Tuesday, 30 November 2010

The Walking Dead 1.4 ‘Vatos’


“The only reason I got away was because the dead were too busy eating my family…” - Jim

I suppose it should come as no surprise that ‘Vatos’ was the bloodiest episode of The Walking Dead to date as it was written by The Walking Dead’s creator Robert Kirkman.

We’ll get to the bloodshed later though because it all came in the closing moments of the episode really, what preceded it was a great deal of foreshadowing and foreboding that almost took away some of the surprise of a particularly grisly ending; but it was done in such a gripping way by Kirkman that ‘Vatos’ was probably the best episode of the series since the pilot.

We began with Sisters Amy and Andrea out in a boat catching fish, a peaceful moment of character development and back-story that you knew we were only getting as a precursor to something bad.

It was good to finally get some sort of depth to two characters who to this point have really only been very faintly sketched, but in terms of making us supposedly care about what happened at the episode’s end it was too little, too late and Amy’s death was met with the kind of ambivalence that this scene was probably trying to ensure was avoided.

The pre-credits sequence of Vatos was littered with foreshadowing because in addition to the sisters, we also saw Jim on the outskirts of camp digging numerous graves.

Back in Atlanta we at least got the offer of an explanation as to why Merle elected to cut off his hand rather than cut through the handcuffs – the saw blade was too dull.

Merle had then taken off back through the building, so as Daryl, Rick et al followed the trail of blood through the building we at least got an insight into Daryl’s love for his pain-in-the-ass brother as he seems to have some sort of hero worship going on.

Daryl, who for all intents and purposes seems to be Merle-lite, was keen to let everyone know how tough his brother is – and in taking out two walkers one-handed and then cauterising his own stump on a stove I’d have to give Merle props for being one ‘ard bastard.

What was going on in Merle’s head though was anybody’s guess though as he had managed to get out of the building and take to the streets; one-handed and assumingly unarmed (excuse the pun).

Rick’s strong sense of family helped him to appreciate Daryl’s need to find his brother and agreed to help him look, on the proviso that they went and recovered Rick’s bag of guns first.

This allowed us to see a nice example of how the world has changed since the zombie apocalypse; as an impressed Daryl asked Glenn what he did for a living before after Glenn walked them through a tactically astute plan to recover the guns – “delivered pizzas” was the response.

Moments like that make you appreciate just how different of a world these characters are operating in – a world where a pizza delivery boy can become a master tactician.

As good as Glenn’s plan was, he hadn’t factored in one thing: getting kidnapped by a Mexican gang.

Back at the survivors’ camp Jim’s grave-digging had started to freak everyone out and after being confronted and not conceding he got physical with Shane and was restrained.

I’m all for these developments that give some of the characters at least the smallest amount of a third-dimension but I have to admit that this shift for Jim seemed like a bit of a contrivance; he was a seemingly perfectly calm, normal and rational man last week, yet this week he was some sort of unhinged prophet.

That’s right, although Jim couldn’t remember why he started digging he knew it was because of a dream he had – are we going to sprinkle even more religious connotations into the show now with this supposed visionary or has Jim just lost the plot completely?

Jim’s moment in the spotlight did at least give the character some back-story as we learnt his tragic story – he was only able to survive being eaten by the walkers as they were too distracted eating his family.

Back in the city we got to see further examples of two of the character’s personalities – both Rick and Daryl are fiercely loyal. Rick has shown immense loyalty to Morgan and in ‘Vatos’ to Glenn because they saved him when they didn’t need to.

Daryl on the other hand seems to be loyal to family – obviously we have already seen this in his obsession with finding Merle but we also got to see him determined to get Glenn back (part of his now adopted family).

After a tense stand-off between the vatos gang and the survivors we were treated to an unexpected, but welcome, twist.

The Mexican gang weren’t your stereotypical, faintly racist caricature of a Hispanic gang but instead were holed up helping the residents of a retirement home who had been left behind and essentially forgotten by the world when the apocalypse happened.

In addition to the not-so-subtle social commentary about how the old are essentially ignored and forgotten, this development also raised the question of just how many other ‘living’ people are out there – I get so swept along with each episode and so wrapped up in The Walking Dead’s universe I often forget that we have so many questions still unanswered. No doubt answers will be forthcoming but it’s a credit to the show that you aren’t constantly questioning things but rather just becoming immersed in the world the writers are painting.

Although I earlier mentioned that the world had changed so much in that someone like Glenn could become such an integral part of a community it was nice to be reminded that no matter how much things change, they still stay the same. Guillermo’s assertion that the world isn’t that different because “the weak get taken” was just about the most telling bit of pre-emption we could have had before the climatic bloodbath that followed.

When Rick and the rest of the rescue team headed back for their van they found it was gone – presumably at the hands, or should that be hand, of Merle. Daryl suggested his brother was on his way back to camp with some vengeance, but as we soon saw the camp was about to experience something a lot worse.

As soon as we saw the survivors all sat round the camp fire having a nice time, anybody who hadn’t already figured out that something bad was about to happen must have finally got that sense of impending doom – the calm before the storm so to speak.

First wife-beating Ed was mauled by a pack of walkers in his tent, then little Amy had a chunk taken out of her by a walker as the entire camp was overrun by bloodthirsty zombies.

We also lost a couple of red shirts in the ensuing melee but the aforementioned were the two major losses from the attack.

Rick, Daryl, T-Dog and Glenn returned just in time to put Rick’s bag of guns to good use taking out the walkers in truly bloody fashion, but the damage was already done.

The episode ended with Jim having an epiphany on why he was digging all those graves as we panned out to reveal bodies practically lining the ground around him – shame he didn’t remember that sooner…

Bullet Points:

- Am I the only one who thinks Jeffrey DeMunn who plays Dale sounds a little like Dennis Miller?

No one…? Okay, just me then.

- I know they’ve become somewhat of a staple of hen dos and slutty fancy dress but damn, if a cowboy hat doesn’t make any woman look better.

Laurie Holden was particularly working her hat in that opening scene. Incidentally I remember finding Holden strangely alluring in Silent Hill, until she was burnt alive of course.

- Once again ‘Vatos’ had some great moments of comedy in amongst all the drama and darkness, as the whole season has thus far.

My favourite two moments were Daryl and Glenn’s exchange before the gun-bag recovery mission: “you got some balls for a Chinaman”/“I’m Korean” and Glenn’s look over to the yappy, Shih Tzu type dogs when it was mentioned that they thought he’d be eaten by dogs.

- It’s probably a stretch but could Merle have lured the walkers to the survivors’ camp as his “vengeance”?

- Since Amy and Ed were bitten by the walkers does that mean that we will be seeing zombiefied versions of them next week?

- I’m still firmly in the camp that believes The Walking Dead is about the best thing on TV at the moment but there are still critics, including some whose opinion I normally respect, that just don’t seem to get it at all.

One critic, who shall remain nameless, is almost rabid in his criticism of the show, going as far as to suggest that it is the millions of people who watch the show that have got it wrong not him, I suppose that’s the great thing about TV critics and their opinions – they’re like assholes…

The Walking Dead continues Friday @ 10pm on FX


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