Pronouncing The Walking Dead Dead

The Walking Dead.

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I stopped watching after this season’s second episode. I haven’t seen it since. The narrative tone, the authorial position, have all changed drastically. These story lines weren’t allegories masquerading as horror, with ultimate sympathies for the human race. Instead, the viewer became subjugated to a taunting, teasing author whose narrative, like Lucille, became a weapon. Shooting Negan’s violence with the camera standing in for the viewer spoke volumes.

It seems that characters like Rick, and Glenn, or Carol and Maggie, no longer carry the voice of a struggling humanity, but that they are now the devices upon which the new authorial voice, Negan, speaks and acts against the audience. Sure, art and fiction are supposed to be catharsis, but for us.

maxresdefaultIn season six we were teased about Glenn’s fate, to many critics’ and viewer’s chagrin, only to have him survive, almost inexplicably. Glenn was almost transformed into a Mary Sue. Then, of course, only to have him brutally murdered in the next season’s premiere exactly how he dies in the book.

Such plotting didn’t serve the story, it didn’t fit any thematic purpose. In fact, there was none. Of course, senseless randomness and tragic chaos occurs in everyday life. However, TWD set itself apart by using tragedy and violence to make sense of the chaos thematically. Meaningless death had meaning for the viewer: bravery, humility, tragedy, honor, justice. This season’s premiere of TWD, however, had degenerated into the sadistic slasher genre, more closely resembling Friday the 13th sequels and B-films like The Tourist Trap: inexplicable violence committed by an uncomplicated villain against characters who were merely stand-ins for the viewer, quite literally in some takes.

The Governor was complicated; Garth was complicated. They were horrendous villains, but villains with story and theme. The first was the tragedy of one man’s struggle to maintain an illusion of a civilized life whose time had come to an end, and the sacrifices he was willing to extract from others to keep that illusion alive. Garth, the second, was the cautionary tale of what can happen to the human soul when it has been so brutalized that all humanity is destroyed.

Negan of the season premiere is simply sadism and greed. There are people like that, and no doubt our increasingly contentious and greedy culture gives rise to more of them than in better times. TWD,  however, didn’t explore this. The writers and producers leveraged Negan’s villainy at its most superficial level for the sake of violence, gore and the cheap facsimile of suspense that wasn’t too suspenseful, once we knew who’d been killed.

But hey, Fear the Walking Dead may have just become a real story.

New TWD Review: I got questions.

The main theme of which is:

What have they done with Carol & how do we get her back?

Please see my new review of last week’s TWD episode at my sister site:
http://twd-i-got-questions-lots-of-questions

Mid-season finale –

I love Vox.com. If I planned on growing up one day, I’d want to write for them.

Below is a link to a review of last night’s episode.

To be honest, I’ve always been one to draw the wool over my own eyes – so in love I am with TWD that I’ve only explored looking at the themes. I come up short when it gets down to taking on a critique of the story-telling.

I need to work on that.

The author below has some problems with the story-telling in Season Six. My only disagreement is that a critic watches the show on an entirely different level: he/she is engaging in his/her profession, and brings his (the author is Todd VanDerWerff, so from here on out, it’s a “he”) A-game intellectually.

The rest of us are watching the show to “check out.” We’re looking for a “Calgon moment,” to take us away. As long as we don’t quite know what’s going to happen, and jump out of our seats a few times, hey, we’re happy.

Much as I’d love some of the great insights into story-telling structure I’ve read about – life has been a bit stressful lately. If something can get my mind off that for a while, then, hey, the story is doing the job I “paid” for it to do – whether buying a book or paying streaming/cable fees and tolerating advertising.

My whole exegesis, which I admit takes the whole TWD a bit too seriously at times, is part of my catharsis. The issues I discuss I think are important, but they are important social issues that I see around me, and have impacted my world. Freud would have much more to say on the subject, but he’s not here.

On another level, TWD is a means to an end to raise my voice o the matter. I’d be saying it anyway, but I have the show to hold up and say “Here! See? TWD says so, too!”

TWD also enjoys a good bit of relative elevation. Sci-fi and horror fans don’t get much in the way of original TV viewing, and so much of general TV is bad, so the mere gap between the average quality and TWD allows many of its shortcomings to go unnoticed.

That, and no story is perfect. Well, people say there was that whole Citizen Kane thing. But that’s not sci-fi horror, so …

One last comment on why the average viewer’s take might be more forgiving than a critic: sometimes the suspense isn’t on what happens, but the thrill ride in getting there. VanDerWerff mentions that no one was really worried about Maggie’s safety. Okay, fine. Maybe not. But it was still fun to watch her be worried about her safety.

Even if we know a character is going to be fine, we know they don’t. Their horror and doubt is worth it sometimes.

That said, even I had to notice some shortcomings last night. That says alot.

http://www.vox.com/culture/2015/11/30/9817762/the-walking-dead-episode-8-recap-finale

If Deanna was on death’s door and couldn’t move, how did she manage that final shoot-out? There is the trope of gathering one’s last bit of strength in a rally of defense, but this seemed — like Glenn’s survival — a bit implausible.

They waited too long to bring in any strategy for survival for the group walking through the zombies.

There have been some comments (as in the link) about the Zombie disguise: why don’t they do it all the time? The same we don’t abstain from bathing, the same reason we don’t just omit a few steps and pull up our pants right after doing our business in the woods: it makes for a disgusting, possibly puke-inducting day, for us and the people who share space with us.

Modern man just does not take on that drastic a change in hygiene if it doesn’t have to.

Kirkman had to answer that question on TTD last night. Well, think about it people.

Even if the Kirkman and Gimple took that tact, it would be seen and criticized as gratuitous gore, with critics saying “Oh, that’s not realistic, people wouldn’t do that if they didn’t have to.”

