Please note: these reviews will contain spoilers for both the show and the comic, so be forewarned.
This week opens with Amy and Andrea bonding while fishing for the camp’s next meal. They talk about their double-digit age difference, and the way their father taught them to fish: Andrea played for keeps, Amy was taught catch and release. The discussion naturally turns to their father’s mortality, and whether he might still be alive out there. It’s a tender scene that’s really helps inject some life into these characters’ relationship. We got a taste of Andrea’s love for her sister when she picked out the mermaid pendent at the department store in zombie-infested Atlanta, but seeing them connect over almost-but-not-quite-shared memories was much more powerful.
The camera pulls back from this touching scene to reveal Dale standing watch atop his RV. In the distance he spots Jim, the quiet mechanic, digging on top of a hill in the distance. Concerned, especially given the hundred-plus degree temperatures, Dale runs to investigate and finds Jim laboriously digging what appear to be graves. Dale tries to talk to the man, and offers him water, but gets only silence in return.
Dale retrieves the group, who come try to talk Jim down a bit. At first they tell him they’re worried about him, which gets them nowhere, so Lori takes the direct approach and let’s him know that he’s freaking everyone right the hell out. Unfortunately, that doesn’t work either, as Jim kindly invites them to just leave him alone if seeing him dig is upsetting them.
When Shane tries to do the leader thing and intervene, Jim throws his savage beating of Ed in his face. Seemingly with no recourse available, Shane tackles the mechanic and restrains him. While he’s struggling in vain against the handcuffs, Jim reveals that the only reason he’s alive is that the zombies were too busy tearing apart his family to get him too. Jim’s story is painful to hear, and especially well acted. Scenes like this are going to form the emotional core of The Walking Dead, at least in the beginning. So far, between Morgan’s wife in the pilot and Jim’s family last night, they’ve been handled very well and really give us a sense of what a survivor has lost to make it as far as they have. So long as the producers don’t go overkill, these insights should really help bond us to the characters.
I also really liked that Shane’s attack on Ed was acknowledged by the other characters on the show. Whether Ed had it coming to him or not (he did), this sort of animalistic behavior would scare people and really chip away at Shane’s ability to lead the group. Shane projects a sort of legitimacy because he was a police officer, but seeing him act like a hot-headed vigilante is going make his ability, or even right, to lead the group a very questionable prospect.
With that said, I really like the direction the show is taking with Shane. In the comic he was a pretty one note character, but so far on the show he’s gotten a lot of depth. He’s made a lot of mistakes, but he also seems like a legitimately good man who is trying to do the right thing along the way. Sure he lied about Rick being dead, but I think we’re going to see some pretty good motivation behind that. Their hometown was being overrun, and he probably had to tell Lori something to get her and Carl to safety. Shane is on a very tragic road so far; hopefully the show can keep that up instead of turning him into… well, what he was in the comic.
We later find Jim tied to a tree and coming back to his senses. He apologizes for frightening anyone, especially Carl and Sophia. When Dale asks about his behavior, Jim blames the heat, and then says he was digging because of a dream, the details of which he simply can’t remember. The dream is obviously meant to be prophetic, and reminds me of any number of similar situations in Steven King stories. Considering Darabont, The Walking Dead‘s showrunner, has adapted a number of King’s works, this sort of makes sense. Unfortunately I don’t really think it works in the context of the show, but Jim’s actions are creepy enough that it doesn’t bother me overmuch.
Back in Atlanta Rick, Glenn, Daryl, and T Dog (I really hate typing that; who came up with that stupid name anyway?) are searching for clues to where Merle could have gone. They follow the blood trail back into the building and eventually find a broken window through which Merle must have made his getaway.
Along the way we get a lot of clues (and direct statements from his brother) about how capable and determined Merle is: he obviously made a tourniquet for his arm so that he wouldn’t bleed out, he cauterized the wound on a kitchen stove, and he still had the wherewithal to dispatch a couple zeds who got in his way. Capable or not, Merle has still lost a significant amount of blood, and the chance of an infection at the amputation site is probably hovering right around 100%. Without help, Merle can’t last very long. Unfortunately for everyone, his trail goes cold and the group doesn’t know where, or even whether, to look next.
After some discussion they decide that they’ll search a few blocks for Merle, but only after they retrieve the bag of guns Rick lost by the tank. Daryl mans one alley with Rick and T Dog in another two blocks away to ensure a couple avenues of escape should the situation call for it. When Glenn runs to get the guns, the plan goes off the rails. It seems our group isn’t the only one who noticed a big sack of firearms in the middle of the street: a group of Hispanic gang bangers did too.
