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Fear the Walking Dead came back this week with it’s best episode so far. Damning with faint praise, considering the hit-and-miss nature of the first two episodes, but it continues to show potential. For example, police brutality as a reason for why people aren’t taking the zombie infection seriously is unexpected and clever. With that in mind, I find it problematic that the show continues to kill more minorities than your average US police department.

In addition to the three black guys from the first two episodes, we now have Madison’s Asian neighbour zombified and promptly shot in the head. It’s not that ‘Fear…’ doesn’t kill off white people. The first zombie we see in the show, Gloria, is a young white female and the first ever zombie for whom the fuck, marry, kill game doesn’t have an immediate answer. In ‘The Dog’ we had a white zombie chowing down on the titular canine. Taken in isolation this wouldn’t be so bad, but with The Walking Dead’s history of offing people of colour, it’s not a great start.

More and more characters are also jumping aboard the idiot bus. This week it was the turn of the previously reliable Travis. Considering all he’s seen so far (a zombified Calvin getting run over repeatedly only to get back up, multiple zombies getting shot but only going down with a bullet to the head, the zombie taking a shotgun blast to the face in his living room), his stance on guns is frankly ridiculous. Not only are there riots going on, but there are flesh eating monsters that can’t be reasoned with roaming the streets. Whilst not as mind-numbingly stupid as Lori not wanting Carl to know how to shoot as late as season two of The Walking Dead, it’s a worrying turn for a previously sensible character. Thankfully we now have Daniel Salazar to add to the list of characters with their head screwed on, along with Tobias and Nick of all people.

Madison was also greatly improved from previous episodes. It makes sense for her to be further along in her willingness to kill the undead following her encounter in the previous episode, but she’s still too slow in doing the actual deed. Her hesitation in killing zombies, though understandable, can only go for so much longer and she shouldn’t have allowed herself to be talked down by Travis. I think that in the coming episodes she’s going to wish she’d been more decisive. They might have been able to make a clean getaway from the suburbs and be safe in the desert when things get inevitably worse. Also, nobody gets excited at the prospect of Monopoly, let alone during an apocalypse.

It’s my hope that as the show grows it expand on it’s finer points. The crumbling of society, a closer family dynamic and characters wising up as things quickly go south. As it is, I’m worried there’s not enough to set it apart from it’s parent show and it’s repeating a lot of the same mistakes. Given time I think it can be a worthy addition to the franchise. I just hope it gets that time.

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Unfortunately those tracks turn out to lead to cannibals, but you can’t have everything.


 

I think it’s fair to say that The Walking Dead is a hit and miss show. Apart from a largely excellent first season, each season has had one good half without much to write home about in the other. The first half of season two was a complete mess, the second half excellent. Season three started strong before going off the boil and that trend continued into season four. The two Governor centric episodes aside, season four had a fantastic opening. The plague storyline allowed for Herschel’s character to grow and culminated in his brutal murder at the hands of the Governor. And yet in the latter half of season four the episodes have flip-flopped more than an indecisive trout.

As viewers, we’ve been blessed with fantastic episodes like Claimed and The Grove, but suffered through the unremitting bullshit that was Still, with varying shades of mediocre in-between. It’s perhaps not surprising then that the finale was approached with some trepidation on my part. Not helped at all by the experience of the season three finale, Welcome to the Tombs. Thankfully we were treated to one of the best episodes of the series so far. Easily the best since Clear in season three, maybe even the best since the pilot.

It’s been a long road to travel for the show to get to this point, not least for Rick Grimes who finally seems to be in a place where he can be seen as a competent, decisive leader. From season one he’s had people in the group holding him back. From Lori’s constant hen pecking to Shane’s insubordination to Dale’s naivety. The only person whose caution and gentleness has really aided Rick’s evolution as a leader is Herschel. In showing him he doesn’t have to be a warrior all the time, Rick’s turn from benign to brutal when necessary is all the more notable.

Nowhere is this more evident in the scene near the start of the finale with the showdown with the Marauders, Joe’s pack of wandering hicks and nutcases. I’d argue it’s one of the best scenes the show’s ever done and it shows how Rick has evolved to be a true survivor and one who isn’t to be fucked with. One minute he’s sitting round the campfire with Michonne. The next he’s ripping out a guy’s throat with his teeth and cutting his son’s attempted rapist from balls to brain with a knife and stabbing him 20 times for good measure. It’s a scene that in previous seasons would’ve had Lori whining “she doesn’t know the person she married anymore” or Dale castigating him as a “danger to the group”. Yet the way these characters have developed over the years has hardened them to true steel and any less of a reaction would feel weak and a betrayal of these characters as survivors. And it’s hard to argue that the show is worse for levels of violence these people are capable of.