Still, I found parts dissatisfying: there were several clear moments of advantage when the Wolf was threatening to leave with Denise. The suspense and threat there seemed weak. Bank-robber and kidnapping scenarios abandoned that flimsy “helplessness” plot device years ago.

The conflict between Carol and Morgan seemed like simple device, too – a means to the Take-Denise-Hostage end. Philosophically it had been brewing, but there hadn’t been a history of animosity – only difference of opinion. Now they’re going at each other? In such a volatile situation? Really?

I live for those boring, expositional moments of dialogue when characters discuss – when the story goes to tell not show. A little goes a long way, I assure you, but it’s nice. That was the place for that. It didn’t happen. Moreover, the show didn’t take the position that we know the writers clearly have; it ducked committing to its own theme for lack of a way to illustrate it in plot. It sacrificed commitment to the thematic arc for a moment of cheap suspense.

C’mon Scott. I know you know better. Don’t make me take down my Gimple shrine in the basement.

When Carol said “I have to stop it,” I did feel a nice allusion back to the prison where she burned the virus carriers. It established this as her perspective on the world. Still, the fight seemed out of character even for her.

I can see where the invasion of the zombies seems like “same song, different verse.” In the forum, there was one question as to why no one noticed the steeple cracking. Well, people are just that stupid, I’m afraid. For one, I get suspicious when a storyline attributes more sense to humanity than it really possesses. I can fill this blog with tragic tales of disaster and loss of life because of a chain of events that simply adds up to a few stupid people in a row.

Rick and our gang are supposed to be better than that, and such an oversight flies in the face of the “we know more because we were out there” business.

 

 

Interesting TV Review

So this is a pretty interesting take on the way the Glenn problem was told in TWD.

http://www.ew.com/article/2015/11/24/walking-dead-heads-up-review-glenn

It’s critical of it from a story-telling perspective, and finds it a rather gimmicky. The article is a pretty interesting read of TV criticism, a cut above some of what’s out there.

The article reminds me I should have never listened to my parents, and taken more film theory classes instead.

I don’t 100% agree with all of it, but I like the way it takes social media and marketing into account as factors in the storytelling process.

For myself, I had two problems with the Glenn escape.

  1. THERE WAS A FIRE ESCAPE!! Why the hell did they not climb the friggin’ fire escape?

It was kind of like watching someone nearly drown when there was a boat nearby.

  1. Even I have to admit that the escape under the dumpster, which I speculated, was pretty implausible.

The only way that works for me is if there a theme (what the author calls “pretentious musings”) of Glenn as “resurrected” from the dead, which happens in this genre alot.

That Nagan is reputed to be a “savior” character makes that for an interesting option … will that character see some symbolism in Glenn’s “impossible” escape?

Given that the narrative generally eschews supernatural, magical plot devices, and implausible escape is pretty much their only option.

 

Can’t seem to find that line between fact and fiction …

The Walking Dead, Season 5-6:
Battered, beaten refuges from a violent, brutal, unruly world of ruthless people and harsh adversity come to the gates of a self-sustaining, affluent community of well-meaning people, seeking shelter, safety and a home.

A group of bloodthirsty savages with no sense of humanity lurk outside, posing a danger to anyone who crosses their path.

Eventually the group attacks, slaughtering innocent citizens.

Current Events: 
See above.

Line between fact and fiction:
Alexandria took the refugees in without hesitation.

Let life imitate art, for once, eh?
Take the refugees, they may have more to teach us than we have to give them.

Be Alexandria.


 

I keep saying, it’s not about them, it’s about us.

 

TWD as Epic con’t

Quick Item:

Descent to underworld requirement:
Episode when Rick is in the prison, following Lori’s deaath, and he goes into a deserted part of the prison, answers the phone and hears the dead.

Requirements:

Descent to hell: in our cultures, hell is for sinners, damned people.
In our society, we “damn” or judge people and send people to jail who’ve broken our rules.

Speaks to the dead:
Enough said.

 

Deanna, TWD and the Social Order

Update: Post-11.22.15 Episode:
Deanna may have a screw loose. It’s one thing if those plans are for survival within reinforced walls and protection. But she wants to expand? Optimistic, yes. Prudent? Not exactly at this juncture. Other things may need to be prioritized first.


 

The other day I was thinking and I had an insight. Now that I’ve recovered from that harrowing experience, I will share that insight with the rest of you.

Was into the simple solution for mankind’s many existential woes?

No.

It was about The Walking Dead.

What else did you think I would have an insight about? How long have you been reading this blog?

So, I’ve written elsewhere (or so I recall) that historically, characters representing social institutions really don’t end up being very … reliable. Or likable, or dependable, or moral.

In fact, they end up being pretty skanky, at best.

Let’s review:
Religion:
Father Gabriel  – holed himself up in the church while he let his congregation die gruesome deaths, only for them to un-die again.

Law & Order:
Lt. Dawn Lerner – Holds Beth captive, pimps her (and another patient) out. While her motivations are somewhat pitiable, she’s still not anyone that will inspire you to look on the law enforcement institution with confidence.

Medicine:
Dr. Steven Edwards – ensures job security through murder.

Science:
Dr. Edwin Jenner, CDC – became very nihilistic and blew himself up, happy to oblige anyone who wanted to ride the incineration express on his coattails.

Why have I not brought up The Governor yet? You may ask.
Well, gimme a minute.

I thought about Deanna. Deanna may not live up to my hopes and dreams, but there’s some promise here. She is the first character to represent any formal social order – she presides as the political head of her community – that seems trustworthy.

Some may argue she has committed a grievous error in underestimating the truth and reality of Rick & Co’s experiences initially. My recent premise has been that that narrative is one of morals of Season 6: listen to the people who have lived outside your walls if you want to build a stronger society. They (we) know what monsters lurk out there and we know how to fight them.

