Sunday, August 31, 2014

It's WALKING DEAD Time Yet Again

One of the most popular items on this blog is a piece I wrote nearly 2 1/2 years ago regarding timeline issues with THE WALKING DEAD. It ended up being updated so much that the appended material was significantly longer than the initial article, and TWD's continued problems in this vein eventually spawned a sequel. Since TWD's sophomore year, a new season has always been accompanied by the release of a series of webisodes, and season 4, concluded earlier this year, offered up a three-parter entitled "The Oath" which touches on some of the timeline issues I outlined in those previous articles. It must be acknowledged, of course, that webisodes are generally not considered canonical, which may render this a pointless exercise, but an ongoing discussion over on the "Walking Dead" board at the Internet Movie Database has conspired with a rather slow Sunday afternoon and a shortage of content for the blog of late to entice me to hash out the matter here.

In the "Walking Dead" comic, Rick, after being shot, was in a coma for about four weeks. Frank Darabont's TWD pilot film virtually replicates the first few issues of the comic--it's about as close an adaptation as one ever sees--and when it was written, this is probably the amount of time the creators had in mind for how long Rick spent in a coma. As covered in my original article, both Glen Mazzara, the TV showrunner for season 2 and 3, and Robert Kirkman, creator of the comic and listed as an "executive producer" of the series, said Rick's coma had lasted "3-4 weeks."

Here's where things get tricky.

In the comic, Lori, Carl and Shane packed up and left for Atlanta about a week or so before the hospital fell. When creating the TV pilot, it was probably Darabont's original intention to replicate this. The pilot suggests the survivors in the camp outside Atlanta where Lori and co. landed have been there for a while. There's a scene in which Lori says "I've been saying for a week we ought to put up signs" on the freeways going into the city to warn people. Even allowing for some hyperbole, that does imply they've been at the camp something near a week or more, at least. The series has also repeatedly implied the Lori/Shane affair, which only began after Lori believed Rick had died, had been going on for at least a while, not just some quick thing of a day or two.

And all of this would have worked if they had left for Atlanta a week or so before the hospital fell, but the writers then came along and created a flashback scene in the 6th episode that placed Shane at the hospital at the very moment it was being overrun. It is, of course, impossible that Rick slept in an untended coma for a week or more after this. He was in a sealed room without air-conditioning in the midst of the Georgia Summer--he'd be dead from loss of liquid in 2 or 3 days and virtually unable to move from same before that. There's no more room in the timeline. Rick had to awaken within a few hours of the hospital's fall, a day at the absolute most. He went home, met and spent the night with Morgan, then went to Atlanta the next day and was reunited with his family.

And there are other problems. The series establishes that the entire zombie apocalypse has happened while Rick was asleep. He knows nothing of it. Morgan has to walk him through what's happened. So when did it start? The clues have been all over the board. Rick is, as noted, supposed to have been in his coma for 3-4 weeks, but Morgan tells Rick "[The] gas line's been down for maybe a month," implying the zombie problem had been going on longer than that.[1] Three days after Rick awakens, the scientist Jenner at the CDC records a video log stating it had been 6 1/2 months since zombie-ism had appeared and been identified and 63 days since it went global. Seven days after Rick awakens--5 weeks, at the most, since he was shot--he and the other survivors encounter a traffic snarl made up of cars full of mummified corpses, dried up husks that would have required months to degrade to such a state. And so on. Nothing can be made to match anything else.

These problems have been outlined, argued over, wrung out at great length across the internet. I've written about them for years, and my own observations have traveled far and wide. Having far too much time on my hands a few years ago, I fought a series of pitched battles over them with TWD apologists, battles that became legendary. As "legendary" as something can get on the IMDb's "Walking Dead" board anyway.

