Tag Archive: Zombies


(A quick aside before my actual review. I watched this movie a week and a half ago. I’ll let that sink in for a second. It’s been like ten days since I watched this film. So, there is an unusually healthy chance that this particular review will be awful. I wouldn’t usually let that happen but there’s this national campus film festival that’s at WVU this week and I decided to compete in it, and I’ve spent the last two weeks working on my entry into the competition. And, I specifically spent last week doing principal photography and post-production for my short film which was due Monday. Throw in the fact that Grand Theft Auto V came out Tuesday and it’s any wonder that I found time to do this particular review right now. So, I apologize if this review sucks)

Had 2012’s Academy Award-nominated children’s film Paranorman came out when I was a child, it seems apparent to me that I would have adored this film beyond almost all others. That’s not to say that I didn’t thoroughly enjoy it as a grown-up (I did), but it’s stop-motion animation, macabre aesthetic, and general quirkiness would have made it fit right in with many of my favorite pieces from my childhoodAnd that fact becomes bizarre upon further introspection because it is abundantly clear to me that this eccentric gem seems designed primarily to appeal to older children at my most generous interpretation or teenagers and young adults at my most honest. Despite it’s consistently mature sense of humor and storytelling (relative for a nominal children’s film), Paranorman only fails to reach the pantheon of the greatest of children’s film because of a lack of the cathartic emotional payoff that defines classics like Toy Story 3 or The Iron Giant.


Which is not to say that Paranorman suffers from the thematic staleness of the most recent Best Animated Feature winners, Rango or Brave. In fact, it’s quite the opposite. Paranorman tackles heavy and often disturbing subject matter head-on. That statement about the cathartic pay-off of my favorite children’s films refers to their ability to leave me a sobbing, inconsolable wreck by film’s end despite the fact that I’m less than six months shy of being 25 years old. At no point in Paranorman was I over-run with uncontrollable emotion though I also doubt that was ever director Chris Butler’s intention. So, thankfully, Paranorman mostly made up for its lack of any sort of satisfying emotional pay-off with what is, once you dig beneath the surface, one of the darker children’s films of recent memory, dealing explicitly with bullying, loneliness, social alienation, and persecution.

Norman Babcock (Kodi Smit-McPhee) is a pre-teen loner who spends his days watching old B-zombie movies. He has no friends and everybody at school thinks he’s weird because Norman has a special power that is a non-secret in town even if no one actually thinks it’s true. Norman can see and speak to dead people. He is constantly berated by his own father for Norman being able to speak with his dead grandmother and Norman’s father doesn’t believe him. What his family believes to be Norman’s delusion also runs in Norman’s family and he has an uncle (The Big Lebowski‘s John Goodman) who can also speak to the dead. And Norman’s uncle believes that Norman is the town of Blithe Hollow’s only chance to be protected against a centuries old curse from a witch who was burnt at the stake and cursed the town with the threat of raising the dead before she died.


And I’ll leave it at that for fear of ruining the fun path this film takes over the course of its 90 minute running time. Though the film goes plenty of the places you’d expect, it also tends to at least momentarily subvert those expectations in ways that are as brutal as humanly imaginable. In much the same vein as The Iron Giant, Paranorman becomes a commentary on group hysteria and paranoia and who you think are the bad guys is twisted and warped until clear moral lines can’t actually be drawn. In this film, the line between good guy and bad guy is more ambiguously drawn than many films for grown-ups and Paranorman could serve as a suitable parable on the dangers of revenge and misunderstanding for children for years and years to come.

I’m going to draw this review to a close just because it’s been so long since I’ve actually watched it and I’m actually starting to not feel very well today. Clearly though, I could write so much more about this truly excellent children’s film. It’s visual aesthetic is perfect. It’s cut from the same cloth as children classics like The Nightmare Before Christmas and Coraline and is wrapped in countless shout-outs to classic horror films for the adults (i.e. Norman’s cellphone has the Halloween theme as its ringtone). Though I’m not sure if this film is particularly well-known at the moment, you have my personal guarantee that over the next ten years, an intense cult fandom will develop around this movie and all of the hip parents will be showing it to their soon to be hip children.

Final Score: A-



(A quick aside before my actual review: I watched this film Thursday night with my dad. We didn’t get home until after midnight. I worked Friday until 2 AM, and then today I went to see Monsters University with my sister which I will also be hopefully reviewing today. The moral of this story is that my brain is at least minorly fractured. Hopefully, these two reviews make sense)

After the dark and crushing ending to 1968’s Night of the Living Dead, there is one theme  that seems to have held constant across the entirety of the zombie genre of horror. The zombie curse becomes an allegory for humanity’s existential dread and our own certain knowledge that one day soon, something will wipe us out. There is a rotting, hope-sucking fatalism at the heart of all great zombie films and even in the lightest moments in the best zombie works, you always know in the back of your head that any minor victories will only lead to the most tragic fall later. So, when World War Z trades in the usual stark damnation of the zombie genre for actual, legitimate hope, it is only one of many signs that this particular zombie film lacks any teeth.


Perhaps it’s the film’s PG-13 rating and (more likely) perhaps it’s the film’s obvious and pathetic attempts to appeal to a mainstream summer blockbuster audience, but from beginning to end, World War Z turns the zombie apocalypse into a sterile, market-tested crowd pleaser that isn’t nearly as fun (or terrifying) as it wants itself to be. World War Z has individual set pieces that are a legitimate rush (a moment in a crowded plane stands out for sheer inspiration), but with emotionally wooden characters, mostly ineffective performances, and literally no sense of stakes in the outcomes of these characters, World War Z falls prey to most of the bad parts of zombie films without any of the gore-ridden excess or social commentary that makes the best Romero pictures so fun.

