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The Walking Dead #133 – Review

By: Robert Kirkman (writer), Charlie Adlard (pencils), Stefano Gaudiano (inks), Cliff Rathburn (grays) and Rus Wooton (letters)

The Story: Lots of little story nudges and more about the skin-zombies.

Review (with SPOILERS): Well, this was a bit of a kick-the-can-down-the-road issue, huh?  It isn’t that it’s a poor issue, it’s just that nothing hugely important happens.  Lots of little plots get advanced.  Some of them are A-story (like the new skin-zombies) and most are definitely B-story (but still interesting).

There isn’t a whole lot revealed about the skin-zombies.  Anyone looking for answers to WHAT these guys are up to or HOW they are doing it will be disappointed.  I’m sure those answers will be forthcoming in the future, but we’ll just have to be patient.  I guess we did learn that they have “lands” that were “invaded” by the protagonists and also that they aren’t totally bloodthirsty, since they don’t kill Darius instantly.  I’m enjoying the mystery of the skin-zombies even if the logical parts of my mind are screaming in protest.  It just doesn’t seem to make much sense to wander around in zombie skin, but I’m still intrigued by the mystery.  We’ll just have to wait…
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The Walking Dead S05E03 – Review

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Original air date: October 26, 2014

Review (with SPOILERS): Sometimes I just don’t know what to make of The Walking Dead.  For a couple of seasons, my prevailing sentiment was that it was a pretty crappy TV show that did one thing well: horror/gore/tension.  It was almost like TWD was like a tennis player who is pretty mediocre overall, but has a blistering first serve and can be a huge threat on a grass court when their first serve is clicking, but is too poor to do much on any other surface.

But maybe TWD is more like a really good boxer, who has a glass jaw and an annoying tendency to get into brawls where said glass jaw is exposed.  Maybe it’s a decent show with one glaring weakness: an unhealthy fixation on the morality of its central characters and the need to have Rick and Carl be the primary spokespeople for that morality.  Maybe whenever TWD avoids that, it’s a pretty good show?

This episode was pretty light on zombie gore,  which sometimes feels like TWD’s only strength.  But the episode was tight, well-paced and enjoyable. Who knew?  There was also some dreck in the episode, and we’ll talk about that because it’s fun to be snarky, but it didn’t ruin what was otherwise a pretty good episode.

The primary strength of the episode lies in how fast and taut it was in terms of resolving The Hunters storyline.  In the past, TWD would have rolled around until the mid-season break with The Hunters and it would have been awful.  Now, just three episodes into Season 5 we are DONE with Terminus and Gareth.  They didn’t milk it and we are moving on to whatever comes next.  I love that!  One of the great things about post-apocalypse storytelling is seeing the protagonists encounter strange little micro-societies that could never happen in the real world.  It’s an opportunity to see how creative the writers are.  How many ideas do they have?  And how precious are their ideas/characters to them?  I love a story that moves along briskly not only because we get to see more ideas, but it gives me the feeling that the writers have plenty of concepts and they aren’t going to get bogged down anywhere.  Gareth was a great villain.  I liked him immensely more than The Governor.  But in dispatching him so quickly, the writers give the impression of, “Don’t worry.  We’ve got this.  No need to linger on Gareth. Wait till you see what we have lined up NEXT!”  And if what comes NEXT isn’t awesome and incredible?  No biggie, because the action will soon move on again.  Compare that to how precious The Governor was to the creative talent on the show.  They milked The Governor for everything he was worth.  Even the people who loved The Governor were over him by the time he finally died, and everyone who didn’t love him just had to watch an annoying TV non-drama for 2 seasons. Just keep the action moving and it’s all going to be okay.

