The Walking Dead

Photo Credit: Hannah Hadidi | Daily Texan Staff

The fences are falling, disease is spreading and the Governor’s wrath hangs like a shadow over Rick Grimes and his not-so-merry band of survivors in season four of AMC’s “The Walking Dead.” Showing no signs of slowing down, the hit zombie drama continues its mean streak of solid, action-packed episodes. With so much zombie action on display, it can easily be assumed that Daryl Dixon and his trusty crossbow will be in the fray.

Played by Norman Reedus, Dixon is “The Walking Dead’s” breakout character, becoming the hero that zombie fiction both deserves and needs. With his forever-sleeveless shirts and squinty steely-eyed gaze, Dixon is the go-to redneck for surviving a zombie apocalypse. But behind this hardened survivor lies a heart of gold that makes this warrior of the field and stream so endearing. Plus he kills zombies with a crossbow.  

Reedus’ nuanced performance as Dixon has only improved with age. First appearing cold and distant, Dixon was quickly revealed to be a character with an uncanny sense of compassion and loyalty. His dedication to both his brother and his adopted family of survivors is a truly remarkable trait in a world rife with darkness. The surprisingly tragic death of his brother, Merle, in season three was a standout moment for Reedus, unleashing the younger Dixon’s built up emotions in a powerful display of grief. Since Merle’s departure, Reedus infused Dixon with a newfound sense of independence and dedication to his fellow survivors, no longer tied down by his compulsory allegiance to his brother. 

Despite Dixon’s ultimate success within the series, the writers may have backed themselves into a corner. This show thrives on the unpredictable lifespans of its characters, but at this point, to kill Dixon would be like killing the show. This is an unusual case because Dixon’s arc is very appendicular to the story as a whole. At the same time, to take Dixon out of the show would be like taking the island out of “Lost.” So what will the writers do to compensate for the fact that everyone but the redneck, whose ammunition reload time is modest at best, is getting devoured by the undead? 

One answer would be to kill Grimes. While taking its cues from Robert Kirkman’s comic series of the same name, the show is not a direct adaptation. Characters like Andrea and Sophia meet horrible ends in the TV series while their comic counterparts still live and breathe, but killing Grimes would be a twist of Ned Stark-ian proportions. Despite Dixon’s skyrocketing popularity, Grimes is the protagonist of the series. The show thrives on his journey and to take away that vital aspect would be a thematic train wreck. People may watch the show for the zombie kills and the ensuing gore, but at heart, these would mean nothing without the loss of humanity that Grimes so perfectly exudes. 

Grimes and Dixon present this odd symbiosis between thematic integrity and dedication to fandom and to take away either would ultimately be detrimental to the series. The show needs Dixon for the sweet zombie kills, but it needs Grimes for everything else. Though Dixon’s lifespan may be impossibly limitless, the macabre minds behind the show will create fresh reasons for the character to continue breathing.

“The Walking Dead” airs Sunday at 8 p.m. on AMC. 

"The Walking Dead" begins to wrap up a frustrating third season

Of all the shows I keep up with on a regular basis, “The Walking Dead” is easily the most narratively misguided, with nearly every episode featuring scattered characterization and inert melodrama. Nonetheless, week-to-week, there are few things as satisfying as seeing the show’s gleefully gory depiction of a zombie-ridden wasteland.

“This Sorrowful Life,” the penultimate episode of the series’ third season, showcased both the best and the worst of “The Walking Dead.” The show has consistently struggled to get a handle on its characters, and (SPOILER) this episode killed off Michael Rooker’s Merle, one of the few survivors left from the first season. Merle was always a deeply problematic character, but his return in the third season amounted to a redemption arc that stopped and started without much insight into Merle as a character, despite Michael Rooker’s valiant attempts to keep Merle compelling. His death may have resulted in a big blow towards the Governor’s forces, an exciting climax for the episode and a great final scene for Daryl (Norman Reedus), but Merle never amounted to anything more than another example of “The Walking Dead” squandering a character who didn’t have much potential to begin with.

Famous makeup man Greg Nicotero has directed a handful of “The Walking Dead” episodes, and his staging of several big action sequences didn’t fail to excite. Merle’s consequences-be-damned assault on the Governor was genuinely thrilling, and the smart use of zombies as a strategic weapon is something I’d like to see more of in the finale. The Zombie Kill of the Week easily belongs to Michonne’s innovative wire-to-pillar decapitation, although the casualness with which she was popping walkers’ skulls off in the episode’s opening was wryly funny.

Next week’s season finale promises to bring an end to the Governor-Rick battle of wills that’s driven the season, an arc that has continued to display the show’s struggles in building credible dramatic conflict and consistent characterization. Nonetheless, “The Walking Dead” has an undeniable knack for ramping up tension when it counts, and hopefully the third season will end on a satisfying note.

TV Tuesday

AMC’s “The Walking Dead,” which premiered Oct. 31 and was green lit for a second season yesterday, is not your usual zombie shoot-em-up, race for survival. Instead, it’s an unnerving, lingering portrait of survivors and the deceased that eats away at your mind.

