Monday, October 12, 2015

WALKING DEAD's First Time Again Much Like The Last Time Again

Since Scott Gimple assumed showrunner duties on the THE WALKING DEAD, the series has delivered pretty solid season openers. Tonight's extended 6th-season kick-off was the first exception to that rule and supports my own contention that the series is in a cycle even its fans will come to see as a serious decline (if only in retrospect).

It was then-showrunner Glen Mazzara who, way back in season 2, hit upon the idea of camouflaging TWD's infinity of problems by throwing zombies (or, more generally, action) at them. Upping the pace as a means of pacifying the bumpkins. TWD has employed this tactic at various times ever since. Tonight was the most spectacular example of it yet, the biggest collection of zombies the series has ever seen.

The story of "First Time Again" is built around a series of contrivances and incredible coincidences on the order of being hit by falling meteorites over and over again. Rick randomly decides he isn't going to allow Pete to be buried within the walls of the safe zone on the grounds that they don't bury "murderers" there. He and Morgan take the body into the outside world [*] and, by meteoric coincidence, happen to stop to drop it off within close proximity of a granite quarry that, upon inspection, is filled with zombies. The creatures have been entering it by stumbling down a hill on one side, drawn by the sounds of the others, but are then trapped in the quarry by trucks that have been positioned to seal it off. They've been amassing there for some time--there are thousands of them. Rick returns to the safe zone to report that one of the trucks could, at any moment, fall from the upper end of the quarry, maybe after the next good rain, and that would set the entire herd on the road right for the safe zone. Another meteorite--good thing they found it just in time, right? The idea that rain would cause a ledge of solid granite to erode until it collapsed under the weight of a truck is amusing but would be a fairly minor gripe if the ep had anything going for it.[1]

Rather than merely reinforcing what seems to be a pretty good zombie trap[2] or just killing the zombies in it, Rick, who in the course of the ep declares "I don't take chances anymore," decides to free the herd and carry out an incredibly elaborate scheme to try to steer it away from the safe zone.

What could possibly go wrong with that plan, right?

Our heroes assemble for what's supposed to be a dry run and in the very moment Rick finishes explaining his plan, yet another of those on-cue meteorites hits--the ledge on which the truck sits collapses, the truck goes over and the creatures are free. The plan will have to be carried out on the spot, no practice.[3] We get lots and lots of shots of lots and lots of zombies.

The effort to use spectacle in place of storytelling doesn't do a thing for me. For the presence of all those zombies, there's very little tension--herding them seems, throughout the ep, a rather simple matter. That the series resorted to this go-massive-on-the-zombies thing only a week after FEAR THE WALKING DEAD did exactly the same thing is only one sign of the creative bankruptcy haunting TWD.[4] The ep also spent a great deal of time hitting a standard TWD note: Carter, a character from the safe zone, is a moron, doesn't like Rick and though he's too cowardly to tackle a skin-and-bones zombie on his own, is conspiring to kill our fearless leader, thrust into center-stage in his own little sub, well, plot. Rick, learning of the plot, passes on the opportunity to shoot the fellow but he later tells Morgan that Carter is an idiot who is too stupid to be alive in this zombified world. Seasoned TWD viewers will know exactly what all this means and that what happens to Carter is exactly what they expect proves how thin and tired the TWD formula has become. Carter is even wearing a red shirt when it happens.

If one is willing to ignore the hack-writer contrivances,[5] this wasn't really a bad ep by TWD standards (admittedly, setting the bar rather low).[6] There's just absolutely nothing interesting or special about it. The overwhelming impression it makes is that of a by-the-numbers re-covering already-much-covered ground. I was bored well before it was over and even its cliffhanger ending--someone sets off a big power-horn and diverts the herd toward the safe zone--didn't really make me want to see any more. "The First Time Again" is pretty much like the last time again.



[*] 12 Oct., 2015 - Reader Steve Johnson further notes that "if Rick doesn't want to bury Pete the killer inside the walls, why not drag the body 10 feet from the gate and leave it, instead of risking driving into the woods when they know a hostile group of 'wolves' is lurking out there somewhere?" I would add that the presence of the "wolves," who, it's been established, use zombies to do their dirty work, makes unleashing the herd even more insane.

[1] This portion of the story was handled badly in general. When Morgan and Rick were examining the quarry, they never look at the allegedly problematic truck and make any comment on it. The writers felt it was more important to throw in some bullshit melodrama with Pete's son, so the trouble was never established.

[2] Despite being rejected out of hand, this could, in fact, be done in any one of half a dozen ways absent any risk and employing a fraction of the resources used to carry out Rick's idiotic scheme.

