The Walking Dead, So Far...

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After looking around the Internet at the critical reaction to The Walking Dead, and seeing that the audience isn't running away from the show, and is instead growing, I thought now would be a good time to take a look at how the show is progressing over the first five of its six-episode run.

Over on my blog, Infernal Desire Machines, I've been reviewing each episode shortly after airing, and that's where the original drafts of these reviews can still be found (along with more movie and television reviews). But here they are, for you, dear reader, all in one place for your ease and enjoyment.

Also, be sure to check out CB's own Burning Mind by Ace Masters, for more reviews of the show so far.

The Season One finale airs Sunday night, so check back at Infernal Desire Machines Monday morning for my review of that one, too.

But enough about me and Comics Bulletin. Let's get on with a look at The Walking Dead Episodes 1 through 5.

Episode 1.01 "Days Gone By"
Written & Directed by Frank Darabont

I look for three things in a good zombie film. A unique approach to the medium and the concept of zombies. This is why Pontypool is one of my favorites. The idea of a zombie virus spread via language is something I'd never seen nor heard of before. It's also what makes Night of the Living Dead an uncontested classic. It changed the game. Hell, it invented the game.

Secondly, I appreciate a sense of humor, but not humor that overpowers the emotional impact of the horrific events going on. This is why Shaun of the Dead beats out every other film on my list as the favorite. And it's why Dead Alive lands in my top three. In both cases, the humor serves to illuminate character and emphasize the absurdity of each film's respective narratives. The humor humanizes the characters. But both films also bring the horror, and that's essential.

Lastly, we need characters and stakes that are presented realistically enough for them to matter. We need to care about these people and we need to believe that the threat is real. This is why the remake of Dawn of the Dead charts so highly for me; That sense of impending doom. When I left the theater after seeing that film for the first time, I could have easily walked right back inside and watched it again. It was invigorating. And oddly enough, it was the same with Shaun of the Dead. I cared about those characters.

They were, quite simply, the most believable characters I've ever seen in a zombie film, reacting in ways that were equally believable. Dead Set had something of that, too, with characters reacting in ways that I could see real people reacting. Any acts of heroism were as equally motivated by self-preservation as they were by any sense of morality. It made the characters hard to like, but fascinating to watch.

Plus, as I mentioned above, Dead Set gave us time to really get to know the people and explore their situation.

All of which brings me to The Walking Dead.

AMC has a pretty good track record when it comes to their original TV series. Mad Men and Breaking Bad are huge hits and both have unique visions, telling stories you can't find anywhere else on television. Rubicon was one of the most intelligent and engrossing espionage thrillers I've ever seen, even if it started off too glacially to grab the mainstream viewer. Hell, their remake of The Prisoner, while failing to really live up to the name and spirit of its source material, was still, when divorced from that expectation, fascinating and well worth the time.

The Walking Dead is just as unique and distinctive as Mad Men or Breaking Bad and just as intelligent as Rubicon, without the pacing problems.

The main reason for this, is that Writer/Director Frank Darabont (The Shawshank Redemption, The Green Mile, The Mist) lays this story out with a sure hand and there were absolutely no missteps in this first 90 minute episode. Right out of the gate we have characters that are likeable and believable responding in natural and understandable ways to their circumstances. There's a sense of humor, but it's in the characters' personalities, rather than any sense of taking the piss with the story. And if there were any misgivings about how much gore would be allowed on television, remember, this is cable TV. They can get away with whatever their sponsors will support.

And in this case, they're willing to support make-up effects that you would expect to see in a feature film. A big-budget feature film, at that. Seriously. There are some pretty nasty images being shoved into your living rooms with this show.

In fact, before the credits even rise, we are treated to a short scene that sets the stage for everything to come. This is the only instance where I'm going to spoil something for you, both because it's the first minute or two of the show, and because it is essential to capturing the emotional and psychological impact of what's to come.

Our lead character, Rick Grimes, pulls up at a gas station. Well, he pulls up as close as he can get, as there are abandoned cars all around, keeping him from getting too close. So, on foot he carefully approaches the tanks in hopes of getting fuel for his car. Unfortunately, the tanks are dry.

