Fight the dead, fear the living – and always carry a tire iron
Hello friends and welcome back to The Walking Dead round table! All my thoughts about this season premier can be summed up with the overwhelming sense of relief that it did not suck! After a season of death by petty drama we got a full-blown zombie-infested, jumping off the couch, arm-clutching, heart-racing good time. I know Lori’s super pregnant belly was supposed to clue us in to how long this band of survivors has been on the road, but nothing showed the passage of time for me like watching Maggie take a flying leap into the zombie fray and single handedly discover how to take out the SWAT-team zombies. That, and Herschel’s “wild” beard. The farm long gone, Rick seems to have whipped this band of survivors into something of a battalion, taking orders, falling into formation, and discussing strategy like actual survivors of an apocalypse, not like contestants on a moody version of Survivor. I can’t wait to hear what the rest of you thought, and here are a few particular observations and questions to get us started:
1) Carl! If last season was largely framed by the search for Sophia and the quest to protect the wounded Carl, this season is the end of innocence. Fully armed and an excellent shot, Carl has been assimilated into the adult world. I don’t know about the rest of you, but I so much prefer this. I am not sure the child-actor can pull it off, but it seemed detrimental if not deluded to continue to maintain an illusion of childhood in the current world these characters inhabit. Being honest with Carl about the world he actually inhabits and teaching him how to inhabit it seems like a much better parenting technique than trying to maintain the vestiges of middle class propriety. Making this move was a more effective way, I thought, of exploring just what kinds of moral and social negotiations might be required after humanity/civilization is over.
2) Lady Lori Macbeth: was it just me, or was the chilly isolation between Lori and Rick also strangely compelling? I can’t say I fully understood it, but I liked it. For a show that constantly over-explains itself, leaving some ambiguity as to why Rick can barely stand to be near Lori (though, I frankly feel the same way) was a nice touch. The only clue we got was that both of them finally faced the fact that it was her emotional manipulation as much as anything that set Rick against Shane, leading to their fatal confrontation (“I pushed him to it. I put that knife in his hands”). Despite the fact that I normally find Lori’s emotions hard to connect to, I was pretty affected by pregnancy-zombie fears. Being pregnant is already a little bit like having an alien creature inside you, threatening to tear you apart and eat you alive. Imagining an actual zombie baby is pretty horrifying. While the new baby represents the reintroduction of innocence in Carl’s place, there could be some very interesting openings to think about exactly what innocence means in a world where all creatures carry the zombie virus.
3) Prison-industrial complex: Shelly, I especially can’t wait to hear your thoughts on the prison as post-apocalyptic safe-haven. And wow, I want to hear the stories of that rag-tag band of survivors! Obviously, the big worry is that the show will stagnate if the group tries to replicate the farm in the prison. But the very nature of the prison is so different than the bucolic idylism of the farm, somehow I think that won’t happen. What do the rest of you think?
I will leave it to the rest of you to discuss Andrea and her mysterious new traveling companion and the absolutely incredible scene of Herschel’s amputation. Wow. I didn’t see that coming.
Thanks for getting us started, Kathryn – I agree; thank goodness this season seems to be off to a much better start thanthe last! So there are two themes I want to raise for this week. The first is, yes, I agree that having Carl grow up (able to take point on the 15, whatever that means, and so on) bears much stronger narrative possibilities than the unfolding loss of his innocence. But connected to this remains, for me, the ongoing gender themes that I also hope are going to get more complex and interesting. When Rick leaves Carl behind as the “man in charge,” I didn’t get the sense that he was placating the kid. I got the sense that he meant it – which leaves me wondering just why these women not only bow to the male authority of Rick, but also to that of a child! Just how patriarchal is this society that a kid embodying an adult male role takes priority in leadership over a number of capable adult women?
And this, of course, makes Maggie all the more badass! As the new Andrea in the group, I’m excited to see her hold her own among those boys…in fact, not only hold her own, but actually chart a path of success that others immediately followed.
The second theme, which perhaps connects to a childhood loss of innocence, is their ongoing play with images of wisdom. We discussed last season how the crew spent half their time searching out Sophia – Greek for wisdom – only to end up killing her, killing wisdom, killing truth, when it was revealed to be dead and longer gone than anyone knew. So I was struck when in the opening scenes of this episode Daryl killed the owl – a common symbol for wisdom, and they ate it. Someone pointed out to me today before I had the chance to write it that when the group gathered at the highway midway through the episode, they gathered at the car that had told Sophia, wisdom, to wait for them. I think this play with the death of wisdom will be an interesting one to track as the season moves along.
Hershel’s leg – ack! I’ll leave that to someone else, but the certainty and no-nonsense way with which everyone agreed immediately to that plan indicates to me it wasn’t created on the fly. It seems they have a number of tactics up their sleeves for dealing with contagion, now that they know it is a disease they all have – which leads me to ask, is Andrea sick with the virus, or something else? Are we seeing the early stages of what the virus looks like without the aid of scratch or bite? And just who is this traveling companion…I know people are going to be intrigued the the flirtation with Daryl and Carol (not least of all because the rhyme is so much fun), but I’m kind of excited about the possibilities erupting between Andrea and her badass lady friend.
Is anyone else anticipating a birthing scene in a locked cell surrounded by hungry zombies?
Thank you, ladies for starting the conversation and for some great point.
I have to say it feels great to return to talking about this show…especially when it appears in top form.
