Monday, October 28, 2013

WALKING DEAD: An Episode In "Isolation"?

I suppose what I have to say about tonight's episode of THE WALKING DEAD will please those who have suggested I've been going soft on the series this season. When it comes to television, I don't demand anything be perfect. The good stuff in a series should, however, significantly outweigh the bad. So far this season, we've had two solid episodes, and by that standard the second was among the best TWD has ever offered. I've praised them accordingly. But tonight saw the series fall back into some of the very bad habits of the Mazzara era. This made watching the episode a chore, and I found the development very disappointing.

The virtual trademark of TWD's writing during the Mazzara regime was laziness and stupidity. When the Mazzara writers' room was at "work," it would craft a single episode worth of plot then use it to fill 4 or 5 episodes of the series, stretching the material to the point that all but a few minutes of every episodes was simply made up of filler and virtually nothing was happening. This process helped cretinize the already-idiotic writing, as the characters had to be made to spend most of their time sitting around with thumbs lodged in orifices, ignoring the obvious or otherwise delaying the taking of whatever action was needed. After two episodes that, for the first time since season 1, had each featured a full episode worth of plot, the Gimple Gang, which had been doing so well until now, slammed on the brakes, and we got another underwritten thumbs-up-asses episode.

Last week, zombies very nearly toppled the fence around the prison, an as-yet-unidentified murderer went to work inside it, and a virus began to spread among the survivors housed there. In a competently written TWD, addressing these matters would be an immediate priority. The survivors need meds to treat the illness and Hershel knows of a facility that may well have them and may not have been looted, but it's 50 miles away. It's refreshing to see a trip of this distance once again discussed as a dangerous one (and a sharp reversal of Rick's season 3 trip across half the state of Georgia to loot guns he'd already looted). Danger or no, the meds are must-have , and with a large and growing number getting sick and dying, our heroes prep for the mission. Then they stand around and talk. Then they stand around and talk some more. Soon, the mission that should have been the central focus of this episode is shoved aside by a lot of dicking around, any sense of urgency about it having disappeared, and for no other reason than the writers' desire to end the episode on a particular cliffhanger they only get their show on the road in the last few minutes.

There is, in the meantime, a nice little minor episode with Hershel and Carl wandering in the wilderness outside the prison in search of herbs,[1] but most of the rest of what happens is just filler. The sick need water, the pump that brings it from the creek into the prison is clogged with mud, and Rick refuses to help Carol go out to the creek and unstop it. He says they can do it "tomorrow," as if the sick won't need water. Actually, he says that solely to provide a pretext for her going out and doing it herself, so she can nearly get eaten and have to be rescued. The failure to reinforce the outer fence or otherwise do something to strengthen the prison's defenses after last week's zombie attack would be excusable, as there really isn't the manpower for it at the moment, but when Carol gets in her jam and Rick comes to her rescue, he slips right through two holes cut in both fences! These would seem to be the holes our heroes cut in order to gain access to the prison last season. For the sake of that moment, they're still there, and have never been properly buttoned up. And when Rick and Carol duck back inside the fence with half-a-dozen or more zombies hot on their heels, they stand within it, exchange a few words, then walk off with the big, person-sized gap to the outside still visible!

The bad, anti-naturalistic melodrama of the Mazzara era reared its ugly head several times tonight. Characters behaving in totally irrational ways, actors going way-over-the-top in spouting awful dialogue. Tyreese and Rick getting in not one but two pointlessly ugly face-downs.[2] Hershel making a grand, extended speech before going in to treat the ill.[3] The sudden return of this sort of shit is most unwelcome.

The writer-of-record on this unfortunate episode is none other than TWD creator Robert Kirkman. As with most of the eps with which he's been so far credited, this one shows virtually no trace of his influence. Something else to ponder.

I certainly hope my enthusiasm for this season of TWD hasn't been misplaced. The title of tonight's episode is "Isolation," and I hope that's all this ep turns out to be--an isolated regression never to be repeated.



[1] The straightforward revelation at the end that it was Carol who killed and torched David and Karen was the ep's only other nice touch.