Gerry Lane (The Assassination of Jesse James‘s Brad Pitt) is a former U.N. investigator who finds himself caught in the middle of a mysterious infection that is turning humanity into murderous, suicidal shells whose only purpose is to continue spreading their infection. Gerry’s family is with him when the infection breaks loose in Philadelphia (and the rest of the world) and though Gerry and his family are able to escape to a UN battleship in the Atlantic ocean, the price for Gerry’s family’s spot on that boat is Gerry returning to field duty and helping to discover the cause of the zombie outbreak before it’s too late to save humanity. And, thus, Gerry is sent on a trip around the world from Korea to Israel to Wales as he searches for answers and for a cure.


Even more than the fact that World War Z trades in zombie ultra-violence for confusing and schizophrenic editing (in a vein similar to but not as well-exectued as The Hunger Games film), this movie is plagued by a lack of a reason to care. Having watched post-apocalyptic films for decades now, writers and directors have to provide more than the potential extermination of humanity to garner an audience’s sympathies, and World War Z fails there on every possible front. The film adopts an episodic approach to it’s storytelling (keeping in line with its summer blockbuster lineage as opposed to traditional zombie archetypes), and in the downtime between set pieces, the writers fail again and again to develop its characters enough to generate even the most marginal interest in these figures as anything more than plot devices.

Brad Pitt is serviceable in the role of Gerry. But, considering that I think Brad Pitt is one of Hollywood’s most talent and consistently intriguing A-listers (just watch Killing Them Softly and tell me I’m wrong), serviceable is not enough. Pitt gives the distinct impression the entire film that he’s only here to pick up a paycheck, and during what is supposed to be one of the film’s most emotional moments during the movie’s end, Pitt doesn’t sell the uncertainty and despair that must have been rocking through Gerry at that moment. None of the performances make much of an impression although Mireille Enos’s turn as Gerry’s wife was interesting enough that I’d like to keep an eye on this new talent.


I hope that I haven’t given the impression that I totally hated this movie because I didn’t. When the actual action is taking place (and let there be no question, World War Z is an action movie that happens to feature zombies), it is fast-paced and exciting, and it has several moments that are just buzzing with energy and innovation. A scene where zombies make their way onto a crowded plane is the best of the bunch (and prominently featured in the trailers), but other moments like an escape from an airport and the breaching of the walls of Israel have real verve and pleasure. Sadly there isn’t enough tying these moments together.

If you like real zombie movies of the Romero variety (even the cheesier ones like Diary of the Dead), you will probably find yourself disappointed by World War Z because it lacks practically all of the hallmarks of zombie cinema. And if you’re a fan of summer blockbusters of the Rolan Emmerich variety (i.e. Independence Day), you may still find yourself thinking that World War Z is wanting in some vague aspect. At the end of the day, the film gets the job done with its action-fueled moments, but it doesn’t accomplish nearly enough for just how dead and lifeless this film feels (pun about half-intended).

Final Score: C+


To quote a terrible Staind song, “It’s been a while.” Regular readers know that I’ve been working on a screenplay. I wrote the first draft in less than two weeks, and  a week later, my second draft was finished clocking in at about 128 pages. I’m letting some friends look at it to give me some feedback and then I’ll get to work on third and fourth drafts and so on. After that, who knows? Maybe I’ll actually try to sell this bad boy. I honestly think that with enough polish, it’s something that people would be interested in seeing. Let’s hope so. However, being so committed to my screenplay has led me to neglect some of my other duties for this blog (as I once predicted it would on here if I ever got around to writing again). I.e., I haven’t actually done a real review (other than my Song of the Day) series in over 10 days. Let’s fix that right now.

After the appropriately jaw-dropping cliffhanger at the end of The Walking Dead – Long Road Ahead as well as the emotional roller coaster that was its main plot, I couldn’t be more excited to dive into Episode 4, Around Every Corner. When I finally found the free time to take that plunge yesterday, I was not disappointed. After two straight episodes in a row where it seemed like the biggest threat to our beleaguered group of survivors was other humans and ultimately themselves, Around Every Corner puts zombies right back front and center as the group finally makes it to Savannah, and they quickly learn that it’s not going to be the safe-haven they expected.

For anyone who hasn’t played the other episodes in the story, stop reading now. Shit’s about to get spoilery. If you want an overview of the series, check out my review of episode 1, A New Day. After learning that a man on Clementine’s supposedly broken walkie-talkie was telling her that he knew where her parents were, the group arrives in Savannah searching for a boat and answers to the question of who this mysterious caller is. It doesn’t take long though for things to quickly turn south. Group members die, and even the new people you pick up aren’t safe from the Walkers. With forays into a creepy mansion, a Walker-infested sewer system, and a high school from Hell, Around Every Corner thrusts the players into  a series of classic horror settings, all while delivering the same group-drama centric storytelling you’ve come to expect from this fantastic franchise.