He hears something moving. He drops to his hands and knees and looks under a car, only to see a child's feet stumbling along on the other side. The child reaches down and picks up its ratty, filthy teddy bear.

Rick gets up and calls out to the little girl, who is shuffling away from him, in the hope that she can be saved. She slowly turns, revealing herself to be a zombie, her teeth exposed via a hideous, bloody, torn away mouth. She's horrifying. And then she starts shambling quickly toward Rick, clearly with the intent of feeding on him.

Rick pulls his gun and shoots her in the head. Blood and gore fly and the child falls back into a pool of blood.

Cue credits.

Then we've got another 80 minutes (including commercials) of pilot episode to get through. And not a minute is wasted.

If you're familiar with the comics, there won't be many surprises. There will be surprises, just not as many as there are for those virgin viewers. We're introduced to a few familiar characters and except for the ones introduced in the closing minutes of the show, everyone is provided with, and knocks out of the park, extremely emotional and moving performances. The moments of horror have a weight you may not be expecting, and the brief moments of joy are glorious.
All in all, I couldn't have hoped for a better start to The Walking Dead.

If this doesn't become a television phenomenon then there's something wrong with America's TV-watching public.

Of course, they're letting Terriers slip away and refused to give Rubicon the time of day, so I guess it wouldn't be surprising.

The Walking Dead lives up to every expectation I had and after one episode looks to be poised to become one of the great zombie narratives in television and cinema history. I know that sounds like hyperbole, but I'm serious. This is TV writing, acting, and directing of the highest caliber. And considering the source material, it has amazing potential. Because like that material, this isn't about the zombies, or the gore. It's about the people. That's the only way this could work over the long haul.

And I simply trust Frank Darabont.

This is about as good as good could get. No camp. No awkward attempts at humor. No relying on gore to carry the story. Every actor gives it everything they've got. Every zombie is horrifying in its realism. Every moment of tension is palpable, every moment of loss is heartbreaking, and both always move the story forward.

My only complaint is that there's a touch too much CGI blood for my taste. I prefer the old-school mess that comes in buckets.

Episode 1.02 "Guts"
Written by Frank Darabont
Directed by Michelle Maxwell MacLaren

I've been reading The Walking Dead since the day it premiered, back in 2003.  I haven't missed an issue.  There have been highs and lows in the comic, but overall, it is one of the most consistent series on the market, releasing its 79th issue this month.

But that's not why I'm watching The Walking Dead on AMC.

I'm of the school of thought that you can't let the source material influence one's critical reception of an adaptation.  You can't let the source material fill in the blanks that might be left in the adaptation.  The adaptation has to stand on its own.  So, I don't care about the comic when I'm watching the show.  The show is it's own entity.

I'm watching The Walking Dead on AMC because Frank Darabont can do no wrong.  Well, almost no wrong, but more about that later.  This is the man who gave us The Shawshank Redemption and The Green Mile, after all.  But to be honest, I don't give a shit about that, either.  Never watched either film.  I understand that they are apparently great films, but I have no interest in them at all.

What won me over to the Darabont camp was The Mist.  Or, more specifically, the black and white version of The Mist.  If there is any kind of tentacled thingy up in the sky watching down on us and granting wishes, I'm going to go out on a limb and offer up something for a black and white release of The Walking Dead on Blu-ray/DVD.

It has to be.

But that's the future.  What about the now?  What about Episode 2, "Guts"?

Okay, let's talk about that, warts and all.

Why warts and all?  Because, as good as this episode was overall, there are some really rough spots.  And as much as it pains me to say it, one of those rough spots is an actor that I enjoy in just about anything he's in.  I'm talking about Michael Rooker.  But it's not so much his fault as it is the script's.

Rooker is introduced this episode as the character, Merle; a redneck, white-trash, blue-ribbon beer kind of guy.  You know, the kind of guy who hates black people, and brown people, and thinks he's the one who should be in charge.  You know, a horrible stereotype.  Merle is the kind of character that the comic goes to great lengths to avoid.  And his inclusion here really does some damage to my enjoyment.