[2] Throughout the evening's proceedings, Tyreese was reduced to a particularly ugly Angry Black Man caricature, which is particularly shameful. The ep follows the caricature to such a slavish extent that Tyreese even identifies Rick as a cop before going off on him--the Man isn't addressing the needs of the ABM. Tyreese's rage is irrational; he physically attacks people for no real reason, then later jumps down Rick's throat again for inaction because, in the few minutes since the murders were discovered and with everything else going on, Rick hasn't yet solved the crime.

[3] And when it comes to stupid, the rescue team at the end run into the midst of the biggest herd of zombies we've ever seen because Daryl, who is driving and at a high speed, picks up a radio transmission and is playing with the radio instead of watching where he's going. His excitement over hearing a voice is understandable, but it's another example of Mazzara-era plotting--a significant event in the plot being premised on someone behaving like a complete idiot.

Monday, October 21, 2013

WALKING DEAD's Gimple Gang Has "Infected" The Show With Quality

And it turns out last week's complete reinvention of THE WALKING DEAD--outright revolutionary when placed next to the last two seasons--wasn't just a fluke. It does, indeed, seem to be a new direction, and I'm rather pleased about it. This week's installment, "Infected," was a real test. Angela Kang, who drew the writing chores, is the writer-of-record of some extremely unfortunate past episodes, and of no good ones. She seemed to be one to whom prior showrunner Glen Mazzara turned when there was an inane filler episode on the docket. I don't know if Kang's stunningly bad previous episodes merely reflected the poisonous influence of Mazzara or if new showrunner Scott Gimple is exercising a heavy hand or if she's just coming into her own on TWD, but whatever it is, this was a very good episode, and she and the rest of the Gimple Gang have earned some applause.

Though TWD is supposed to be "an ongoing tale of survival horror," Mazzara's TWD shied away from--and, for long periods, banished entirely--the horror elements, and, as I've often complained, actively demonized survivalist concerns, putting them in contexts intended to make them seem inappropriate or wrong. Gimple's TWD continues to right the ship tonight, throwing in some horror-flick suspense right in the cold opening. The tale that follows establishes an atmosphere of menace within an increasingly claustrophobic space, as the hungry dead appear inside the prison walls, relentlessly besiege it from without,[1] and a mysterious killer virus comes to light, one capable of rapidly striking down the healthy and leaving them a flesh-eating menace to their former comrades. And there's a human enemy within the prison, too, maybe more than one. Someone feeding rats to the dead and drawing them to the gates in vast and dangerous numbers--possibly a demented child who has developed an affinity for the ghouls--and there's a killer who murdered and burned two people.

The Gimple Gang's take on survivalist sentiment again offered up a scenario that seemed blatantly intended to flip the finger at Mazzara's TWD. Last season, Carl had become a get-things-down kid, hardened to the realities of the now-zombified world. This came to a head in the season 3 ender, of which I wrote at the time:

"The episode did feature one really striking moment that hit at the heart of one of TWD's many shortcomings. During the prison attack, Carl guns down a surrendering Woodburian. Rick confronts him about this, and Carl thoroughly dresses down his father, noting that their failure to deal with potential threats in a responsible manner is what results in their people being killed over and over again. He failed to kill the walker that killed Dale; Rick failed to kill Andrew, which resulted in Lori and T-Dog dying; Rick didn't shoot GINO when he had the chance, resulting in the attack that had just happened. And so on. At someone finally speaking this hard, frank, nowhere-to-run-or-hide truth, this viewer and vociferous critic of the series felt like cheering. Even more so when Rick looked as if he'd been slapped, then took on the countenance of a rapidly deflating balloon. Unfortunately, TWD has never had the stomach for this kind of matter-of-fact sentiment, and Mazzara, its now-fired showrunner and the writer of record on this episode, double-stacked the deck against Carl's brutally frank words by having the incident that led to it be Carl shooting a surrendering teenager, then, in the end, having Rick take in the remaining Woodburians, mostly kids and old people (nothing wrong with that, in and of itself, but it was presented as a direct and total repudiation of what Carl had said)."

