The Moth Chase

Elevating the Art of Procrastanalysis – Academics wasting time on pop culture

The Walking Dead – Season 2 Premier

with 3 comments

The Moth Chase is covering Season 2 of The Walking Dead in a new group format. Instead of two writers, five of us – Kathryn, Natalie, Travis and Martin, and a new guest blogger, Shelly – will be blogging our way through the series together. Each week one of us will start with a somewhat longer post and then as many of the others as want to will jump in with shorter responses. We hope to keep the conversation going throughout the week, so check back often for new responses or subscribe to the blog to get notifications. And of course feel free to jump in with your own comments and reactions.

Well The Walking Dead is back with a bang – quite literally by the end of the premier. My husband didn’t watch season 1 and was a bit skeptical about getting dragged into another supernatural thriller with me. I kept objecting that this show wasn’t really about zombies; they are mostly a back-drop, I argued. A pretty freaking terrifying, active, in your face backdrop, I should have added, since last night was terrifyingly zombie-full. My husband was not impressed with my nonchalance when I was burying my head into my pillow a mere five minutes in. Did anyone else start panicking that the corpse Carl was wrestling the bag of knives from was going to wake up and attack him? Did everyone kind of wince/flinch/scream when Andrea stabbed the skeletal zombie in the eye… over and over again. I felt like the writers wanted to make it really clear to new viewers (and there has been a lot of hype, so I imagine there are a lot of new viewers, like my husband) that they can expect lots of zombie action.

I’d still stand by my original description, though. The show isn’t really about zombies since zombies have no personality or even coordinated desire or action. It is about this tiny band of humans who is trying to figure out what it means to keep living after humanity is, for all intents and purposes, over. I just watched season 1 last week and the finale was strongly haunting my imagination during this premier. I know some people found the CDC conclusion dissatisfying, or even a bit anticlimactic, but I thought it was pretty much perfect. The big revelation of the CDC (besides whatever the doctor whispered to Rick that is clearly haunting his dawn soliloquies into the walkie-talkie) was not just that there is no cracker-jack team of scientists working feverishly for a cure, but that there is no one out there anywhere, as far as they can tell, keeping the flame of civilization lit. There is no government, no military, no science, no art, no institution or organization of any kind. Andrea does not lose hope when her sister dies. She loses hope when she realizes that they are not headed toward anything. There is nothing to head to. This is what makes hot showers and soft towels and good wine so much more depressing – they are the last vestiges, the dead symbols, of a world that is gone.

This knowledge is also what makes the other survivors insistence on life as survival so inspiring and bone-chilling. Is life simply being alive? Is it hope that there is something more out there? When do you know you can stop wandering – when you find some scrap of civilization left? When you get safe enough to stop moving so that you can try to rebuild ritual, practice, some kind of routine? These are the questions – what does it mean to be human after the end of humanity – that make this show so awesome for me.

They really came to a head with the children of the group last night. All along the presence of children both heightens the need for survival and hope and emphasizes the horror and terror that govern daily life. The adults can cling to memories of life before zombies, but these children are being shaped to their very core by this alternative existence, marked by death, terror, and violence. Now, at the start of season 2, as a kind of symbol of the wreckage of the survivors, both children are in moral peril. Rick is not wrong: what happens to Sophia and Carl is a kind of marker for the very group’s survival.

We promised to keep these posts short and I’m already running over, so let me close with two other observations/questions: 1) how does zombie digestion work? If the insides of a zombie are totally black and rotten as the gutting scene suggests, how is the body still digesting food? I think these questions wouldn’t arise if we hadn’t been given a quasi-scientific explanation of zombie-hood. If zombies were demonic, who knows/cares how they work. But if they are being governed by a reanimated brain-stem then how much of normal biology should still apply to them? Am I a wet blanket for even worrying about this? 2) how much do you want to bet that helicopter Rick saw at the beginning of season 1 is going to be important in what’s to come?

I can’t wait to hear what the rest of you thought!
Kathryn

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Dear Kathryn and all…..

Thank you for letting me join all of you. Yes, it was a true zombie blast last night, and I must admit to a good deal of wincing, as well. I, too, am convinced that questions of what it means to be human are central to the show, and although I was welcoming back the familiar cast of characters, all of my attention was focused on the children. I paid little attention to them last season and suddenly, the whole plot turns on them. The children are outside the reach of protective adults. The most torturous image for me was that of seeing adults pinned under cars, their children pinned under adjacent cars, and knowing that the adults could not move to save them. The walkers reach for Sophia, and the path leads into the wild—did anyone else think Conrad’s Heart of Darkness?