[3] In one of those moments that sort of micorcosms the "what the fuck am I watching?" vibe this series so often emits, Rick and co., when planning the herding operation, come across a store near the road that has some zombies in it. The creatures claw at the inside of the building and make a lot of noise. Rick tells Glenn that when they carry out the operation, they're have to kill those zombies so they don't attract the herd off the road. Instead of simply opening up the place and killing them right there on the spot while they were all standing there. When the herd escapes, Glenn rushes to the store, opens it up and though the herd is already on the road, uses guns against the zombies!

[4] It's also the case that such a huge conglomeration of zombies would destroy any survivors in its path and they're being herded right up the road, which, of course, any travelers would be following. This doesn't quite evince the same blatant disregard for human life shown by the FTWD gang, who intentionally sicced their herd on a hospital, but it's still a fairly monstrous act.

UPDATE (12 Oct., 2015) - Reader "lone-foxx" makes a good point in noting, "They should have found a way to thin the heard over a few weeks time, slow drip style. This would be a great training camp experience for all the noobs as well. Teach them guns and spears, and the guns are only to be used as back-up."

[5] And hack-level writing. Throughout the ep, there's a particularly bad bit of soap opera scripting wherein Morgan and Rick go on and on about how they "know" one another. Rather than just showing them get to know one another (again), the writers have them talk about knowing one another.

[6] There are two jokes, very rare things for TWD, and one of them even works, which is even more rare (it's about Eugene's hair).


  1. Are you paid by syfy to hate on the walking dead while praising z-nation to the moon?

    Seems that way.

  2. Do you ever watch The Talking Dead? It's full of laughs. These people honestly believe they are making some high quality "art". To hear them talk just blows my mind. They were talking about Carter dying after Rick foreshadowed it as though it were some master work. It happened right after he got done saying it. They aren't even patient enough to give it another episode or two to build. TWD is impatient at the worst times and overly patient when it comes to anything of worth happening.

    It was unimpressive all around. Dragged on and on and on.
    Squeezing dollars out of it now more than ever. Between FtWD setting up to spend the entire second season on a boat and TWD blowing 75% of it's budget on the season premier... get ready for emoting.

    1. I haven't watched Talking Dead since its first season, though I sometimes catch bits and pieces of it. Someone said that last night, Hardwicke asked Gimple about the timeline--something TWD has fouled up over and over--and Gimple punted, said they don't really talk about that anymore. lol. I should probably track it down and add it to my timeline pieces.

      I'm also thinking TWD probably spent a big portion of this season's budget last night. Those who have been with the show from its first season all got a big raise before this season started--those five-season contracts had all expired--and given how cheap AMC went with FTWD, I can't imagine they also gave any significant boost to TWD's budget (though insert the usual caveat: the budgetary problems both shows have experienced is a consequence of poorly managing the funds allocated, not necessarily too little money available).

    2. I posted above an "anonymous".

      Yes, someone said (the guy who played Carter I think)... "I mean it's been like two years." and Gimple said let's not talk about timeline anymore or we don't dwell on that now or something like that.

  3. Decent start. Season 4-5 put the series on a higher average than 2-3(faint praise). 6th could continue that.

    However.. Wow, what an underwhelming way to re-acquaint Rick and Morgan.. I expected some really interesting interaction there, perhaps some tension following Rick's execution which Morgan witnessed? Instead we got some talk about Morgans ninja-skills and diffuse words about how they "know" each other.

    Also good job botching the tension-filled stand-off in issue 89-90 to some really low-key, badly built confrontation between that idiot and Rick.

    1. Yeah, the Rick/Morgan dynamic hasn't been very well done at all to this point.

  4. I also think it was a bad shift as far as walker behavior goes. Now they're more distracted by the sound of a motor cycle than someone screaming or people walking around just feet away? Seemed cheap. I always expect a walker change from season-to-season because they have no other new ideas other than to change the way the walkers behave and then do the same stuff they always have.

  5. One thing i thought you would bring up is the slow pace. I, myself harped on the fact that we didnt accomplish not one thing in this episode. We let zombies go and they got distracted. Thats about it. Usually TWD at least gives us one thing per episode and solves that one main thing. For a hour and a half i feel like we could have gotten further along.

    The morgan and Rick thing is also beyond stupid. The guy that literally saved Rick and got him started in this world cant be trusted? Morgan is the guy that when he was completly out of it and tried to kill rick, Rick helped him and tried to make him see the way again? Yet now to tell him he doesnt take chances and basically turn him into a prisoner? It doesnt make sense to me from any stand point. YOu think Rick would be happy to see that the first guy he ran into during all this had broken away from his hopelessness and tracked him down.

  6. I'm a week behind. Rick is now so thoroughly unlikeable, he deserves a date with the sisters from Shawshank Redemption.