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Tuesday, October 14, 2014

The Walking Dead 5x01: No Sanctuary


Hey, I'm back after a summer filled with me thinking about things I'd like to write about but never actually getting around to it. But, the summer vacation is over and The Walking Dead is back. So now I get to dive right back into that joy-filled world!

So...The Walking Dead really loves itself some Carol, huh? She single handedly navigated a zombie hoard to Terminus, took down the walls and most everybody inside (including using one of the most unrealistic ways of igniting a propane tank I have ever seen) and saved the entire group! After all that she was welcomed back to the group with open arms.

I would call this a redemption episode for Carol but I don't think that's how the show sees it. I think The Walking Dead sees this as a redemption episode for Rick. He finally gets a mean streak, realizes the “error of his ways” for “foolishly” banishing Carol and lets her back into the fold. Finally Rick has come back to his senses! At least, I think that's what they want me to think.

I probably spend way too much time trying to find the moral core to this show. Searching for ethics in a nihilistic presentation like this is probably a fool's errand. But even if a television show depicts a world where good deeds go unrewarded and bad guys win (under the thought that that's more realistic) doesn't mean the show has to be devoid of morals. Nihilism simply describes the universe a show exists in not how characters should act within that universe. So how does The Walking Dead have their characters act and what does that say about how the show thinks we should act under similar circumstances?

Right now I feel like The Walking Dead is holding up the Shanes and Carols of this world in high regard. That living in a post-apocalyptic world means you have to make tough decisions and making tough decisions means you kill anybody who is any hint of a threat and knowing the lives of multiple strangers isn't close to the worth of the life of a friend. The show seems to say the only thing keeping humans from being murderers, rapists and thieves are modern day conveniences. Thus, you must become a murderer and thief to combat that. Survival at any cost is the most valuable attribute. I could rail against these philosophies but there's only so much time we have. So let's just say that I disagree.

There were two bright spots in this episode regarding the nihilistic philosophy. First was when the group, escaping from Terminus, came across a boxcar with someone in it. Rick, becoming more and more like Shane all the time, had half of a mind to leave him. Glenn then said they needed to save the people because “that's still who we are, it's gotta be.” Of course, this sentiment is undercut by the fact that the person in the boxcar turned out to be crazy, evil (we would find this out later) and is immediately eaten by a zombie.

The second bright spot is when Carol came across her thematic darker self in Mary, the leader of Terminus. She went over the sad history of Terminus. It was supposed to be a sanctuary but an evil gang took it over. The original citizens eventually regained control and apparently decided that eating them (and then everyone else they came in contact with) was the best revenge.

Mary then said she and Carol were alike. Carol killed Mary vowing to never be like her. Mary is obviously one possible end to the path Carol is going down. Obviously I never believed that Carol would end up eating people but it's nice to see the show acknowledge that Carol needs to be careful with the path she's traveling and she needs to not cross the line. Even if I would argue she already has before.

This is just the season premier and I have no idea what the season arc will be. Maybe they will close in on morals I can agree with. But all indications are quite the opposite. I should note I can be OK watching a show where simply being a good person doesn't mean good things will happen to you. But I do wish that this didn't mean people stopped being good.

Other Thoughts:
So yeah, I probably spent too much time (in this post and many others) discussing the morals of the show as a whole instead of talking about what happened. But really, not a lot did happen. Terminus fell and the group reunited. That's about it. The episode was pretty much one big action sequence and I will say that in terms of an action episode it was entertaining and fun.

It was very nice of the "butchers" to stop killing people right when they got to the main characters. (And it was convenient they went from right to left.)

Speaking of the people getting slaughtered, the first person to die was Sam (the hippy from Indifference). He's played by Robin Lord Taylor who is the Penguin on Gotham.

So the guy with Tyreese (Martin?) asks why Tyreese kept him alive. It's a valid question. But why is Martin trying so hard to convince Tyreese to kill him?

Also, how did Martin get out of his wrist bindings?

I hinted at it above, but Carol showed impeccable aim lighting the propane tank with that rocket/mortar.

Why couldn't that guy who was crawling backwards away from the zombies get back up...or, you know, roll?

So am I to assume that candle room was a memorial to the original Terminus people who fell victim to that evil gang?

How appropriate that Mary is undone by someone with mud on their face.

I'm not sure leaving the dead Terminus butchers to turn is the right call. Why would you want to deal with MORE zombies?

