The Walking Dead S1, E4: “Vatos”

Now this is what I’m talking about. After a mind-blowing pilot and two mediocre eps The Walking Dead drags it’s rotting corpse back onto the pillar of excellent television with this Robert Kirkman-scripted ep. This episode also managed to do something which the last two couldn’t: blend together heart-pounding action and heart-rending psychology. We get horror and survival and complex reasons for both.

Episode four starts off much like the pilot. We get two people stuck in a small metal craft (Rick and Shane in their car in the middle of an empty parking lot, Andrea and Amy alone in a canoe in the middle of the quarry lake) talking about absolutely nothing. The light switch conversation opened all the doors and windows of the show and helped educate the audience on the gray shades of the major characters. It started off as a testosterone-fueled exchange about chicks, man, and ended up being a treatise on relationships and what it’s like to be a douchebag called Shane. The fishing knot conversation started off as a boring exchange between two boring people about the world’s most boring subject and ended up being about two women who are bonded only by blood desperately trying to understand each other and connect on a meaningful level. It was a remarkable scene that was made even more so by the beautiful execution by both cast and crew. And it was a nice lead-in to Jim digging graves on the hilltop.

Down in Atlanta, Rick and co. track Merle like a wounded deer through a zombie-infested office building. Merle isn’t as much of a hillbilly idiot as everyone seemed to think he is. After cutting off his own hand (while using his belt as a tourniquet) he managed to kill two walkers, cauterize the wound, and escape through the window all in the space of a few hours. Daryl (who is also turning out to be much more useful than previously assumed), Rick, Glenn, and T-Dog put the search on hold to go after the guns Rick left by the tank.

But nothing ever goes according to plan. Glenn gets kidnapped by the Vatos gang and our heroes run off with their own hostage. When Rick’s attempts to do an exchange the head of the Vatos crew, Guillermo, stands him down. They want the guns and they’ll toss Glenn off the roof if they have to. And of course it’s abuelita that saves the day. No one argues with a little old lady in hair clips and a night gown. The nursing home scenes were clunky and didn’t pan out emotionally as much intended, but it was nice to have the gangsters juxtaposed with the elderly. Guillermo isn’t a power-mad thug, he’s an ex-janitor trying to do what’s best for his community.

Things are much quieter on the homefront. Shane lays the law down on Jim and ties him to a tree to stop him from digging graves in front of the kiddies. (Oh, won’t somebody please think of the children!) With Rick and Shane still running around handcuffing people and meriting out various forms of “justice”—and with the former now reunited with his sherrif’s hat—I’m curious to see just how far they plan to take this whole notion of authority and how it fits into a world completely devoid of such.
The Walking Dead episodeNot everyone is as peace-loving as G and Rick. The happy little down home fish fry is devastated by a zombie attack. Wife beater Ed is the first to go and next up is sweet little Amy, followed by a few nameless extras who existed for the sole purpose of being nommed. Is it a coincidence that Merle steals their truck and leaves Rick and crew to fend for themselves while he presumably heads back to camp to exact revenge on the exact same night zombies descend on the camp? Who knows. It ain’t in the comic and we still have two episodes left, and with Merle now the season one arch-villain I have a feeling he’s got a lot of punishment left to give.

One of the things I like the most about the show and the comic is the way that it plays with the traditional zombie tale full of fright and horror and turns it into a story about the tragedies of human existence and the consequences of human nature. True, there are plenty of horrifying bits of violence and zombies popping out from nowhere, but those scenes aren’t played for the gore. They are there because life sucks. Sometimes people die. It hurts and it’s hard, but that’s life. It’s your job as a human being to figure out how to be happy in such a bleak world, and we have made creating a family a big part of that. The Vatos have a nursing home of mee maws and pee paws and Rick has his hodgepodge collection of campers, but happiness in this world, in this human holocaust will always have to be fought for.

Final thoughts

  • “Who voted you king boss, huh?”
  • “Your crossbow is quieter than his gun.”
  • “Hey kid, what’d you do before all this?” “Delivered pizzas. Why?”
  • “Merle? What kinda hick name is that? I wouldn’t name my dog ‘Merle’!”
  • “It’s my bag of guns.” Heh.
  • “We’ll see which side spills more blood.”
  • “The people here, they all look to me now. Don’t know why.” “Because they can.”
  • The saw blade was too dull for the handcuffs. Well that sorta solves that. Though I’m not sure dropping an oozing body part into a backpack and then wandering through a murder of zombies is a good idea. And I also don’t know why Merle couldn’t just saw off his thumb.
  • Maybe it’s the extended format but where I’ve always felt Kirkman to be lackluster in the dialogue department as far as the comics are concerned here he was in top form. Lots of great little quips and wordplay.
  • Office Zombie Chick has got to be the grossest one I’ve seen yet.
  • Someone should really turn off the burner.
  • I thought Congress was supposed to pass a law against loud commercials. Anyone know when that’s going into effect?
  • Not sure why they felt the need to tie Jim to the tree when all he was doing was digging graves. It’s his way of dealing with the pain. I’d think it’d be a lot more frightening for kids to stare at a guy tied to a tree than at one digging holes.
  • Dale paraphrases Faulkner’s The Sound and the Fury: “I give you the mausoleum of all hope and desire; it’s rather excruciatingly apt that you will use it to gain the reducto absurdum of all human experience which can fit your individual needs no better than it fitted his or his father’s. I give it to you not that you may remember time, but that you might forget it now and then for a moment and not spend all your breath trying to conquer it.”
  • It’s taken four eps for Amy to kick it, and I’ve been waiting very patiently, but it doesn’t make it any less heart wrenching. And Laurie Holden, man, that chick can act.
  • Daryl quips that Merle could eat a hammer and shit out nails while Jim tells Carl that Rick is as tough as nails. I’m sensing some meta-juxtaposition in the air. Superman vs. Lex Luthor plus zombies.

Once more with feeling: If you’re going to do spoilers, either for the comic or for clips/previews/pirated copies of future eps make sure to give hefty spoiler warnings.

Alex Brown is an archivist in training, reference librarian by day, writer by night, and all around geek who watches entirely too much TV. She is prone to collecting out-of-print copies of books by Evelyn Waugh, Jane Austen, and Douglas Adams, probably knows far too much about pop culture than is healthy, and thinks her rats Hywel and Odd are the cutest things ever to exist in the whole of eternity. You can follow her on Twitter if you dare…


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