As for the actual events of the episode, they were pretty much ripped right from the comics.  I think the lines of dialog were identical in many places.  As a reader of the comics, I would have liked to see a little variety, but the basic story is solid, so why fiddle with it?  It was quick and brutal.  It showcased Gareth as a compelling villain, showed how dangerous his group was and how they’d learned everyone’s name, and showed that Rick wasn’t going to leave them around to kill others.  In contrast to when Gareth got that lame “shot-in-the-shoulder-and-falls-off-camera-but-you-know-he-isn’t-dead” in the season premier, there isn’t any doubt that Gareth is dead this time.  Yuck.  As an aside, I have the original art page where the Gareth character from the comics is on his knees begging for Rick not to kill him.  Immortalized on the screen…
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The Walking Dead S05E02 – Review

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Original Air Date: October 19, 2014

Review (with SPOILERS): “No, no, no…” is what this episode inspired me to say again and again.  As I feared in reviewing last week’s episode, once the budget for zombie-splatter gore diminished, the same stale group of writers would again assert control over TWD and the results would be uninspired.

An important caveat is that this is a comic review site and I come at this episode as someone who has read the TWD comics.  If you have not read the comics, there might be more anticipation in this storyline than there is for a comic reader.

There was so much draggy and soggy moments in this episode and almost nothing crackled.  This show continues to waste insane amounts of time on whether good people can do bad things.  That’s an interesting question and has been the root of some of the best TV dramas of the last 10-15 years, but this concept has been MUCH better explored in shows like Breaking Bad or The Sopranos or The Wire or pretty much anything.  When I see fist-bump Tara being agonizingly integrated into the group and forgiven for her past sins, I just think how poor the acting/writing/directing are when compared to a show like Breaking Bad.  What makes it worse is that TWD constantly reminds us what  these characters have done: Tara was “there” when The Governor attacked The Prison, Carol shot psycho-Lizzie in the back of the head, Rick has done “stuff,” Bob was part of groups that died, etc.  It’s just so damn tedious to be constantly reminded that these characters have done some questionable things, but remain fundamentally good people and are worth rooting for.  And if you were slow on the uptake, we got a patented moment where Rick squatted down to tell Carl how it was (except that Carl has to sit down for these squat-talks because Carl is now 6 feet tall).  The writers are just much more fascinated with these topics than any of the viewership.  If you doubt me, Google “was Walter White a bad person” and you will find serious, Ph.D.-level ethical debate about the main character in Breaking Bad.  Now do the same for any TWD character and you’ll find almost nothing.  It’s not just me.  Nobody cares.  Just move on, and splatter some zombies while you’re at it.

The other problem with these characters is that their stories are all the same.  Virtually every character has done “something” (often referred to as “it” during dialog; as in, “Are we going to tell them about IT?”) and the show demands that we reanalyze this same dynamic of a basically good person who had to do some questionable things to survive, over and over and over…  Where is the diversity of storytelling and character creation?  Why do we have to see the same basic story repeatedly?
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The Walking Dead S05E01 – Review

Original air date: October 12, 2014

Review (with SPOILERS): You won’t find many episodes of The Walking Dead that nicely encapsulate what the series does well (at times), while also reminding you that it is a deeply flawed dramatic series.  It’s a hard episode to review and I found myself liking it less the more I thought about it.  So many rewrites…

I can totally see why half my friends loved this episode, but I see a lot of nits to pick…

The Glass Is Half Full: You won’t find many scenes on basic cable more intense and uncomfortable than the opening scene in the abattoir.  It first built dread with an agonizingly long build-up: ominous knife sharpening, practice swings with the bat, creepy/cold stainless steel everywhere, lots of cuts to bodies on slabs… It’s all kinda preposterous! I mean, that knife was probably sharp already, right?  But, it gives time to ponder the threat to Rick & Co. and to contemplate the mechanics of everything– why the bat? Why are they kneeling?  How’s this slaughtering going to happen?  Long pauses are uncomfortable.

And then they start executing the no-name guys and – ugh – the SOUNDS!  The smack of the bat on a head and the rush of air coming from the severed windpipes.  Yeesh! They really put a lot of effort into making sure that we were uncomfortable as hell.  And then they killed FOUR no-name guys when we kinda got it after just one.  It was awful.  But it was also really effective.  Rick & Co. wanted to leave that room, and so did the everyone else watching this scene.  Tthe creators really committed to that scene, and they were able to invoke a universal feeling of discomfort with their audience.  The bar for causing discomfort just keeps going up.

The zombie scenes were a total romp.  The herds rumble along, eating the no-names and getting vanquished by the heroes and we are entertained.  It’s all good fun.  It should be routine at this point, but they keep finding little innovations like the Flame Zombie or nifty ways to kill them and it keeps working.