The black guy named T-Dog is bad enough, but the two of them together almost made me want to turn it off.

Luckily, the horrible dialogue (written by Darabont) is mostly of the "establishing characters with a broad brush" kind of stuff, and once we have a handle of just who these people are we can get on with the much more effective "we're all gonna die" kind of dialogue that brings the characters together.

But the dialogue isn't really the point, once the episode gets moving.  It's the plotting and the pacing.

The episode starts strong, with Rick trapped in the tank and Glenn talking to him over the radio, giving him directions on how to escape.  The tension is already ramped up once the titles roll (even if we did have to sit through an awkwardly written and staged sex scene in the woods during the pre-title sequence), and Rick's escape is nicely done.

That's when we get to the boring, poorly written character introduction stage of the episode.  Luckily, once we get through that, the rest of the episode is pretty strong.  And that strength comes from the willingness of the filmmakers not to cut corners on the horror.

How our heroes escape being trapped in a building with hordes of zombies struggling to get in will be familiar to those who've seen Shaun of the Dead or even The Dead Hate the Living, but should prove absolutely horrifying and disgusting to anyone not familiar with the genre.  It's a good example of just how far AMC is willing to let Darabont and company go with this zombie apocalypse scenario.  It bodes well for the future of the show.

And that's what this is all about, really.  Bringing this genre to the masses.  Or at least to the masses familiar with AMC's programming.  The real question about all of this is can the show appeal to a broader audience than just the typical gore-seeking zombie fan.  The premiere debuted to fantastic numbers, but that was on Halloween night, when audiences would be looking for a scare.  What's going to bring people back to the show on a weekly basis is going to be the characters and the emotional investment in the situation.

That's what makes Mad Men work.  It's what makes Breaking Bad work.  After two episodes of The Walking Dead, I'm not sure if it's got the level of writing and acting necessary to make it something special.  But with that said, for a first try at creating an ongoing television series set during a zombie apocalypse, I'm willing to forgive a bit of clumsy character work in the beginnings.  Particularly since they were only working with a six-issue order.

There are sacrifices that have to be made when you're only being given that small of an opportunity to get your story out there.  In six episodes, you've got to get things moving and let the actors get a feel for the roles as you go, revealing character through the action and relationships.  Dialogue can afford to be functional rather than believable.  Let's get through these first six episodes and then watch the characters develop over the course of the full second season.

But they've got to avoid two-dimensional stereotypes like Merle to make this something worth sticking with.  At least, for me.  I'm picky and annoying, I know.  Maybe the mass audience wants to see stereotypes like Merle get what's coming to them.  Maybe that's the sort of thing that will really expand the appeal of the show.  I wouldn't be surprised.

I'm just disappointed that Darabont felt we had to use caricatures like Merle and T-Dog to bring the viewer in.  T-Dog, at least, turns out to not be the hip-hop cartoon that he seems to be in the beginning.  The question is, if Merle comes back for future episodes (and with an actor of Michael Rooker's caliber, I can only assume that he will), can they do something to make him more of a real character.  I hope so.

I'll definitely be watching, one way or the other. 

Episode 1.03 "Tell It To The Frogs"
Written by Frank Darabont, Charles H. Eglee, & Jack LoGiudice
Directed by Gwyneth Horder-Payton

If it's going to take a committee of writers to keep the quality up, then by all means, bring on the committees.

After the ham-handed dialogue and broad-stroke characterization of "Guts" I was seriously worried about the quality control on this series.  I know they went into it with only a six-episode commitment, which couldn't have been good for their confidence.  I know that they probably wanted to get the show off and running and felt they could afford to take some short-cuts here and there in order to get into the meat of the show.

But I'll be damned if last week wasn't painful to watch at times.  It got better once they moved beyond the character "work" on the roof and concentrated on the logistics of getting out of Atlanta alive, but there were definite cracks in the foundation of The Walking Dead.

Cracks that never showed up in other AMC series.