The conversion of the prison into a domicile is a powerful image, not only just for its basic starkness and stability, but also for all that it implies. Within the prison of a world full of zombies, their best recourse is to withdraw to a smaller, more literal prison. And, of course, as you suggest Natalie, we get all sorts of connections ‘prisons of the mind.’ (I feel like this is implied not only by the owl/wisdom analogy as you suggest, but also by the counter-example of our katana-wielding mystery woman badass…who uses zombies to, for example, carry her supplies.) Could there be more to a world with zombies than just the “post-apocalypse?” Can we perhaps speak of something like necropower? Might zombies be harvested as a form of labor? Andrea’s female guardian certainly presents a model of it…will we see it on a larger scale?
Returning, however, to the prison motif–I am so excited to see who these prisoners are and what sort of dynamics will emerge. This is what the show does best (and what we saw glimpses of last season with the shootout at the bar)–it brings in situations where categories from the pre-apocalypse are invariably invoked in the post-apocalypse. I think there’s a lot of potential here to comment on the out of control prison industrial complex in this country, and do so in a novel and interesting way. We’ll see what happens.
Lastly, I want to discuss the singing scene. Why is the tune beautiful? Yes, yes, the two actresses have good voices and its a nice rendition…but why is it beautiful? Would we use that word to describe it in another (say, normal) context? Or is the apocalypse essential to its beauty? And what role does music play in our little group?
So it’s a little prison-break ‘in reverse’ taking place here, and I have been anticipating the group’s return to the remains of institutions. We started TWD journey in the hospital, and then traveled to police stations, moved through a grade-school, camped out at the CDC, and knelt at the church altar…these sites turned us to think about how societies order and what it means when those structures are gone. The landscapes of the farm and the small towns last season turned us back to fundamental questions about the good guys and the bad guys; it was a Cormac McCarthy landscape in which the father is teaching his son to be a man in the absence of a world. Carl, the little John Wayne has obviously learned some lessons, stepping, perhaps, into the big shoes that Shane had left for him.
The whirling flashlights moving through the halls of the prison reminded me of the series pilot. (Visually, it was an excellent scene.) Rick’s awakening to the new world involved a similar walk through the flickering hallways of the hospital, discovering that the living had fled, leaving him behind. The living return to inhabit an institution that once put life on trial. All sorts of critical analysis about bare life, torture, and justice could emerge. I do not have much to work with yet, Natalie, in terms of a commentary on the prison-industrial-complex. Daryl, of course, is someone to watch, as this ‘man of the wild’ has already decided that he will not sleep behind the bars of the prison cell. Martin’s comments about necropower and the image of the chained sherpa-zombies and their ‘usefulness’ in this new world are compelling.
The best moment of the show was the discovery of the living there—the final cut, as the ax falls on Herschel’s leg. The fact that another living group inhabits the place makes me wonder about how they will manage the threat within the prison walls. While the rules seemed to fall away while they were living on the farm, could the structural memory of the prison system ignite a memory of how to order the world? The saloon last season didn’t end so well, but bar room brawls in westerns don’t often end so nicely. Will the prison be a place of alliances and (re)births?
There was no shortage of zombies in this episode…..off to a good start.
I too am happy to back on board with you all as we take on another season of TWD. I’m also excited, well, to be excited about the show again. Once Glen Mazzara took over as showrunner last season, there was an immediately detectable change in pace and episode structure (as in the show gained some of both), and I think that “Seed” preserves much of the momentum from that explosive finale last year. Like many of you, I was impressed with how quickly and economically many of the characters have levelled up: Carl is not only not annoying, he’s become a badass (and judging from his interactions with Herschel’s daugher, a bit of a lady’s man as well). Maggie seems to be fully “one of the guys” now in terms of her combat prowess, though like Natalie, I continue to wonder when this show is going address its gender politics – we haven’t progressed too far since season 1, when the womenfolk spent most of their time washing clothes. And Rick is a pretty unlikeable but also pretty effective leader for a change, and his trademark glowers have some bite to them.
I wanted to briefly mention two themes that I found interesting about the episode, because both are developments of the few things the show did successfully last season. The first is the way the line between human and walkers continues to be in question. TWD was at its best last season when it was exploring the potential for arbitrariness in the human-walker difference: the slaughter of the walkers outside the barn (including Sophia) last season, or Shane and Rick’s big grunting, primal, zombie-like fight in “18 Miles Out“. The group’s casual, brutal effectiveness in slaughtering walkers in this episode was equal parts exciting and chilling in this sense; but much more interesting were the little suggestions of Cronenbergian body horror – Lori’s terrifying image of a stillborn walker inside of her, or the brutal amputation of Herschel’s leg (which I’m going to guess doesn’t save him). In this post-apocalypse wasteland, bodies in all forms are becoming the enemy – the site of infection, pain, and the grim demise of hope.
The second is the episode’s really interesting use of space. The single worst thing about the barn last year, apart from the fact that it became a stage for exactly nothing to happen, was that it was such a huge, open space. We all saw the problem – just what makes this barn so safe and removed from the rest of the walker-overrun world? The show meandered and spun its wheels, because there was no constriction, no sense of urgency. This episode, on the other hand, was really creative in framing the action in discrete spatial blocks – the enclosed walkway between the two sides of the prison yard as they first enter, the prison yard, the courtyard, the prison block, then the dark halls. As they progress into the prison, the space gets tighter and more oppressive, to the point where the group are sleeping in prison cells or fighting hand-to-hand in the hallways. There’s an obvious metaphor about the narrowing of their options for safety there; but I wonder if, as well, something is being said about how old forms of security have become fundamentally dangerous. The TWD world has always seemed to have an interesting Romanticist streak within it (think of the deer from last season); perhaps a prison is a way to explore that tension.