The other bonus from this episode is that we weren’t forced to endure monologs from either Rick or Carl.  Perhaps the writers realized that we don’t really want to hear Rick talking about how good people do bad things sometimes or hear Carl talk about anything.  So Carl spent the episode locked in a train car and Rick was literally gagged.  Andrew Lincoln is a fine physical actor, so the less talking and more doing, the better.  Nobody likes monologs and perhaps they’ve figured that out after 4 seasons.  Hopefully we never have to endure a Rick monolog as his companions listen in rapt attention.

It’s also encouraging that we aren’t going to linger in Terminus for a whole season the way we loitered at the Farm and the Prison.  One of the cool things about a post-apocalypse story is the opportunity to see lots of different micro-societies, and it would be a shame if we didn’t see more of the countryside.  I’d rather leave Terminus with questions than stay past the story’s freshness date.
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The Walking Dead #132 – Review

By: Robert Kirkman (writer), Charlie Adlard (pencils), Stefano Gaudiano (inks), Cliff Rathburn (gray tones) and Rus Wooton (letters)

The Story: The mystery of the whispering zombies is revealed….

Review (with SPOILERS): After last month’s hot mess of an issue, it’s a pleasant surprise to see The Walking Dead dust itself off with a very credible effort.  It would be nice to see this series develop some consistency, but that probably just isn’t in the cards as the series is being written more and more for binge consumption in collected editions.

Of course, the big event takes place in the second half of the issue where we see Dante’s group learn the secret of the talking zombies.  Learning that these talking zombies are actually normal humans wearing zombie skin was a pretty nifty reveal.  When you’ve consumed a healthy helping of fiction in your life, you kinda live for the moments when a storyteller can show you something you haven’t seen before; and this is one of those times.  True, it’s a play on the early reveal that smearing oneself with zombie guts would keep the zombies at bay, but it’s still pretty different.  And the reveal was so nicely handled from a storytelling standpoint– we see Dante’s group doing their very orderly, teamwork-driven attack against the zombies and …  WTF?!?!? Was that zombie holding a knife?  And did it just take a swipe at one of Dante’s group?  I liked how the moment was revealed to the reader in the same confusing manner that the actual characters would have felt, a very, “Did I really just see what I think I saw?”  Then a couple of the humans are killed in the ensuing confusion and we the readers are left to contemplate whether this talking zombie is really some kind of smart zombie.  It just looks so evil when it’s whispering away at Dante.  The zombies themselves are only scary in the way that sharks are scary, they aren’t really evil.  So, it was a nifty twist to see zombies as something scarier.

Now, there are a number of questions raised by the reveal itself.  I trust that Robert Kirkman will come up with some reason as to why skinning a zombie and wearing it’s skin is the way to go.  I mean, why not just do what the other survivors do and avoid the zombies?  What is to be gained by shuffling along in the herd?  Perhaps it helps them to control the herds and use them as weapons?  I also have a question about how exactly you skin a zombie and whether the skin wouldn’t be so rotten that it wouldn’t just fall apart.  And getting a buddy to actually sew the skin shut seems a little excessive.  And what’s the point of shuffling along with zombies way out in the middle of nowhere?  Anyway, it’s a neat reveal, but I hope there is a solid storytelling reason for this novel approach.

The rest of the issue is a bit of a miss.  There is a quick follow-up on last months BIG CLIFFHANGER that the Newcomers had attacked Andrea and were going to perhaps torture some answers out of her.  Of course, that BIG CLIFFHANGER only merits a single, solitary page in this issue and there’s no resolution or payoff.  It’s things like this that are really hurting this series.  You can’t keep dropping BIG CLIFFHANGERS and then have the next issue treat that storyline as an annoyance.  And then there was more of Rick and Maggie yammering about how nice and boring things are.  I guess there is a school of dramatic storytelling that says you have to show the characters at peace so we really appreciate what they will lose when the zombie-skin people find them. But we’ve been reading TWD for 132 issues! We KNOW that these characters will never have a respite because once they do, there is no reason for the series to continue. Continue reading