It was interesting. In Long Road Ahead, despite the fact that a cavalcade of terrible things happened one after another to our survivors (including the deaths of half the group and ME SHOOTING DUCK so Kenny wouldn’t have to), you really left the episode knowing a lot of new things about the people that made it through (or even those who you left behind *cough*Lily*cough). Everyone either grew or regressed in significant ways. If I have a complaint about Episode 4, it’s that I don’t feel that the characters make as much significant growth (Clementine being a massive exception). Christa and Omid, the pair you picked up at the end of Long Road Ahead, are still essentially unknowns as the episode progresses, and only a new character, Molly, makes any real emotional impact. However, Clementine finally comes into her own and retains her title as the video game character that I’ve easily become the most attached to over the years. If she doesn’t break your heart, I don’t know what will.

This episode does thankfully fix most of the gameplay complaints that I had about Long Road Ahead. The shooting seems tighter, and there was only one section where I died repeatedly because I felt like the game wasn’t responding well (and it wasn’t based on the shooting). The action in this series is never going to be top notch though. But unlike Episode 3, this one always felt playable. There weren’t any moments in this entry where the decisions felt as immediately difficult as say shooting Duck or whether to abandon Lily (I left that bitch behind for killing Carly). However, it was very satisfying by the end of the episode to see the pay-off of how I’ve treated every surviving member of the group and what they finally think of me when it matters most.

At the end of the day, Around Every Corner might not have packed the punch of Long Road Ahead (well, at least not until it’s tragic and shocking final minutes), but it sets up what should be a suitably epic conclusion to a series that will likely become the text-book on how to do licensed, episodic content well. The cliff-hanger that the episode ends on is so massive that the wait for the next episode will be “hiatus between seasons of Lost” painful. Whether you’ve been with the series just they released Episode 1 early in the year, or you’ve become a new convert, The Walking Dead: The Game is an investment you need to make.

Final Score: B+

Man. Just man. I probably just finished the most emotionally intense three hours of video gaming that I’ve ever done (or at least since the final act of Metal Gear Solid 4). For anyone who hasn’t played the first (A New Day) or the second (Starved for Help) episode of Telltale Games The Walking Dead video game series, you should stop reading now because there be spoilers ahead. If you want an overview of the series, check out the link back to Episode 1. I’m going to just assume at this point that you know what I’m talking about. Episode 3, Long Road Ahead, finds the game doubling down on its commitment to story. Although this episode includes more action-oriented elements than in the past, they don’t necessarily play as well. That’s okay though because Long Road Ahead doesn’t pull any punches in its depiction of this post-apocalyptic world and how fragile our group’s lives have become.

After the disastrous visit to the dairy farm from Hell, where (in my story) Kenny smashed Larry’s head in with a salt lick as I tried to help resuscitate him, things are looking to get even worse back at the motel. Although I chose to take the supplies from the car at the end of Starved for Help, it turns out that one of the survivors in the group had been giving supplies to the bandits. As Lily starts to lose control of the group (and her senses after the death of her father), Lee finds himself forced to investigate where the supplies are going and then things go to Hell. I don’t really want to give away any more of the plot of the episode other than to say, nothing will ever remotely be the same.

If I thought that the storytelling in Starved for Help really increased the dramatic nature of The Walking Dead game, I was not prepared for the emotional tour-de-force that was Long Road Ahead. It’s really easy in a movie like Dawn of the Dead or The Walking Dead TV series to criticize characters for not being able to make tough decisions (like shooting someone who’s been infected). There’s a moment early in the episode where Kenny and Lee are on a supply run in Macon when a stranger to the group gets swarmed by Walkers. There’s no way to save her and you can shoot her and put her out of her misery (but, by doing so, draw attention to yourself) or you can let her be the bait that keeps the Walkers off you. In what was maybe a moment of weakness, I chose the latter. By the end of the episode, you will make a decision that is infinitely more difficult (but also more inevitable).

It’s very rare that a video game can make me physically disgusted at myself for a decision I’ve made. Most games with decision systems have a black and white morality system where you can do evil things but they always empower you in the universe. Hell, it can be more fun to play as a bad guy in Fallout 3 than to be strictly good. The Walking Dead does not work that way, and it’s a significantly more fulfilling system for it. There’s a moment in Heavy Rain where Ethan Mars, one of the four protagonists, has to choose whether or not to fatally poison himself in order to save the life of his son. There are two moments in Long Road Ahead that are tougher. One was the single most difficult thing I’ve ever done in a game. I knew it had to be done and that somebody had to do it (and that it should be Lee), but actually pushing the button to make Lee follow through with that action was physically painful. The other moment was more morally grey but I’m still questioning whether I did the right thing.

The episode fell into some old trappings of the franchise though (and created some new ones in the process). The action kicks up a little bit but the controls are so spotty that they didn’t play as well as they should have. I was concerned that something I did caused one of the bad things in the episode later because I couldn’t handle the action well enough, but I was glad to see it was just inevitable. The lip syncing was way off during certain sections of the episode, and at one point, I encountered a game-breaking bug which forced me to reset the game in a key moment. They were small complaints in an episode of what I can honestly call one of the few video games that has ever made me cry. If you aren’t emotionally wrecked by the end of Long Road Ahead, you might be a sociopath.

Final Score: A-

It doesn’t seem like that long ago that I was on the verge of completely giving up on this train wreck of a program. There are few shows in the history of TV that I’ve wanted to like more than The Walking Dead, but it constantly slaps me in the face with story lines that either drag on forever and ever or by simply making incredibly stupid decisions about what directions to take these characters in. After the episode where the Grimes gang spent an entire hour of TV time deciding that they wanted to execute a defenseless man in cold blood, I was literally ready to call it quits on The Walking Dead. Then, last week arrived and Rick’s actions on being forced to put down Shane re-invigorated the show with life for the first time since “Pretty Much Dead Already”. This episode served exactly as a mission statement for what this series needs to be/can achieve and it’s a beacon of hope for those of who were becoming increasingly frustrated with Season 2 that perhaps, Season 3 can restore that essential spark that was lost over the course of this season.