In stark contrast to the violence of Rick’s group is the cunning trickery of the residents of Terminus. As soon as you see Tasha Yar cooking huge slabs of meat on the barbecue at the end of the previous episode it’s pretty obvious they’re going to be cannibals. Despite what we’ve just seen Rick do, there’s still that line in the sand that you don’t cross. You simply don’t eat people. Daryl may have found the Marauders code rightly stupid, but that’s a rule you can really live by.

What makes this episode stand out amongst other great episodes is the quality of the writing and directing. Showrunner Scott Gimple has been responsible for some of the series’ best episodes (Pretty Much Dead Already, Clear, This Sorrowful Life, The Grove) and combined with Breaking Bad and Game of Thrones alumna Michelle MacLaren you can be sure this won’t be a standard episode. The shot selection is smart, scenes blend together naturally and there’s great foreshadowing with Rick teaching Carl about the snare. MacLaren also gets a great performance out of Chandler Riggs (Carl). Working with child actors is always a risk and we’d not been blessed with great performances from the two girls playing Lizzie and Mika throughout the season. Riggs’ acting could so easily have been a weak spot in this episode if directed by someone else.

For so long what’s held the show back is AMC’s seeming reluctance to splash out on consistently good writers and directors with a proven track record. Look at some of the episodes from this season and their writers and directors. Curtis Gwinn, writer of Dead Weight also wrote for such high quality drama such as NTSF:SD:SUV and Fat Guy Stuck in Internet whilst Julius Ramsay, director for the worst rated episode of the show on IMDB in Still, had never even directed before. It’s ridiculous that for a show with such potential and aspirations and that’s making a ton of money for AMC they aren’t getting in people the likes of HBO take for granted.

Hopefully for season five AMC will let Scott Gimple have much more of a say in the way the show goes and doesn’t leave him hamstrung with financial constraints. I get that they had to deal with one hell of a mess following Glen Mazzara’s stint in charge, but with a whole season of his own there’s no excuses now. They’ve set up something great with Terminus, a strong group of survivors (shit even Tara’s tolerable now she’s stopped with the fistbump nonsense) and a darker direction. If they manage to screw it up from here, they’re in trouble.

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This season of The Walking Dead has been a mixed bag. On the one hand, the first half of the season was dire; slow, meandering and devoid of any threat, both internal and external. However, since its return from the mid-season break, the show has gone back to its season one heyday. The tension that had been slowly building between Rick and Shane this latter half of the season came to a close last week, with Shane attempting to murder Rick two too many times and promptly getting a knife to the gut, only to return as a zombie before getting shot by Carl. 

Now we finally get to return to a zombie threat as the herd, seen at the end of that episode, descends on the farm.

This is easily one of the strongest episodes of the show so far. What makes this episode so good is the fast pace of it. Forty-five minutes flies by and whilst some may have wanted it to be a feature length episode, the fact it’s a standard length ensures we end the season on a high. There’s a good ratio of action to character moments and often to two are combined.

The body count isn’t as high as I was expecting, though. Only two characters bite the bullet and they’re the two lesser-seen members of Herschel’s group. Coming off the back of the deaths of Shane and Dale, seeing these two nobodies get devoured means virtually nothing. Honestly, would the show have been worse off for losing Carol, T-Dog or the blonde girl that tried to commit suicide a couple of weeks back? Hell, seeing as how the show has diverted so much from the comics, maybe even Glenn for a tug at the heartstrings? The Walking Dead’s biggest problem, as I see it, is too many characters. It doesn’t have the acting skills or the writing to carry off a cast this large. With the added characters a new season inevitably brings, some serious pruning will be needed at the start of next season.

Speaking of new characters, it’s fantastic to see Michonne, especially this early. Honestly, she’s one of the best characters in the comics and will bring some much needed level-headedness to the show. I can see her getting on well with Daryl, which should be interesting given that she’s a black woman and we’ll likely see the return of Daryl’s racist brother, Merle.

One thing that struck me as odd was the way Rick decided to inform everyone of him killing Shane. Yelling: “I killed my best friend for you people, for Christ’s sake!” wasn’t one of his brightest moments. It’s hardly going to endear him to the group, even if you do let them know it was self-defense. Thankfully that scene does show that Rick is finally getting to grips with being leader. All throughout the show they’ve looked to him to make decisions. Now he’s making unpopular ones like trying to keep the group together and they don’t like it? Rick’s right when he says it’s not a democracy, not when most of the people in the group are as moronic as they are. Their priority is to survive and splitting up is the surest way of ending up dead. At this point, Rick is the only one I’d trust to make decisions, especially now that Dale is dead and Herschel is content to take a back seat from the decision making.

Ultimately, the episode does precisely what a good season finale should do. Many of the loose ends have been tied up and new plotlines hinted at. It’ll be fantastic to see the Prison next season. It’s easily the best plot line in the comics and with a ton of material. Considering they managed to stretch Herschel’s farm out to a whole season, the Prison could easily be two.

I must confess, after the first few episodes of season two, I was close to giving up on the show. Now I’m disappointed to see it go. Bring on season three!