Last week, Carl seemed to have been suddenly radically devolved from this characterization (one of my only big reservations about the ep), but tonight it was revealed that Rick, in reaction against what Carl was becoming, has infantilized his son, taking away his guns and keeping him out of action, reading comics and farming. Michonne asks him why he doesn't wear his hat anymore. "It's not a farming hat." Carl still feels the call, though. TWD's newfound "show, don't tell" philosophy puts it on his face and in his mannerisms. It turns out Rick has put Carl under a great deal of pressure not to be the person he'd become; to just be a kid again. Tonight, he uses a gun to save Michonne from zombies, and his initial reaction is to profusely apologize to his father. Last week, he observed Carol teaching the young children about the use of bladed weapons. Season 3 Carl would have approved, but kiddified Carl seemed shocked, and Carol was afraid he'd tell Rick, and that Rick would put a stop to it. The suggestion that she was doing something entirely inappropriate felt very much like Mazzara's TWD. As it turns out, the Gimple Gang seems to have set this up only to once again repudiate one of the cornerstone's of that unfortunate era. Rick had given up his own gun for a while and taken a break from the action. When Carl tells him of the knife training, Carl argues it should be allowed to continue. The episode's events having convinced Rick it was time to take up his own gun again, he agrees, opens his toolbox, hands a pistol to the boy and straps on his own.

Perhaps an even more vivid illustration is found in Carol's interaction with two girls who, in the course of the episode, lose their father. The man dies, the victim of zombie bites, leaving his children in her charge. His body has to be brain-staked before he returns. The girls think they should be the ones to do it. The first is too horrified by the idea, but the other thinks she can. At the moment of truth, though, she gets cold feet, and Carol takes care of it. A little later, Carol scolds the grieving child for being weak, telling her that kind of weakness can get her killed.

Definitely not your Mazzara's TWD.

And it only gets better, because it turns out the girl isn't just mourning her father; she's mourning zombies! Last week's ep had established that she didn't think the dead to be monsters, just "different." She'd named one, and seemed to regard him as a pet.[2] Now, he's been killed, and she's heartbroken. Her sister tells Carol the girl isn't weak; she's twisted. Which is wonderfully twisted.

The treasures in tonight's ep are many--Michonne's remembrance of a lost child, an exciting, well-played action sequence at the prison fence, an effects sequence--a zombie with its guts pouring out as it sits up--done as an homage to DAY OF THE DEAD (on which TWD's make-up wiz Greg Nicotero worked). The Gimple Gang's TWD isn't just repudiating the last two seasons and putting the series back on course;[3] the rich, multi-layered storytelling and psychological depth they're bringing to the project has never been present in the television incarnation of TWD, not even in its season 1 prime.[4] I can't help but be cautious in my optimism when dealing with this particular subject, but I think we may be seeing the beginning of a new TWD prime. For the second time in as many eps, I find myself looking forward to next week's installment.



[1] In Mazzara's TWD, the dead were virtually written out of the series in season 2, then mostly treated as background noise in season 3. Here, they're returned to their proper station, the ferocious and extremely dangerous monsters who have overrun humanity.

[2] This can be read, if one is so inclined, as a bit of metatextual satire on the Mazzara TWD's treatment of the dead (see footnote #1).

[3] An element of the last two eps that, in the larger context of TWD, is remarkable in and of itself is that they each featured a full episode worth of plot. Tonight's ep was packed to the gills--not a moment wasted. This, too, overturns the Mazzara-era TWD's practice of writing a single ep worth of plot and stretching it to fill several eps, with most of the running-time devoted to pointless filler.

[4] The kind of storytelling one finds in the comic, which Gimple, unlike Mazzara, seems to respect.

A personal note: I had a really, really bad day today, so bad I'm foolishly allowing it to imperil my health, and TWD offered some little bit of relief. I always appreciate solid work, and I was grateful to have my mind taken off my troubles for a while.