Where I find promise in Deanna is that she does just that. She listens, she heeds. She has her moment of shock and awe, and then she gets over it.  In terms of being a community administrator, I’m hoping she turns out to be every much the badass Carol is in terms of military covert ops (disguising herself as a Wolverine).

In one of the last scenes of one episode, Deanna is seen marking up crop placements on the map. Maybe I’m being naive to think she’ll actually get to execute her plan, maybe she is too. The point is, though, that she’s reacting to the reality around her, and she always has. She steps away where she recognizes that Maggie and her group are, at that point, the more able fighters during the Wolverine crisis. It’s unfortunate, and she’s weak for being that way, but she recognizes that reality. She recognizes the true nature of her son, Spencer and his faux leadership pose.

Deanna does what we all should do when working to build our society: listen to the people who’ve survived the dangers from which we need to protect ourselves. Listen to the outsiders. Respond, don’t just react.

So, I have hope, probably misguided, for our little Alexandria.


As an aside, this is where I want to stick my little head into the moral debate on Morgan’s responsibility for letting the Wolverines live, and did that lead to the attack. Well, hindsight is twenty-twenty. In that moment, Morgan was contemplating killing that seemed unnecessary in that context. He didn’t know about Alexandria, he didn’t know they were outlaws. His context told him they were dumb, mean kids and he’d given them their whuppin’ and let them go, hopefully wiser men.

And yes, we do say “whuppin'” down there.

 

TWD as Epic Poem: Seriously, I’m not kidding

Does The Walking Dead qualify as our generation’s Epic Tale, in the literary sense, in the newest popular medium: TV/Film?

From https://web.cn.edu/kwheeler/documents/What_is_an_Epic.pdf is a list of the requirements for an Epic Poem, which pretty much conforms to my recollection of my eleventh-grade English class:

——————————————————————————————————————

  1. It is a long narrative about a serious or worthy traditional subject.

In our current culture, the Apocalypse has been a popular subject.  The end of the world is also a fairly serious matter. In my humble opinion.

  1. Its diction is elevated in style. It employs a formal, dignified, objective tone and many figures of speech.

This one is a bit difficult to translate because the rule generally applies to written works, which TWD is obviously not. However, it would be up to more erudite film experts than I to determine if the screenwriting, directing and production qualify as an “elevated style.”

While it’s not Fellini or Bunuel, Fellini and Bunuel are not exactly accessible.

I’d argue, however, TWD does employ a “formal, dignified, objective tone,” as the quality of work has general received a good deal of praise.

  1. The narrative focused on the exploits of an epic hero or demigod who represents the cultural values of a race, nation, or religious group.

In our current culture, the Apocalypse has been a popular subject.  The end of the world is also a fairly serious matter. In my humble opinion. 

My own theory is that a few generations may look back on us and study our fascination with post-apocalyptic literature as a symptom of our cultural anxiety about the longevity of our world: our planet, or our moral existence, our dreams of a more just society.

  1. The hero’s success or failure determines the fate of an entire people or nation.

The Prison, Terminus, Alexandria, numerous times in the forest. Enough said.
Maybe not.

Deanna says: “What I wanted for this place, was that just pie in the sky?”
Rick says: “No.”

Deanna believes the success of Alexandria, the first civilization Rick’s group has encountered, rests in Rick’s hands.

  1. The action takes place in a vast setting; it covers a wide geographic area. The setting is frequently set some time in the remote past.

See above. Check.

  1. The action contains superhuman feats of strength or military prowess.

Well, after “Now,” (11/8/15), we’re all wondering how Rick got out of the R.V. He is a former sheriff (military), and he recently organized the luring of the walkers away from Alexandria.

More strictly adhering to this requirement is Rick’s leadership of the successful escape from Terminus.

  1. Gods or supernatural beings frequently take part in the action to affect the outcome. This supernatural intervention often implies two simultaneous plots.

Initially, I said this was a tough one. Then I remembered Rick’s hallucinations in the prison. Truthfully, I’d need to review that season to see how that played out.

That said, as a matter of contemporary storytelling, the horror and realism of TWD would be completely sabotaged by the use of angels or demons or other supernatural creatures. I’m not denigrating that (I write it for crying out loud), but it wouldn’t play in this story. The appeal of TWD is that it tries to adhere to the reality of human nature in telling the story. Ghosts, deities, etc., would take this story into a cheesy, gimmicky realm, undermine the darkness that’s so important.

On the other hand, all of this rests on the existence of Zombies, however scientifically explained, which are a “supernatural intervention.”

In any other regard, I think the writers rightfully employ hallucinations, dreams, nightmares, delusions to manage the story where audiences of prior centuries (or millenia) would have been equally horrified by other-worldly creatures that were taken for granted in those cultures.

  1. The poem begins with the invocation of a muse to inspire the poet–i.e., a prayer to an appropriate supernatural being. The speaker asks that this being provide him the suitable emotion, creativity, or diction to finish the poem. Often the poet states a theme or argument for the entire work–such as “arms and the man.”

I’m working on it. I’m sure somewhere in the last six seasons it’s there. Come back soon.

  1. The narrative starts in medias res, in the middle of the action. Subsequently, the earlier events leading up to the start of the poem will be recounted in the characters’ narratives or in flashbacks.

Rick wakes up in a hospital room (see 28 Days Later), with no knowledge that the world has gone to hell in a handbasket, literally. The narration actually must go back in time in several episodes to explain how Rick landed in the hospital room, how Shane and Lori got to where they are, etc.

Q.E.D. for #9.

  1. The epic contains long catalogs of heroes or important characters, focusing on highborn kings and great warriors rather than peasants and commoners.

This is the trope of our age: that great warriors can come from humble beginnings. It’s a legacy of our Judeo-Christian heritage where, in the Old and New Testaments, great leaders often come from humble or ordinary origins.

