with a gun. This came to a head in a nicely played scene between regular Darabont alumni Laurie Holden and Jeffrey DeMunn, and is clearly far from resolved. What makes it interesting for the reader of the comics is the knowledge that there, Andrea and Dale end up as a couple. But the TV show is taking the wise course of cherry picking certain plot points and set pieces from the comic without being a slavish adaptation, so there’s no guarantee of that happening here.

The group actually splits up too, as Rick and various others head off as two parties to search for little Sophia, who ran off screaming as a zombie spotted her underneath a car. Meanwhile, Dale and T-Dog remained with the RV, with Dale revealing that he’d actually fixed the radiator some time ago, but kept it secret so the others wouldn’t move on without finding Sophia. With the heroes now effectively split into three groups, there’s a lot more scope for subplots about them not being able to find each other while getting into their own, separate jeopardies – a good plan for the season, in my opinion.

While this latter half of the episode is undoubtedly less intense than the traffic jam/zombie herd set piece, there’s still plenty of gore and nastiness to keep the hardcore zombie fans happy. As Rick kills the walkers who’d been chasing Sophia, the camera lingers quite a while as he very graphically bashes one’s head in with a rock. Later, he and Daryl kill another with a crossbow bolt, and in order to ensure that it hasn’t just eaten Sophia, open it up to check its stomach contents. Again, the looks on the actors’ faces conveyed just how gross this must smell, and even I couldn’t restrain myself from saying out loud, “Ewww.”

There’s also some gruesome zombie killing in a local church, as the search for Sophia leads our heroes to holy ground. This also gives some of the characters a chance to reveal themselves via the South’s fractious relationship with religion, as the camera frequently lingers on the crucifix at the altar. Sophia’s mother Carol (Melissa McBride) is, unsurprisingly, very religious, and takes the opportunity to pray fervently for her daughter to be found. Rick, however, is more ambivalent. Andrew Lincoln continues to give a good performance as, wracked by doubt, he prays to a God he’s not sure he even believes in for a sign that he’s doing the right thing. I’ve always liked Lincoln as an actor, so it’s no surprise that he’s good here, but I’m still impressed with his convincing Georgia accent (though if anyone from Georgia is reading this, they will probably know better than I how good it is).

The episode climaxes with another set piece lifted from the comic, and very nicely directed it is too. Seeing a majestic stag in the woods, Rick’s son Carl is entranced, and creeps towards it while Rick motions Shane not to shoot it. It’s a magical moment which, just as in the comic, is brutally interrupted when an unseen shooter blows a hole in both the stag and Carl’s stomach. For those who haven’t read the comic, I won’t speculate on what happens next as it looks to be identical – suffice to say, we’re about to meet some new characters.

A promising start, then, for a show that had a lot to live up to after its first year. Of course, this is also the last episode with any Darabont involvement, so it remains to be seen whether later instalments will be as good. I’d also say that, in its bid to impress from the outset, this opener has probably had a lot more money spent on it than others will have, so the budgetary restrictions that led to Darabont’s departure may become more noticeable too. Nonetheless, we’ve got some seeds here for a very promising season. I’m guessing we’ll see more memorable set pieces and characters from the comic making an appearance, but I’m also hopeful that we might see a return for Michael Rooker’s formidable redneck Merle, a  creation of the TV show whose fate remains unknown. And we still don’t know what Dr Jenner whispered to Rick, the script teasingly dancing around the issue as Rick brings Morgan up to speed on the walkie talkie at the start. Whatever happens, new showrunner Glen Mazzara has some big shoes to fill; let’s hope he does it well.