Friday, October 18, 2013

Ed Lauter has died

Ed Lauter has died, a victim of mesothelioma at the age of 74. The Associated Press article announcing his death refers to him as "character actor Ed Lauter," but that seems rather inadequate. Lauter is one of those guys everyone of a certain age who ever watched movies or television on a regular basis would recognize immediately--over 200 parts in movies and tv in a career spanning 42 years. He had a distinct look, a distinct voice, a strong presence, and he was damn good at what he did. He could play just about anything. To me, he's Claremont in BREAKHEART PASS and a killer of John F. Kennedy in EXECUTIVE ACTION and dour Captain Knauer in THE LONGEST YARD and the demented Hazel in DEATH HUNT and Captain John Sebastian Cain on SHERIFF LOBO, and the cop who blackmails Bronson in DEATH WISH III, and a million other parts great and small in pictures great and small. One night about a year and a half ago, I caught a flick he'd recently made called THE FRANKENSTEIN SYNDROME (also known as THE PROMETHEUS PROJECT). Though he'd worked steadily, even relentlessly, in the years leading up to it, it was the first new thing in which I'd seen him in a few years, and though his part was relatively small, I was sufficiently delighted to see him again that I started a nostalgic article about his career for this blog. Never finished it, though, which is probably just as well, as I wasn't really up to doing it justice at the time. For a cinephile like myself, there's a sort of bond with fellows like Ed. He's someone I've watched and enjoyed literally all my life, and in a medium that means so much to me he's so familiar he feels almost like a friend. Though I never even met him, it's not an entirely impersonal melancholy that accompanies news of his death.

He goes on, though. The AP reports that, ever the workhorse, Ed had finished several films that haven't yet been released, so though he's gone, we haven't yet seen the last of him. We probably never will, either. As with everyone who makes a mark on the medium to which Ed devoted his career, part of him--the part all of us knew--will live on. When it's an Ed Lauter, that's just fine by me.


Monday, October 14, 2013

WALKING DEAD: 30 Articles Without A Break

Tonight's season 4 premiere of THE WALKING DEAD was entitled "30 Days Without An Accident," and by coincidence, this also marks 30 TWD articles I've blogged here--at least one on every episode since the middle of season 2--and even that's just a fraction of my total work on TWD. A lot more of it has been scattered across message boards here and there, particularly on the Internet Movie Database. There may even be a new TWD project on the horizon for me (still too early to say on that one). The articles have proven incredibly popular, which is why the possible new project. They're also incredibly trying at times. Way back toward the end of season 2, I'd started to feel as if I'd said all I had to say about Glen Mazzara's awful version of the series. Worse, I came to be plagued by the thought that I may have even said everything in my original article, and the ones that followed had merely been appendices that unnecessarily expanded on the issues I'd raised in it. I had, I felt, fallen into a pattern of repeating myself. This repetition mirrored the events on TWD itself, and as season 3 proceeded and I was looking for new approaches to covering it, I began to play with even that, sometimes repetitiously offering up the same points I'd made in the past in a deliberate mockery of TWD's writing. If anyone ever caught on to it, they never said. Collectively, I've done more work on TWD than any of the series' writers did in that same period, and put a lot more thought into it as well. I seem to have given voice to some widespread discontent with TWD--demand for the mostly-critical things I have to say about it has always been strong, and hopefully that's not just a reflection of the kind of knee-jerk backlash one sees against anything that becomes popular. Somewhere along the line I realized I was like the central character in Stephen King's novel "Misery." Not trapped by a monstrous, dangerously obsessive fan, but trapped with a subject I'd come to hate.

I started writing about TWD during a very difficult time in my life, the aftermath of a full-blown personal cataclysm of which I'm still feeling the effects (and probably always will). It was the first thing about which I was able to substantially write after a period when I didn't even know if I had anything in me anymore. At times, I was a bit ashamed that I was writing so much about it while all manner of good and great movies and television series came and went with barely a mention here. I stayed with it long after I would have left it because I have a friend who loves it but has no other means of seeing it. He's a good friend; he's helped me out a lot over the years. Subjecting myself to TWD is a very small price to pay for the enjoyment he derives from it. Then my parents started watching it, and, again, I'm their only means of seeing it. If I have to see it and feel so terribly displeased with it, went my thinking, I'm damn well going to write about it. Part of writing about it also became an exercise in discipline--I made myself do it no matter how I felt, because I had a need to know I still could. Part of me has always hoped the noxious blend of incompetence and indifference that had made TWD such an utterly miserable experience would finally play itself out and something better would emerge. Maybe something that even lived up to the promise shown by the series in its earliest days.