After Rick was forced to kill Shane last week (and then Carl proceeded to shoot zombie Shane to put him down one last time), the death of one of the group’s very own at the hands of their leaders quickly became the least of their worries. The helicopter that Rick thought he saw way back in the pilot had led a herd of Walkers all the way from Atlanta (over the course of many months) towards the general county of Hershel’s farm. When Carl shoots Shane, this massive herd of zombies hear the gunshot and begin ambling their way toward the farmhouse which quickly gets swarmed and overrun. As the group flees, Herhsel’s son Jimmy and the late Otis’s wife Patricia get eaten in the attempts to escape. Also, Andrea gets separated from the group (and by the end of the finale everyone just assumes she’s either dead or simply unrescuable). Just when Andrea runs out of bullets, she’s rescued by a mysterious hooded woman with a katana with two armless, jawless zombies chained to her (Michonne!!!!!!!!!!!!). When the people who survive the attack on the farm make it back together as a group, Rick’s character takes a darker turn for the worse. After Lori rebuffs him for what he had to do to Shane (because her dumb-ass slept with him), things only get worse when Rick snaps on the entire group and tells them what he had to do, scarring Carl forever in the process I’m sure. He informs the group how ungrateful and self-centered they’ve been, and then informs them the group isn’t a democracy anymore. As the season ends, we see a prison in the background (finally!).

What an action-packed opener. They spent the first half of the episode in full-on survival mode and since two people got eaten and what appeared to be dozens of zombies that got their brains blown out, the action never really died down until everyone was finally off the farm. It wasn’t just that there was plenty of action. The show managed to maintain a high level of action without devolving into someLand of the Dead gorefest. It kept up an intensity even when people were unloading seemingly impossible numbers of bullets from a clip (do these guys ever have to reload?) True I had almost no emotional reaction to the loss of the episode’s (and season’s) red shirts, but that is going to happen on a show which has killed off season (and two series) long characters in three episodes straight. I get that not every episode of the season can be like this (because it needs to deliver its biggest moments at the season finales for best impact), but the show could try and achieve small-scale moments like this more often instead of endless boring existentialist conversations. Also, the fact that Michonne and the prison both appeared are great signs as she is extraordinarily bad-ass and the prison is where the best moments from the comics happened without a doubt.

I’m going to keep this review short because I still have to do a Justified review today that is going to be not just one but two episodes as well as the Christmas special episode of Doctor Who for season 6 (because I’m finally now completely caught up with Dexter and I’m getting closer to being all the way caught up with my favorite time lord). The moral of this whole review is that after a season where I kept bouncing back and forth between wanting to stop watching the show (although still not as bad as I felt about True Blood’ s last season) I’m finally excited to be a fan of The Walking Dead again. It appears that Robert Kirkman seems to be taking a larger and larger hand in the production of the series and if the show is willing to pay closer heed to the source material for future seasons (even though several characters from the comics have never been introduced yet or are prematurely dead [Dale 😦 ]), the third season could finally be the season where this show finds its true potential.

Final Score: A-

Season Score: B

So, work… yeah… As many of you may know, I’ve got an internship in New York City writing about music. This last week or so has been a pretty busy one for my company because the annual SXSW Music Festival is being held in Austin, Texas. Much like CMJ in the fall in New York City, SXSW is supposed to be a week long showcase of up-and-coming independent music acts (though there are some fairly big names there this year like Jay-Z), and my company is hosting one of many showcases in Austin. My boss flies out Thursday to start shooting for the event and doing artist interviews with the musicians who are playing our sets, and he wanted me to help him come out with the questions for half the artist interviews, so for obvious reasons, I’ve been pretty busy since The Walking Dead aired the penultimate episode of Season 2 doing research on the artists playing our shows and coming up with questions that would be appropriate for all of these different musicians. On that note though, Holy Hell! What an episode! Actually, let me rephrase that. What an awesome beginning and then end with an okay and considerable step forward from last week middle. As long as you don’t screw up the finale horribly, The Walking Dead has re-earned its trust with me and I will be returning for next season despite my concerns last week that the show was beyond repair.

After Dale got his stomach ripped out (and then got put out of his misery by Daryl), the Grimes gang has had a chance to recollect on the slippery slope they had been going down when they were about to execute Randall. While Rick is making a grand speech about living up to the better part of their nature and honoring Dale’s memory by being better men/women, the scene is edited with back and forth shots of some of the angrier survivors (Daryl, Shane, Andrea, T-Dogg) going on a Walker hunt and brutally murdering every Walker they could find. It turns out that after deciding to let Randall live, the group is going to go back to their original plan of letting him free as far from the camp as possible. Shane still isn’t happy about this and hatches a plan to bust Randall free. He leads Randall into the woods pretending that he wants to join Randall’s group; instead, Shane snaps Randall’s neck and then busts his own head against a tree to make it look like Randall attacked him. Shane organizes a posse to track down Randall so that he can get him and Rick alone to kill Rick. When it is just him and Rick, Rick realized what Shane’s plan was the whole time. When it first looks like Rick is trying to talk Shane out of killing him, Rick gets close enough to stab Shane in the chest. Carl shows up and points a gun at his dad although he’s not really pointing the gun at Rick because Shane has turned into a Walker (because you turn just from dying not just being scratched/bitten), and Carl shoots Shane in the head. As Rick holds his son, the camera pans over the hill where a horde of Walkers is amassing.

