The Walking Dead
rose for its second installment on AMC last night, and this morning AMC announced that the series, a hit with fans and critics so far, will get a second season
. Clearly not anticipating that the zombie show would break their ratings records, AMC originally ordered only six episodes for an especially slim season 1. Season 2 will consist of 13 episodes. No premiere date has been set yet.
But, like the survivors on the series, we'd best focus on matters at hand than try to look too far into the future. And there's plenty to discuss from last night's episode, the aptly named "Guts."
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"Guts" had a lot to live up to after the riveting and acclaimed pilot, "Days Gone Bye," and a lot of heavy lifting to do to take the series beyond the one-man, one-motivation story we saw last week. Where the pilot focused heavily on Rick, our hero and ever the quick study, as he went from comatose cop to roaming zombie killer, this week we got to know more of the supporting characters, especially Glenn, the young, crafty former pizza delivery boy, and Andrea, an attorney who is oddly more concerned about stealing in front of a cop than sticking a gun in his face.
As they work together to escape the department store surrounded by the hungry undead, it becomes clear that these two will become some of Rick's more important, trust-worthy allies--allies he needs, given this week's opening scene, which showed his wife, Lori, and Shane, his former partner and friend, tossing off her wedding ring so they can, in Merle's words, "bump uglies" in the woods. I'm not the kind of viewer who likes to get wrapped up in particulars, but the way Lori looked at the ring on her necklace before tossing it aside got me wondering: Why did she leave Rick for dead in the hospital when he was very clearly still alive? Did she even check before running off with Shane to Atlanta? I hope Rick asks the same thing when he arrives with the rest of the gang back at the survivor camp. I'd like to hear that justification.
But gross and insensitive as their tryst in the trees is, that's not our main concern in "Guts." Our main concern is much, much grosser. As soon as the gang explained the zombie sensory rules to Rick, I saw where the whole scene was going, but it's perhaps an even better testament to The Walking Dead
's superior storytelling that, even while knowing, I still enjoyed watching it get there. The scene in which Rick opened the zombie's wallet, put a name to his undead face, stoically honored him and then proceeded to hack his body into bits and smear his insides all over the place could have either been deeply horrific or darkly hilarious, but it somehow managed to be both. (Although what does it say about me that I was more horrified by the mental image of "dead puppies and kittens"?) No matter that his plan got foiled by the rain; it's that sort of creative thinking, inspiring rhetoric and empathy for his fellow man that will get Rick Grimes far in this hellish world. Farther than someone like Shane, for instance, whose speech to Andrea's sister amounted to, "She's dead, get over it." I'm really starting to hate that guy.
The thunderclaps started to feel a bit gratuitous throughout the episode and made the rainstorm less surprising and more of a "What else did you expect?" moment, but I'm guessing many viewers didn't even notice them, what with so much intense racial tension between T-Dog and Merle to drown them out. Their animosity pointed to one of the elements I was most looking forward to when the series began: This isn't a traditional zombie story in which every "and that's what makes us human"
moment is a bright and shiny testament to fortitude or togetherness. As Merle shows us (repeatedly), the human heart can be even uglier than the zombie's face who's eating it, and social prejudices don't just disappear even when the very foundations of society crumble. For better or worse (probably worse), that ugliness is also part of what makes us human. It may be a bleak lesson on an already bleak show, but at least it's realistic. More realistic than, say, a tiny key bouncing into a tiny drain, or zombies being able to identify humans by the way they walk rather than shuffle.
"Guts" outfitted Rick Grimes with a crew of survivors to whom he will clearly become the trusted leader, more zombie survival tips (though I doubt he'll try the "smear myself with zombie guts" strategy again any time soon) and a vehicle to get him to his wife and son, whom he does not yet know are at the survivor camp. But The Walking Dead
is no longer just about Rick, and in a way, the group's return to the survivor camp marks the real beginning to their
story: Who are all of these people? Where did they come from, and how did they find each other when the outbreak hit? What's their plan? (If they have one, besides "live through the day.")
I'm already firmly on Rick's team, and I'm hoping that, as this short season goes on, The Walking Dead
(to pardon another pun, which feel somehow unavoidable) fleshes out all these other non-walkers we've met. As "Guts" showed us, The Walking Dead
does not shy away from conflict, and moments of peril and death are sure to pop up at every turn. So far, at least on a visceral level, these moments have worked well. They'll work even better when they involve characters we really care about.
Here's the sneak peek of episode 3, "Tell It To The Frogs," in which Rick, reunited but clearly not rekindled with his family, tells Merle's brother about what happened to Merle. He doesn't take it well. Watch. And below that, check out my new weekly Walking Dead feature, the Grossest Moments of the Week!
(Image courtesy of AMC)