This said, Carol and Daryl are more than “great warriors,” with Carol having two prominent episodes where she arms and disguises herself as an enemy combatant.

Michonne’s first appearance is as a mysterious warri0r: face concealed, armed with a sword.

Daryl has his crossbow.

It’s interesting to note that this three warriors typically (not exclusively) restrict themselves to almost primitive weapons, in a call back to traditional epics.

  1. The epic employs extended similes (called epic similes) at appropriate spots of the story, and a traditional scene of extended description in which the hero arms himself.

Working on it. I just came up with this theory an hour ago. This is going to take some research. Fortunately, I got the time. Come on back.

  1. Often, the main protagonist undergoes a terrifying journey–sometimes a descent into the underworld–i.e., into hell or the realm of the dead.

Candidates: S1.2 “Guts:” Glenn and Rick “arm” themselves (see #11) with the guts of a dispatched walker to walk through a herd of walkers in Atlanta, which has fallen and become overrun.

Then again, Rick’s whole universe is “the realm of the dead.”

TWD: T-15 and counting …

*** Graphic Novel Spoiler Alert ***

My writer friend and I were talking about TWD last week, sharing our frustration that the “Is He is or is He ain’t my Zombie” question (viz a vis Glenn) for ninety minutes of Morgan exposition.

For both of us, it seemed a disappointing ratings trick for a show that has generally eschewed that kind of tomfoolery.

Then I started thinking about my previous post … about how the survivors “out there” are possessors of “special knowledge.” After all, if you’re all of a sudden invaded by … well … anything, you want seasoned Navy Seals in your front yard, not the Gardening Club.

Last week’s episode shows us that Morgan, too, has Special Knowledge: he has been to the edge of human understanding, jumped off the cliff, and swum around in the nasty waters of insanity, only to life to come back from it all, pretty much better than before.

He’s lost everything, including himself, turned into a killing animal, only to come back – with instruction and help – a spiritually evolved human being.

That’s it’s own kind of Badass.

If, as Michonne said late in Season Five, Rick was out there “almost too long,” and we got the idea that he was, Morgan’s history presents the notion that world views are no longer in conflict: civilized restraint of human impulses (which is necessary for a smooth-running society) versus the brutality needed to fight the world’s various adversities, the conflict we’ve seen so far. Morgan presents a third vantage point that mediates the two. Morgan has fought, he defeated all the threats, but he still maintains his humanity. Morgan has successfully mediated these two extremes, even if it is a constant renegotiation of balance.

For Carol, too, this is an important influence to have. Morgan is already “preaching the gospel” to her.

If Glenn is dead, and my friend thinks the outcome has only been withheld so Maggie can say good-bye, then this is going to seriously f*** Rick up. He is going to need someone like Morgan, who will go from protege to mentor to keep Rick spiritually – if not also physically – alive.

Maggie, having now lost her entire family, might experiment with a much-deserved emotional breakdown herself. She earned it.

Showing that Morgan has the experience and wisdom to guide them out of their spiritual apocalypses, just as Rick did the environmental one, allows the reader to believe and hope that he (Morgan) can do it.

That would make sense for the interjection of the Morgan exposition at this point in the story line. It’s my prediction – that the writers are now presenting a third “option” for existence personified by Morgan’s new philosophy.

I hope to G-d Glenn’s not dead. Yeah, Yeah, he dies in the books. So does Carol and a half a dozen others that are still around. Pish Posh. There’s a lot of characters alive in the books (I’ve finished up to Volume 8) that have long since ended their TV-bound existence, too.

I doubt it though.

The Hospital

Institutions.

It’s not like the previews and trailers didn’t put it right up there for the world to see, what with Dawn in uniform in a hospital, and people dressed in scrubs.

The survivors’ world is shaping up, we are beginning to see their context. Beth is no longer wandering the wilderness. She has arrived at civilization. Where her former group finds religion is useless, she sees the police have become fascists and pimps, doctors are murderers, and the barbarians are at the gates where we were supposed to be healed.

Of course, these are just institutions. In the empty church over the past two weeks we did see faith (Carl), forgiveness (Maggie), and justice (Rick). The institution that Gabriel so relied on was just “Four Walls and a Roof.” In “Slabtown,” we see once again it’s the people who provide the human fundamentals we now seek in institutions.

In “Slabtown,” Beth serves the actual functions any functional society needs:
Beth helps Noah escape in search of freedom – she is the liberator;
She confronts Dr. Edwards on his murder – she is the jury and judge.

When Beth allows Joan to find final justice against Officer Gorham – she is the executioner. Beth knows completely what she’s doing to Gorham when she sets him up in the office, and she’s happy to let Dawn get a glimpse of that gory little tableau. After all, as Rick said a long time ago that “there’s a new sheriff in town.”

When she strolls down the hall with the scalpel, is she nearing a role as the executioner as well?

This episode was a good deal of exposition as far as the social structure in the hospital, and a question about one’s obligation to a social structure one doesn’t volunteer for, but to which a member owes her life. Exactly how much should you be forced to give? Where is that moral line between dignity of free will and free-loading?

What’s interesting is that as much as Dr. Edwards and Dawn talk about “out there,” with Edwards utter lack of confidence “we’re the ones who don’t make it,” Beth has been “out there.” For her seeming meekness, she’s becoming a bad-ass, in a very grounded, unassuming way. She has integrated her transcendence and her humanity with her fierce survival skills. Where Edwards decides to relinquish any assertiveness so he can appreciate art, even if it is a manifestation of his own guilty conscience, Beth has no such conflict: “I sing. I still sing.”

