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But That’s Not the Way it Happened! – The Walking Dead “Guts”
If you’re an avid reader of Robert Kirkman’s “The Walking Dead” series, I imagine you sang a similar refrain for the entire hour of episode 2, “Guts.” Depending on your level of fandom and your need for page-to-screen literalism, you said it with varying degrees of curiosity, enthusiasm, or anger. Hold on! But that’s not the way it happened!
If you’ve never picked up an issue, you were just fine. And hey, now we’re members of the same club! We’re all in uncharted territory now, and it feels all right. Well, for now. I’m a big believer in a show or movie abandoning the elements of a source that won’t translate to screen. As someone who generally knows too much going in, I like when those deviations keep me guessing. I also love when a good director or screenwriter discovers a new and personal twist on a story. But there’s a fine line between “changing for the better” and “changing for no good reason” and I’m utterly torn on where “Dead” falls. It’s right between the two. I love that I don’t know what’s around the corner, I love that Darabont is giving it his spin, but I’m gnashing my teeth changes that feel rudimentary and silly.
As I said last week, I’ve only just finished the series, so I can’t pretend to have a lot of investment in seeing it exactly as it was written. I’d heard “Dead” deviated sharply from the source by hour two, and I wasn’t entirely surprised. I was pleased, actually. A lot happens in those first few issues. Too much, perhaps, especially on the emotional end. It’s not surprising that anyone adapting it for film or television would strive to keep Rick from his family a little longer in order to spin out the tension and the emotional drama. Frankly, I thought Rick had found them too soon and too easily, but I loved that we learned of Lori and Carl at the same time he did.
I thought Frank Darabont would throw lots of peril in Rick’s path, but that he would keep the same frame. I was really looking forward to that. But that’s not what we’ve gotten so far. We already know something Rick doesn’t: Lori and Carl are alive. We met them in episode one which killed the surprise a bit, but made for a touching scene as we heard Rick’s voice bouncing around their camp. So close! So far away!
But we also know the wife he’s trying so hard to get back to just happens to be hot and heavy with his best friend, Shane. For “Dead” fans, this lusty revelation undoubtedly provoked a lot of “But it didn’t happen! Not like that!” I know it did for me, and I struggled to defend Kirkman’s Lori to the two newbies I was watching it with. They immediately hate Lori — and so do I! I liked the Grimes’ happy family unit, and it’s going to be hard for me to root for Lori at all. I understood the “mistake” in the book. I appreciated it. I don’t like it here. Wrecking their marriage is a rough and cheap place for this show to go, especially when you’re going to have to really feel something for everyone involved. Considering what all happens to the Grimes (and who knows how far the show will go?), it’s going to be hard not to feel anything but revulsion for Lori. There better be one sweet reunion, or a split-and-make-up that makes it feel genuine, regretful, and real. Right now, Lori’s affair feels like a decision to be punished for instead of a sad mistake, and it’s going to be hard to pull back from that. (Maybe my thin skin for cheaters – even in a time of apocalypse! – is showing.)
“Guts” also threw in a lot of new faces and awkward moments. Instead of Glenn and Rick having a frantic race through Atlanta, it was Glenn and a bunch of other people. I suspect some of these people are Red Shirts, the better to be munched, but who knows? None of it gelled very well, and their dialogue (particularly the stuff with the racist Dixon) felt like an excuse for Darabont to stress that this wouldn’t be a zombie show, but a story about how the real horror is how the survivors will deal with one another. Kirkman got to this point nice and gradually. Darabont did too, with “The Mist.” But television is now hell bent on racing through the checkpoints, and this felt like a really unnecessary setup, especially after the breathless and terrifying moments of last week.
Maybe I’m just being a gripe, because the “smear ourselves with zombie guts” scene was ten times nastier than I could have imagined it, and it worked beautifully here. Rick has to emerge as the leader, and this was a good way for him to take initiative, and prove he’s a quick thinker in this crazy world. I’m not sure how he hasn’t collapsed from exhaustion at this point, but adrenaline will do that to you. His evacuation-by-car plan was also pretty damn awesome. If “Guts” felt paused for ¾ of the show, it woke up here, and showed that it wasn’t afraid to mix up the action beyond pointing-and-shooting the zombie hoards.
And forget Lori and Shane, or clunky exposition around racists and unity. The final shot of Glenn racing though the empty highways of Atlanta, cheering in a stolen sports car, underlined just how glorious it is to be alive. It isn’t enough to survive the apocalypse. You have to live. You have to take that mermaid necklace or that joyride or it’s all pointless. “Guts” took some time to remind us of that, and it will make the jumps and bloodsplatter that much more effective.