Shiny Shelf


The Walking Dead: Season One Wrap-up

By Julio Angel Ortiz on 22 December 2010

The first season of ‘The Walking Dead’ is now over, and with the conclusion of the six-episode series, its time to look back and see how it fared in its freshman run.

The first two episodes of the season were covered in-depth in previous reviews. The series started out at a lightning pace, taking time to slow down in the right spots for the character moments, often to great effect (particularly in the premiere).

The third episode, ‘Tell It to the Frogs’, gives us a teaser featuring redneck Merle agonizing over being left behind in the infested city, alone and handcuffed on a rooftop. The scene sways between awkward ramblings and angry rants, and Michael Rooker does an admirable job of walking the fine line between giving some depth to an already two-dimensional and very unlikable character and cartoon parody. The rest of the episode strikes a decent balance between the action and the people. Lori’s reaction to Rick’s arrival is wonderfully played by Sarah Wayne Callies, where we can see the multiple levels on which her shock (and shame) work their way in.

The rest of the episode highlights the shows strengths and weaknesses. There are, at this stage, too many characters, giving the series a scattered feel. When we finally get a closer look at Carol and Sophia, we are treated to yet another hick/redneck stereotype, this time the wife-beater and chauvinist. For a show that purports to be strongly character-driven, there is a motif of drawing their core element from a pool of conventional elements. The series also continues to make very effective use of music.

The following episode, ‘Vatos’, is an uneven mix. The opening conversation between Andrea and Amy is stilted, with neither actress able to build any subtlety into the scene. It just comes across as awkward. The episode meanders from there, with Jim digging holes for no apparent reason, and the attempts to build on Jim’s character are undermined by odd editing choices (cutting away too early after a dramatic moment) and silly writing (tie him to a tree, then talk to him, then walk away? It borders on comical).

Then, once again the show plays off of stereotypes, this time the Latinos kidnapping Glen (a wildly random decision) and subsequent Mexcian standoff between them and Rick’s people (oh, I see what you did there). While the episode subsequently acquits itself in terms of the Latinos subplot (the true nature of their hideout is a nice surprise), as well as the reflective nature of their leader and Rick, the fact that it needs to resort to playing off stereotypes for shock value is unfortunate.

Then we get to the scene where everyone is outside at night around the campfire, and my wife’s words of ‘Aren’t they afraid of being attacked?’ were oracular. For a group of people trying to survive the dead, they weren’t using great judgment. This is a case where the TV show stuck too closely to the source material. Ultimately, the undead cleanse the show of unnecessary extras and provides an incredibly dramatic end to one of the character’s lives. ‘Vatos’ saves itself in the end.

‘Wildfire’ is anything but; the episode is a series of low-key or dramatic set pieces that fit together nicely. Andrea’s goodbye to Amy is wonderful and powerful and easily one of the best scenes in the series thus far. Carol’s elimination of her husband’s body is the perfect balance of minimal dialogue and actions speaking volumes. Her cathartic breakdown is another wonderfully layered performance in this series and gives us the greatest insight into her character.

Dale telling Andrea about his wife is his best scene yet. Shane and Dale’s encounter in the forest while Rick is in Shane’s sights is another great understated scene. Unfortunately, Jim’s goodbye lacks punch as the audience is just emotionally exhausted by that point after the number of deaths and farewells in the past two episodes. And switching to Dr. Jenner at the CDC feels like we’re watching a different series; amidst the survival horror that is ‘The Walking Dead’, the hard change to an entirely different environment is jarring. Overall, ‘Wildfire’ winds up being the best episode thus far in the season for the fact that it is the best balanced and paced episode.

I’ll give credit to the season finale, ‘TS-19’ for doing something most zombie horror has yet to do: actually explain how a zombie infection affects the body. It forms the centerpiece of the episode and cuts out any questions about the virus itself, which tend to hand over survival horror fiction such as this.

Aside from that, ‘TS’19’ is another mostly understated episode, at least for the first half until it turns into ‘The Andromeda Strain’ and our characters are left with a ticking time bomb. Sandwiched in-between is the sadly short-lived Dr. Jenner (played by Noah Emmerich) and a group that settles in to a new home only have it torn away from them, which is something I hope the series does not get into the habit of doing. It provides for some psychologically interesting moments (such as the group blowing off steam over dinner and when they take their showers). And am I the only one who found it funny that Shane was drinking in the shower?

While not left so much on a cliffhanger, ‘TS-19’ leaves us with some unanswered questions from the season. Where did Merle go? What happened to Duane and Morgan? For a subplot that underscored the season, the lack of resolution to the ‘Waiting for Morgan’ story is disappointing. What did Dr. Jenner whisper to Rick right before the group escaped the CDC? Okay, that last one is not hard to figure out if you have read the comic or give thought to Lori’s arc this season. ‘TS-19’ leaves our characters in an uncertain place for season two, and the future is wide open. Hopefully, the writing staff (in whatever shape it takes) will take advantage of it.

Overall, the first season of ‘The Walking Dead’ is an uneven success. It suffers from the freshman syndrome of trying to find its voice and make us care about the characters. Its failing is that it gives us too many characters in too short a period, and only shines the spotlight on a select few long enough for us to care about them. And before we know it, a bunch of them are dead and we move on. Hopefully, with a longer second season, the show will strike a better balance. ‘The Walking Dead’ was a worthy experiment for television, and deserves more airtime. I look forward to it, and that speaks to its success.


Line Break

By Julio Angel Ortiz

Julio Angel Ortiz maintains his collection of curiosities at www.julioinprogress.com. You can also Like him on Facebook as well and check out his latest writing projects.




Comments are closed.