Monday, February 17, 2014

Inmates Running THE WALKING DEAD

And, in what's becoming the pattern for this season, THE WALKING DEAD bounces back from yet another lackluster episode last week to offer up a much more solid entry tonight. "Inmates" picks up the pace and the trail of most of TWD's other major characters in the immediate aftermath of the fall of the prison.

The ep kicks off with Daryl and Beth running for their lives through a forest filled with zombies. A voiceover accompanies the events, Beth reading an entry from her diary from the time the group first moved into the prison. Through this juxtaposition, the hope for a new life once represented by the prison is contrasted with the present horror of being once again forced out into the zombified world. TWD has a bad habit of killing off a redshirt then having the other characters rhapsodize, after the fact, over what a great guy the deceased had been and how much he'd meant to everyone, and I've certainly criticized this for the lazy hackwork it is; if, while those characters were still alive, the writers had spent a few minutes making them interesting and making us care about them, there would be no need to come in, after the fact, and try to convince us in this way. Beth's voiceover about the prison could be seen as another variation on this phenomenon; the prison, throughout season 3 (the timeframe when Beth would have been writing those words) had been presented as a dark, filthy, claustrophobic shit-hole, not--as should have been the case--something that would engender a sense of hope. Still, even if it contradicts what we were shown (yet another example of showrunner Scott Gimple trying to overwrite his unfortunate predecessor), the voiceover isn't a bad idea. Far from perfect in its execution, admittedly; it isn't particularly well-written, and, worse, there's no follow-through--it's entirely abandoned after the ep moves away from Beth and Daryl and on to the other characters. It's worth a half-credit, in my book, though. Beth is shown, at one point, using the pages of that diary for kindling for a camp fire, which I thought was a nice touch.

In the midseason finale, it was established that the characters had a rendezvous point in the event of an emergency that forced them from the prison. It was a relatively minor factoid, but it was such a fundamental break with Mazzara-era TWD's refusal to deal with any reasonable survival matters that I highlighted it in my review of the ep, and gave it a minor thumbs up. Unfortunately, everyone in the last two episodes seems to have forgotten all about it. No one heads toward any rendezvous point, no one mentions it, no one has any idea where anyone else might be; they all just sort of wander around looking for one another, trying to pick up one another's respective trails. A pretty serious--and disappointing--continuity error.

Not the only one featured in tonight's ep. When, in the battle over the prison, Mika and her creepy sister Lizzie saved Tyreese and fled, they were toting firearms and ammo. Tonight, for the sake of plot convenience, these were made to disappear, downgraded merely to knives. Something else that pretty much falls into this category is what happened with Glenn. In the midseason finale, most of the prison population was evacuated on a bus. Glenn, still recovering from a serious illness and barely even able to stand, was on it. When Maggie went to look for her sister, he wanted to get off the bus and follow her but was too weak. Moments later, the bus pulled away. Tonight, he inexplicably wakes up deep inside the ruins of the now-zombie-overrun prison. Not necessarily impossible and so perhaps not technically a continuity error, but a big enough leap that it isn't unfairly tagged as such.

It's a bit of a crime that the "next week on the Walking Dead" preview at the end of the previous ep gave away the fact that Glenn had survived. Tonight, Maggie, dragging Sasha and Bob along, went off in a desperate search for him. With the established rendezvous point having apparently departed their minds entirely, they merely follow the direction the bus left the prison, and very shortly come across it, stopped in the middle of the road. It didn't get very far, and somehow, in a very short drive, everyone in it--it's still sealed--ended up either zombified or zombie-chow. Setting aside the obvious impossibility of this (it was done solely to get rid of the peripheral characters in as quick a way as possible), the sequence wherein Maggie and co. clean out the bus in an effort to discover if Glenn is among the dead is one of the best directed and best edited sequences in the entire history of TWD. It's as taut as a zip-line right to the last second, and it ends in a commercial break without resolving the question for the viewer! Only when the break ends do we see that Glenn is alive and back at the prison. Without the knowledge that Glenn had survived, it would have been an even more powerful sequence, but it works remarkably well in any case.

In a welcome development, Carol is back in the picture tonight, coming to the rescue of Lizzie and Mika while Tyreese was away helping another band of survivors fight off a zombie attack. Tyreese, who doesn't yet know it was Carol who killed Karen,[1] is delighted to see her. She's less than forthcoming about where she's been and how she came to be on their trail. The last dying member of the group Tyreese had tried to save gives them a tip--a promised safe-haven to be found along a railroad line. Following it a short distance, they find a makeshift sign promising the same, and, with no more apparent memory of any rendezvous point than anyone else, they begin to follow the line.[2]

Glenn, having awakened in the prison, grabs a big bag worth of supplies, dons his riot gear and, in the process of fighting his way through the zombie hordes outside, runs across Tara, sitting alone in a fenced-in area, sick with regret over having helped destroy the place.[3] She reluctantly teams up with him and they make their way out of the compound and to the open road. They have a bit of a brawl with some zombies, which proves too much of an exertion for Glenn--he collapses while Tara fusses over him, repeatedly calling him by name, even though they were total strangers and he hadn't told her what it was. The ep ends with the arrival of a character who will be very familiar to fans of the TWD comic.

