10.17.2011

Horrorthon '11: The Walking Dead, Ep. 201 - What Lies Ahead (Gwyneth Horder-Payton, 2011)

Another year gone "bye" and "The Walking Dead" is now a household title, with little need for prefacing the way I prefaced it in the 2010 Horrorthon's pilot review. As evident in that review, I had been sure from what I had yet seen that AMC's adaptation of Robert Kirkman's epic of survival in an undead post-apocalypse was right on the money. My chronicled optimism remained stubborn throughout the six-episode season's highs and lows, but again... we're another year on, and with distance from the hype I, myself, was a part of thanks to my devotion to the source material I am more ready to recognize seemingly grave misdirection and warily bland unoriginality.

That patient pilot episode didn't take us much of anywhere outside a general scene-setting, but it was never supposed to. Shouldn't we be somewhere by now, though, in the series' seventh episode - the first of its second season? Oh, we've ping-ponged between an overpopulated campsite's would-be safety and the treachery of Atlanta's infested alleyways, and we've huddled inside an unnecessarily informative CDC facility (all little of which has anything to do with our original tale). Yes, we've been places... but we haven't felt a tone that makes this much more than a group of actors wandering over highways and through forests, spouting clich├ęs the whole way. Contrast this meandering against the black & white comic book's bleak and brutal atmosphere in which no one - and I mean absolutely no one - is ever safe from panel to panel, and before the issues went in to double digits we had already seen a prime example of what civilized life in absence of society can become.

Though assisted by the leeway of its relatively sprawling (approximately 65-minute) runtime, "What Lies Ahead" makes fast with episodic fare in favor of cheap suspense rather than more important thematic content. The disinteresting search for a lost little Sophia had me walking away at each commercial break, unconcerned with ensuring timely returns so I might catch every last instant of programming. Meanwhile we're suffer through more typical jargon integration, this time introducing the term "herd". In Kirkman's books, "herd" is coined by our survivors to reference a large group of "walkers", usually ones lured by loud noises (noises television audiences are redundantly reminded to avoid). The very mention of a "herd" evokes deep fear in any loyally impassioned reader. Here, Laurie Holden's Andrea originates the term, immediately following it up with "...or whatever you call it," to which Jon Bernthal's Shane replies, "That sounds about right." Remember in "X-Men" when Hugh Jackman references the semi-ridiculous matching outfits and James Marsden comes back, "What would you prefer, yellow spandex?"

It's strange knowing the drastic narrative departure of a show has an inherently limited lifespan while, at least according to Kirkman's oft-repeated testament, the comic - commenced in 2003 and currently at 89 issues - is indefinite. Given enough time in that near-monthly publication, everyone dies. Lay of the dead land permitting, we readers are looking at the eventual death of Rick Grimes himself with his protagonist slot likely succeeded by Carl (who has been taking a beating lately, in both of his incarnations). With 5 or 6 seasons of television (that's about how long these things tend to last, right?), it's easy to imagine one day looking back and merely thinking, "Remember that little show that tried to adapt 1/100th of 'The Walking Dead', but missed the mark entirely?" Of course, this is a post-"LOST" world, and I'm sure the capable show creators have something in mind (and post-Darabont, maybe it's a whole new something), but the conceptual and stylistic derivation of other popular television is detrimental. Altogether it reminds me why I'm not so hot on American primetime in general - it's 100% soap-operatic story over execution, and I could glean the same experience from simply reading a plot recap the next day. What is admittedly already quite melodramatic on the page - wherein we're at least permitted to incorporate our own respective voices to form individual interpretations - is not translating well to the here more reductively pinning multimedia.

Now, obviously, I'm going in to this sort of thing at a disadvantage. The purpose is apparently to provide a completely new version of a now-familiar story to comic readers and fresh crowds alike, yet like an avid player of Capcom's "Resident Evil" games who can't get over the fact that Leon is nowhere to be found in movie adaptations 1-4, I'm appalled at the lack of inspiration drawn directly from the source. What's more maddening is that the writers are seeming to purposefully toy with that vaguely aforementioned example of decivilized humanity. This occurred at least twice in season one, and "What Lies Ahead" tugs us along that much more, to the point that we're beyond positive this watered-down version of our beloved comic is finally going to sink its teeth in to the dark territory it needs to tear off in order to truly become "The Walking Dead", only to find it chooses an opposite path.

It's difficult to predict a lack of improvement should things eventually head where they need to head (perhaps once we enter the A.D. age, as in "After Darabont"). At the moment, however, an awful, decidedly soulless job is being done with this dull, flat and drawn-out developmental phase. It's possible it could all turn around in a single episode, but for now this comic fan - comparison to the beloved source or no - is left wondering, "What's the point?"

2 comments:

  1. I didn't really dig the direction they went. I agree with the idea that they didn't really make us give a shit about the little girl missing like they should have. If anything u felt more for the parent grieving but I didn't satisfy my craving for zombies. Not in this episode. Things are just moving so slow. Hopefully the second episode picks up the pace. I did like how it started but don't get the how it just wandered from the middle to end. The show does seem a bit lost.

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  2. Thanks for the read/comment, Anonymous Oct. 17 :) I am trying to remain optimistic but it's becoming difficult. It's clearly working for a ton of people, though! I even read an article today praising how much more accessible the show is compared to the comics, which feature, as the article put it, unlikeable characters who do morally unsound things (yeah... that's the point!).

    Stay tuned for the first episode of a Walking Dead podcast, recording not long from now and hopefully posted before the night is out!

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