Wednesday, 24 November 2010

The Watcher - The Walking Dead, series one, episode four

This review is for episode four of The Walking Dead, which doesn't air in the UK till Friday 26th November.
Consider this your only warning!

AMC's The Walking Dead has been an absolute triumph so far.

Great cast, beautiful direction and scripts that - despite the post-apocalyptic setting - sparkle when appropriate and then break your heart. It has been everything I hoped and proves what I have been saying for a long time - TV is a medium that deserves more intelligent drama. Film is still considered the zenith of audio-visual storytelling, but a television series can truly develop characters and plotlines, whereas films are often left just documenting a snapshot of the characters' stories. When TV does this right, it can be incredibly sophisticated and emotionally engaging.

Episode four is the ante penultimate instalment of the first series and the first one written by the comic series creator, Robert Kirkman. By the end of the hour-long, I could see why this is his episode.

In and of itself the episode has some beautiful symmetry, bookended by the two sisters Andrea and Amy. Sometimes, foreshadowing can seem ham-fisted and trite. Here, it just served to emphasise the deeply upsetting events at the end.

The other triumph in this episode is Merle. Michael Rooker's incredible performances in the last two episodes means that he can basically sit this one out; yet Merle still looms large over proceedings. I can't help but believe that the horror at the camp at the end was wrought by Merle in a twisted act of revenge. I guess we'll have to wait and see.

If I have any criticisms, I have to say I am unsettled by the slightly cheesy idea that Jim has prophetic dreams. Still, I happy to see how this unfolds as dreaming has a fine tradition in good horror stories.

In fact, my main criticism is of the sub-plot about the gang defending the old folks' home. I actually liked it, but it seemed a little out of place and I would understand if others found it somewhat ridiculous. The idea of these guys defending the elderly makes complete sense to me, especially when you consider the cultural background these people come from, but the early tough guy stand off is at odds with their later, friendlier attitude. Again, I can understand them wanting to show teeth and make the other side back down, but threatening to toss Glenn off the top of the building seems brutally cavalier considering they are basically decent people.

Thankfully, the cast have already gelled enough to sell me this whole incident. Lincoln and co. make a compelling little unit. Jon Bernthal has also brought a compelling Shane to our screens - breathing multiple dimensions into a character I almost instantly loathed in the comics.

Even though I knew some of the characters were likely to have only a limited run on the show, I was surprised how much I have warmed to most of them (not you Ed, you creepy wife-beater - don't think I didn't miss the implication that you have other sick tastes too, good riddance). So when Kirkman began his now legendary brand of zombie justice, I genuinely felt stunned. Not even Joss Whedon is that brutal.

And Greg Nicotero's zombie effects get better and better. Wow.

Episode four. One hell of an ending.

Ben Fardon has renewed hopes the HBO decides to make a Preacher TV series. And if they don't, maybe AMC would like a sister show for The Walking Dead...

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