Archive for March 6th, 2012

Walking Dead, Can We Talk?

Spoiler warning: While I can’t say for certain which episodes I’ll be spoiling, I’ve watched through the March 4 episode, Judge, Jury, Executioner.  If you’ve not watched that far and you continue beyond this point, then I hold no sympathies if you are spoiled about anything.

You have been warned.

I’m not here to talk to you about Dale dying.  It fit the episode nicely to kill off the moral center of the survivor’s group right when they’re debating if morality still applies.  I’m going to miss the character, but I also applaud you for recognizing that in a post zombie apocalypse world, folks’ll die.  And sometimes we’ll meet characters and never see them again, not knowing whether they’re alive or dead, like Morgan and Duane from the beginning of the first season.  It’s our second death among the original survivors this season, with a third rumored (and spoiled excessively online) before the season comes to a close.  I hope you never lose that willingness, because that’s part of what horror should be, that feeling that none of the characters is safe.  Even a little girl who would be safe in any other story.

No, I’m here to talk with you about something else.  I’m here to talk about Rick’s descent towards the dark side.  Well, no, that’s the wrong way of putting it.  It wasn’t a descent into the dark side, it was a rather sudden arrival in the dark side.  Much of your last two episodes are about a new survivor named Randall from a nebulous group of Others, who may or may not have a mysterious list of Rick’s band and walk through the woods barefoot carrying teddy bears.  When Randall impales himself on a decorative fence, Rick makes the humanitarian decision to bring him back to the farm rather than letting zombies devour him.  Then he spends most of two episodes thinking up any number of plans to kill him.  Drive him 18 miles out and leave him with his hands and feet bound, clear zombie bait.  When that fails, hang him.  When that’s too inhumane, shoot him in the head.

Who is this Rick?

Look, I understand the need to present questions of moral ambiguity in this situation.  I’ve finally started watching Battlestar Galactica, and there’s been all sorts of weighing sacrifice versus survival just in the opening three-hour miniseries.  I’m okay with a show that explores those questions, gets all dark, and really makes me think about what I would do in a given situation.  So what’s my problem with Rick?  I think it’s that he’s not President Roslin, whose hard choices define her character.  No.  He’s Anakin Skywalker.  A character who we are introduced to through his valor that who makes a sharp transition to darkness.

You did this well once.  His name is Shane.  I’ve watched him take step after step towards the dark side until he’s suddenly blowing Otis’s knees out to provide the zombies a nice meal so he can get away.  Here’s the difference.  I’m with Shane.  I followed him every step along the way.  Each time he made a decision, I’ve thought “yeah, I probably would have done the same,” even as I realize it’s dragging him farther and farther from norms of morality.  Even in that scene with Otis…yeah, I might have done the same.  He didn’t know Otis that well, he’s trying to save Carl’s life, and it’s likely that otherwise Otis, Shane, and Carl would all die.  One life to save two.  It’s brutal, but I can understand it.

Rick?  I’m not on board with that descent.  It was so rapid, and not based on any series of logical steps.  That’s what makes him Anakin.  He snaps, and one day he’s wiping out sand people, or spearheading the torture and cold-blooded murder of a kid who has really done nothing to threaten the group.  Yes, an argument can be made that he’s listening too much to Shane, he’s too concerned that he needs to be seen as a more forceful leader for the group.  But you did that already.  Remember?  When he puts a bullet in the head of zombie Sophia?  That was him stepping up into a more protective leader for our band of misfit survivors.

This is an over correction that doesn’t feel in character, and wasn’t preceded by a series of decisions that, while not necessarily logical, might at least be understandable.  That’s the central need whenever a character we the audience are meant to identify with commits acts we can’t.  I got it with Shane.  I didn’t with Rick.  And that’s left me turned off, even while you’ve corrected for a lot of the problems I had with the first half of the season.  I notice that next week’s episode is called “Better Angels,” and I hope that’s a good sign.  I don’t need Rick to be a paragon of virtuous thoughts and deeds.  That’s not the point.  I just need him to be a character whose motivations I understand, especially when they result in dramatic changes in the character.  Go nuts with your dynamic characters, it’s what I want out of your show, just fewer of these wild and unexplained mood swings would be awesome.

Now lets get back out there and kick some zombie butt.

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