Monday, October 29, 2012

The First Walk With THE WALKING DEAD's Governor A Snipe Hunt

In a way, THE WALKING DEAD has it pretty easy these days, when it comes to critical evaluations. Insofar as viewer expectations are concerned, the breathtaking idiocy and awfulness that, in season 2, became its standard succeeded in setting the bar so low that anything that isn't just as breathtakingly awful and idiotic can't help but seem a significant improvement.

Such is the case with this week's installment, "Walk With Me," which takes a break from the main group of characters and follows, instead, Andrea and Michonne as they encounter the barricaded town of Woodbury and its secretly villainous Governor. The ep will, I imagine, take a few hits for its glacial pace. I've never been particularly bothered by this aspect of the TWD that devolved last season, except when it's just being used to eat up screen-time. There was some of that tonight--it's maybe a 28-minute plot being stretched to cover a 42-minute episode, but that's actually pretty good by TWD standards. More significantly, the ep dispenses with the most extreme elements of soap melodrama, even more so than did the 3rd season debut. The creators clearly still view the series through that lens, and while that remains the case, TWD will never be mistaken for a high-quality production by anyone qualified to render the judgment, but dialing back the soap to any noticeable extent will always feel like a big step up--its absence doesn't even have to be filled with anything particularly interesting.

And in this case, it isn't. This particular storyline and its central antagonist are both drawn from the TWD comic, but, as with much of what the series takes from its source material, noting this unfairly sleights the book. The comic is, among other things, an open-ended study of how the end of the world affects those who survive it. Our heroes struggle to hold on to the important parts of their humanity in a world were such things feel, increasingly, like burdensome baggage. As one would expect, those they encounter tend to be deeply damaged in various ways. When it comes to adapting this, the series got off on a very wrong foot right out of the gate, when, in season 1, the street hoodlums in "Vatos"--the first survivors they'd encountered--turned out to be kindly young fellows guarding a nursing-home full of old people. The rest of that particular episode is one of the best-written of the series, and one of the only ones that feels like the comic, but the note that particular twist struck was so fundamentally wrong that the ep is often regarded as one of the worst of the first season (and the series itself). The Governor is the comic's greatest villain, a sadistic maniac who learned it's good to be the king. Upon the end of the world, he devolved into barbarism most excessive, an example of how far people can fall, and a contrast with our heroes. The series, perpetually aimed at a milquetoast, white-bred, middle-class, middle America audience, has always soft-pedaled (or eliminated) the horror elements of the book, and its creators certainly have no intention of ever offering any glimpses into an abyss as black as that. David Morrissey would be as miscast playing anything resembling the comic Governor as was John Wayne playing Genghis Khan. In "Walk With Me," he does his best impression of Liam Neeson playing an American southerner, as he goes through the paces of the kinder, gentler, English-er Governor-In-Name-Only the series' writers have concocted--a standard b-movie villain part with no thematic point, and, in fact, nothing to distinguish it from any other b-movie villain part. GINO is the benevolent ruler in public, while being villainous outside the sight of the general population of Woodbury.

Andrea takes another beating at the hands of TWD's notoriously misogynistic writers, almost immediately falling for GINO's corny public-face bullshit and seeming to fall, to some extent, for him, as well. It's up to Michonne to be skeptical of GINO and his little paradise, but instead of writing her as wisely so, she's being written only as an Angry Black Woman caricature, pissed off, cynical and disapproving of everything without apparent reason--her part leaves the viewer with the impression she'd react exactly the same way to anyone. Shorn of her sword, she wields at the world her one facial expression: a perpetually sour look. As a character, she doesn't yet exist, and rather than developing her and using her (and Andrea) as our eyes into the world of Woodbury, the writers leave her at the caricature, and break off to follow the Governor and his henchmen for long stretches. Her relationship with Andrea is yet another casualty of the creators' decision to skip so much time between season 2 and 3. She and Andrea have been together and surviving the zombie badlands for more than 8 months, but are written as basically strangers, with no rapport and no apparent understanding of or trust in one another. When, last season, Andrea was written as in thrall to Shane, another homicidal maniac, Dale tried to warn her; he genuinely cared for her and was trying to look out for her, and she was contemptuous of him for it, and treated him as if she could barely tolerate him. Now, she's under the spell of yet another homicidal maniac, and, again, the pattern repeats; she's giving grief to the woman who saved her and has looked out for her for more than 8 months, merely because that woman is not immediately willing to jump on GINO's bandwagon (or his bones).

Michael Rooker returned, tonight, as Merle, Daryl's scumbag brother. He's with the Woodbury gang now, having survived the self-amputation of his hand, and I'd be lying if I said he wasn't a sight for my own rather sore eyes. Merle has proven very popular among the TWD fan-base, but one suspects its really Rooker who is the draw in the equation. That's certainly the case with me. I was a Rooker fan for a long time before TWD came along. But it's also true (and rather unexpected) that, watching him tonight (and his scenes are easily the highlight of this ep), his character feels like a reminder of a time when the show wasn't the godawful mess it later became, a time when it still had all the potential in the world.

Beyond Rooker, "Walk With Me" is pretty uninteresting. It wasn't, however, actively godawful. It's unfortunate that this, alone, can make it better than most of the rest of the series.



NOTE: This ep was also astonishingly poorly directed. Andrea and Michonne, near the beginning, were able to "hide" from GINO and his men, though in plain sight of them, behind a pathetically thin bush or two--Michonne was even able to stand up, openly, and behead her two pet zombies with her sword (who were also standing in the open) without anyone seeing (the zombies had drawn attention by becoming riled up by the sight of GINO and his men, which is in direct contradiction to what GINO's "scientist" says later in the ep--that zombies like them who have had their means to attack people removed lose the desire to attack them). Later, GINO and a handful of his men are able to creep up on and massacre a National Guard unit that outnumbered them and was waiting in a more-or-less open area in zombie country, apparently without having a single look-out posted. There was no firefight, as directed--the Guardsmen just stood around and let themselves be killed by a force they outnumbered.

[Cross-posted to my comics blog]


  1. smells alot like pretentiousness and boring in here

  2. Talk about screenwriting. You spend all of your time talking about boring melodrama from TWD, when what really happened is that you wrote an article that exemplifies what you accuse TWD of being. Maybe next time, leave out all of the boring parts. I.e. All of it.

  3. You pretty much hit every nail on the head this episode. I've stuck with the show this long just to gush at the great zombie/gore effects by Nicotero and his team every episode. The bad writing and directing is just comedic at this point. Looking forward to your next review.