Oh, man. This is going to be a hard one to write. This episode was intense, and they weren’t kidding with the Viewer Discretion Advised.
It took me a while to get around to watching it the second time, just to do this recap. I never get nightmares from horror right before bed. H.P. Lovecraft is frequent bedtime reading for me, and he’s all about atmosphere. After watching Vatos the first time, I woke up in the middle of the night from a nightmare taking place post-zombie apocalypse.
This episode has Heaven and Hell. It portrays a little of how the world used to be, and shows it as a paradise. It even has a garden. And it shows the true horror of how the world is now for these people. Maybe after last week’s theme of “People don’t need monsters to be monstrous,” we needed a reminder of just how horrifying these walking dead are.
Spoilers below the fold, and I’m starting with a huge one.
Previously on AMC’s The Walking Dead:
Heartfelt Reunion! Love and glee and puppies! YOU HANDCUFFED MY BROTHER TO A ROOF AND YOU LEFT HIM THERE?
(Shot of T-Dog dropping the key down the drain, which somehow hasn’t magically become plausible)
Rick: “It seems to me what you really need most here… are more guns. And a psychotic gun nut who’s a danger to himself and others back in your camp.”
My other brother Darryl: “MERLE! MERLE! NOOO! HE LOVED THAT HAND! CALLED HER ROSY!”
Amy. Poor, poor Amy. I mean, I could have seen it coming. I really didn’t. And after Ed got et, my first thought wasn’t “Ohmigod Amy’s next,” it was “Ohmigod Ohmigod Ohmigod.” We open the episode with some character development for both Amy and Andrea. Andrea’s the tough one, Amy’s the gentle one. The gentle one, whose birthday is tomorrow. It’s like when a police officer is about to retire, or when the soldier shows the other guys in his unit a picture of his pregnant wife. It’s fiction-savvy code for “this character is about to die, let’s make the audience more sympathetic towards her first.” Yet I didn’t see it coming by a longshot. Honestly, I really wasn’t a fan of this character. I already knew she was the gentle one. A bit immature; Carl seems to have more wisdom than she did. I have no idea how she survived the apocalypse in the first place. She wasn’t cut out for survival. She’s just too nice.
Yet I felt so bad for her. Mostly for Andrea, actually. And the heartbreaking scene of Amy dying, her last words “We’re out of toilet paper?”…I felt bad for her. I was distracted while watching it by “Andrea, you idiot! Don’t get infected!” They wore gloves to chop up Wayne Dunlap for a good reason, you know. Small cuts and such on your hands and skin are much more common than most people realize. I hope Andrea doesn’t wipe her eyes before cleaning up thoroughly. Yeah, I know. Distracted by petty details like that during a big emotional scene. Still, no one deserves to die that way. I can’t decide whether it will take Shane’s callousness or Rick’s goodness to make sure she doesn’t turn into a walker. I really hope it isn’t Darryl’s cold pragmatism that does what needs to be done.
When that nameless red shirt got eaten, I was terrified it was Morales. Who, wonderfully, turned out to be quite the badass this episode, beating away zombies with a baseball bat. Let’s talk about the rest of the episode now, though.
I like how each episode opens with a little, almost-standalone piece of characterization. Rick getting gas, Lori and Shane’s tryst, Merle Dixon on the roof, and now Andrea and Amy fishing. As far as the plot goes, each could be cut out seamlessly. But these are some of the best show-don’t-tell moments. The fishing trip is all about Andrea and Amy; you learn a little about their father, and how he raised them. Somehow, you can see it reflected in who they are.
We get our answers to the questions that have all been on our minds: Why wasn’t there that much blood on the roof? Why did Merle cut off his hand instead of through the cuffs? We see the blood, and we hear Darryl’s answer that the hacksaw was too dull for metal.
We see a whole new level of toughness in Rick. In the standoff between T-Dog and Darryl, he whips his gun out like lightning. His lack of hesitation in pointing right at Darryl’s head lends credibility to his statement that he “won’t hesitate” to shoot. And though I know he wouldn’t like to shoot, he’d do it. It’s nice to know that Rick is Good, not stupid. It’s amusing how Darryl says “You got a do-rag or somethin’?” to T-Dog, and he pulls out… a regular blue handkerchief. It even has paisley. Glenn’s face as Darryl stuffs the hand into his backpack is nicely subtle.