And maybe this has just happened.

The suits at AMC have earned a very bad reputation for their treatment of those behind their original series, but it was impossible to view with anything but glee their firing of Glen Mazzara from his post as TWD's showrunner. Stated bluntly, Mazzara had been a pestilence on the series, utterly contemptuous of all of its central premises, a devout acolyte of the worst breed of soap melodrama, and a painfully incompetent and lazy storyteller. TWD couldn't have gotten any worse than under his reign, and his departure meant there was finally a chance for it to get better. With "30 Days Wthout An Accident," we got the first look at Gimple's TWD. It's still too soon to make any overly sweeping pronouncements, but if tonight's ep is any indication, this year may see the rebirth of TWD.

The episode was, on its own, no classic, to be sure, and not without problems--Carl's time on screen is mostly unfortunate--but it was such a departure from what we've been getting from TWD for the last two seasons that it was virtually revolutionary. The first rule of screenwriting is "show, don't tell." It's also the first rule Mazzara's TWD flushed. Thankfully, Gimple, who also wrote tonight's ep, embraces it. One of the smaller but remarkable moments tonight involved a new character on a supply run who walks by a shelf filled with liquor and suddenly becomes quite conflicted about being there with it. There's no dialogue. It's all conveyed physically. Another good little moment was the pre-credit opening with Rick listening to some down-home gospel[1] while tending a field. Having unearthed an inexplicably buried pistol, he pauses for a second, takes out one of his earphones, and the piteous cries of the undead, kept at bay by the nearby fence, rise to drown out the music. Rick is somewhat taken aback by their volume, offers a glance their way and quickly puts the earphone back in place and goes about his business. These aren't, in themselves, terribly subtle moments, but it points in the right direction and is the sort of thing that, except in Gimple's prior scripts, had become virtually non-existent on Mazzara's overwrought, over-the-top, subtlety-of-a-hammer-to-the-face soap TWD. It's something I hope to see continue.

Gimple's last two scripts--two of only three from season 3 that weren't outright awful--had shown a penchant toward strong characterization. This carried over tonight. Many of the central characters had good scenes. Hershel's remarks about the need to outfit Rick with a proper farmer's kit was a funny little moment. Daryl had an amusing one with one of the new characters who was trying to guess what Daryl did before the zombie apocalypse (in some amusing metatextual commentary, Daryl is treated as a celebrity by the prison survivors--again, the sort of thing you'd never see on Mazzara's TWD). Gimple set up individual storylines for nearly all of the central characters, storylines he can milk as the season continues.

Another strong and admirable departure from Mazzara's TWD--one that address one of my longstanding gripes--is that survival concerns are now front-and-center, the thing around which our characters lives revolve. TWD is, as the comic legend says, "a tale of survival horror," but Mazzara hated this and set survival concerns at odds with nearly everything else that happened, while presenting such concerns, whenever expressed, in contexts intended to refute them or make them look entirely inappropriate. Not Gimple. Tonight, everything is basic survival.[2] The characters' days are dictated by doing what it takes to get by, and their interactions occur in that context. This is conveyed by even inconsequential shots of the prison grounds, where it's clear the characters have significantly fortified the facility. Gone--hopefully straight to hell--are the braindead days when the characters just moved into one grubby cellblock and let zombies roam through the rest of their home while ignoring its potential. There's a great moment when Carol is doing "story time" for the young children they've taken in and she sets aside her book, rolls out a selection of cutlery, and begins explaining to the class how to use bladed weapons. There's a hint that what she's doing may be regarded as inappropriate, but let's hope that doesn't blow up into much of anything.

Rick's central preoccupation tonight was a survivor he finds in the forest while checking traps he's set for animals. She and her husband have apparently been living on their own throughout the zombie uprising. They have, she tells Rick, done terrible things to survive. Is it possible to come back from such things? She doesn't think so,[3] and what episodes like her tale and its ultimate disposition add to the story of TWD is immeasurable. Show, don't tell. This is the world of TWD. This is what it does to people.[4] It's the sort of incident that, in Mazzara's TWD, would have probably been rejected as pointless and irrelevant. Another of the sorts of thing I hope continue.