Part of me just wants to breeze through this review (because Justified comes on at 10 and I still need to finish watching Downfall which I was really enjoying), but this episode represents The Walking Dead at its best and at its occasional worst so we’ll give this one the examination it deserves. How about that long wide-angle shot of Shane and Rick in the field where all we can see is their silhouette and the nearly full moon above them? AMC is the home for programs with cinematic visual ambitions (think about how gorgeous the cinematography is on Breaking Bad and how distinct the visual style of Mad Men is), and for the first time since that scene with Carl and the deer (before Carl got shot), the show achieved an almost Mallickian level of visual beauty. Similarly, the decision to edit together the scenes of Rick’s eulogy for Dale with the rest of the group showing that perhaps they didn’t have “better angels” of their nature was brilliant. I actually kind of thought it was a little heavy-handed at first, but it’s grown on me in retrospect especially considering how Shane proved just how far he’d snapped. The Walking Dead will never be a top-tier drama, but it has the ability to be stylish and Sunday’s episode captured that spectacularly. Those final scenes between Rick and Shane were just ultra-tense and you knew that they weren’t both making it out of their alive. I thought Daryl was going to show up and put a crossbow bolt between Shane’s eyes (or that Carl was going to do it pre-zombie like in the comics). I did not think that Rick had it in him to stab his best friend in the chest, but it made for great TV.

The middle part of the episodes were a little weaker but not nearly as bad as last week’s shit show. Hershel is potentially bipolar considering how often that man changes his mind about what to do with these guys, and Glenn and Maggie started out cute and a highlight of the week season. Now that the show is adding seemingly unnecessary drama to their courtship, they’re becoming as annoying as everyone else. Rick is continuing to prove Shane’s point that he’s kind of a shitty dad because it basically took Shane calling him an asshole to talk to his son about what happened with Dale. Lori remains one of the most aggravating lead characters on TV and nothing can happen that won’t make me cringe every second she’s on screen unless a zombie eats her. The episode was sort of unnecessarily cheery at times, but since it was setting up for the big shock at the end, I understand why they wanted to get you emotionally off guard. I guess things were going so well that it just seemed like they were over-selling that something bad had to happen. However, I am terrified of the dark (or at least being outside in the woods in the dark) so the moments where Daryl and Glen were looking for Randall in the woods worked very well because they definitely captured the sheer paranoia of a situation like that.

I’m actually excited for this season’s finale. It can’t be any worse than the CDC debacle from last year, and the trailers seem to promise a pretty epic conclusion. This series works best not as an action-fueled bullet fest like the Dawn of the Dead remake but instead as a tense and suspenseful horror series with characters we care about. This season has done a really bad job of making us care about the characters (in fact, it’s made me actively dislike most of them) and it’s tried to be a legitimate drama instead of a thriller. I am predicting that the Grimes gang (along with Hershel’s family) end up trapped in the farmhouse as the Walkers swarm it at which point everyone is forced to abandon the relative safety of the farm which will provide the lead in to next season. I’m just hoping that we see the prison by the end of the finale or at least a glimpse of Michonne or the Governor. All in all though, it was a good episode with great moments and a lot of mediocre stuff in between. We’ll call it progress.

Final Score: B+

Ok, The Walking Dead. I’m giving you the same warning that I gave True Blood at the end of its horrendous Season 4. You have these last two episodes of the season (it’s weird and disappointingly refreshing that the season is so close to being done) to get things right, to find your way, before I decide to give up on you. Something tells me that you don’t have it in you because after what was possibly one of the worst episodes in the entire series, Sunday’s “Judge, Jury, Executioner,” I just can’t take the trainwreck that you’ve become much longer. The only reason that I’ll be returning to True Blood after it’s fuck-up of a fourth season was the death of series load Tara and the potential return of Denis O’Hare as Russell Edginton (by far one of the best characters in the series run). Not even the promised introduction of David Morrissey as The Governor for Season 3 of The Walking Dead is becoming enough to pique my interest about keeping around when your storytelling is both simultaneously so ham-fisted and so dull. Even killing off one of the few remaining likeable people in this increasingly detestable cast (and not in that good The Sopranos or Oz kind of way) wasn’t enough to save this terribly boring lap on the way to the end of Season 2.

After last week’s strong episode and the complete mess that was Shane and Rick trying to take Randall to a secure location to get him away from the camp, Rick (and the rest of the camp) are now faced with the tough decision on what to do with Randall since they aren’t able to just let him go (because he knows about the location of the farm). After Daryl tortures Randall into confessing that he was with a group of around 30 men and women (though I felt at times that he was just telling Daryl what he wanted to hear), Rick and the rest of the group decide to execute Randall with Dale being the sole voice of reason against murdering a man who has committed no crimes (other than trying to defend his own life during the shoot out in the town). The rest of the episode (and this is no fucking exaggeration) is spent with Dale trying to convince the rest of the survivors to let Randall live and to find some way of keeping him on the farm and within their sight that doesn’t involve a cold-blooded execution. Dale fails. The only other real scenes of the episode are what seem at first to be innocuous scenes with Carl rebelling agains his parents and the other adults and then going out in the woods where he pesters a Walker that’s stuck in the mud with sticks and a gun until suddenly it’s not stuck anymore, and Carl manages to get away. During the execution itself, Carl walks in on Rick and cheers him on at which point Rick realizes the error of his ways. As Andrea rushes off to tell Dale (she had actually come to his side at the very last moment), we see Dale trekking through the farm’s fields upset when he is attacked by the same Walker that Carl caused to become free and he’s eaten. Daryl is forced to put him out of his misery.