Couple of meta notes: We actually saw T-Dog go back and get the toolbox–good. They needed to show that. On the other hand, there being an additional staircase down from the roof raises more questions than it answers. How did they get through it? How did the zombies not get through it? Why weren’t we made aware of its existence before so it didn’t seem to come out of nowhere?
It’s good to finally get some background about who the hell Jim is, as well as learn his name. He’s still creepy looking, but now he’s also psychic? And sees the future in his dreams? I thought this was harder science fiction than that.
Darryl: “Toughest asshole I ever met, my brother. Feed him a hammer he’d crap out nails.”
Quote of the episode, right there. Feed him a hammer, he’d crap out nails. That should be on a T-shirt.
So the fab four follow the trail of blood and chewed scenery to try and find Merle. The first zombie they kill goes down comically, like a pratfall. Guess Merle missed that one.
“Ladies, because of you, my children will eat tonight. Thank you.” – Morales.
So, let’s see. Darryl brings the camp squirrel and fails to bring venison. Amy and Andrea? Bring fish. Lots and lots of fish. Post-apocalypse, meat is really hard to come by, and the only ones who manage to bring in a lot of it? Women. It’s the women who are Mighty Hunters. None of the male characters, so far as we’ve seen, have brought in anything as good for the camp to eat. And based on everyone’s reactions, this is their first yummy, filling meal in a long time. Pity they don’t have any butter.
It really bothers me that we haven’t gotten much back story for Dale. He seems like he’s practically the camp leader at times. He has the RV, he’s observant, he has a bunch of tools and fishing gear, he’s probably retired, whatever. Who is he, and who was he before the apocalypse?
While we’re on the subject of Dale, I want to take a moment to clarify something that came up a lot in the comments last week: It’s really hard to hide a tryst in a group that small. Everyone who isn’t oblivious probably knew about Shane and Lori. Jacqui, Andrea, Dale, and Jim almost certainly all knew. Ed, Darryl, and Merle almost certainly didn’t. Morales, T-Dog, and Glenn more likely than not knew. Sleeping with someone shows in your body language, and Shane probably threw in a double-entendre here and there where he shouldn’t have. He’s the type.
When I saw the still-burning flames in the kitchen or whatever it is my first thought was “Oh my God, he cauterized the wound.” Then I saw the metal thing Merle did it with and I knew he cauterized the stump. Then Rick said “He cauterized the stump.” Did we really need that spelled out? I know I didn’t, but mostly because cauterizing is all over the place in fiction.
I love the confrontation between Rick and Darryl when they see that Merle, like Elvis, left the building. Darryl is growing on me as a character, in terms of the writing if not in terms of the person. In response to Rick’s, “But only if we keep a level head,” he says “I can do that,” and that sums it up. He isn’t stupid. He comes from a redneck background and isn’t particularly educated. He’s hotheaded and racist, but he isn’t a caricature or one-dimensional like Merle. Merle is crazy, stupid, and evil, although some of that might be the drugs Merle was on when we met him. We’ve only seen two sides of Darryl so far: Level-headed/competent, and machismo/angry. But, that’s more than we saw of Merle; more than we’ve seen of a lot characters, actually.
T-Dog: “Only if we get the guns first. I’m not strolling the streets of Atlanta with just my good intentions, okay?”
Nice line. Not very realistic dialogue, but well-written nonetheless.
All the characters ganging up on Jim to stage the intervention feels kind of creepy, but then so is Jim. His PTSD must be horrible.
Shane doesn’t tackle Jim until Jim swings the shovel at him. Looks like he’s trying harder not to resort to violence than he did with Ed. Jim’s comment, “That’s their marriage.” is… Well, it’s a point of view. One that attempts to justify Genovese Syndrome, but it’s a common point of view nonetheless. My point of view is that assault is assault, whether or not the people involved are married to each other.
