Maggie Greene (Lauren Cohan), Beth Greene (Emily Kinney), Rick Grimes (Andrew Lincoln), Tyreese (Chad L. Coleman), Daryl Dixon (Norman Reedus) and Carl Grimes (Chandler Riggs)
The name I decided to use for this, Irrelevant Crap, is based on the widespread belief that popular culture is largely superficial and trivial. However, I usually think people are too quick to dismiss it, without looking at subtext. Many elements of pop culture are a reflection of underlying societal currents that connect to many of the "serious" issues.
For example, we may not have hordes of shambling undead roaming the streets, but as a society we have issues just as serious, where if we worked together we could save many lives. But just like in a zombie apocalypse, ego, pride and stubbornness get in the way. AMC's The Walking Dead, based on the graphic novels by Robert Kirkman, is not about zombies. Not really. It's a television series starring Brits with fake Southern accents playing flawed characters trying to find some semblance of power and control in a new world ... and failing. And, as you can see below the fold, last night's episode was true to those themes while also exhibiting some of the show's longstanding weaknesses.
"Man, when perfected, is the best of animals, but when separated from law and justice, he is the worst of all." -Aristotle, Politics, Book IOne of the more interesting areas of interpretation is looking at people's conceptions of the future, both Utopian and Dystopian. In design, fashion, literature (both fiction & non-fiction), etc., the dominant views of what people imagine for the future of humanity at a given time can tell you a lot about that society. And it's not only a function of fantasy or science-fiction, since a lot of political treatises propose new societies that will solve all of the world's problems, remove want, and usher in peace and brotherhood. But there's also the apocalyptic visions of how we're going to destroy ourselves, the planet, our souls and maybe even the universe at some future point.
A "herd" of zombies (Credit: AMC)
From Zack Handlen at the A.V. Club:
One of the core tenets of the zombie story, going all the way back to when George Romero basically created the genre in Night Of The Living Dead, is that in times of great stress and danger, people rarely make the right choices. Actually, that’s not quite right. People have instincts, after all, and those instincts kept the species alive until we figured out the whole “fire” thing. What Romero did is demonstrate how a threat is at its most deadly when it gives the victims time to debate; to talk amongst themselves, to doubt, to second guess, to grow bitter over proposed strategies, to resent the leader, to tear each other down, so that when trouble does arrive, no one is in any position to deal with it. It’s not that Romero considered team-work impossible. Just that it’s a lot more difficult than the Boy Scouts would have us believe, and that death doesn’t automatically bring out what’s best in us.It's also a situation where human capacities for love and compassion can sometimes become weaknesses. A lot of people are uncomfortable with the killing of a chicken or cow, let alone a human. And there are people that would find it tough to kill even in a situation where they're acting in their own defense. But now imagine a situation where your undead wife, mother, father, child, etc., was coming at you and you have to raise a weapon and shoot them in the head. It would not be an easy thing, and a lot of people would not be able to bring themselves to doing it, even if they were shooting something that was an undead killing machine.
The Governor (David Morrissey) leads his new army (Credit: Gene Page/AMC)
However, what has made the show compelling television for many I think is that it obeys the cardinal rule of horror storytelling; there is a believable threat that anyone could die at any time. And that rule was on display in last night's episode; "Too Far Gone." The episode also touched on many of the elements that have been present, in one way or another since the beginning of the show, and finally culminated the story of The Governor.
These people ... They mutilated me, burned my camp ... killed my daughter. Now you saw me. I tried. I tried to die. Cause I didn't want to accept that you couldn't live in this world without getting blood on your hands. But I found you people. And I don't want to die. I don't want you to die. -The Governor
- A Life Of Resentment Is Destructive: One of the big debates among critics about Breaking Bad is the nature of Walter White and the "Heisenberg" persona. One view holds that Heisenberg was created out of the circumstances of Walt's life and hitting absolute bottom from his cancer diagnosis. In that way, anyone can become a version of Heisenberg given the right set of circumstances. The alternative view is that a part of Walt was always Heisenberg, and it was the piece of him that spent years seething with anger and resentment out of not getting his "fair share" in life, and the cancer diagnosis only brought that part of him to the surface. That same dynamic is present with the antagonists of The Walking Dead. Both Shane (Jon Bernthal) and The Governor were living lives of mediocrity, subordinate to others before the world went to shit. And the zombie apocalypse allows them a chance to get power over the things that they feel should be theirs.
- Cycles Of Abuse & Patterns Of Trauma: One interesting aspect that keeps popping up in the series is the fact that so many of the characters are victims of domestic violence (e.g. Carol, Merle, Daryl, The Governor, etc.) or been affected by trauma to the point that what's "normal" has changed (i.e. Carl, Carol's girls, etc.). And in almost every case, the characters make destructive choices searching for control of their lives and situation. Whether it's Carol's (Melissa McBride) ruthless streak at the beginning of this season and telling her girls that they're "weak," or The Governor trying to control everyone and everything around him, or Merle who reacts with violence and distrust to everything and everyone. In season 3, Michonne (Danai Gurira) likens The Governor to Jim Jones and every intimate relationship The Governor has in the series devolves into an abusive one. For example, Andrea (Laurie Holden) and The Governor's relationship becomes this, with Andrea making more and more excuses for his behavior until it was too late.