Did Edwards’ sense of helplessness lead to his moral bankruptcy? He keeps a masterpiece of the epitome of cowardice, but he remains a coward. He’s no Governor or Gareth, but he is closer to Gabriel: both turned their backs on their God and faith. Cowardice can make one as brutal and savage as ambition and rage.

 


 

The Talking Dead panel quickly noted the similarities between Beth’s story and Rick’s at the beginning of the series; actress Emily Kinney revealed this was discussed during shooting.

 

 

 

The House that Rick built: “Four Walls and a Roof”

This is this week’s post on the most recent episode of The Walking Dead.

One thing I want to say about my reviews, present, past a future:
I don’t want any reader to think that I propose violence or savagery to right wrongs or address evil or social problems. Any interpretation along that lines is absurd, and a complete falsification of my essays.

I see TWD as a fable, an allegory, and the essays I write about it are in that vein. For me Scott Gimple is a modern-day, albeit somewhat tortured, Aesop.


Am I psychic? Or a master of stating the obvious?

As I had hoped for in my last TWD posting, so it became and Bob had a little surprise for Gareth and his group. The ironies here abound.

Before diving in, the topic of cannibalism took on an interesting dimension for me in watching last Sunday’s episode that I wanted to explore.

The last two episodes, actually two parts of one story arc, take place in and around a church. Religion, confession, forgiveness, damnation, redemption, justice and even communion are explored.

There’s a lot of confession at the altar: Gabriel confesses to Rick, Gabriel later confesses to Rick. Rick here is the confessor, the priest. He dispenses forgiveness (earlier with Tara), cautious mercy (Rick’s warning to Gabriel about protecting his “family”), or excommunication for Gareth.

Then there’s communion.

Communion. At one point Rick thanks Father Gabriel for sharing the “communion wine” with the group. Gabriel reminds Rick “it ain’t holy until it’s blessed.”

Communion. According to the doctrine of transubstantiation, communion is:

the consecration of the bread and wine there takes place a change of the whole substance of the bread into the substance of the body of Christ our Lord and of the whole substance of the wine into the substance of his blood.[i]

Father Gabriel’s church is an Episcopal church. A literal look at the episode leads to the question: does the Episcopal church follow this doctrine? Well, as a former Episcopalian, I’ll tell it to you straight: I don’t know. I looked it up, and I still don’t know.  What I did find, interesting enough, is the idea that:

for those who receive the form or sign without faith, or for those who are wicked, Christ is not present spiritually, and they consume only the physical signs of this holy presence, which further adds to their wickedness[ii]

This is where we find Gareth.  Just as Father Gabriel’s church is a perversion of the idea of Christianity where people are to be saved from an eternal death, Gareth’s practice is a depraved perversion of communion.

Because Gareth can’t engage in holy communion, so what he consumes only adds to his wickedness. When he hears a baby crying in a church, he is so committed to evil that the sound doesn’t call to his humanity, it’s a siren call to his brutality.

In “Four Walls and a Roof,” we find Bob filling an almost Christ-like position. He is tied to a stake, persecuted. On his deathbed, he reiterates his optimistic faith to Rick who holds Judith. It is in the baby’s existence Bob urges Rick to believe in change for the world. He lays dying, saying his good-byes to his friends, under a carving of The Last Supper, when Christ says good-bye to his.

I could write from now until The Walking Dead is something we tell our grandkids about and still not get to the bottom of all the theology and religion that gets presented, examined and turned inside out – as does the idea of communion – and still not get to the bottom of it.

In the sanctuary of the church, five bible verses are listed. For non-church goers, this is unusual. The board is usually used to display maybe a reading or two, then the hymn numbers from the hymnal. So, seeing this unusual use, I found the following passages based on the board:

Romans 6:4
For we know that since Christ was raised from the dead, he cannot die again; death no longer has mastery over him.

Luke 24:5
In their fright the women bowed down with their faces to the ground, but the men said to them, “Why do you look for the living among the dead?

(This is interesting. In the previous episode, Abraham says in his invitation to DC that “the dead shall die and the world shall return to the living.”)

Ezekial 37:7
So I prophesied as I was commanded. And as I was prophesying, there was a noise, a rattling sound, and the bones came together, bone to bone.

Matthew 27:52
and the tombs broke open. The bodies of many holy people who had died were raised to life.

Revelations 9:6
During those days people will seek death but will not find it; they will long to die, but death will elude them.

So, this is where it becomes tricky as to whether the writer was simply having a bit of Biblical fun for readers with too much time on a Sunday night, or if he was pointing to a deeper theme or meaning. A good debate could take decades. I will say that I when I read the Ezekiel and Matthew passages, I imagined Gabriel huddled behind his desk, reading those very texts as he couldn’t help but hear outside:

“the dead came for them. … entire families calling my name as they were torn apart begging me for mercy.” Well, dude, you could have done something about that.

I try to look for a nice, neat moral at the end of the fable when watching TWD, but in this episode I don’t think there is one. I think there is just a lot of exploration and smaller messages of hope, be it Glenn’s peace-making, Tyrese’s urging Sasha to always chose the path of love over anger, our realization that his prevailing characteristic is not an aversion to violence, but a commitment to compassion, as he violently saves Bob from “turning,” and sends Bob to a final peace.

A lot has been said about the slaughter of Gareth’s crumbs of a gang in the sanctuary of the church. Without a doubt it’s a bloodbath. However, both The Talking Dead panel and reviewer Hughes omit one important moral point Rick briefly makes.  If he lets Gareth go, it’s mercy on Gareth, but what innocent stranger is Rick dooming? There are no police, no laws, no prisons, no jails. How is one to balance the need to protect the world from Gareth and the desire to provide mercy? The safety and welfare of anyone unfortunate enough to “cross paths” with Gareth in the future rests squarely in Rick’s hands.