When it comes to my seemingly endless criticism of TWD, I'm often wrongly accused by its apologists of "nitpicking," of unfairly focusing on its shortcomings. Looking over what I've written here, I've spent a lot of time on this ep's problems. That doesn't really do it a disservice; the problems are present and they shouldn't be. The ep isn't bad, though. Not a classic, by any means (though that sequence with the bus earns that label), but by TWD's usual standards, it's quite good. Unlike all those other eps, the ones that so persistently drew the charge of "nitpicking" but were, in reality, little more than the sum of their errors and idiocies, this ep's merits definitely outweigh its shortcomings. I'd like a lot better from TWD, but after the property has been so terribly abused, it's hard not to laud any measurable improvement, and "Inmates" definitely qualifies. If the series follows the pattern of this season, the next ep will probably be another godawful Mazzara-esque waste of space. Oh well. I guess we'll see.



[1] The series has dropped several heavy-handed hints that twisted little Lizzie, rather than Carol, committed those murders, and that Carol merely took the rap for it, but that seems almost as implausible as Carol committing them.

[2] Baby Judith is, unsurprisingly, still alive and in Tyreese's care. On tv TWD, no one is dead unless you see the body, and babies aren't eaten by zombies. They aren't smothered by psychos looking to save themselves, either, and crazy Lizzie's devilish efforts in this vein were cut short.

[3] Tara is the sister of Lilly, who was GINO's love interest.


  1. I'm at the point where I'm losing hope TWD will significantly improve. (That's not a dealkiller for me, but that ia whole other comment.) And I've come to this conclusion not from anything I've seen on the show, but from the fact AMC seems to be loading up on programming specifically aimed at TWD's lowest common denominator demographic. First Comic Book Men and now I see there is to be a show about arm wrestling.

  2. The only thing I cant stand about this show is how they skip over night scenes. No zombies every attack at night. The last time the had real night scenes regularily was season 2. This episode covered about 3 days and the only scenes had them sitting safely at campfires. I guess the living dead arent nocturnal.

  3. Come on J, you have sold out. How anyone could defend this shit is incomprehensible. This show is not only the most overrated show of all time, it is also one of the worst, if not the worst, shows currently on television. Its incompetence in every aspect of the production is obvious. The show has no redeeming qualities. None at all.

    These are the things you used to complain about. I came to your blog for two years to laugh along with you at all the fanboys and brain-dead dipshits who watch this garbage. It felt good knowing that intelligent people like us are above even enjoying this joke of the show. It felt good to shove it back in the fanboys' faces for liking the worst show on tv.

    But then I come here this season and what do you do? You defend the show. Of course, you complain about how shitty it is for the majority of your review, but how you could actually think this show is anything but irredeemable is outrageous. I think the trolls at imdb have warped your mind. It seems like you've sold out to appease these fanboys when you used to refute them with your brilliant posts. I seriously can't believe such an astute critic as yourself would find something good to say about this train wreck of a show.

    And it is pretty much a consensus among the actual discerning viewers (as you once were) that this season is even worse than the previous three. I mean, everyone I know (at least the ones whose intelligence I respect) has given up on the show. It is clearly losing viewers. It seems that as more and more people are finally letting themselves admit that the show is utter garbage, you do the complete opposite and delude yourself into thinking that the show is actually good some of the time. I honestly can't believe what I'm reading when I come here.

    So in short, Mr. Riddle, I have lost all respect for you. You have sold out. With all the negative press the show is getting now from viewers and the mainstream media, you feel you have to stand out from the crowd and actually defend the show lest you lose readers on your blog. I guess you are simply the irritating contrarian everyone at imdb accuses you of being. You were not a voice of reason in the midst of the hype; you were simply a hipster doofus trying to go against the grain of something mainstream just to get attention. I honestly feel betrayed. I guess you can join the rest of the brain-dead masses (pun intended) and tell yourself the show is anything better than a piece of shit. I just find it disappointed that you might end up influencing some of your readers into agreeing with you.


  4. I came across your blog last season, and just wanted to say that I really enjoy your analysis of the show. I've never read the comic, I've never been enamored with the zombie or horror genre at all, and I started watching TWD purely because I had nothing else to watch...then I got addicted and binge-watched the first two seasons of it and have been keeping up with the eps online this season. The "survivalist" aspect of TWD is really what interests me, so I can usually suspend my disbelief for episodes like "Inmates" that (relatively speaking) focus on "a day in the life" (as opposed to the entire ridiculous Woodbury debacle) and I thought your analysis of that ep was excellent, especially regarding Beth's voiceover, which was a pleasant change, and, yes, the collective amnesia regarding the rendezvous point. Yeah, there's a crapload of things wrong with the show, but there's really nothing else quite like it on TV these days. I whole-heartedly agree with everything you say about the plot driving the characters; it's completely ironic that they're trying to write a show about how individuals are affected by change while not actually developing individual characters (or maybe they couldn't care less about writing a show about how the zombie apocalypse would affect individuals.) Oh, Hollywood! In any case, thanks for your weekly astute assessments; I wish you were the one writing the show!

  5. The better parts of this season have been a remarkable improvement over the last two--I can't imagine anyone denying that. The series still tends to fall back into its previous old habits, and I still note this, along with its other flaws, both in the better eps and in the dogs. Of this season, I've trashed as many as I've praised, and all of the positive judgments come with big caveats. With TWD, as with everything else, I've always called it as I see it.