Well, this week, those cracks are patched up, sealed over, repainted, and/or whatever other construction metaphor you want to throw at it.

I was glad to see they didn't just bring in Michael Rooker for one-off stunt casting, only to use him so poorly.  The opening pre-title sequence of Merle on the roof made up for every cringe-inducing moment I had last week.  He's clearly suffering and delirious, and while he's still a douchebag (Shane's call, not mine), he's allowed to show a little bit of depth here.

Most impressive was when the zombies are trying to bust through the door and he starts begging for God to save him, saying he knows he's being punished, but then turns on a dime and repents his weakness, denying ever begging to God, swearing he won't beg to God anymore.  It was a powerful moment and made me think better of Merle as a character.

Especially when he starts desperately trying to reach the hacksaw.

A large portion of the rest of the episode is entirely devoted to character work, and it's exactly what I was hoping for last week.  Slowed down, quiet moments that allow the actors to breathe and start inhabiting the roles.  The emotions on display as Rick and Carl run to each other was almost perfect.  As was the look of horror on Lori's face.

I know there's been some backlash amongst fans about Lori's and Shane's relationship here, but I have to say, I approve of the changes.  Making Lori a woman who's accepted the fact that her husband was dead, a husband from a marriage that was on the rocks, and has moved on provides more texture to her personality than the woman in the comic who just had a weak moment in her undying love for her dead husband.

This gets even more complicated by the fact that Shane told her Rick was dead.  It complicates Shane in nice ways, too.  From the moment or two we saw of him in the premiere, he seemed like a douchebag, too.  Maybe not the hate-spewing racist sort of douchebag, but he had some issues with women.  You could tell he was jealous of what Rick had, even though Rick and Lori were having trouble.

That he took the opportunity of Rick's apparent death to move on Lori, and Carl for that matter, to co-opt a family, if you will, makes him a much more interesting character.  Especially given how averse to real risk-taking he is as assumed leader of the camp.  You can see him trying to be the man Rick was, and falling just a little short.  This is really brought home when Rick decides he has to go back to Atlanta to at least try to save Merle.

It's not cowardice, but he's overly cautious, where Rick is almost reckless when it comes to doing what he thinks is right.  Shane is re-defining right in this case, and can only look poorly when compared to Rick's version of heroism.  And Lori's confrontation with him at the end of the episode, was harsh and raw.

I didn't know where the hostility was coming from at first, but then she comes out and says it.  She thinks Shane lied to her about Rick on purpose, in order to steal her and Carl away from him.  That's meaty stuff right there, and creates a dramatic situation that plays well on TV.  Especially in the limited confines of a six-episode run.

The final moments of the episode were really very strong, in my opinion.  I'm not thrilled that the drama in the camp hinged on another stereotype, this time the abusive husband, but while his character, Ed, was pretty one-dimensional, the emotions and action around him were much more fleshed out.  When Shane beats the hell out of him, nearly beating him to death, it's another powerful moment that helps to define his character.

Shane is losing it.  He thought he had it all, that the apocalypse had given him a family and a purpose.  And now, with Rick back, all of that is starting to slip away into chaos.  He needs to assert himself and he does.  At the cost of Ed's face.  The brutality of it becomes the problem, though, frightening the women of the camp as much as Ed did.  More so, I'd imagine.

Ed was just a dick.  Shane thinks he's doing the right thing.  Or at least is using the opportunity to appear to do the right thing, to let out a lot of rage.

The episode closes with a beautiful shot.  Back in Atlanta, Rick, Glenn, T-Dog, and Merle's brother Daryl (played with a little more subtlety, but not much, by my favorite Boondock Saint, Norman Reedus) make their way to the roof of the building where they left Merle, only to find the hacksaw, Merle's bloody severed hand, and the handcuffs still dangling from the bar.  That beautiful closing shot is of the bloody handcuff hanging with the sky in the background.  Nice.