On a series with halfway competent writers (unlike The Walking Dead), this could have made for one of the most compelling and thought-provoking episodes of the season. While the obvious answer is that you don’t kill someone who’s committed a crime even if he may be a potential threat down the road (although obvious is the wrong word since my dad and I had a small debate on the issue where he sided with the rest of the camp), a good show could have really milked this for all its dramatic worth by having more than just the moralizing old man be the voice of reason. Jeffrey DeMunn gave his best performance of the series as Dale in this episode, but we were so obviously supposed to side with him that it was a little on the heavy-handed side. However, not only did the show beat you over the head with this, it ruined almost every other character (except for Andrea) because of how quickly they all decided to let this man die. Glenn is supposed to be the moral and emotional center of the group but he was as quick to let someone else kill this man as Shane was (though perhaps without Shane’s enthusiasm). You can make your characters do unlikeable things and make bad decisions. Lost was all about watching these characters work through their problems only to make new ones that they’d have to work through later (unless they died first). The Walking Dead doesn’t write its characters 1/4 as well as lost. NIkki and Paolo are two of the worst TV characters ever but they’re still better than T-Dogg and Carol. The Walking Dead has done almost nothing to make me want to emotionally invest in anyone in this group and now that the only good guy left is gone, why do I even want to see if these assholes live or die?

You’ve got two chances to get things right. That’s all I’m giving you. Otherwise, we’re going our separate ways and I’m not looking back. There is literally only one thing that this show could do right now that would make me keep watching if the writing doesn’t improve dramatically and that would be introducing Michonne to the TV series and I really just don’t see that happening. I feel like I would have heard about that on the internet somewhere like I heard about the Governor. But if she came back, her bad-ass nature might be enough to make me stick around. Otherwise, I’m ready to leave this once ragtag but now almost criminally apathetic group of survivors to their fate, because I just don’t care about any of them anymore. I watch TV shows, good or bad, because I want to come back week after week and be emotionally invested in the arcs and developments of a steady group of characters. I value character above almost everything else on TV, and I can’t think of a more widely watched program than The Walking Dead with such flat, boring, and one-dimensional characters. And I’m tired of trying to justify that flaw in my head anymore.

Final Score: C

Alright, The Walking Dead. That is what I’m talking about! After dicking around for so much of the season, we finally got another top-tier episode of the series. It may not match the heights of the pilot or “Chupacabra” but tonight’s episode was easily one of the best of the season. Rather than jerking the audience around by repeating the same argument that we’ve heard a million times this season, the episode made these differing philosophies take corporeal form with the epic showdown between Rick and Shane that we’ve been waiting for all series long (even if it still ended with both men standing). Unlike last weak’s episode which started strong and hten imploded. This episode understood the power of actual established plot structure with a great, draw-you-in beginning, a simmering tension for the build-up, and then all hell broke loose by the end. If only we didn’t have to watch Lori and Andrea go through a fairly pointless cat-fight/battle of wills as filler, this could have been one of the best episodes of the series yet.

The episode begins with a short flashforward before the action officially starts later on. We see Rick and Shane running through a junkyard of sorts that’s overrun with Walkers while the boy the group had taken hostage after the shoot-out in town last week crawls to a knife while he’s tied up. After that exciting intro, we go back to Rick and Shane driving to this junkyard as Rick pulls over his car and he and Shane finally have the talk about how the camp is going to be run (sorry. I’m watching the Oscars right now and it’s very distracting). Rick eventually lets Shane know that Lori’s his, Carl’s his, Lori’s unborn baby is his, and the group will be run under his philosophy. Shane apologizes for sleeping with Lori and it seems like things have finally settled between the two, but of course, things can’t be that easy. When Rick and Shane finally arrive at the junkyard, they are all set to leave their hostage behind (I think his canon name is Randall) when Randall suddenly spurts out that he knows Maggie. If he knows Maggie, he knows where the farm is. Shane nearly kills him, but Rick stops him and the two proceed to beat the fuck out of each other for a good ten minutes. When Shane throws a wrench at Rick and it crashes through a window, all of the Walkers (and there are a ton of them) in the area swarm our hapless heroes.

The group quickly gets separated after the zombies attack, and while Rick nearly finds himself getting eaten after a pile of zombies lands on him (and he shoots one zombie through another zombie like he’s Raylen Givens [I feel like Raylen has become my go to comparison for bad ass cred]), Shane winds up getting locked in a bus while the walkers swarm the door that Shane is barely managing to keep shut. Their hostage manages to untie his binds, but Rick gets a hold of him before he can escape. While it looks like Rick’s initial plan is to abandon Shane to his fate, Rick is still a good guy at heart, and he comes back with the hostage to make a daring Shane rescue. While it seems like this has settled things for now, we know it won’t be long til Shane’s inner-douche bag comes back out. Also, back at the farm house, it turns out Hershel’s daughter wasn’t bitten. She’s just suicidal. Lori stops one of her suicide attempts and then Andrea essentially encourages a second go, but when the daughter tries again, she realizes she wants to live. However, this means Andrea is now forbidden from being anywhere near the farm house. Have I mentioned how little I give a fuck about what happens at that damn farm anymore?

