I was out of town this weekend and just watched Sunday’s episode (S3-E10) of The Walking Dead. First things first…
It’s Daryl Dixon for the win with the most creative use of a car’s hatchback in a zombie kill!
I don’t read the comic book on which the show was based. I don’t know unless I search out the fan chat in forums about who was originally one of the main group of survivors or who was really in Woodbury or which characters are hopelessly changed between their comic incarnations and their TV ones. But I do like to watch movies based on comic books and/or video games and one thing is a pretty fair constant: character development is usually clumsy at best (I’ve seen all–ALL–the Resident Evil movies except for the most recent one, and Alice has yet to have actually grown in any way) (that’s not to say they can’t get smarter; I’m talking about witnessing the characters grapple with tough emotional questions). When monster-action writers start writing about things like internal development or self-reflectivity their work tends to fall apart and seem contrived and hackneyed and really, most of the time, who’s to say that’s so wrong? You don’t go to a zombie movie so it will force you to contemplate your inner reality (though if you can get that out of a zombie flick, good on you). When you go to see a zombie movie, you want want shoot-em-up thrills, gore, impressive kills (though I’ve yet to see one that can top the hatchback) and perhaps a glimmer of hope that the zombie apocalypse the characters have just endured will come to an end and they can get back to their regularly scheduled lives. Do you think about the social implications of the final scene of Night of the Living Dead (not spoiling, if you have lived under a rock for the last 45 years and haven’t seen it)? No, you talk about the little girl with the trowel. When you talk about 28 Days Later you don’t contemplate the horror of having to make a kill-or-be-killed decision if your loved one were infected with a rage virus. You think, wow! Those zombies were fast! (To those out there who would argue that the monsters in 28 Days Later are “the infected” and not zombies I say, for the purposes of this blog, let it go.)
But The Walking Dead is TV. Season 3 is 16 episodes long and so, they have to write for, basically, eight feature-length zombie movies with narratives that tie together. Of course sometimes the writing–as I mentioned before, NOT a zombie movie’s strongest suit–fails. I would imagine it’s quite a burden to write for hours and hours of audiovisual mayhem and carnage, while building characters with personalities and relationships that seem real, without sounding trite. This is where comics have an edge; they can express the mayhem over pages of panels, physically depict how characters build trust, and can do so with limited dialogue. We’re remarkably good at filling in blank spaces and understanding implied meaning. But with a TV show, the audience wants to hear the characters speak and relationships have to grow and develop, otherwise you’re basically watching the nightly news. With zombies.
With this said, I was struck by the rapidly unraveling relationship between Glenn and Maggie. Glenn, a surprisingly resourceful college student turned survivalist, met Maggie, a member of the Farm Family, when one of the Farm Family shot one of Glenn’s party members, who they then rush back to the farm compound to save. First came sex, then love, and Glenn and Maggie have been a relatively happy couple in the middle of the chaos and a formidable fighting duo who could hold their own against the zombie masses. Until they were captured by The Governor, leader of Woodbury, a town/compound not far from where Glenn and Maggie and Co. have taken refuge.
In disgustingly classic war strategy, The Governor exploited Maggie’s gender, forcing her to participate in her own violation by making her take off her top and threatening (but not going so far as to engage in) rape. She has just heard Glenn get beaten in the next room, and The Governor says that if she doesn’t take off her shirt, he’ll take off Glenn’s hand. It’s an appalling plot point that was hard to watch and is still hard to see. After they’re rescued from Woodbury, Glenn and Maggie struggle as a couple and in S3-E10, they have a fight that has since prompted considerable discussion among the fan forums. “OMG! Maggie’s such a bitch!” some of the fans said. Or, “Wow, Glenn’s such an ass! Why is he mad at Maggie? She was sexually assaulted. It’s like he’s blaming the victim!”