In fact, there are a lot of nice shots in this episode.  Director Gwyneth Horder-Payton (The Shield, Sons of Anarchy) has a much firmer hand on the tiller this time out than Michelle Maxwell MacLaren (Breaking Bad) had last week.  I don't know if that's just because the written material was so much stronger this time out, or if Horder-Payton just has a better eye.  She's a lot more experienced, so that may have something to do with it.  Regardless, this episode was a huge step up from last week, even without a major set-piece gore moment.

I didn't really think the zombie eating the deer was all that bad.

So, when all's said and done, I'm back on board.  Most of my fears were assuaged and I'm back on the Excited Train looking forward to next week.

1.04 "Vatos"
Written by Robert Kirkman
Directed by Johan Renck

This episode is entitled "Vatos" and was written by Robert Kirkman, the co-creator and writer of The Walking Dead comic upon which the series is based.

I recently spent the day re-reading the early issues of the comic, and was surprised to find just how close the pacing was between the source material and the television series.  There are changes, sure.  Some are pretty substantial changes, but key plot points are being hit in the show at just about the same pace as they were in the comic, with each issue corresponding pretty closely to the episode breakdown.

All of which is to say that I knew what was coming with tonight's episode of The Walking Dead.  For the most part.  But I have to admit, even though I knew what was coming (and hell, the previews were enough to let anyone paying attention know), it didn't lessen the impact.

I'm a little surprised by Kirkman's script.  As far as I know, this is his first teleplay, and while I enjoy his writing in the comic, the dialogue can, at times, be a bit much.  Which is understandable, given the medium.  In the comic, he can't rely on the body language and the nuances of facial expression and speaking tone, etc.

Which isn't a knock on the artists of the comic.  I think Tony Moore is one of the best artists in the business, and Charlie Adlard's work has been consistently strong.  But live actors allow the writer to rely less on the written word and more on the physical act.  And as each week goes by, I'm more and more impressed with the performances of all the actors involved.  There are definite levels of quality, but no one's outright bad, which really allows the writer to relax and concentrate on letting the actors bring it all to life.

This episode opens with a nice moment between Andrea (Laurie Holden) and Amy (Emma Bell), out on the lake, fishing and reminiscing about their father.  I was prepared for stiff writing, but it all flows naturally.  The fact that they're just discovering that their father taught each of them differently about fishing (Andrea was always about catching for food, Amy about catching and releasing), could have come off cliche, but the strength of the actors makes it work.

The scene also sets up the horror to come.

We also get a glimpse of Jim (Andrew Rothenberg) off in the distance, intensely digging holes.  Dale (Jeffrey DeMunn), on watch, is our eyes moving from keeping a watch on the ladies while they fish, to Jim off in the distance.

And then the opening credits roll.

It's a nice scene and relieved a lot of my anxieties about both Kirkman and the series in general.

After the break we cut to the boys in the city and discover that Merle is one tough son of a bitch.  Not only did he cut his own hand off and escape (seems the hacksaw blade was too dull to cut through the handcuff chain - take that Internet trolls!), he also killed two zombies with only a monkey wrench and then cauterized his stump, all before disappearing into the city.  Never count out any character played by Michael Rooker.

The boys decide that after they retrieve the guns, they can look for Merle, at least for a few blocks, anyway, but complications arise in the form of a Hispanic gang, alive and looking for Rick's bag of guns.  Glenn is taken hostage and the plot thickens.  Daryl (Norman Reedus) becomes an even more balanced character this week, even if it is by turning his racism toward the other brown people he can't stand.  He at least is considering Glenn part of the group and willing to fight for him.

I was a little worried at this point, afraid that Kirkman was going to fall back on either ideas he's already worked through in the comic, or worse, on more horrible stereotypes.  I mean, let's be honest.  This show hasn't really held back when it comes to stereotypical bad guys.

Luckily, Kirkman has a plan, and it doesn't entirely involve negative racist stereotypes.  Instead, it only seems to be using racist stereotypes in order to teach us a lesson about jumping to conclusions.  That the Hispanic "gang" is actually taking care of elderly patients in a nearly abandoned Old Folks Home, is almost too much for me.  But I'm a jaded prick, so I'll let it slide.  Plus, I was amused that he named their leader Guillermo (Neil Brown Jr.), in an obvious nod to Guillermo Del Toro.  At least, that's how I'm going to take it.