I'm still skeptical about how much of this will continue. Season 3 had a relatively good opener, too, then collapsed. Tonight's ep was much better than that one, though. Gimple wrote this episode, but as showrunner, he has apparently retained most of Mazzara's nepotistically-assembled writing staff, the hacks who have made the last two seasons such a chore. Will this radical new direction--which is really just a return to the original direction--continue, or will it fizzle? I'm definitely curious, and, for the first time in a very long time, I'm actually looking forward to TWD.



[1] An inspired musical choice, "Precious Memories." As Rick looks over the rotting dead outside his fence, how they linger, indeed.

[2] Tonight's ep featured an imaginative and well-played action sequence in a department store--the roof, on which there are a slew of zombies, begins to collapses and suddenly it's raining zombies on our heroes below. And further dashing the expectations engendered by Mazzara's TWD in a positive way, the new black guy, when trapped in the zombie downpour by a falling shelf, doesn't die!

[3] And that question could be seen as a bit of metatextual commentary, too--can TWD come back from the last two godawful seasons? Time will tell.

[4] And I'd like to think--though it's far-fetched--that this incident was inserted as a sort of "fuck you" to Mazzara's entire approach to TWD, specifically for his screwing up Jim's end in season 1. The character Jim lost his family to zombies. In the comic, he's bitten during a zombie attack on the survivors' camp and, dying, asks to be left on the outskirts of Atlanta so that, when he comes back, maybe he can find his family and be together with them again. In season 1 of TWD, Jim was also bitten by a zombie during an attack, but Mazzara, the writer of record on the relevant episode, removed all the creepy business about him wanting to try to find his family and just had a scene that tried to be sad, with the long-faced group leaving Jim sitting under the shade of a tree. I reacted very badly to this. It seemed to destroy a powerful moment in favor of generic melodrama, and, unfortunately, was indicative of what was to follow once Mazzara got his hands on TWD. With the incident tonight, we saw something like that actually played out. It felt like a righting of the ship.

Sunday, October 13, 2013

An Evaluation of THE WALKING DEAD's Scott Gimple

October strikes, and another season of THE WALKING DEAD is upon us. I'm hoping this doesn't mean another season in which I mostly just end up bashing TWD. The Powers That Be at AMC fired TWD showrunner Glen Mazzara at the end of the last season, and as Mazzara oversaw the systematic destruction of a once-very-promising series and its conversion into the disgraceful mess I've described here in nearly 30 articles to date, it's impossible to see this as anything other than a very wise move. But will his replacement, Scott Gimple, be better? The long trailer for the upcoming season gives some little glimmer of hope. Among other things, it looks as if Gimple is going to double back and cover some of the very good material that occurred in the comic prior to the prison group's encounter with Woodbury and the Governor, material Mazzara simply pissed away. In advance of the new season, I thought I'd offer an evaluation of Gimple's TWD work to date.

In television, a series like TWD is worked out in a room full of writers. When details of episodes are nailed down to varying degrees, they're assigned to individual writers, who craft the actual scripts. This is an important caveat in what I'm about to describe; no writer has complete creative control over his scripts. With that in mind, Scott Gmple has, to date, been the writer-of-record on six eps of TWD:

Save the Last One
Pretty Much Dead Already
18 Miles Out
The Sorrowful Life

All but the last two of these were some degree of godawful. "Clear" is the only one that can be regarded as basically good. If "This Sorrowful Life" is overly burdened with far too much of the usual TWD rubbish, it still manages to rise about most of what we get from the series. Those two eps (if not necessarily the others) suggest Gimple is strong on characterization, which is one of TWD's weakest points.[1]

Gimple apparently likes Michonne. This may be an overly broad conclusion--the other writers had set the bar for this as low as it gets--but the proposition is given significant force by the fact that he's the only TWD writer to date who has written Michonne as a human being, instead of just an Angry Black Woman caricature. He gave her some good moments in "Clear," and more dialogue in that one ep than she'd had in the rest of the season combined. He did the same in "This Sorrowful Life," and gave her some good moments there, too. Michonne fans may have a friend in Gimple.