Rick listened to the group’s call to mercy in the previous episode: he just walked away and Bob paid a brutal, however ironic, price. Clearly, Gareth doesn’t know what to do with mercy when he gets it. Suggestions: walk away and do good to your fellow man. Pay it forward. Stay out of trouble. But sweetie, don’t hunt down and piss off your enemy with the red-handled machete who promised to kill you. He’s probably a big believer in “fool me once, shame on me,” etc.

Rick, however, learns and adapts:  sometimes, evil just needs to be eradicated or else it will come back to get you or someone else. Remember, he tried to reason with the Governor. That destroyed their very community and sent them back wandering through the wilderness again. Michonne, who spoke of her time before Andrea earlier, is reminding of this recurring theme in her life when she finds the children’s drawings at the church of a baby Moses with the caption “40 years of wandering.” Ultimately, though, they all are wandering through the wilderness.

When Rick’s gory solution to his moral dilemma is all over, Rick isn’t angry or triumphant or arrogant or despondent. He’s humbled: “Coulda been us.” There but for the grace of God go I.

Gabriel’s learned nothing on the other hand. “This is the Lord’s House,” he says facing the carnage with a sanctimonious sense of indignation. Really? So carnage of innocents outside the church is merely regrettable when the execution of depraved villains inside is blasphemous? Gabriel pretends to be guilt-ridden, but it’s a masochistic pretense, like Monks who flog themselves in the Abbey while ignoring the starving multitude outside.

“It’s just four walls and a roof,” Maggie explains.

After all, it’s what we do there and how we use that makes it God’s house or not.

A lot could be said about the savagery Rick resorts to. Would a good old-fashioned, Lonesome Dove style hanging with a sign that said “Cannibals” be more human? As the reviewer Jason Hughes of The Wrap[iii] points out, Maggie and Glenn are pretty awestruck at the violence – but are they appalled at the brutal killing, or the fact it was even necessary?

This is all fable: posing the question of what to do with evil in the world. Where is the line between mercy and the greater social good? I don’t want any reader to think that I propose violence or savagery to right wrongs or address evil. Dear G-d I can’t even squash a bug.

Unlike Rick and his group, we have a justice system, attorneys, jails, judges, police and an entire infrastructure, albeit a corroded one, to address evil. One small moral to the fable may be that we just don’t use it. And by use it, I mean become a part of it, a working component of that infrastructure of justice and protection. Gareth and Gabriel failed. Rick was once an ineffective system: indecisive, then a bit irrational, then a lot of things. That said, he’s learned and adapted; he’s pretty effective at addressing evil in the midst of goodness now.  It ain’t always pretty, but it’s a safer world because Rick is in it. Abraham acknowledges this with his note to Rick as they leave.

One last unrelated thought: why do Maggie and Glenn go with Abraham? Let’s face it, this is about story development. It’s the only way to keep us invested in the journey for Abraham and the group, since we (the audience) haven’t built a real relationship with those characters yet, nor have they been given a great deal of screen time for character development. Thematically, I think the best bet is that after witnessing the ugly truth of the world they live in, where Rick’s newfound brutality is necessary, they decide to join the search for a solution, for the hope of a better world.

I’m still predicting Eugene knows squat about a cure. Is the needlepoint he say a hint? “Stupidity is also a gift of God, but one mustn’t misuse it.”

 


 

[i] http://www.usccb.org/beliefs-and-teachings/what-we-believe/catechism/catechism-of-the-catholic-church/epub/index.cfm

[ii] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anglican_eucharistic_theology

[iii] http://www.thewrap.com/the-walking-dead-gets-back-to-the-business-of-killing-and-dying/

 

 

 

 

The Walking Dead: The Disciples Convene

So, of course “Strangers” was about religion. Given the trailers features a preacher and a church, I could hardly run for psychic of the year.

But.

Where “No Sanctuary” demonstrated the power of one group’s faith in comparison with another group’s absolute lack of any grace, forgiveness or decency, this week we see the uselessness of an empty religion: a religion that values only the words but not the humanity. It is a religion as empty as Father Gabriel’s church.

When thinking about what I was going to write, I was reminded of something I read several years ago in John Donne’s sermons. I paraphrase loosely.

“Belief that cannot withstand the light of reason is not faith, but mere superstition.”

Father Gabriel is so terrified by the world that Rick has to order him to accompany his group on the supply run, from which Gabriel will benefit.

Gabriel’s spiritual journey begins, as he must confront the “turned” woman we later learn he knew quite well. As one of The Talking Dead panelists noted, Gabriel prepares himself in a crucifixion pose, ready to be taken by the walker woman. However, this isn’t Christ-like, and if my reading of the New Testament is remotely accurate, a few of the disciples — if not the Holy J.C. Himself — might draw some distinctions between Father Gabriel and the Son of Man.

The distinction being a presence among the troubled, the afflicted, the at-risk – that might be the first objection.  As Carl finds out, Gabriel closed up shop and left his congregation to a gruesome fate when the fit hit the shan.  I will now out myself theologically to say this: we’re not supposed to do that. Really. There’s whole parts of the N.T. telling us that ignoring suffering and pain is the path not to take. So, Father Gabriel can transcribe the Good Book all he wants, but it’s beside the point.

One sad part to watch is how Gabriel’s faux sanctity reverberates onto Carol’s state of mind. He proclaims himself non-violent as a position of conviction, but as far as we can see, she never learns it’s a position of cowardice. At the “feast,” she’s alienated, estranged and troubled. Earlier she’s been in Gabriel’s study viewing the world “Thou Shalt Not Kill” in his transcription of the Bible. I wondered how much screaming, terror and death he listened to while jotting that down. Passivity kills, too. But Carol doesn’t know the full truth of Gabriel and his church, so all she can see in herself is guilt for the lives she’s taken, not grace for the lives she’s saved.