Never underestimate a redneck with a crossbow and a sociopathic child (Credit: AMC)
You! You in the pony tail!!! Is this what you want? Is this what any of you want?!? -Rick
What we want is what you got. Period! Time for you to leave asshole. -Mitch
- Both Idealism & Nihilism Are Deadly: The characters that try to hold on to the values of the "old world" usually end up dead on The Walking Dead. You can almost always tell when a character is going to die based on the writers making them "too good for the sinful Earth." Dale (Jeffrey DeMunn) and T-Dog (IronE Singleton) end up dying after they refuse to go along with decisions that break with their ethics. And a good bit of the suffering Rick endures comes from his indecisiveness in trying to walk a line in-between hanging on to values and the necessities of the situation. But the same thing is also true for the characters that let go of any system of morality. With Shane and The Governor, you see how much more unstable the situation becomes when "right and wrong" are thrown out the window. The characters that endure on the show are like Daryl (Norman Reedus), who's a realist that's held on to pieces of his humanity.
- Why Didn't Rick Take The Governor's Deal?: I've seen many people asking this online after last night's episode. Why not just leave the prison, since they already know they can't hold off the tank going into the confrontation. However, I think Rick refuses The Governor's offer for the same reason he finally decided to refuse The Governor's "peace" deal to hand over Michonne in Season 3; there's absolutely no reason to trust that The Governor would release Herschel or Michonne. And by giving in to him, it only signals weakness and invites further attack down the line. Although, that's probably cold comfort for Herschel (Scott Wilson), Maggie (Lauren Cohan) and Beth (Emily Kinney).
A psychopathic asshole with a tank (Credit: AMC)
Everyone is alive right now. Everyone has made it this far. We've all done the worst kind of things just to stay alive! But we can still come back. We're not too far gone. We get to come back. I know we all can change. -Rick
Liar. -The Governor
- The Battle Over The Prison: Let me start out by saying that The Governor's plan to take the prison makes no damn sense whatsoever, and one of the problems with the episode is that no one in the Governor's group (other than Lily) even tries to object to it. I guess it's debatable as to whether The Governor ever intended to just let it stop at taking the prison, or if he always intended on trying to kill everyone in Rick's group no matter what. But no one on the Governor's side is going to raise their hand and say "what are we going to do about the broken down fence and the blast holes the tank is firing into the prison after this is over?" I kind of doubt there's a ready supply of mortar around to patch things up. One of the big criticisms of this episode and this season's story arc with The Governor is that all of this could have just as easily happened last season and been resolved in the prison battle of the Season 3 finale. Also, if you have two hostages in front of you, and you get so pissed off that you want to kill one, do you choose the woman that took out your eye, and killed your (zombie) daughter, or the kind, one-legged old man? If you guessed Herschel, you would be right. Although, Michonne has a bit of plot armor, and there would be no horrified reaction shots of crying daughters if she was the one beheaded with a katana.
- No One In This Universe Can Keep An Eye On Their Children: When not being a horrible human being during the first two seasons, Lori (Sarah Wayne Callies) could not be bothered to watch Carl, since he always slipped away to be places he shouldn't be. This episode had not one, but two children being neglected by adults. Not only does The Governor's new surrogate daughter, Megan, get bit by a Walker with her mother Lily not far away, but apparently Rick had no plan as to what was supposed to happen with his infant daughter Judith if the shit hit the fan.
A rule of television: If no body is shown on screen, assume the character is alive (Credit: AMC)
- Carol's Girls and Tyrese: We see vividly that Carol's "parenting" of the girls has taken hold, as they both shoot two of The Governor's army in the head to save Tyrese (Chad L. Coleman). Since whoever was dissecting animals was still in the prison, and it was strongly implied in previous episodes that the girls were the ones feeding rats to the zombies, I wonder if we're meant to take away that it's possible that Carol didn't kill Karen and the other sick survivor? I could entirely see the girls taking Carol's "advice" too far and killing the two sick people to show how "strong" they are, and Carol covered it up and took the blame.
- MVP Of The Week: Could there be any doubt that our favorite squirrel eater would not get this award? Not only does Daryl Dixon take out a tank Looney Tunes style by rolling a grenade down its gun barrel, but he does it by using a "zombie shield" to get close enough. Although, since 5.56 NATO rounds will eat through a car door, the idea that you can use a rotting corpse as a shield from high-powered assault rifles is somewhat dubious.
- Killing The Governor: There's a symmetry to having Michonne be the one to fatally wound The Governor, since their story arcs began on the TV show at the same time, and Season 3 is in some ways largely about how their personal battle spreads out to consume both Rick's group and the people at Woodbury. However, The Governor's death is similar to what happened to the character in the comic-book, in that in both he's shot in the head (for different reasons) by women named "Lily."
Coming Soon: The wacky politics of ABC's Scandal