Monday, November 25, 2013

Shifting WALKING DEAD Weight

My brief essay on THE WALKING DEAD's Theme for this season--can you come back from the bad things this world has made you do?--could have almost served as my review for tonight's episode. My point in that earlier piece was that TWD's writers should go with what works, rather than making everything subservient to some big Theme that will probably dictate things that don't, or that, at least, don't work as well. The writers failed to learn this lesson with Carol; after making her emerge, rather spectacularly, as the most interesting character on the show, they assassinated her character in the name of the Theme then sent her into exile. Last week, they took GINO, Glen Mazzara's bland insult to the viewers from last season, and transformed him into "Brian Heriot," a much more interesting character with a better story. The ep ended with Heriot encountering Martinez, one of his henchmen from his GINO days, and I feared the Theme was about to claim another interesting direction the series had taken.

And, as it turned out, I was right.

"Dead Weight" is a good title for tonight's installment. Heriot and his new family are taken in by a new group of survivors who have gathered around Martinez. He doesn't want to be there, doesn't want to think about his past, and certainly doesn't want Martinez to talk about it. In typically over-the-top TWD style, he becomes so averse to it that when Martinez suggests sharing power over the group, Heriot bashes the fellow in the head with a golf-club and feeds him to a group of zombies, shouting "I DON'T WANT IT!" over and over again. A consequent leadership vacuum leads to what he perceives as a dangerous situation,[1] and he loads up his new family and flees into the night. He comes upon what appears to be a mud-bog in the road in which a pack of zombies the width of the road are mired up to their waists. It's unclear what this is, how it got there, or if it's some kind of intentional obstruction; no explanation is offered. Because of it, Heriot returns to camp, and doesn't leave! The danger he perceives in staying apparently isn't significant enough to dictate simply going around this mess or taking a different route.[2]

It does, however, dictate his throwing off his Heriot identity the next morning and becoming GINO again, that thing against which he was so dead set that he insanely murdered Martinez for merely suggesting. He wants his new family to survive, and the writers pretend as if this new motive justifies this move--on TWD, there's never any middle ground.. He kills the camp's leader, co-opts his right-hand man, and sets himself up as ruler again--full GINO mode with the flip of a switch. A little later, when his new "daughter" is nearly eaten by a zombie, he kills the creature then icily stalks off, without even bothering to inquire about the child's condition.

The ep tries to present a man struggling with his identity. The problem is that his GINO identity was, as I noted last week, "a poorly-constructed, unspeakably silly cartoon villain." There are a few nice touches along the way--some solid, deceptively subtle cinematography, and when GINO kills the group's leader, he dumps the body off a pier with a weight on its leg so that, when the fellow resurrects, he can go back out and look at the creature struggling under the water--a rather rich image. For the most part, though, the story isn't compelling--the GINO character is anti-compelling, the motivation for his switch is laughably weak (virtually non-existent), and the extremes from which he swings far too extreme.[3]

All of this is done to set up a confrontation with the prison--one that will be familiar to readers of the comic--and to have it fall right at the point of the mid-season break. That, far more than any dramatic considerations, is probably what accounts for both the instantaneous nature of Heriot/GINO's transformation, and its extremities. That thought can't help but remind me of how, earlier this season, the creators wasted most of two episodes and parts of another by slamming on the brakes and piling on the filler. Time that could have been spent integrating a more credible evolution of this character (and would have been better spent doing just about anything remotely interesting).



[1] That develops in a rather amusing way as well. Heriot, while out on patrol with some others, spies another camp of survivors. They consider killing the group and taking their supplies, but the new leader vetoes the idea. No need to act like animals, right? A few minutes later, they look in on the camp again, and someone--perhaps a group of ninja--have turned up and managed to gun down the entire camp and make off with its supplies without any of Heriot's group hearing a thing, though they're in the immediate vicinity.

[2] Nor do the mud-zombies that prevent him from leaving prevent him from driving to the prison on what appears to be the next day.

[3] Consistent with both the cartoon villain aspect and the completeness of the transformation, they even given GINO his old wardrobe and gun, and have him angrily spy Michonne outside the prison.


  1. At least these past two episodes showed more of the world and what its like for people living day to day in it trying to survive. And got us the hell away from the prison group that alone makes the episodes ok.

  2. Well ...

    While Brian/GINO go from one extreme to the other, I think the same can be said for the last two episodes. A week ago, I was pleased with what they had done with Brian. But last night ... oh dear. And it's not that it was bad that gets me. It's that it was so diappointing.

    One thing I'm wondering now. Is this whole thing planned from last season to this season? Or is Gimple going out of his way to show up Mazzara but redoing last season's endgame?

  3. That was almost the theme of my review this week, Gimple employing his own textual Theme metatextually. It may end up in next week's article, depending on how the next ep turns out.

    After last week's revivification of the character, his devolution can't be seen as anything other than a disappointment, and rehashing the Woodbury storyline, particularly in such an extended fashion, can't be seen as anything other than a waste.