But it is the last scene that I cannot get out of my mind, and it reminded me of the cinematography in Malick’s The Thin Red Line, where all the communication is taking place through the eyes—Carl, Shane, Rick, and the deer. Moments ago, they are on the highway outside Atlanta, and now they are in the wilderness. And, in fact, it would appear, if you just walked in on this scene, that two men are taking a young boy on his first hunting trip. The innocent boy meets the innocent animal; it is a classic American scene in which the boy is being inducted into manhood. But this path from innocence to manhood cannot be a normal or smooth one. I was reminded of similar post-apocalyptic terrain in Cormac McCarthy’s The Road, as the parents struggle to provide a meaningful world for their children in the absence of a civilized world. How do you teach your children well? How do you protect them? Carol, given her history of abuse, knows this struggle well. I am anticipating her character development.

How do we read this scene in connection to the episode’s opening lines – about hope and slim chances? With his back to the CDC and Atlanta, Rick says that they are now living by slim chances in the absence of hope. While this may be sufficient for Rick (and for the adults), the path of slim chance is pressed by the presence of the children. Must there be more—must there be hope—for them? And faith as well? Interesting that the search for Sophia (interesting name) lands them all in a church having conversations with the figure of the suffering Jesus, the serene face with blood trickling down his face (juxtapose with zombie faces?)

Shelly

————————————————–

Mothchasers,

Thanks for this great beginning to the new season of The Walking Dead. Watching the show Sunday, I found myself wondering about the central problem of a show that is, essentially, about the end of the world (especially after the revelations at the CDC last season); what do you do when you have nowhere to go? So far, our survivors have found that Atlanta is in ruins, the CDC was a ghost town, and there’s no reason to expect Fort Benning to hold any more promise. You can understand why Andrea wants out – what’s the sense in just waiting to die, especially when that death holds the promise of being eaten alive? It’s an interesting problem for the characters to deal with, and it’s interesting narratively as well. The only show I know that has dealt with this problem this squarely is Battlestar Galactica, which plays with many of the same tropes – a small remnant hopelessly outnumbered, the need to keep hope alive even if that hope is an illusion, and the terrible toll that takes on the human psyche. Not sure what this will mean for TWD, but it’s an interesting question to track.

Two quick observations – the theme of this episode seemed to be  a juxtaposition – between the remnants of the old world left behind (that sad ersatz church bell, calling no one but a few stray zombies to worship, its call quickly severed), and the fragile hopes of the world to come (the children). But as you said, Kathryn, this show has always been more about the people who live in that interstice than the zombies as such. So it’s fittingly ironic that Carl is imperiled, not by a zombie, but by a stray shot from another person struggling to survive! Shelly, nice call on the Malickesque quality of that scene – how appropriate that Malick’s key theme of the thin veil between the worlds appears in this show, as the zombies are pretty much the aberration that haunts that veil.

Finally, I was struck by that scene in the church, where the (very un-Baptist!) crucifix is deliberately juxtaposed with the mangled bodies of the zombies in the churches. What’s remarkable to me is how quickly that potential moment of divine identification is passed over by our survivors for a very different kind of prayer – a prayer to a distant and uncaring God who may or may not see fit to aid or comfort. Rick’s little moment of recognition – maybe you do know what it means to not be sure about your path – quickly flies by in light of the hoary old trope of seeking a “sign.” I’m tempted to read the Malick-moment with the deer as something about the luminosity of nature as a response to this, but I expect that the show is going to use Carl’s shooting as a way to connect our group with another group of human survivors, perhaps with Sophia in safety already.

Great thoughts – I’m looking forward to this new style of discussion!

-Travis

————————————————–

Hello friends,

What an interesting episode. Shelly and Travis, I totally agree on the Malick connection…perhaps because I saw it recently, it reminded me very much of the Tree of Life dinosaur scene…was the slaughter of the deer (interrupted or aborted?) meant to parallel the way in which the zombies were slaughtered in the church (slaughtered way beyond the necessities of self-defense or removal of a threat)? (In this sense, Dale’s deer-like vivisection of the zombie human takes on a distinct importance.) This suggestion, that the distinction between zombies and humans might best be understood as the distinction between species is one that the show approaches cautiously. Indeed, ultimately, as you suggest, Travis, the camera pans to Rick violently attacking his zombie and the juxtaposition between this and the normal church setting lends the whole scene a certain indescribable quality (Rick’s prayer, it seemed to me, was as applicable to this scene as to their “situation”–what do we feel in watching it?). My first impulse, prior to the end of the episode, was to say that the religion element seemed forced and contrived here. Even the timed alarm seemed to scream the perverse gospel of a god that left. But the way they concluded this episode makes it feel real and just ups the stakes of everything (i.e. all of the issues you alluded to K). Will Lori continue not to blame Rick? I doubt it. Furthermore, what will Rick’s attitude be? Will Shane still leave? I think, also, Travis, that your suggestion about the encounter with another group (and perhaps them already having Sophia) is right on and it’ll be interesting to see how the dynamics play out.