There’s no place for her in that church, if she’s to believe Father Gabriel. The irony is, she is the Great Protector. Last week I wrote that I saw Carol as an Old Testament figure.  I think “Strangers” highlights that point. Gabriel has forgotten the Old Testament theological heritage of protecting and defending the innocent, the helpless and even civilized decency in a brutal world. After all, when Christ taught, he taught as a spiritual heir to that religious history. Carol’s bravery that needs to be celebrated, and the brokenness that needs to healed is sent adrift because there is no place for it in Gabriel’s church.

What Carol misses is that apparently, though there was no room for killing in Gabriel’s world, there was no place for anyone else to live, either.

Carol’s so demoralized she runs. In a great deus ex machina moment, Daryl finds Carol, and they both see the car that took Beth. Off they go. As if in being lost, they were given a mission. There’s a lot of Zen in that, a lot of mysticism.

There is one odd thing that I noticed last week, but the biblical symbolism didn’t strike me at the time: leaving Terminus, there were twelve. As in disciples.  (Yes, I’m not counting Judith). In tonight’s episode, as they all follow Rick into the church, they tell Abraham that they will follow Rick, they will do as he says.

I don’t want to write about Bob. I’m deeply disturbed by Bob. I’m troubled by the storytelling itself, as well as the theme. It would be an easy reach for me to say that in leaving the church, he lost his faith and that precipitated his downfall, but I just have too many questions. Why so many throw-away lines during the episode? They only served to give the character attention, but didn’t serve the story. Why did he suddenly get upset? Why did he leave? Why didn’t he take a weapon and keep a good watch? Really, Bob, how long have you been hanging with the badass crowd now? Why wouldn’t he wake up if someone was sawing his leg off? I don’t think Gareth takes an anesthesiologist with him. I mean, it seemed he was happy with the Baseball Bat approach.

Myself, I thought Bob was hiding a bite. He’d been acting strangely after the basement scene, so I was all ready to have Bob look Gareth in the eye after that speech and go “really? Well, gotcha!” Then open his jacket to reveal an ever so lovely, crimson-soaked, crescent-shaped bite. In Season One, Jim pulled that off after the attack on the camp.

Or, while passed out, die quietly unbeknownst to the Terminus survivors, then awaken to have a few servings of Gareth sashimi himself. That would have been nice.

I mean let’s face it, Gareth has no arc. The Governor had an arc – he fell off of it, but he had an arc.

Next prediction (and this is long-term): Eugene is full of poop. I just don’t buy it. I’ve lost all respect for Abraham for buying it. I’ve known scientists, I’ve gone drinking with them.  And anyway, if the answer is in DC, don’t they have a bunker or something where someone would already be putting it into motion?

 

The Walking Dead: “No Sanctuary” – Religion at its Gorey Best

So, here’s my prediction: this season will be all about Religion in all its forms: faith, superstition, institutionalization, belief, protest, survival.

Trailers and teasers for the next episode already reveal several religious trappings: a church, a pastor (or priest). That, however, is just the tip of the ideological iceberg my friends. Even without those sure-fire religious images strewn across the screen, episode 1 – “No Sanctuary” – laid the groundwork for the exploration of religion, spirituality and its opposite (whatever that is) in a desolate, brutal world.

The episode opens in dark cattle car, almost devoid of any light. The camera pans across the black darkness before anyone can realize there are the faint grey outlines of a man’s shirt. Then the outline-like figures appear, almost silhouettes save the faint light on their arms, their cheeks, their feet.  The first sounds are screams. Each figure, sits, barely moving, waiting … just waiting. One man finally chokes out the words “we never should have put up the signs.”

Then, from a scene of total blackness, Gareth’s face emerges, unapologetic for the act that brought evil into their midst. “We were trying to do something good. We were being human beings.”  We find out that referring to that group as human beings, even if by its leader, in the past tense, is entirely accurate.[i]

As the scene ends, Gareth’s face is half-enclosed in darkness, half-revealed in light. He is, as we know, a man whose soul has been split. It’s not an ambiguity, or a conflict, it’s a rupture that turns him into something worse that the villains he faces in that moment. We learn later he’s not crazed and he’s worse than enraged. He’s just split apart.

The next scene takes us to our group’s cattle car and the stark difference between the groups. We see a hand grinding something against the floor of the car, snippets of conversations as the group communicates, shares information. Then, Daryl and Maggie discuss Beth’s situation. “A black car with a white cross” is what took her.[ii]  This is not a group of victims waiting. Even later, Eugene, in his pessimism, makes the choice of action and resistance over passive victimization: he believes he can “compromise this door” should Rick fail to return.

The group, however, showing remarkable faith and belief, quash his pessimism before it can be contagious. Carl and Maggie come forward in their belief and urge preparation for Rick’s Coming. It is almost biblical when Maggie echoes Carl’s assurances that everyone will return:

“They are. And we need to get ready to fight our way out with them when they do.”

They last saw Rick basically hog-tied and prone on the ground guarded by bad people with guns. Her faith is biblical. And, as it turns out, very accurate.

The scene at the trough echoes back to previous episodes. In “The Talking Dead,” Chris Hardwick noted that the blond kid on the end was “Hippie Sam,” from the episode where Rick banished Carol. Rick and the young man exchange looks of recognition. There’s a message here about the interconnectedness of us all, how the world is always smaller than you believe. I think there is.

What struck me however, was the echo to the season four’s Governor. Bob pleads for his life saying they can return the world to some prior state. Sorry Bob, but I don’t believe it either, much as I hate to agree with Gareth. When Gareth almost glibly replies that “We can’t go back, Bob,” I immediately remembered the scene on the trailer, where the Governor clubs his former chief minion with a golf club. While I might not believe you can recapture Eden, I’m not in for Gareth’s and the Governor’s psychopathic response at that realization either.