    1. Is anyone else bothered by the fact everything is filmed in the daytime. Theres almost no scenes at night. Dawn or dusk. Its like whatever crisis is happening gets put on hold untill 12 hours later when its sunny again. It just seems really wierd for a tale of survival horror

  4. Agreed that what Gimple has done with the Governor is a complete waste and rehashing of the Woodbury storyline. I had thought perhaps my initial fears after the end of season 3 that we'd see more of the same were wrong. but nope. After reading some of the "what to expect in season 4" articles I had even jokingly said they should make a wiki entry for season 4 that said "see Season 3". You were right about the "Theme" thing too. I thought perhaps they were seriously exploring a philosophical question and then the real GINO showed up like a Jeckyll/Hyde and they made a mockery of it. "He's back" and in full "swing". He's even upgrade from fish tanks to a looking pond. So lets move on from the season 4 plot disappointment and discuss more inconsistencies and goofs with the world they created. So based on what GINO was spying with his little eye, the Grimes gang was back to their reckless endangerment ways of nonchalantly hanging out around the perimeter of the prison, dangerously close to a dense tree line/forest. How far away did GINO park the car that nobody heard anything? Also based on this season thus far, I think we can safely make the assumption that there are lots of small survivor camps around. I mean when doesn't somebody run into survivors? Except maybe Michonne while she was out doing whatever it was she was doing, we were led to believe she was out scouting for the Governor? And what was the deal in "Dead Weight" with the cabin with the decapitated heads and bodies with the signs pinned on them. It seamed at first like this could have been an important plot point, I was wondering to myself, could this have been done by Michonne, Carol, or perhaps had GINO been around months earlier working out his "issues". It seemed like it should have meant something to the plot, but by the end of the episode my conclusion was the writers just threw it in "for atmospheric visual effect" while they padded out another episode. And what happened to our plague? Am I to believe that some old expired antibiotics cured everyone (never mind that some antibiotics can become toxic over time... those expiration dates are on the bottle for a reason). Zombies at the veterinary school had signs of it? Yet none of the people residing at the Brian Heriot golf resort/camp or that other mini camp had as much as a sniffle. Based on the show, these groups are all in relatively close proximity to each other! And I'd never thought I'd be using the World War Z movies for an example of plausibility, but the zombies stuck in the mud that blocked GINO's route... wouldn't the bodies stuck in the mud eventually create a bridge that other zombies would just walk over the top of? OK, maybe I'm being too picky, maybe some did, like the one walker that magically showed up in GINO's new camp right after they said they had the perimeter all shored up.

  5. Oh one other plot point from this season that seems to be either forgotten or was just poorly executed was the whole "feeding rats to the walkers through the fence" thing. My initial issue with it was "here we go again" because that's how Andrew had lured zombies into the prison in season 3. There was a lot of speculation on discussion boards that it was the Governor trying to weaken the fences by attracting walkers, but if the past two episodes were running parallel to the prison plaque episodes, Brian/GINO was busy elsewhere. So that pretty much leaves me to think it was the one troubled little girl who thought that walkers might make great pets and was naming the ones at the fence. So if that was the case... "That's it?" That's all we're getting out of that little plot detail they shoved in our face at the beginning of the season? I guess my issue is that I keep hoping for some big "A HA" moment in the plot that never comes.

  6. AGREED! So after what could have been a promising storyline with the governor we've come full circle back to GINO, in almost a Jeckyll & Hyde fashion. GINO is back in full "swing" and has upgraded from fish tanks in his basement to a looking pond. This episode really got me thinking about inconsistencies, plot holes, gaffs, and disappointments:
    1) The beheaded bodies with the signs pinned to their chests they came upon. I actually thought perhaps this was something of importance at first. Perhaps GINO had been here before months earlier and was working out his issues? Maybe Michonne was working out some of her's? There had to be something here with the bigger story arc right? But by the end of the episode I realized it was just another blatant example of them showing how people do extreme things in the Walking Dead universe and a cliche setup for squeezing in some "zombie scares".
    2) Rats and the prison fence. So based on these two GINO episodes running parallel to the prison infection timeline, obviously GINO was too busy doing his own thing to have been the one responsible. So that leaves me to think it was just the slightly-off little girl in the prison who'd thought it would be fun to name the zombies and perhaps feed them at night like a pet. Once again, I'm given clues by the writers that something is amiss and then after several episodes left in the cold. Was it just sloppy writing or a poor plot diversion?
    3) The infection. So am I to believe based on the end of the episode with GINO spying on Hershel and Michonne, that the infection got all cleared up with some old expired (and potentially toxic) antibiotics? When they made that run to the veterinary school for the meds they saw more bleeding eye zombies. Yet, no signs of any type of illness with the GINO's camp or the small camp GINO and crew stumbled upon in the woods. These pockets of people aren't all that far apart geographically, and they all appear to be traversing the same areas.
    4) The GINO camp zombie that magically appeared in the camp and attacked the little girl right after they said they had shored up the camp's perimeter!
    5) Mud, kryptonite for zombies? I hate to use the World War Z movie as an example of plausibility, but wouldn't zombies eventually just start walking/crawling over the zombies stuck in the mud? I wouldn't have been standing outside my stopped car in the middle of the night staring at them in the headlights!