The Walking Dead: Safety in Numbers?

To be blunt, this episode of The Walking Dead was the first that didn’t grab me. It’s unfortunate because it was penned by series creator, Robert Kirkman. What also bothered me was the fact that I could see exactly where Kirkman was going with his emotional arc for the episode. All of the ingredients for a quality episode were there but (for the most part) it fell flat.

The opening with Andrea and Amy sitting in a boat, fishing for the camp, was interesting. The story of their father teaching them completely different ways of fishing was an interesting allegory for his perceptiveness in realizing their differences as people. The 12-year age difference between the two sisters is obviously a big hurdle in their relationship, but in exploring this difference, they realized the similarities they share. And with that, they caught enough fish to feed the camp for a day or two. This sounds great, but to understand it is very different than to feel it. The delivery of this scene made sense logically, but the emotional resonance wasn’t there. Believe me, I WANTED to like this scene. The performances by Emma Bell and Laurie Holden (as Amy and Andrea) are top notch, but it just didn’t click with me.

Elsewhere, Jim ran himself ragged under the scorching Atlanta sun, digging grave-sized holes. When confronted by Dale about his actions, Jim continued his assault on the ground and scared the camps elder statesman enough that he hauled ass back to camp to inform the group of Jims unsettling behavior. Upon hearing this, Dale and Shane lead the survivors in an intervention of sorts with Jim. It’s their own little Rally to Restore Sanity. Jim rebuffs their attempts to assist/question him and he is quickly subdued by Shane. In the ensuing scuffle, it’s revealed that the only reason Jim survived was because the dead were too busy picking off his family members. It’s a sad revelation that makes you realize more and more that those who survived the apocalypse aren’t necessarily the same people they were before it.

Upon rejoining Ricks group on the rooftop, it’s immediately obvious that Daryl is none too happy at the sight of his brothers dismembered hand lying on the ground. He whipped around with the quickness of an old-school gunfighter and set his sights on T-Dog. Fortunately, our intrepid Sheriff Rick was just as quick on the draw and had his Colt Cobra ready to take out the angry, young Mr. Dixon. It was a nice scene that harkened back to the Western feel established in the first episode. Upon calming Daryl down,  Rick and the rest of the gang tracked Merle’s blood trail far enough to see that he took out two zombies (with only one hand!) and cauterized his bloody stump in kitchen in the adjacent building. It was a testament of the nature of Merle as one tough son of a bitch.

This search for the unstoppable Mr. Dixon continues and leads the team to realize that they also need to retrieve the bag of guns. In a brilliant bit of strategy, Glen hatches a stratagem that splits the group into two groups with Glenn and Daryl as the primary retrieval team and Rick and T-Dog as defense at the strategic retreat point. It’s a plan so well thought out that it makes Daryl ask what the former pizza delivery-boy did before the world became Zombieland. It makes you think that maybe, in-between delivering slices with extra cheese, Glenn was a badass at Command & Conquer and Call of Duty.

Unfortunately, this strategy is derailed by the unexpected arrival of a skinny little gang member. He spooks easily and screams for help. It arrives in the form of two other gang members who promptly beat down Daryl. Upon return to the alley, Glenn is startled to see his redneck ally getting stomped out. The gang members see the gun bag and immediately make a dash to grab it, but not before Daryl puts an arrow in one of their asses. Startled , and with arrow firmly ensconced in buttcheek, the vatos grab Glenn and make a break for their getaway vehicle. Fortunately for Rick and Co., they also left behind the bag of guns and one of their members. This where the episode goes awry.

In a series of events that border on Lifetime Movie of the Week-quality, it stands revealed that these gangbangers are the guardians of a nursing home that was abandoned by its staff. When the outbreak happened the doctors and nurses left, leaving behind a community of seniors that were unable to defend themselves, let alone care for their day to day well-being. It was a concept that was brilliant and really cut to the core of human interconnectedness…but the execution was horrendous. It ended with an exchange of platitudes and stock dialogue that made me wonder if this was the same Robert Kirkman that writes the amazing monthly series. This part of the episode is saved only by the reveal that the truck that Rick’s squad is going to use to return to the camp has been stolen. The logical culprit is Merle and the realization of the fact that he will enact bloody vengeance once he returns to the camp sends them on a run for the lives of their loved ones.

Turning back to the camp, everyone sits around the fire while happily feasting on the abundant amount of fish caught by Andrea and Amy. The scene is serene and highlights the fact that these survivors are now a family of sorts. Unfortunately, the calm doesn’t last. Out of the darkness, a small horde of zombies attacks the camp and not everyone makes it out alive. The carnage was prolonged and deadly, with Shane, Morales and Jim standing front and center as the primary defenders and Dale as back-up. This bothered me, as none of the women really stood their ground. All of them were relegated to screaming, grabbing their children and scrambling for safety. The series has yet to introduce an assertive and self-sufficient female presence. Andrea and Jaqui are obviously strong personalities, but they seem to fade into the background when the men with guns make their presence known. I’m hoping that season two gives us a newly empowered Laurie (or a new character.) It would go a long way to balance the undercurrent of sexism permeating the entire series thus far, as well as giving us a bit more diversity in terms of personality.

Fortunately for the survivors, the ATL Search Party returns in the nick of time with shotguns blazing. The zombies are promptly put down but not before several camp members are killed. Ed, abusive husband and sometime punching bag, gets a gaggle of zombies in his tent while Amy is bitten multiple times and succumbs to her wounds. Andrea stands over her sister, frozen with sadness and watches as Amy fades away. It was a situation that was telegraphed early on it the episode and I should have seen it coming, considering that I’m a reader of the comic book. It was a heart-wrenching scene and saved the episode from the saccharine-sweet goings on back at the old folks home.

To the shows credit, we never get to see Merle. Sure, he survived , but for how long? He stole the truck but might have died on the way back to the camp. My hope is that we never see him again. It’s a situation akin to one of my favorite episodes ever of the Sopranos, ‘Pine Barrens.’ Without ruing it, in involves a character that is injured and left for dead. He is never heard from again, but the situation involving him and his unknown status leaves a feeling of doubt and insecurity in everyone involved. I know some people might see this as a massive dangling plot point, but it could be the catalyst of some major drama and character development.

So, three out of four ain’t bad, right? If this is the worst the series can do, then we are set for an awesome second season. For Kirkmans first outing as a television writer, it’s a fair to middling effort. By far, better than any episode of Hawaii Five-O, but falling far short of the high mark set by the previous three episodes. There are only two episodes left and from the looks of it, the survivors will soon be on the move. But I’m staying put right here. See ya next week!

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