The show starts off with Deputy Sheriff Rick Grimes getting out of his car on a deserted road. As the camera follows in front of him and keeps a close, tight shot, the viewer slowly sees the extent of the desolation of unoccupied cars lying dead in the middle of nowhere.

Then there’s a faint noise.

The sheriff drops to the ground to look under the cars and sees two pale, dirtied legs shuffling forward with fluffy slippers flecked with dirt. A hand drops down into the shot and picks up a teddy bear.

You think it’s a sign that whoever this person is, she’s definitely cognizant — not dead but possibly stunned or starving.

Grimes gets up and calls out to what appears to be a lost little girl. She stops.

Slowly she turns around to reveal she’s one of the walking dead; a zombie. The flesh to the side of her mouth has been torn away to reveal her exposed and rotting teeth. The sound of her sucking in the saliva and groaning can be heard right before she shuffles forward, arms outstretched as if gesturing for a hug.

Needless to say, he’s forced to shoot her and leaves the audience stunned right before the opening credits start.
Seeing a little girl as a zombie isn’t the terrifying aspect of this scene if you’re a seasoned zombie fan. In fact, the most recent “Dawn of the Dead,” which played right before the premiere of “The Walking Dead,” in one scene had a baby born a zombie.

But the show’s creator Frank Darabont takes care to give the girl and other zombies a vestige of humanity. All the while, the living must grapple and struggle with this hellish nightmare.

Some of you may know Darabont’s other works, such as “The Shawshank Redemption” or “The Green Mile.” Those are both emotional tours de force, but they aren’t horror films.

That’s where Darabont is playing on his home turf with this new series. He doesn’t pull any zombie babies to pop out and scare you in the first episode. He sticks to the hallmarks of classic terror from movies such as “Night of the Living Dead,” with solid human elements coupled with undead gore to forever haunt you.

Take a look at entries in the current zombie genre and you may notice that the faster, more agile zombies are in everything from “28 Days Later” to the game “Left 4 Dead.” This newer zombie isn’t necessarily a bad thing. There’s definitely a terror to accidentally setting off a car alarm that alerts a screaming, raging horde of zombies sprinting toward you — but that’s not “The Walking Dead.”

One of the first looks that viewers get of a real zombie is the upper torso of a woman pulling herself through an empty park on a sunny day — hardly fast or deadly. The horror comes from watching as her entrails drag behind her, flesh rotting, thinning hair hanging over her decomposed face as she tries to grasp at Grimes.

And the camera takes its sweet time to remain on that image until you realize this was once a living human being who’s been stripped of dignity, awareness and emotion. All that remains is half of her body, a ceaseless cannibalistic desire and maybe the occasional vestigial memories.

The whole series is the exact opposite of the modern horror that pops out and scares you. Instead, it won’t let you sleep because your mind keeps going back to the details of that woman n the park or the girl with her teddy bear.

TV Tuesday

In addition to the anticipated return of shows like “Modern Family” and “Dexter,” this fall television season has two highly noteworthy series premieres. Here’s a look at both and why they’re worth the hype.

“Boardwalk Empire,” HBO — Sept. 19

Whether you actually pay that premium every month for HBO or you just torrent this, “Boardwalk Empire” is shaping up to be the network’s next big hit.

Based on the history of Atlantic City during Prohibition, the show’s pilot was directed by award-winning director Martin Scorsese, co-created by The Sopranos executive producer Terence Winter and stars cult-movie favorite Steve Buscemi.

Buscemi plays Enoch “Nucky” Thompson, the “county treasurer who lives like a pharaoh and is corrupt as the day is long.” He, like many at the time, sees the 18th Amendment as an opportunity for profit rather than a setback. Like any illegal activity on HBO though, things get messier than just bootlegging liquor.

Combine all those great morsels of historical realism set in the time period of Al Capone, nuanced acting and intricate plot, and “Boardwalk Empire” looks like it’s going to be another strong character-driven drama from the network that produced “True Blood” and “The Sopranos.”

“The Walking Dead,” AMC — Oct. 31

Don’t write this off as just another installment in the zombie-mania genre. “The Walking Dead” is based on Robert Kirkman’s series, which won the Eisner Award — the comic book world’s equivalent of an Oscar. Additionally, the show’s creator is Frank Darabont, the director of “The Green Mile” and “The Shawshank Redemption.”

Both iterations of the story follow small-town police officer Rick Grimes from Cynthiana, Ky. In a scene reminiscent of “28 Days Later,” Grimes wakes up in a hospital after the zombie hordes have been unleashed and stumbles into some fellow survivors.

Now, some more jaded readers may groan at another zombie story, but the beauty of this is that it’s not about the zombies. Zombie flicks focus on the fact that you have roughly two hours to tell the story of some survivors discovering the zombie apocalypse, getting wrapped up in it and barely escaping.

“The Walking Dead,” however, has the luxury of being a full-length series with enough time for Grimes to develop and mature like in the comic book. Pair that with creator Darabont and you have a very human story of how people respond to a hell-on-earth situation, not just another zombie action shoot-em-up.