My most persistent critic--or, more to the point, TWD's most uncritical apologist--was, throughout those little wars, perpetually pestering me with the notion that Rick could have had a "mystery caretaker" at the hospital who looked over him after the facility fell. The source of this moronic midrash was, of course, my opponent's own ass. Nothing in the series even suggested it--it was merely his means of trying to get TWD out of the mess its writers had made of it. And while I joke about the "legendary" status achieved by our battles, it seems someone beyond the regular gang of nuts at IMDb may have been paying some attention. In my view, TWD's creators now owe my prolific foe a royalty--"The Oath" webisodes are built around his idea. They tell the story of a lone lady doctor (Gale Macones) who remained at her post at Rick's hospital after its fall. She tells another character it has "been a few months" since the facility was overrun. The implication is that she cared for Rick and therefore a long period elapsed between the fall of the hospital and Rick's awakening. We know Rick comes around after the events in "The Oath" because its last installment provides the origin of the warning-sign painted on the doors of the hospital cafeteria, one of the first things Rick sees after he awakens.

If this is to be accepted as canonical, it only creates more problems.

We know Rick was in the hospital for some time before it was overrun. Shane brought him flowers at some point. In the flashback wherein Shane tries to remove him, still comatose, from the facility, he's sporting maybe 2 weeks growth of beard. While the hospital was fully operational, Rick would have been regularly shaved; the beard growth implies the increasing chaos of the zombie uprising has led to some neglect when it comes to such non-essentials.[2] When he awakens, though, he's sporting the same growth of beard. Acknowledging the absolute impossibility of Rick remaining in a coma absent food and water for anywhere near long enough to grow that much beard, are we to accept that he'd remained in a coma for months under Dr. Macones' care and that she'd been regularly shaving him for all that time but had inexplicably stopped doing so about two weeks prior to his awakening while continuing to otherwise care for him so that, by some mad coincidence, he could grow exactly the same length of beard for his awakening that he had when the hospital was overrun?

The idea is as bad as that sentence.[3]

It is, of course, entirely impossible that Rick had been in a coma for "a few months," as Dr. Macones would have it (and that's "a few months" plus however long he was there before the hospital fell). The idea he would have been in a coma for more than 6 1/2 months, as Jenner would have it, is a non-starter. Apologists for the series have, based on nothing, suggested zombie-ism could have somehow been kept secret after it first appeared, only becoming known to most of the world when it "went global," as Jenner put it, but that strains credulity beyond all reason, and when it comes to Rick, even a coma of 2+ months post-"global" is entirely out of the question. Dr. Macones' "a few months" implies three or more, and is, likewise, impossible. When Rick awakened, his wound was still open and his bandage "rank" (Morgan's description). He had to continue to keep it covered right into season 2. This suggests he'd been asleep for less than 2 weeks. Had he been out for four, the wound would have been closed and mostly healed, as it was in the comic, so even buying the 3-4 week coma requires viewers to grant some major leeway. If he'd been asleep for over 2 months, the wound would be closed, healed and not even a factor. And it wouldn't need to be because after 2 months, Rick would have been a dried-up stick, showing massive weight-loss, sores, and he would have been unable to even get out of bed on his own, much less walk and perform so complex a physical task as riding a bicycle (which he does in the pilot). Rick's condition when he awakens absolutely precludes a total hospital stay of any more than a few weeks.

The first rule of holes is that, when stuck in one, stop digging. It's a rule the creators of TWD should, at some point, start to heed.



[1] If it was Darabont's intention to have Rick's coma be about four weeks, as in the comic, it's possible this was lost in the scripting shuffle at some point, as has often happened with TWD.

[2] When, in "18 Miles Out," Shane explains how the zombie outbreak began, he says it happened, from the first stories in the press to a dire situation, in about 2 weeks, which suits that 2 weeks of beard just fine. And entirely coincidentally.

[3] When Rick awakened in the pilot, there was a gurney against the door of his room. The season 1 flashback shows Shane putting it there, so apparently Dr. Macones also made a regular (and utterly inexplicable) practice of removing then replacing it too.