So, I realize that earlier in this post I talked about how I started writing this review during the Oscars. Well, that proved far too distracting, and I haven’t touched it again til today since yesterday was my birthday and I had plans with a friend after I got work. I just didn’t have any time for the blogging. So, we’ll keep this review short and sweet (especially since I have to review a disc of Doctor Who and a new episode of Justified comes on in 50 minutes. Thank god there’s no new eps of Glee til April). If you take the unnecessary drama that arose between Lori and Andrea (because I seriously thought we had moved past the whole Andrea suicide thing and this just seemed like another opportunity for the show to rehash “drama” that we’ve already dealt with many times before), this was definitely one of the best eps so far. I love it when shows experiment with non-linear storytelling, and while the only thing here in that vein was the intro, it definitely added to the tension of just exactly when the hell we knew was coming was going to break loose. Similarly, the show has been building up to this fight between Rick and Shane forever, and it didn’t hold back. It might not have had the same emotional power as Walt and Jesse beating the fuck out of each other on Breaking Bad (because neither Rick nor Shane will ever be half the characters as Mr. White or Jesse), but it certainly made up for it in sheer testosterone. Also, the make-up work on the zombies was top notch as well. It’s been a while since we’ve seen so many walkers in action and so many walkers up close and personal and the make-up department has always been the unsung hero of the program.

Like I said, this review will be short (it’s weird that in my universe, 1000 words means short), but here are some final thoughts. I was very excited to hear that David Morrisey had been cast to play the Governor, a villain from the comic book series. David Morrisey played the decoy next Doctor in one of the mini-movies that ended David Tennant’s run on Doctor Who and he was wonderful. The Governor is (along with Michonne, seriously where the fuck is this woman) one of the best characters from the comics that hasn’t been seen on the TV series at all and at this point, I had just begun to assume that he wasn’t going to be used. I’m really getting fucking tired of the farm house. Like, in the comics, they were there, but they weren’t there for very long. It was like exactly one trade paperback (6 issues maybe) and then they were off to the prison. I know the season has only been going for 10 episodes, but I feel like we’ve been at that damn farmhouse for years. I want to go to the prison. The best stories from the comics occurred at the prison and a change of setting is probably exactly what this series needs to find its way again. Still, even with an increasingly flawed structure, there’s no debating how genuinely entertaining and exciting this week’s episode was.

Final Score: A-

The Walking Dead is possibly the most frustrating show on television right now. It’s not the worst. Even at its best, Glee is rarely as good as the most mediocre The Walking Dead stories (even if I score the best Glee episodes higher but that has to do with my personal opinion on the method of how you score shows which is more about what the creators were going for rather than some “objective” definition of its quality but that’s a rant for another day). For every truly inspired moment that The Walking Dead offers, for every wonderful episode that has Daryl trekking through the woods and beating zombies to death with rocks, you get, for lack of a better word, shit. I adore this program, but the longer I watch it, the more apparent it becomes to me that The Walking Dead can not live up to its own ambitions as a series. As zombie fiction, it is top notch, but the show aspires to be something more. It wants to be high-brow intellectual TV, and in that regard, it is a failure. Tonight’s episode showed the series at both sides of these equations, delivering some of its most thrilling (and tense) zombie fiction of the series as well as crippling the momentum for the last 1/3 of the episode by dragging out stories that have existed for the whole season. I love this show, but it really needs to fix its pacing problems which are getting out of control.

After Rick put down the thugs in the bar, it was only a matter of time til their friends that we had been told about finally showed up. We’re guessing Rick was wishing it had been a little more time, but Rick’s Raylen Givens (Justified reference) style bad ass display of gunslinging immediately drew the attention of not just the thugs’ friends but also a horde of Walkers. When the friends come looking for Dave and Tony (the thugs), Rick, Glenn, and Hershel get caught up in a good old fashioned gun fight when Rick admits to shooting Dave and Tony because “they drew first” (not that the friends seemed to care). After Hershel shot one of the men (who was eventually devoured graphically by Walkers), the growing Walker horde led to a retreat by the thugs but not without one of them being left behind because he fell of a roof and got his leg skewered by a post on a fence. Despite Hershel and Glen’s pleas to just get out of Dodge and the ever swarming zombie horde, Rick risks his life to protect one of the men who was trying to kill him from a gruesome death of being devoured by Walkers. While all of this was happening, Lori nearly got herself eaten after wrecking her car but survived after killing two Walkers herself and being rescued by Shane (who lied and told her Rick was safe at the farm. also known as the opposite of his first lie to Lori). The camp is quickly being split between those who prefer Shane’s leadership and those who prefer Rick and Andrea has become the first major defection to Team Shane.

The first 2/3 of the episode were pretty phenomenal. Whether it’s Lori’s struggles to get out of the flipped car (and it’s a serious testament to the writing that I even cared at all what happened to Lori since I can hardly stand her character) or the very tense shoot-out at the bar and in the town, the first two acts of the episode were The Walking Dead doing what it does best which is taking characters that I care about (Rick and Glenn anyways) and putting them in scary, slow-burning situations. Eventually, the shoot out at the bar turned into a zombie bloodbath, but it was the slower moments where Glenn was sneaking through a beautifully shot twilit storage room of the bar or our trio hiding in silence praying that the thugs would pass the bar by (even though we knew that wouldn’t happen) that all really sold the episode. The Walking Dead doesn’t do legitimate drama very well, but it has created at least some characters (Andrea, Shane, Rick, Glenn, Daryl) that are three-dimensional enough and entertaining enough that we can emotionally invest ourselves in what is happening to these people. The series is also pretty unmatched (except for the obvious choice of Breaking Bad) in its ability to create absolutely dread-filled and anxiety driven moments to test these characters. However, the episode faltered again when it tried to be more than pulp. It isn’t written well enough to be true drama. So, when the final 20 minutes of the episode were nothing but boring and uneventful conversations (except for Lori’s warnings to Rick about Shane being dangerous which could change the whole dynamic of the series), it really dragged everything down to nearly the boring levels of the first half of the season.