It's kind of weird how one part of this episode's happy ending is Tyreese becoming comfortable with killing people.

So Morgan is back and he seems to be in good health! I have no idea where that is going.

Naturally, on the Talking Dead, executive producers Greg Nicotero and Scott M. Gimple talked about how Rick is slowly becoming what Shane wanted him to be. And of course they were excited about this. This is why I fear for the direction of the show.

7 comments:

  1. Sometimes (most?) this show really drives me nuts. Basically, like you said, in terms of action and entertainment, this was plenty good. The show has always been good at these big action set pieces, and it's never not fun to see these characters just running through a zombie hoard, stabbing and shooting as they go.

    But man, does this show keep trying to get me to root for some morally reprehensible stuff. I mean, look, these Termites (as I guess people have been calling them) did some pretty bad shit, and I have no problem with my desire to see Rick break free and kill 'em all. I don't really even have a problem with Rick's desire to go back and finish the job since it makes tactical sense and, at least as far as we know, everybody there was in on this whole cannibal trap thing (that is, this isn't like Woodbury, where otherwise decent people were just being led/protected by a sociopath and his sociopath lieutenants).

    But then the show's got me rooting for Carol to show up and bust everybody loose, so much so that until the very end of the episode, I'd forgotten that Carol killed people in cold blood last season. And look, there's a narrative in the idea of Carol having done that, getting banished, realizing what she did was wrong, then coming back to the group and working towards atonement. Freeing Rick and Co. from Cannibal Town is a good start in that direction.

    Except Carol isn't sorry, as far as we can tell. And the show seems to be suggesting she shouldn't be. And I get Daryl being glad to see her, and I don't want Rick to be ungrateful for her help, but, as you say, it seems like the show is suggesting Rick was wrong to have thought she did anything wrong. And that's just not right.

    To be clear, I'm not saying Carol is beyond redemption, or that the show shouldn't give her an arc where she tries to achieve redemption. I'm saying it's pretty clear that's never going to happen, because the show doesn't think she ever did anything wrong. And that's unsettling.

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  2. I would call this a redemption episode for Carol but I don't think that's how the show sees it.

    Or, you know that. The "tl:dr" version of my ramblings.

    It was very nice of the "butchers" to stop killing people right when they got to the main characters. (And it was convenient they went from right to left.)

    Heh. I'll give the show credit: they've killed enough main characters that I genuinely feared for Bob or Glenn's life in those scenes. Like, I could have seen them whacking Glenn before getting interrupted, or for Bob to get stabbed by that evil hipster.

    So for me, the convienant staging was less "right to left" as it was the fact that Rick and Daryl were sandwiched between two other people we care about since, they're the most invincible members of the cast.

    Also, how did Martin get out of his wrist bindings?

    When he had his hands around Judith's neck, it looked like they were still wrapped up in a seatbelt. So presumably, he just loosened them (because a seatbelt probably makes for a shitty pair of handcuffs.

    I hinted at it above, but Carol showed impeccable aim lighting the propane tank with that rocket/mortar.

    I was just impressed they avoided the "shoot the propane tank, propane tank explodes" cliche.

    How appropriate that Mary is undone by someone with mud on their face.

    Bravo. Just...bravo.

    I'm not sure leaving the dead Terminus butchers to turn is the right call. Why would you want to deal with MORE zombies?

    I think the idea was that, if some of the Termites came back into/through that room, now they'd have to deal with zombies they weren't expecting.

    It's kind of weird how one part of this episode's happy ending is Tyreese becoming comfortable with killing people.

    That was another case of the show making me root for something icky. Like, I want Tyrese to hang onto his compunction against killing everything that moves that isn't a known associate, but at the same time, the dude is threatening a baby. He deserves to die.

    Basically, there's a difference between "kill 'em all" and "kill when necessary", and the show doesn't seem to realize that.

    This is why I fear for the direction of the show.

    I'm hoping they're excited because that means the show will be dramatically complex, but it's probably because they're just excited for Rick to kill a lot of people, because that's totally what everyone should do in that situation, duh, and it means they finally leave behind all those unrealistic "morals" they've been saddled with thus far. :P

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  3. I hear what you guys are saying about Carol. Last season I was more-or-less with you on this — and to whatever extent I wasn't all the way there it was due to the show's own waffling in how it framed the situation(s). Coming back aboard for the new season, however, with time having elapsed and me getting caught up in the buttons this episode pushed, I can pretty easily summarize my reactions as "F--- YEAH CAROL" and "F--- YEAH GANG BACK TOGETHER".

