The Books Are Better: The Walking Dead (2)

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Themes

If you look at the front covers of The Walking Dead (TWD) hardcover collections there is the subtitle “A continuing story of survival horror.” That one sentence epitomizes what the comics are all about. It takes ideas from the original Dawn of the Dead from George A. Romero and takes them to their logical extreme. What if a zombie apocalypse actually happened and how would it affect real people, who have never known starvation or been in a survival situation? That is and has been TWD since its publishing 15 years ago.

Being real people means the characters have emotional baggage. They find love, lose it, move on, or go crazy. All the while the characters are in a constant fight against the elements, starvation, and hordes of undead. How they cope with this new reality informs who they become and how they act towards fellow survivors. To quote the comic’s tagline, “In a world ruled by the dead, we are forced to finally start living.”

Being character oriented and set in a hostile world, TWD does not shy away from putting survivors in danger. While zombies are slow and easy to kill, they are never taken lightly. The same can be said for other survivors. More often than not characters are killed or horribly maimed, no matter how long they have been around or how much you like them. Everyone is expendable in TWD. This is not the Mad Max apocalypse; it is The Road with zombies.

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TWD Season 2/Volume 2

It was all downhill after Season 1. How the quality of TWD skewed so far is simple, but I want to begin with the season’s corresponding volume to start off on a positive note because it will not get better from here on out. For the sake of brevity, I will not go in depth about who certain characters are because I assume you have either watched the show or read the comic. Also, some of them are not important enough to mention until they actually are.

Volume 2 is where the themes really set root and create a road map for the series. Rick finds out Lori is pregnant and juggles between thoughts of her dying in childbirth and that the baby is Shane’s. Tyreese makes his debut, my favorite character, with his daughter and her boyfriend Julie and Chris. Tyreese is pretty much a bigger, blacker version of Rick with more experience in wild. Before joining the group he beat an elderly man to death for almost raping Julie and is scared that he does not feel bad about it.

After finding a seemingly deserted gated community, the group is free to move out of the RV, and take up residence in one house. It is here the characters get more intimate within the privacy of their chosen space. To cope with the loss of her sister Amy after the group was attacked in Volume 1, Andrea has sex with a much older Dale. At the same time, Tyreese gets closer to Carol, a more dependent character compared to her television counterpart. Though implied, she is not really a battered wife, and her husband is already dead, but she has many issues that come up later on.

The next morning Rick discovers a sign by the gate that inspired the hospital door sequence from the premiere of Season 1. It is also one of the better scares. When the dead emerge from the surrounding homes, Donna, the wife of Allen and mother to twin boys, is bit in the face, and the group becomes surrounded. In the midst of escaping by jumping onto the RV from the second floor of the house, Tyreese finds Julie and Chris about to have sex before they get clear. Back on the road the food supply dwindles and Rick, Tyreese, and Carl go hunting. Out in the woods, Otis shoots Carl in the back, and before Rick could perforate the man’s face, they realize Carl is still breathing. They rush to Hershel’s farm not far away and the elderly veterinarian patches him up just as the rest of the group arrives.

How people cope with grief and loneliness becomes a strong part of the story. While Andrea has Dale to get over Amy’s death, Allen has no one to provide such support and shuts down. When Andrea tries to talk him into getting over it, Allen lashes out. When his own prospects of intimacy dry up within the group, Glenn expresses to Maggie his need for a woman, who then reciprocates. Julie and Chris also have a thing that escalates very quickly in Volume 3 in the wrong direction.

How Hershel dealt with the loss of one of his sons would come at odds with what Rick wants for the group. He is well aware they are guests on the farm, but Rick wants to settle down and stay for a while. He suggests they move into the barn and Hershel reveals that he keeps zombies there, one of which is his son and some neighbors. He had no idea what to do once he turned and settled on keeping him confined. Hershel understands full well that the zombies are people, sick people that need to get better, and he is shocked when Rick tells him the group has been killing them.

Then Hershel has to come to terms with reality after an attempt to put a zombie in the barn costs the life of another son and one daughter. Hershel personally executes them and turns the gun on himself before Rick stops him. They bury the dead and much like Allen, Hershel shuts down. And after almost shooting Rick for suggesting they move into his dead children’s rooms, he questions if he has lost his mind. After leaving the farm the group continues to struggle along the way until they come upon the prison.

Volume 2 is where TWD hit its stride and continued to run with it from there. It was also the debut of current artist Charlie Adlard after Tony Moore’s departure. I see Volume 2 as the blueprint for the series and how it would juggle its themes as the group adapted to new challenges and transitioned from roving nomads to a community.

Given the immense jump in quality from Volume 1 to 2, why was Season 2 of TWD so awful? Frank Darabont wanted a bigger budget to pull off his original vision, but AMC wanted to save as much as possible despite previous success. Budget cuts would be most obvious in the make-up department with the number of zombies on screen reduced or relegated to a single appearance per episode. These single appearances would be a set piece of effects work that would become a mainstay for the series.

This is rather off topic, but one set piece zombie included the “Camp RV Walker” that attacked Andrea in the RV and it just so happens I went to high school with the actor who plays him, Travis Charpentier.

What_Lies_Ahead_Zombie,_2

Anyway, AMC also wanted more episodes, doubling the original planned quota from 6 to 13, which would later become 16, further straining the already reduced budget. When Darabont pushed against the channel’s mandates, some fuck named Glenn Mazzara was brought in to rewrite a few episodes, and take over as showrunner once Darabont was fired. Like its comic equivalent, Season 2 would set a precedent, but for the worst.