The Walking Dead #131 – Review

By: Robert Kirkman (writer), Charlie Adlard (pencils), Stefano Gaudiano (inks), Cliff Rathburn (grays) and Rus Wooton (letters)

The Review (with SPOILERS): There’s just too much material here for an excellent single-issue.  Counting off the top of my head, without reviewing the issue, we have (a) the discussion of the missing scout and whether zombies can talk now, (b) a tease of flirtation between Maggie and some new patrol-guy who we just met in this issue, (c) the reintroduction of an ass-kicking Sophia, (d) a discussion between Rick and Maggie about leadership and happiness, (e) a teaser of what is going on with Michonne, (f) the actual search for the missing scout, (g) Carl’s occupational drama as an apprentice blacksmith, (h) a potential rebellion by the Newcomers, (i) budding romance between Carl and Sophia.  That’s too much for 22 pages.  You can’t do all of those stories justice with a few panels here and there.

To be clear, the story concepts themselves aren’t without merit.  There are just too many of them going on at one time.  It would be nice to think that all will be addressed in their good time, but it would probably be as efficient from a storytelling perspective to wait on a few of them and tell theses stories in the next year.  I mean, I enjoy seeing Maggie possibly able to love again after Glenn was brutally smashed 31 issues ago.  That’s awesome.  I like Maggie.  I like seeing her happy.  I’m just not sure that the overall story has room for THAT as well as everything else.

With that said, there is a bit of inconsistency from issue-to-issue as well.  Last issue, the big reveal was that the zombies might be talking.  “OMG!  The zombies are talking!”  This issue development is reduced to a sidebar that barely warrants discussion.  Last issue we had the kinda touching drama that Carl may have missed out on his blacksmith apprenticeship because he and his Dad were too slow to pounce on the opportunity.  I really liked that story.  It had little kernels of wisdom to “strike when the iron is hot” that every reader can identify with because we’ve ALL missed out in our lives…  Then, in this issue, that drama is just yanked away as Carl is enrolled as Apprentice #2.  I just don’t understand why that story needed to be resolved now in an already crowded issue.  Why not let Carl wallow for a bit, have Sophia start to flirt with him a few panels per issue and let us readers worry (passively) that Carl will dither again and miss out on something else?

Basically, issues like this make me feel like Robert Kirkman needs an editor and life manager, someone to tell him when he is perhaps too stretched between various multi-media projects to focus on his bread-and-butter– someone to tell him, “hey man, these are all nice story concepts, but how about picking just one and doing a great job with it?”  He’s also paying the price for his characters becoming too precious and needing their own storyline.  He needs to kill some characters not just for shock value, but to stream-line his story.
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The Walking Dead #130 – Review

By: Robert Kirkman (writer), Charlie Adlard (pencils), Stefano Gaudiano (inks), Cliff Rathburn (grey tones) and Rus Wooton (letters)

This was a pretty interesting issue.  The Walking Dead delights in being a “slow burn” and that can be frustrating while readers are waiting for the story to coalesce (like a kid waiting for the Jello to harden), but once it does turn the corner and develop a sense of direction, TWD is able to instill more of a sense of anticipation that just about any other comic that I read.

This issue seems like it might be turning the corner to doing something real.  I say that mostly because of the sheer number of players in motion right now.  You’ve got the newcomers getting settled, we’ve seen them find Negan and resist his charisma, Rick is out visiting Maggie at Hilltop, Carl is having employment challenges, and maybe the zombies are changing.

Probably my favorite part of this issue dealt with Negan.  I liked how quickly he saw that his “HELP ME!!!” charade wasn’t working on the newcomers and we even saw him revert back to vintage Negan.  I really do wonder what Kirkman is going to do with Negan in the long term.  He’s too interesting to kill, and Kirkman probably could have killed him at the end of All Out War, but he’s such a fun character that Kirkman kept him around.  It was probably like when you were a kid and your parents told you that you were too old for some of your toys and they were right, but you kept one stuffed animal anyway because it was awesome.  I’m looking forward to what becomes of Negan.  I also enjoyed that the possibility of the newcomers naively letting him go didn’t come to pass.  That could have been a good story, but it would have been a little too fast.  I mean, surely anyone who has survived the zombie apocalypse this long isn’t a dummy. Continue reading

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