Perhaps it’s a bit of an exaggeration to start comparing this half of the season to the serious problems that the first half faced. I think that I’m just now being forced to face the fact that The Walking Dead was never as good as I imagined it to be (except for the pilot) and I’m just sort of harder on it than I used to be. If The Walking Dead just wanted to be zombie TV, I would probably never stop being astounded by it but it’s not good enough to be what it wants everyone else to see it as (and what far too many of its fans seem to envision it as being), and so I have to hold it to the standards that its creators aspire to reach. I can’t ever imagine myself giving up on the show (like I thought about doing many, many times during Season 4 of True Blood), and this episode was still good. However, it’s a problem that a show is so constantly split between excellence and then either mediocrity or complete shit. Let’s hope that this half of the season errs more on the side of excellence.

Final Score: B+

So, it’s been since the end of November that we wrote about the last new episode of The Walking Dead. I love this series, but the first half of Season 2 had some serious, serious problems. We had great moments, but they pretty much exclusively involved Daryl Dixon and Shane. Unfortunately, for every moment we had with Daryl Dixon going all Deliverance or Shane killing another person just so he could survive, we had to sit through 30 minutes of Rick and Hershel talking about God or the never-ending quest for Sophia (which was thankfully solved in satisfying fashion). Also, T-Dogg is still literally nothing more than the black dude in the group. That’s not me being racist (as some on here have accused me). It’s literally all we know about T-Dogg. I’m not sure if there is a less developed person who gets regular billing on a such a big league show. Well, this new episode never had any of the problems that we had to suffer through in the last half of the season (except for the continued existence of T-Dogg and Carol), but it didn’t start to wow me until it’s final moments. When those final moments arrived though, the episode was worth it and we got a peek down some of the darker roads that the comics went down.

After the zombie shootout at the Greene farm, Hershel orders the Grimes gang off of his land though no one seems to take it very seriously as no one begins packing their bags and moving this caravan on. Rick and Shane have a fight about Shane’s actions and although we get some slight hints that Shane regrets his decisions when he calls Dale out for not doing something about himself even though Dale considers Shane to be dangerous. Hershel flees the farm in shock to go to town and drink away his woes (despite being sober since Maggie’s birth). When one of his Hershel’s step-daughters passes out from shock (though I think she’s been bitten or infected somehow), Rick and Glenn go out to town to convince him to come back. When they take too long, Lori heads out with them as well but she hits a walker with her car and it spins out of control and flips. I think she’s likely going to lose her baby. Rick has nearly convinced Hershel to come back to the farm and help his step-daughter when two total strangers walk into the bar. They’re obviously not good guys and when their attempts to convince Rick to show them the way back to the farm fails, one of the men (who I’m pretty sure is Rene Lanier from the first season of True Blood) draws his gun on Rick who puts him down Raylen Givens style as well as his friend. They say they have friends so I feel like this isn’t over yet.

Scott Wilson has been, for better or worse, getting a lot of screen time this season. For someone who didn’t even exist before the second episode of Season 2, we now know more about Hershel than we do Carol or T-Dogg (I’m calling it right here. T-Dogg is Batman. Surprise of the century…). Yet, most of his scenes this season were the ones dragging the whole series down nearly as much as the search for Sophia. Well, we can happily say that during last night’s episode of The Walking Dead, Scott Wilson returned my faith in him as an actor and Hershel as a character. It was as if the series (and Scott Wilson’s acting) took everything we thought we knew about Hershel and completely turned it on its head. Instead of never ending monologues about hope and optimism and family and religion, we saw a broken shell of a man who had given into cynicism and despair and hate. Scott Wilson literally portrayed two ends of the hope spectrum this season and he nailed both of them. Just seeing how broken and grief-stricken Hershel had become was one of the highlights of the season. Jon Bernthal didn’t have much to do but in his scenes he really captured the dichotomy between Shane realizing he had screwed up and being angry with himself but also Shane’s inherent inability to admit his shortcomings to anyone else or take real responsibility for his actions.

I had a whole lot more to say about this episode when I first watched it yesterday. However, wordpress crapped out on me and I lost half the review. I was so frustrated that I just quit for the evening (plus I had to write an article for work where I interviewed the drummer of the band Anti-Flag which you can read here. Since I’ve done nothing but listen to extreme amounts of music today, I hope I’m forgiven if my details of the episode are a little hazy. If there’s one last thing I want to contribute is that I’m very excited to see that Rick killed two people. One of the main themes of the comics is that Rick (and everyone else) slowly start to lose their own humanity from living in this terrible world and that eventually their fellow survivors become an even bigger threat to their safety than the Walkers. If that is the path that The Walking Dead has decided to go down then I am very excited about where the second half of this season goes. I just wish they’d find the damn prison already (or Michonne!).

Final Score: B+