Monday, November 8, 2010

"The Walking Dead" Episode 2

Posted By on Mon, Nov 8, 2010 at 4:05 PM

Hey Atlanta Tourist Board! High fives all round!
  • Scott Garfield/AMC
  • Hey Atlanta Tourist Board! High fives all round!
I believe I speak for just about everyone when I say that the first hour and a half of The Walking Dead was a pure, creepy delight. Sure, it’s a sight familiar (Curt Holman’s introductory article already pointed out that the source material—which, full disclosure, I have not read—was basically conceived as a Romero movie with no end), but at this point I’m perfectly happy to let the revisionist “horror” of Stephanie Meyers and Seth Grahame-Smith (Pride and Prejudice and Zombies) rest in peace. Is there anyone out there clamoring for a high-concept zombified TV mashup of Gossip Girl and Tales from the Crypt? No there is not. Dawn of the Dead Stand Alone Complex will do us real horror fans just fine, thanks.

And if the pilot was a nail-biting slow-motion saunter into the world of The Walking Dead, this second entry is a satisfying plunge into the zombie apocalypse’s wormy heart. Where the pilot’s defining image was our hero, Officer Rick, on horseback riding slowly north into the zombie-sacked city of Atlanta, this follow-up episode is a bright red Pontiac Challenger barreling back the other way, a squirrelly motor-mouth behind the wheel howling in terror and exhilaration.

From its escape-the-horde opener to its high-speed denouement, this episode rarely let up. Last week’s cliffhanger gets resolved when Officer Rick, with the help of wiley scavenger Glenn on the radio, pops out of his deserted tank and shoots his way to a blockaded alley. After scrambling up a ladder (which the zombies can’t climb—until oh shit yes they can!) the two make their way to the safety of a department store, where they and a group of others are protected by not one but two sturdy banks of doors that the zombies can’t smash through—until oh shit yes they can!

These zombies are apparently rooted in the Romero tradition, meaning they can learn to do things like climb ladders and use tools of the basic grab-and-smash variety, and even have some residual memory (as was made sort-of clear in the pilot). This presents a problem for the group of scavengers holed up in the department store, who seek a way out through the sewers below (nothing there but a dead end and a seriously drunken Andy Dick, gnawing on a rat and apparently oblivious to the zombie nightmare outside), before spotting some serviceable trucks at a nearby construction site. As Officer Rick informs us, construction sites always keep the keys on-hand (even though Rick later proves that he doesn’t actually need keys to start a car).

But how to get there? With one of the most sickening plans in television history: grab a downed "geek," cut it to pieces with an axe, cover yourself in zombie viscera, hang a few severed body parts around your neck, and do the undead shuffle through town. For fans of the genre, it’s a toe-curlingly good sequence, a perfect mix of funny and freak-out, equal parts Shaun of the Dead and 28 Days Later. It’s also a perfect example of how much more kick-ass zombie fun this show can deliver, week after week, than the local movie theater can deliver in a whole year—make that a whole handful of years.

Yes there are quibbles to be found—maybe you don’t like Officer Rick so much (Holman nailed it when he compared TWD’s Rick to Lost’s Dr. Jack Shepard, a similarly divisive man-of-action hero); maybe you think (the awesome) Michael Rooker is too over-the-top as coke-snorting racist Dixon; maybe you find the plot mechanics that leave Dixon trapped on the roof, or Officer Rick’s wife in the grabby hands of his partner Shane, a bit too neat; maybe you’re wondering why that grenade in the first act didn’t go off in the third—but the pleasures of this series are just too intense to spend time with quibbles. Like Tallahassee taught us, in Zombieland you either nut up or shut up.

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