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Shane Got a Gun – The Walking Dead “Wildfire”
I’ve been very, very critical of “The Walking Dead.” The show had a fantastic pilot and a lot of promise that I feel it hasn’t lived up to. You may disagree. Several of you have, actually. It seems as though no fall television show has created so much furious discussion on the Internet.
But you know what? I liked “Wildfire.” I liked it a lot. In fact, I liked it so much that it just made me angrier they’ve garbled so many episodes, and that the show is going to screech to a halt inside of the CDC. We’re going to be stuck there for a year. I’m going to be without Andrew Lincoln-as-Rick-Grimes for an entire year! This is so unfair.
That’s getting way ahead, though. Let’s concentrate on this episode, and what was so delightful about it. The main thing? The survivors acted like real people again! Not since the pilot has there been such realistic terror, numbness, grief, confusion, and tension. This week, I actually believe these people have been through hell and back, and are literally just trying to cope with the rotten corpses ambling out to chew on them. Instead of a clunky dialogue about fishing away sisterly differences, Andrea spoke words we could all understand: “I wasn’t there enough.” And Dale responded the way we all would: “You can’t be guilty. Not now.” I’ve spent a lot of praise on Lincoln, but Jeffrey DeMunn has really stood out in this cast, and sold every scene. While many of these castmembers seem to be in a race to see who can look most frantic or desperate, DeMunn has stood out simply by being quiet and contemplative when the situation warranted it.
And how about those dead eyes on Amy? Yikes. I actually would have appreciated a slight moment of doubt on Andrea’s face – Zombie Amy seemed to recognize her! – but that was handled brilliantly, sadly, and with some wonderful special effects.
Rick and Shane acted as only cops would in such a lousy situation. They believe somewhere there’s an authority trying to make sense of it all. Be it the army or the CDC, they’re organized and they’re trying to fix everything. We should find them. Again, I’m a little weary at the show insisting on Major Quests instead of just going “We need to find food and shelter, and we need to find them now!”, but that’s a structural gripe more than anything.
The Rick / Shane dynamic made Shane’s moment of madness all the more chilling and effective. For a guy who has acted cartoonish and bombastic to everything – Lori, Jim’s gravedigging, Ed the wifebeater, zombies in general – it was a relief to see him shut up and calculate, even if that plan was something as terrible as gunning down his best friend. Shane is scary because he let it fester under a jovial front, and this one has done so much posturing that such deadly contemplation was in danger of ringing false. They finally pulled him back to someone who is a threat instead of a thorn in Lori’s side. Again, I have to praise DeMunn because his look of horror – and the fact that he’s now a witness to a crazy deed – was one of the most promising bits of character drama the show has offered thus far. Forget Lori, Shane, and Rick. It’s Dale, Shane, and Rick now!
That mention of Lori means it’s time to call her out as once again being the most thinly drawn and erratic twit of the group. We need time to mourn? Yeah. That is what people do when they’ve lost loved ones. I feel like they give her lines just so she has something to say, regardless of how it fits with her behavior or character thus far.
But the star of the episode was a guy we barely knew: Jim. Poor Jim. Those who read the comics knew what was coming, though so much has changed that I wasn’t sure they’d keep it. I thought they needed to – no one has been bitten, only slaughtered outright – and the way it was handled was far more poignant than the book. I could appreciate that they hauled him so many miles, and that he finally would beg them to leave him behind. The acting wasn’t super (Jim didn’t seem very sick) but I’ll forgive it because the story managed to avoid getting trite and bogged down with symbolism. The show has taken some really heavy handed ways of saying “It’s important to live!”, so I’m glad it made the statement of “You can also choose how you die” this elegantly. It wasn’t just about Jim not wanting to suffer, it was about not wanting to endanger anyone else, even to the point of taking a gun for a one time use. It’s hard to believe this came from the writing team who had Andrea screaming about wrapping paper. (And just to prove I can admit when I’m wrong — she didn’t use toilet paper to wrap the necklace! Sorry, Andrea! Sorry, writers!)
The CDC scenes were odd and a bit jarring. I almost zipped through because I thought it was a promo for a new AMC show. Personally, I’d have stuck with the survivors all the way to the CDC, and left the audience in suspense as the camera wiggled, Rick screamed, and then the door mysteriously opened. The cold open of the finale could have been the video blog of the CDC’s lone scientist. I will maintain that the major flaw of “The Walking Dead” has been its structure, and that the book was far more organic in propelling people forward, and introducing new characters. As we head into the cliffhanger, I’m concerned as to what corner they may have written themselves into.
I loved the characters chugging along in that increasingly foul motorhome, and think it’s past time for the show to cut the characters loose from cities, disease centers, and civilization. I understand how and why they cling to the mirage of control. But if the show builds too many walls and scenarios of security, it’s going to be hard to plausibly boot them out into the terror and hunger of the open road.