The thing about television writing/production is everything can be changed at a moment’s notice. If an actor quits, dies, or the studio wants to make crippling edits to an already planned show, then the production is forced to adapt. Once AMC made its demands, there had to be rewrites in addition to reshoots. From what I could tell, Darabont had a small chuck of his vision on film. If you look at the Season 2 trailer, there is footage that did not show up in the original cut of Shane shooting zombies and the group returning to the location from the “Vatos” episode. Whatever was already shot and written had to be scrapped and reworked once AMC made their demands.

This is where Mazarra came in. His vision and voice would inform the rest of TWD, even after his exit in 2013. He was AMC’s man and what he decided for the show was of the channel’s design. One demand was to restrict shooting locations, which is why the whole of Season 2 takes place on Hershel’s farm. Keep in mind the farm did not come up until the latter half of Volume 2. To cope with the lack of a setting, the writing took on a lot of what we authors call bullshit, better known as padding. Take the average narrative of an episode and less than 25% of that is relevant to story progression. The rest is stuffing to balloon the runtime to meet the required 44 minutes. As a result you have these meandering conversations between characters and plotlines that do not lead to anything important to the overall story.

Hershel wants Rick and friends off the farm. Rick does not want to leave. Hershel is mad they will not leave.

Glenn rails Maggie and is later mad at him for wanting to kill zombies… even after getting attacked by them? I still have no clue what that was all about.

Andrea is sad about losing Amy and cannot shoot for shit. Andrea bangs Shane, gets over her issues, and turns into an unlikable tart.

Lori flip-flops between resenting Shane for almost raping her and being nice to him while telling Rick that he is dangerous and ignoring her very young son. Then she attempts to abort her baby and changes her mind at the last minute while ignoring her still alive and vulnerable son.

Dale also knows Shane is dangerous and does not bring it up before he is eaten.

The whole group cannot decide what to do with a single captive bandit for half the season and keeps him around as a plot device.

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That is the entirety of Season 2 and the rest of series. The comics could not be simpler and more devoid of useless fat, but to drag out 13 episodes of a story that was six issues long, Mazarra and company just made shit up or bloated insignificant details because they are creatively bankrupt and lack artistic dignity. The great thing about TWD comics is they are entirely bullshit free and writer Robert Kirkman made sure to keep it that way. When characters were not given enough coverage or they had nothing to do, he killed them off, forgot about them, or saved them to kill later.

You like Donna? Now she’s zombie food.

What about Allen and his twin boys? Brace your ass.

Boy, I hope nothing bad happens to Maggie’s little sisters and her last brother.

You think Gabriel is a great character with a lot of potential? Get ready for Volume 27, you stupid pig.

Do not forget about Lori and her bastard Judith. Oh, boy, do I have a delicious splash page for you (emphasis on splash).

The comics are fantastic in how focused they are. The group needs to survive, there is some drama going on, and Rick has to keep it all together. That is it. Could not have been simpler and it remains so to this day. But because AMC wanted to save money and make wasteful demands in the same breath, we got 13 episodes of boring bullshit. It hurt not just the story, but the characters, the actors, and no one said anything because they needed something to watch on Sundays.

Rick is barely a protagonist because the show is too busy worrying about what other characters are doing. I guess 13 episodes are a little much for the poor guy. Rick is supposed to be the leader, but there is so much crap in his way and everyone is too concerned with their own shit. Andrea, who becomes Best Girl in the comics, is the most unlikable character on the show. For no reason, she turns into this vindictive wench pulled right out of a soap opera. She is snarky and does not care about anything except herself. Granted, she is only slightly tolerable than stupid and irresponsible Lori, but she was begging to be killed off sooner than later.

Season 2 was also where Chandler Riggs, the actor who plays Carl, was set up for failure. It is well known in television and film that child actors should say as little as possible. It is not their fault they are not great actors, but it is best they are set off to the side to learn from their adult costars. In Volume 2, Carl has maybe two pages worth of dialog, and he is always with Lori and Rick or a very much alive Sofia. In Season 2 Riggs had more lines than he could handle and I blame Mazzara. He was a good kid, decent actor, and deserved better. It is a shame we did not get to see him develop into the cyclopean badass he is in the comics today.

It is also important to mention the actors that left before their characters were killed in the comic. What movie buffs will notice is three of the supporting cast worked with Frank Darabont in the past. Jeffrey DeMunn who played Dale was in all of Darabont’s movies while Andrea’s Laurie Holden and Carol’s Melissa McBride were both in The Mist. Once Darabont was kicked from the show, everyone but McBride was killed off, possibly upon request, but it is difficult to say. There is more to this story and I highly recommend checking out Adam Johnson’s video on Season 2. He is a nitpicker, but does not make you hate movies like other YouTube pricks.

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I was one of the millions that did not notice the dramatic drop in quality following Season 1. Though I knew the comics were far superior and remain so, I failed to process the show’s downfall because I loved zombies. Name a zombie show in 2011 with the best practical effects in the business. CG squibs aside, it cannot be understated the majesty of Greg Nicotero’s work. This is how zombies should always be portrayed, no matter what, and it remains the only good part about the show. The comics only got better and the more I think about delving deeper in The Walking Dead, the more I am happy and regretting starting this series. Now I am forced to talk about a show that never got better and I will do my best to give you plenty of reasons to read the comics.

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