Sometimes, no matter how bad it is, and it can get bad, the only way forward is through. I hate it too, folks, but there it is.

{About the killers}

And then, just as a baseball bat is about to hit Glenn’s head … gunshots, a rocking explosion.

What the?

It’s what we folks from creative writing classes know as deus ex machina. (Gosh-darn-it that’s hard to work into conversations at holidays, so I gotta use it when I can.) But remember that, because when I say “God out of the machine,” I’m not exactly being a glib show-off here. I actually want to tell you something.

We don’t have to wait long to know the What or Who … our next scene (act really) reveals Tyrese and Carol with little baby Judith trekking along the train tracks, Carol notably skeptical.[iii]   She’s going to make sure they’re safe, then go. Yeah. Okay.

I’m going to skip the part with Martin and Tyrese right now and save it for my book I hope to sell you all later to finance my failed education and my love of kitchen appliances.

I love Carol. There is the whole issue about a depiction of a woman in my age group who is actually living a life and a protagonist, not a foil figure as a mother or mother-in-law or aunt. Yes, you can be middle aged and a badass, thank you very much.

Carol’s core ethic is simple but elegant: first: survive, second: protect your loved ones and community, third: do whatever’s required to serve the first two. In keeping with my thesis here, though, Carol reminds me of Old Testament heroines such as Deborah and my personal favorite Judith. Her story, for me anyway, resonates with the story of Judith: a widow, dismissed by the passive male leader of her besieged community who takes matters into her own hands to protect her community. She acts dispassionately, deceptively and brutally. So, when she emerges from the wilderness to approach Terminus, for me she is a blood-drenched angel ready to act.

There’s a lot of emerging in this episode: Gareth’s face emerging from the blackness in “Then,” Carol emerging from the wilderness several times. Toward the end of the episode, at the reunion, Tyrese emerges from the hut a changed man, almost a disciple of Carol’s saying: “I had to. So I did. I could.” This is his response to her urging to kill at the beginning of the episode: “You’re gonna have to be able to.”

Once Carol’s explosion breaches the fences, she camouflages herself among the walkers. In a separate shot, we see the walkers emerge from the flames, like demons of retribution from the fires of hell to feast on the very people who feasted on others. She seems to move effortlessly as she progresses through the compound until she comes upon Mary.

The room is part sanctuary, part memorial. Painted in huge letters across the walls are the group’s new ideaology, formed as they emerged from their own suffering:

“Never Again” –that’s a fairly legitimate idea for someone terrorized, victimized and otherwise exploited.

However, it’s the foundations they build on that notion, their own personal ethic that is a bit troublesome. Hint: it’s not “Love Thy Neighbor.”

“We First Always”
“Never Trust”

And then there’s the one tenant of the Terminus belief system that Mary explains, the one that must have been too long to write on the wall: “You’re the butcher, or you’re the cattle.”

Throughout her time with Carol, Mary uses religious, metaphysical language to describe her group:
“The signs were real …”
“This place was a sanctuary …”
“We heard the message …”

But it’s not a message of faith, not a message from any source more profound that the brutal existence everyone finds themselves fighting. It is “what the world is telling you.” That same world with the zombie virus that’s infected all of humanity and toppled modern global civilization. I don’t think I want to be taking that world’s advice. As Mary finds out, it wasn’t a very helpful message.

In the end, in Terminus, Mary finds herself the victim of her own fallacies: being the butcher causes her to be the cattle.

Throughout the rest of the episode, we see the outcomes of the differences between the two groups: one, an autonomic, institutionalized group that Martin describes as “a bunch of assholes I stay alive with,” versus a community of “friends,” as Carol and Tyrese try to convey to the very nihilistic Martin.

As The Talking Dead post-show panel noted, Gareth’s community is very soulless and regimented, which we see when Gareth comes in for “shot counts.” Rick’s community acts out of the soul. Glenn urges Rick to release people held in a cattle car “We gotta let those people out. …. That’s still who we are. It’s gotta be.” And Rick listens – this is the evolution from the Ricktatorship of seasons past.

As they make their way across the compound, we see the “turned” butcher from the slaugher room, the same guy who didn’t heed the gunshots or the bomb blast because “it’s not our job.” He’s now a walker. It wasn’t much of a career change.

As Rick unearths[iv] the hidden guns in the woods, Maggie and others urge Rick to consider a form of forgiveness – just letting it go and moving on. No retribution, no violent recrimination. Just move on. Again, Rick listens. This is a core difference between the soul of our group versus Gareth’s.

Moments later, Carol once again emerges from the wilderness. This begins the series of rewards for the group. Carol and Daryl are reunited (that scene took my breath away); Sasha and Tyrese are later reunited as are Carl and Rick with Judith.

That Carol is the means by which families are reunited reinforces her role in this episode as a rescuer, a means of salvation. After all, we’re saved by our relationship with others, by the relationship we choose to have with the rest of humanity and the world.

Throughout “No Sanctuary,” we see the Termites’ brutal, nihilistic, relationship with the world born out of their own passivity and sense of helplessness, and our group chooses and forms its relationship of belief, hope, humanity, action and resistance.  For that, they are rewarded.

And with Morgan hot on their heels, I can’t wait!!


 

[i] I’m as gullible and innocent as they come, and I have to admit that putting up a bunch of idealistic signs saying “come on in” is inviting trouble. What was their security? How did they screen? What culpability did Gareth share?

[ii] Okay guys, here comes the religious foreshadowing. Normally, I’m about as astute with foreshadowing as I am with lunar module landings, but this one I got.

[iii] I can’t take credit for this observation. It came out in The Talking Dead. Doggone that Chris Hardwick. Of course, he gets preview episodes I bet.

[iv] I really want this to be a hint of a foreshadowing about a theme of resurrection, or birth of good things. I do.