Unfortunately, Gimple apparently despises Rick. When, in season 2, the writers rebooted Rick, flushing his season 1 characterization entirely and replacing it with a suddenly weak-willed, overly emotional, indecisive idiot version, Gimple was on hand to author the low-point of that already-pathetic creation: Rick wrangling zombies right through our heroes' camp in "Pretty Much Dead Already." The writers rebooted Rick again for S3 and came up with another version that was also awful but in very different ways, and when, toward the end of S3, they suddenly decided to flush this Rick and bring back the awful season 2 version, Gimple again authored his lowest point, his plot to kidnap Michonne and hand her over to GINO. This was far worse than the previous low, and Gimple has Rick give a speech toward the end, the one declaring the end of the "Ricktatorship," that proves his version of Rick still had no idea what he'd done wrong. In between, Gimple authored "18 Miles Out," in which it was revealed that Rick had kept Randall on the farm for a week without having ever even questioned him about his comrades, a group of armed hostiles of unknown size camped out in their immediate area. In "Clear," Gimple had Rick go on a run for guns, and, with the prison facing an attack that could come at any time, has him drive halfway across the state on a long, dangerous mission to retrieve some weapons Rick himself had already carted off back in the pilot, driving, to get there, past dozens of towns that would have been ripe for weapons looting. Gimple's Rick is a first-class dumbass. His reign could mean hard times for Rick fans.

While Merle's attack on GINO and his men in "This Sorrowful Life" was well-conceived, Gimple has generally handled action and suspense rather poorly in his scripts. Back in season 2, the lead-in to his "Save the Last One" had set up what could have been a remarkably tense and exciting situation, with Otis and Shane fleeing through a black maze pursued by zombies in a race-against-the-clock, while, back at the farm, Hershel struggled valiantly to keep the boy alive. Could Shane and Otis avoid becoming dinner for the lurking deads and get the medical equipment back to Hershel before it was too late for Carl? Could Hershel keep Carl alive long enough for them to return? Instead of following through on this, Gimple opened the episode by spoiling the ending (showing Shane alive after whatever has happened), then aggressively murdered any tension the story could have--and should have--built by constantly cutting away to entirely redundant and/or embarrassingly inane filler moments back on the farm. We get a tale of Shane stealing a car in high school, Maggie and Glenn doing the God Talk thing (which had already been absolutely exhausted in the immediately previous episodes), and so on.[2] Gimple did the same thing in "18 Miles Out," repeatedly moving away from the testosterone-fueled Rick/Shane duel to an inane and pathetic Beth suicide plot on the farm. The action in that ep was awful as well, but mostly as a consequence of poor staging and direction, rather than writing. Gimple did have Shane hole up on a bus besieged by the dead and entirely fail to realize he could escape by simply waltzing out the back door, and he had Randall limping around and even kicking and breaking a zombie's arm on a leg that, only a week earlier, had suffered an injury that would have put it entirely out of commission for the better part of a year.

All of Gimple's eps have been stuffed with the vacuous filler that has become TWD's virtual trademark.

Gimple's two most recent eps are, as already noted, a cut well above anything else he'd written. In them, his greatest strength is easily his characterizations and dialogue. Because all of his previous episodes had been just as bad, on this score, as all the other TWD writers, I'd like to be optimistic and hope his later work shows he's just coming into his own. Time will tell on that, I suppose. His first episode as full-fledged showrunner airs tonight.



[1] Glen Mazzara has treated the characters like Play Dough figures in a soap melodrama, rather than anything resembling human beings. This isn't just a problem because it's terminally unengaging--anti-engaging, even--it's also a fatal flaw in Mazzara's TWD, and an indication of how poorly he understood (or cared about) the material. The point of TWD in comic form was, as Robert Kirkman has said, to have a zombie movie that never ends. One of its central concerns is to be a character study about how the zombiefied world affects people over time. That's why soap melodrama is so fundamentally incompatible with it: it's inhuman. People aren't like that and don't behave in that way. More importantly, you can't have a series that studies how people change over a long period when, conceptually speaking, the characters are just Play Dough and are arbitrarily changed--often radically changed--from episode to episode to suit the needs of the week's plot.

[2] That episode, in particular, is like a textbook on how not to write, shoot, and edit something like TWD--every choice the creators made was the wrong one.