    Which isn't to say that this episode didn't present moral quandaries of its own. And good gravy was that scene in the Terminus abattoir cliché to within an inch of its life in terms of things stopping, repeatedly, just in the nick of time for our heroes, even as their terror was impressively palpable.

    I guess I just feel content to wallow in their group harmony when it exists, and the rescue/reunion certainly fit that bill. Having neither read about nor discussed the series to any great length — heck, not really at all (I never heard "Termites") — between seasons, despite an E-mail newsletter that I kept ignoring, probably helped reset my brain a bit.

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  4. @Blam: I can pretty easily summarize my reactions as "F--- YEAH CAROL" and "F--- YEAH GANG BACK TOGETHER".

    Oh, I totally had that reaction pretty much up until the end, having completely forgotten the whole "Carol kills people" plot from last season during the break. Then I just randomly remembered it, and I was like, "curse you show, for making me root for these morally-ambiguous characters!"

    And good gravy was that scene in the Terminus abattoir cliché to within an inch of its life

    Props for the use of "abattoir", a word I first encountered via a bad Batman villain AzBats fought during "KnightQuest".

    Having neither read about nor discussed the series to any great length — heck, not really at all (I never heard "Termites") — between seasons

    Frankly, I also gave the series little thought or consideration between seasons as well. I just happened to encounter "Termites" on a different blog between when I watched the episode and Dr. Bitz's review went up, so I got to look smart. :)

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  5. Finally just watched this last night, and read the post today.

    Regardless of what she did or didn't do, I just don't really like Carol. I never have. It's personal preference, but something about the actress bothers me.

    I was surprised they got out of Terminus so quickly. I figured they'd be stuck there for a few weeks, so bravo to the show for not wasting any time in advancing the story.

    I like that Glenn is the new Hershel as far as providing moral guidance, but of course I'm assuming this means he'll die soon, or at least at some point this season.

    This is, to my recollection, the second time Tyrese has slaughtered a group of zombies offscreen. It strikes me as really funny that he's capable of these berseker rages, but only when no one is looking.

    Lastly, I have to say that for all its faults, one thing THE WALKING DEAD does really well is wordless reunion scenes. I never get tired of seeing characters reunited as the musical score plays over their joy.

    Anyway, it looks like perhaps, with an impending mission of getting to Washington, the show may actually have a long-term goal set up for pretty much the first time ever. I'll be interested to see if this goes anywhere.

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  6. @Teebore: // Props for the use of "abattoir" //

    Ha. A phrase that also describes Greg Nicotero's requisition list for the episode.

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  7. @Austin: "But then the show's got me rooting for Carol to show up and bust everybody loose"

    I will be honest. I was rooting for Carol over the Terminus residents too. But that's a low bar to clear.

    "To be clear, I'm not saying Carol is beyond redemption, or that the show shouldn't give her an arc where she tries to achieve redemption. I'm saying it's pretty clear that's never going to happen"

    Well said.

    "I'll give the show credit: they've killed enough main characters that I genuinely feared for Bob or Glenn's life in those scenes."

    True. My money would have been on Bob. Glenn isn't bullet proof but I assume his death would be much more dramatic.

    @BLAM: "I can pretty easily summarize my reactions as "F--- YEAH CAROL" and "F--- YEAH GANG BACK TOGETHER"."

    I won't say my reaction wasn't somewhat similar. As I said above, I wanted to see Terminus get its come uppance and I wasn't too picky about who does it. I guess my biggest problem isn't that Carol is being "redeemed" but that the show seems to think that Carol doesn't need to be redeemed.

    "I guess I just feel content to wallow in their group harmony when it exists"

    It is true. I will take harmony where I can get it. We get too few instances of it.

    @Matt: "I just don't really like Carol. I never have."

    I'm kind of on board with you. I can't say why though. I think it's because it feels like the show is shoving her down our throats.

    "It strikes me as really funny that he's capable of these berseker rages, but only when no one is looking."

    Yeah, it's not the first time, and it is kind of cool but they have to be careful it doesn't turn into a tiresome cliche.

    "Anyway, it looks like perhaps, with an impending mission of getting to Washington, the show may actually have a long-term goal set up for pretty much the first time ever."

    I guess you could give them the CDC center. But I am looking forward to the group having a long term goal.

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