I appreciate the fact that it's not a gang that decided to do the right thing, but family members who've come to visit and then stayed on the help out.  Which is why they want, and need, Rick's guns.  They've dealt with scavengers before and that explains their aggressive behavior.

It's not the greatest moment ever, but it's good to know that in the world of The Walking Dead, on TV anyway, not everybody our heroes come across are utter bastards or mental cases.

While everyone's working out their differences in the city, Shane (Jon Bernthal) has had to play the enforcer back in the camp.  Jim's obsessive digging was freaking out people in the camp, and he wasn't about to stop, serving up an open challenge to Shane's authority.  And Shane rises to the occasion, wrestling Jim under control, but not in any way that makes him seem threatening or puts him in a negative light.  Again, I'm liking Shane.

Turns out Jim had a dream that he can't really remember, and the heat made him a little crazy.  Or that's his story and he's sticking to it.  After some time tied to a tree, he becomes much more reasonable, and when it comes time for the big fish fry (Amy and Andrea caught a crapload of fish), he's set free and all is well again.


This is the point that I knew was coming, thanks not to the previews, but to the comic.  I think it's kind of appropriate that the co-creator of the series is the one to write the moment when we lose our first "major" character, and it's in a scene straight out of the comic.

Amy's death was kind of telegraphed, both by the opening scene of sisterly bonding and by the later scene where we find out that the mermaid pendant that Andrea snagged for her in the city is a birthday present.  You see, tomorrow is her birthday.  That obviousness aside, it works here just as it did in the comic.  It lets us know that nobody's safe.  Anyone can die at any moment.

You know.  With one or two exceptions.

In the city, it appears that Merle stole our boys' truck, so they've had to haul ass back to camp, worried that Merle was going to go wreak some revenge.  Instead, they arrive during a full-blown zombie attack, just in time to utilize some of those guns they went looking for (half of them anyway - they gave some to the guys defending the old folks).  Anyone concerned that they'd be toning down the gore for the television audience will be in for a surprise, as the zombie killing is brutal and bloody, and the zombie victims are eaten alive with graphic effects that don't shy away from anything.

This is really just about everything I was hoping for when I first heard they were making The Walking Dead into a series.

We end with Amy dying in Andrea's arms, lots of tension, and Jim getting the last word: "I remember my dream now.  Why I dug the holes."  It's a helluva strong ending and wraps up another helluva strong episode.  Looks like "Guts" was an anomaly and this series is going to be just fine.  My only real complaint is that there are only two more episodes, and I don't know when the second season will air.

I guess as far as complaints go, that's a good one to have.

1.05 "Wildfire"
Written by Glen Mazzara
Directed by Ernest R. Dickerson

Up to this point, it's been kind of easy to discuss the show, since I've been intimately familiar with the comic and love the entire genre of zombie narratives.  Sure, a lot of the field is awful.  But there are gems in there, to be sure.

The best works tend to deal with the people realistically.  Which means with all the tragedy, anxiety, hope, fear, humor, successes, and failures.  That's one of the things that The Walking Dead does best in its comic format, and it's one of the things that the TV series is shaping up to do best, too.

Most of this episode is straight out of the comic, but we're getting a huge plot shift here, and I'm not sure how to react to it just yet.

Like I said, we open this episode just where you'd think we would, in the aftermath of the zombie attack on the camp.  If the group seemed a bit large in the previous episodes, don't worry.  After that night, we're down to just about the numbers that we saw in the opening chapters of the comic.

Shane blames Rick for the severity of the camp's losses, since he took valuable manpower away from the camp.  Rick says that if it weren't for the guns they brought back, the losses would have been worse.  Lori's stuck between the two of them.  It looks like we're gearing up for the confrontation we all know is coming, between Rick and Shane, for the direction of the camp.