OK, OK. I hear you, people. And I’m glad to hear these criticisms, because it means people aren’t just watching the show, but thinking about it in more ways than just looking at it as a primer on zombie kill skills. However, there are a few things to consider in Walking Dead-land. First: the three seasons on the air have put the cast on the run from zombies for well over a year now, though it’s probably not anywhere near two when you consider another plot twist (for the regular viewers, the Lori/Rick/Shane/uncertainty about who’s the baby daddy storyline, unless of course they don’t care about normal human gestation periods). That’s a long time to live in a constant cloud of fear and can wreak havoc on even the strongest survivors. And there’s no end in sight; there’s no cure, there’s just a relentless wave of flesh-eating monsters who don’t sleep or stop moving (anyone else have a little “Landshark” chuckle here?).
Second: Despite their bleak situation, they have worked to establish fairly normal social interactions. There is a clear leader to their group, family hierarchies remain intact, and there is an element of caring and trust that doesn’t necessarily get conferred onto other people they encounter outside their group.
Third: The Governor went for the jugular. He violated Maggie. He had Glenn beaten. He held guns to both their heads. He would have executed them if their friends hadn’t shown up in time.
Fourth: When The Governor held a gun to Glenn’s head, he didn’t disclose any information about his group–not their numbers, not their abilities. But Maggie broke.
She told them how large their group was, holed up in the relative safety of the prison. Which is a betrayal of literally everyone Glenn and Maggie care about.
Fifth: Rick, the leader of Glenn and Maggie’s group has gone crazy. Maggie’s father, Hershel, is missing the bottom half of his leg. And they have a baby to take care of in the middle of all mess. Daryl, the badass, has left with his brother. As far as Glenn knows, he really only has Michonne as a tested fighter and Carl, the 12-year-old-boy-turned-child-soldier, as backup.
So in this week’s The Walking Dead, when Glenn’s seemingly freaking out about the safety of the prison, and advocating that they leave, and admitting that they kind of can’t, and seemingly blaming Maggie, he isn’t blaming her for her sexual assault. That’s secondary in their “do you want to talk about it” discussion; it’s almost like he puts that part in as an afterthought, though she doesn’t want to talk about any of it. He freaks out and blames her because she put the entirety of the group at risk. It’s fraught with all the shadowy problems that accompany personal relationships; Maggie doesn’t want to see the man she loves get hurt. Glenn can’t protect Maggie anywhere near as much as he would like. This makes them both vulnerable to one another beyond the need to protect themselves from the zombie herds. But betraying their numbers to The Governor imperils them all. Glenn didn’t know Michonne had made her way to his camp and had helped his friends put together a rescue plan, and he was willing to die to protect his friends/zombie survivor family. Maggie, it seems, was not.
That’s where the anger comes from. The episode where the capture/beating/near rape occurred aired at the end of November; three months later it’s hard for the audience to remember everything beyond the shock of the potential rape. But I’ll bet money that Glenn is mad at Maggie because of how she exposed their group, not that she exposed her breasts. If the writers are going to have their characters endure wartime rape and experience the nuanced and conflicting emotions that accompany selfless bravery and fear of agonizing loss, then they need to let their characters grow. Please, Walking Dead writers, stop referring to the comic book. The AMC show isn’t a comic book anymore, and stopped being that once the show was renewed for a second season. It’s high time you switched genres. Look at Daryl; he was not in the original comic and is easily one of the most interesting, and most complicated, characters on there. And he’s a fan favorite, which is a good thing.
Oh, yeah, and here are my guesses for spoilers, for the fans reading along:
Hershel won’t make it to the end of the season. Not because he’s missing a leg, but because he’s starting to sound suspiciously like “I only ever say one thing anymore” Dale. If they’ve got nothing left for that character to do, then it’s time to go.
Michonne will kill Andrea by throwing her kitana through Andrea’s body in order to kill The Governor, who is using Andrea as a human shield against her old friends.
(Will someone please do in Andrea? She is a barometer for bad decision-making. It hurts my heart whenever I see her on the screen. Or else, writers, stop it and write for her like she has a brain.)
The mysterious, truck-driving, black-bodysuited babe from this episode will disappear for a season in order to build her own army and then reappear in season 5, tracking the main group for revenge.
Tyreese’s group will rejoin the main characters at the end, allowing for the end of The Governor. They’ll join the main characters, and Tyreese and Rick will battle for who will be king. Carl will break Rick’s heart when he sides with Tyreese.
And that’s all I’ve got for now!
I swear, I have a schizophrenic taste in movies and TV.