After a quick skirmish, two men grab Glenn and escape in a car, one of whom gets an arrow in the ass for his trouble. Rick, Daryl, and T Dog are left behind, but have a hostage of their own. After some prodding, the captured banger agrees to bring Rick and company to his hideout, an abandoned factory outside of town. Once there they encounter the gang’s leader Guillermo, who isn’t about to let his guns just walk away. If Rick wants Glenn back, he’s going to have to either sacrifice his firepower and engage the gang in a firefight.
Rick and company return well armed but seemingly ready to hand over the guns. The Vatos invite them in and they hand over their hostage. Rick demands Glenn, but Guillermo stands firm: if he doesn’t get his guns he’s going to feed Glenn to his dogs. Everyone draws and there’s a tense standoff between our three survivors and a couple dozen Mexican gangsters. Just when things are about to get nasty, an old woman pushes through the crowd demanding help. Rick asks her about Glenn, and she takes his hand and leads him out of the factory to a nursing home still full of elderly patients. Inside they find Glenn, looking on as one of the Vatos gives an octogenarian an inhaler treatment for his asthma attack.
It seems that Guillermo and his right hand man aren’t badass gangsters after all, but a janitor and a nurse who just couldn’t leave the elderly patients to their fate. Seeing this, Rick decides to hand over a few of the guns and some of the ammo as a goodwill gesture before taking Glenn and heading back to their van, which – by the way – is missing. The vehicle was presumably stolen by Merle who, we must assume, is on his way back to the camp to exact his revenge. Rick, Glenn, Daryl, and T Dog take off on foot, hoping to make it to camp before they’re too late.
While a lot of the scenes were tense and the action was pretty good, the Vatos arc was, to be frank, silly. Other than slowing our heroes down, it didn’t really accomplish anything. I doubt we’re going to see any of these characters again, so this diversionary storyline isn’t adding anything to the overall mythology. With only six episodes in the season, I just don’t understand why they’d sacrifice time on storylines with no payoff like this. It’s incredibly frustrating.
Back in camp everyone is sitting around the campfire, enjoying Andrea and Amy’s bountiful catch. Everyone, that is, except for Ed, who’s stewing in his tent like a petulant Achilles. Carol tries to convince him to come out and join the group, but he won’t hear of it. He creepily tries to get his young daughter to stay, but Carol pulls her away. I’m not sure if this is supposed to suggest that Ed is a pederast in addition to a wife beater, but I really hope not. He’s broadly drawn enough as it is, he doesn’t need the extra element of creep on top. On a related note, the makeup effects on Ed’s battered face are extremely well done; that guy really got his ass kicked.
Around the campfire Dale quotes Faulkner and waxes philosophically about the nature of time, especially now that civilization has crumbled around his ears. It’s a nice quiet scene, which is brutally juxtaposed only moments later when zombies wander into the camp. I, like probably most people, was expecting Merle to show up instead. I figured we’d have a tense little standoff between him and Shane, before all the blood loss and trauma would finally catch up to Merle, who would collapse in the middle of camp. Roll credits. Needless to say, I was pleasantly surprised.
Ed is the first casualty, whom nobody notices since he’s all by himself sulking. The attack begins in earnest when Amy is bitten coming out of the RV. The camp erupts as zombies pour in. Shane blasts away with his shotgun while pulling Lori and Carl to safety, while the rest of the survivors made do with what weapons are available, like baseball bats.
In the melee several survivors are killed or bitten, including Jim who suddenly remembered why he was digging earlier. The expedition from Atlanta shows up in time to help mop up the remaining zombies, and we’re treated to another reunion scene between Rick and his family, with Shane looking on in shock. Elsewhere in camp Andrea cries over her sister, who is breathing her last.
The last few minutes of “Vatos” shattered whatever sense of security the survivors had left. I can’t wait to see how this pans out. Will people start throwing blame around, with Shane being the obvious target? Will there be a power struggle in the camp between Shane and a challenger, most likely Rick? Is Merle going to show back up with the camp already in chaos? Time will tell.
While The Walking Dead can trip over its own feet in some scene, it handles action and terror extremely well. The entirely of the zombie attack is incredibly tense and heartbreaking. So long as the show can get away from go-nowhere subplots like faux gangsters running nursing homes, we’re in for some quality watching. With only two episodes left, we’ve got a lot of ground left to cover. Keep your fingers crossed that this is the last of the painful diversions.