This opening act is filled with nice character moments, from Andrea forcing Rick away at gunpoint while she stands vigil over her dead sister, to Daryl claiming the camp had it coming for what they did to Merle, to Glenn demanding that bodies of their dead camp-mates stay separated from the bodies of the zombies, to Carol taking the pick-axe to her dead husband's head - repeatedly.

This is the sort of thing I was hoping for when I first heard about this series getting made.  It helps that writer, Glen Mazzara is a seasoned pro at television writing, and that director Ernest R. Dickerson has over twenty years of experience, having directed films like Juice and one of my personal favorites, Tales From the Crypt: Demon Knight, before moving almost entirely into TV direction, with credits directing episodes of everything from Heroes to The Wire to Burn Notice to Treme, and Dexter.

That experience all pays off as we get another solidly crafted piece of work, moving us one episode closer to the season finale.  All of the character moments mentioned above are original to this version of the story, and if you ask me, are improvements.  Not that the source material is lacking.  This just fleshes out some elements that weren't addressed in the comic, and it improves the story overall.

The moment this week drawn directly from the comic, Jim choosing to be abandoned to die on his own, was played almost exactly like the source and it fit perfectly with the characterizations and plot developments brought to the narrative by the other writers and directors so far.  That blending of the source with original material without losing the feel or the voice of the comic is impressive.

Which brings us to the biggest narrative change to the series yet.

In the comic, when the group decides to leave, it's because it's no longer safe there.  Rick pushes for it, Shane resists.  In fact, Shane goes crazy and threatens to kill Rick.  Carl, who's been given a gun and trained with it over the previous issue or two, shoots Shane dead to protect his father.  It's a powerful and gut-wrenching scene that wraps up the first six-issue sequence of comics and serves as a pivot point as the story moves away from the camp.

I've been worried about how they were going to pull this off in the series, since Shane isn't the threat he was in the comic.  In fact, he's an okay guy, doing his best to hold things together.  When, this week, he points his rifle at Rick while doing a perimeter sweep and considers killing his best friend, it was disturbing not because of the act itself, but because it felt like a natural reaction to what he's been through.  The look on Dale's face when he catches Shane considering the murder says everything. As does the look of shame on Shane's.

There's a little bit of astonishment, and a little bit of fear in the way Dale reacts.  It's a very effective way of introducing the possibility that somewhere down the line, that confrontation from the comic may occur, but when Shane decides to back Rick's suggestion of heading for the CDC Headquarters, it appears that we may put that moment off for a while.

From this point on, we're in virgin territory.  There was never any clear destination in the comic when they packed up and left the camp, they were just looking for somewhere safe.  So it came as a bit of a shock when as we move into the final act this week, we cut to an entirely new character.  A scientist experimenting in isolation, trying to find a cure for, or at least an understanding of, the zombie plague.

We get to see his experiment go south, and in a very dangerous moment, he is nearly killed by toxic fumes from the chemicals he's working with.  He barely gets out of the room and into detox before security protocols destroy the last of the tissue samples he had to work with.  From there, it's a short hop to considering suicide after a good all-night drinking binge.

Until the survivors show up at his doorstep.  In a harrowing scene, Rick and the others make their way through the hundreds of corpses, actual ones, not the walking around kind, that are scattered all around the CDC Headquarters.  The buzzing of flies is ever-present, making the scene even more unnerving.

After pounding on the doors, the rest of the group is ready to leave, desperate to find shelter before nightfall, but Rick is sure someone's inside and screams, pleading with them.  And then the doors open, revealing a blinding white light and the episode ends.

I admit, I wasn't sure about this when I started writing.  We're going completely off-course from what I was expecting to see happen.  But that's not necessarily a bad thing.  The CDC Headquarters is a great place to hole up, both from the point of view of the characters and from a stylistic angle.  The place just looks amazing, and gives us an interesting new set of possibilities and dangers.

And given how well the writers and directors have done so far when they've introduced original elements, I think enough trust has been built up to accept this shift and see where they plan on taking us.  With one more episode to go, we should find out fairly quickly whether or not this works or was a bad idea.  I have a feeling this is going to work out nicely for the story, if not for the characters.

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