Darryl: “Hey kid, what’d you do before all this?”
Glenn: “Delivered pizzas. Why?”
For those who don’t know, “Ayudame,” which the Latino kid yells, is Spanish for “HELP!” “Vatos” means “dudes,” and “Vatos locos” is, I believe, a kind of Latino gang. I think that “vatos” can refer to members of the gang, and that’s how it’s used in this episode. Or it’s used the way we’d use “guys” in English. If anyone in the Brain Trust speaks Spanish, I’d appreciate your help in the comments.
Jim says Rick is “tough as nails” and Shane answers “Oh yeah.” It says a lot. It looked like he was saying “I’m not looking forward to him finding out about me and Lori,” but maybe that’s just me. We know they’d been partners for a while. Shane certainly knows about Rick’s tough side.
Jim’s whole speech…Frank Darabont is heavy-handed. This is not news. This whole series seems to be saying, and I need to give credit to my mom for noticing this, that you need law. You need order. Other zombie fiction has it that the police aren’t any more helpful than the zombies. This show is an interesting contrast to that. Morales’s building up the rock wall is imposing order. Even Jim, while tied to a tree, recognizes the need to maintain order.
[Mom jumps in to add: Here's a quote from a movie blog I frequent; I don't want to take credit for an idea I actually lifted:
I think my fundamental problem with The Walking Dead is how safe it seems. Darabont and company, like Kirkman before them, hang the series on the strong lawman archetype, and in doing so, ground the whole project in a kind of conservatism. Say what you like about the Romero films, but in every one of them, law enforcement is shown to be every bit as much of a problem as the zombies.]
Meanwhile, Rick and Darryl are playing Good Cop/Psycho Not-cop with the kid that they took prisoner, whose name is Miguel. “I wouldn’t name my dog Merle,” he spits. Lovely. “You wanna see what happened to the last guy that pissed me off?” Darryl retorts, and throws his brother’s hand at the kid. I still can’t figure out why he took the hand. It’s not like they’re going to be able to reattach it.
The actor playing Guillermo twitches his head every time he talks. This is really distracting when he’s giving exposition and heavy-handed lines about not judging by appearances, which is The Theme Of The Episode. Abuela (Spanish for grandmother) showing up is a pretty blatant deus ex machina, but the episode makes up for that later on when the fab four get back to camp. As Rick follows Abuela, we see a garden. We see light streaming in. We see a little of how the world used to be. This is the paradise, the Heaven I mentioned at the beginning. We also get some commentary on Katrina—doctors and nurses leaving patients behind was something that happened when the levees broke. When Guillermo says, “The people here, they all look to me now. I don’t even know why,” it emphasizes the parallel between him and Rick. We know Rick’s the protagonist. We know from the show’s description that Rick is going to end up the leader of this group of survivors. What Guillermo said could be foreshadowing, or it could be something that makes Rick realize something about himself. He isn’t his group’s leader, not yet.
Glenn: “Admit it. We only came back to Atlanta for the hat.”
Rick: “Don’t tell anybody.”
I don’t understand why Rick and co. don’t take the bus that’s right there back to camp instead of walking. Maybe they took it partway? It’s hard to keep track of the passage of time respectively between camp and the Rescue Rangers; It seems to be passing differently as it’s filmed. Speaking of which, I also don’t understand why we spent so long listening to Dale quote Faulkner. Did that serve some purpose?
“Ed, she wants to join in.” Well, at least Carol began to learn to stand up to him a little before Ed got et. Dead Ed means no messy domestic abuse for the writers to deal with. This is also where we make up for the deus ex machina earlier on: Rick and co. don’t arrive just in the nick of time. They arrive well past the point of…. Of…
Ye Gods. This isn’t any easier to watch the third time. Amy’s death is horrific, heartbreaking, and terrifying. Glenn shooting that gun is impressive. Morales swinging that bat is badass. But there’s just. So. Much. Death. So much horror, and human emotion. Rick screaming and running for his wife and son. Andrea breaking down so nakedly.
You know, I figured those were graves Jim was digging.