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.

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