In this sense, however, I want to push your point a bit, Katheryn–do you take there to be some distinction between “being human after the end of humanity” and just plain old “being human?” What I take the show to suggest is that while this distinction exists, say, on the screen, it’s a gimmick, meant to get us to ask exactly the question you start with: is life simply being alive? Although the zombies are a threat, they are most threatening in light of all-too-ordinary situations: breakdowns in normative authority, lapses in judgment, and failures of acknowledgment. The zombies, of course, contribute as inputs towards all of these (in this sense, I would not want to minimize the extent to which zombies have traditionally represented the capitalist market structure), but they don’t entirely or exclusively account for these human-all-too-human problems, problems which persist in the world before and after the end of humanity. This is what I take the end of this episode to drive home, and do so forcefully, with a gunshot–a gunshot that could only have originated from a human hand.

Martin

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Hi all,

Having just fled Atlanta myself (I was there for a conference this weekend, and it was very, very creepy watching this episode on my i-pad as my plane flew over the setting of my screen), I realize I’m coming to this conversation late, and so I just have a couple of things to add.

I find Martin’s desire to push on Kathryn’s distinction interesting. Absolutely, the zombies cannot account fully for the these all-too-human problems. But I don’t think that makes K’s distinction irrelevant. What the zombie device does is allow these characters to portray the societal structure and the patterns of relationships  that hover so close to the surface of our ordinary lives, even as these patterns might – most of the time – remain obscured by the niceties of comfortable life together.

What I find myself consistently intrigued by with this show is how perfectly of the moment these patterns are (and did you notice the Shepard Fairey Obama sticker on one of the abandoned cars? This is our now, our very particular now).

Contrast this to say, Lost – while I was a fan of the island’s attempts at Lord of the Rings style society construction, the insights it tried to give us into the birth of a society always seemed a little boring to me. I consistently wondered if the show was trying to reveal the sexist nature of a patriarchal society (the guys were *always* in charge), or whether the show itself was simply sexist. In the end, I had to come down on the latter. But here, with the gender tensions of a post-zombiepocalypse world, we have a more interesting situation. The men have taken charge, but the women are actually, and actively, frustrated with that situation. Nevertheless, it remains the case that the men have arrived at this situation better equipped to handle it than the women. The very patriarchal structure that upheld their leadership – their ability, quite literally, to serve and protect – in the pre-collapse of civilization, endures in a heightened form now.

And yet I don’t think the structure will endure. Because it is precisely of this moment in time, I don’t think the women will take it much longer – at least, I hope they won’t. As with Mad Men, we might get to see some more interesting gender analysis here than we do on the main networks.

On the question of religion – yes, I worried it was all a little too obvious too (amen, Travis, on the absolutely un-Baptist crucifix, not to mention how annoying it is in television shows when characters pray unbelievably personal prayers out loud, in front of other people…something we’ve mentioned on this blog before just does not happen in real life!).

But here’s what made it work for me: a loose connection between Rick’s “prayers” to Morgan at the beginning of the episode, his own prayer to Jesus (perhaps the most stereotypical of them all), and the amazing shot of the zombies seated in pews as if, themselves, in some form of prayer. Rick might insist his faith is in family, himself and his job, and not to God – but the action of his faith seemed much better encapsulated in that walkie talkie conversation with no-one. What hope that someone might be out there listening, even as the likeliest story is that he’s died. Without the church prayer to contrast it with, this prayer to Morgan might have seemed to be a bit trite, trying to hard to look like he’s talking to a deceased divine. But once we see what Rick thinks prayer is – a bargaining, begging for a sign that ends up being a sign of despair – his earlier faith in a humanity elsewhere seems all the more steadfast. All the more steadfast, that is, if we didn’t have this mocking image of the three zombies acting human in the pews seeking – or at least appearing to seek – the Lord. The three images held in tension, for me, brought a glimpse of a post-apocalyptic religiosity that I hope is developed this season.

It also left me wondering to what extent the zombies might have some of those desires and human tendencies that K’s more scientific questions expose – are they truly “brain-dead,” or do we just not understand them yet? What patterns of their own former humanity remain? They might be the backdrop now, but will they let us leave them there?

But more on this, perhaps, next week?

Thanks guys for a great discussion!
xoxo,
Natalie

Written by themothchase

October 17, 2011 at 10:31 am

3 Responses

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  1. Any thoughts or reflections on the zombies as a Heideggerian das man?

    Andrew Tripp

    October 19, 2011 at 9:19 pm

  2. Andrew,

    An interesting thought–do you want to say a little more?

    I don’t find the analogy very compelling, since das Man is fundamentally a *social* category, while the zombies are not at all social creatures (although the church scene is perhaps meant to suggest otherwise?)

    Martin

    October 21, 2011 at 9:35 am

  3. I think zombies in TWD are very social, herd like, unthinking but immortal. It takes courage to live as a self in the face of the herd that wants you to be part of it, that wants you to be consumed by it so you can assimilate into it. In the second episode of this season the shepherding of the herd of zombies is shown with Shane and Otis and the flares, as well as the pack mentality in the first season when the flock descends on Rick’s horse. There is horror and violence to the psyche of the individual who will not submit to the herd, while once you become part of the herd you lose the concern over morality, violence, or conscious decision making.

    Andrew Tripp

    October 24, 2011 at 12:54 pm


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