I watched the second episode of The Walking Dead last night, and like Scott Meslow at The Atlantic, I found it wanting. The addition of a grip of new characters, the awkward cuts and the exposition dragged down what otherwise could have been a tight, well-plotted mission: get a team of supply scavengers out of Atlanta alive.
Instead, there were a ton of new people, including the bizarrely racist Merle Dixon, whom Meslow describes thusly:
He’s introduced wasting valuable ammunition by sniping at random zombies, and then picks a fight with T-Dog (Robert “IronE” Singleton) almost immediately. None of this makes any sense. Merle has been traveling with the group, apparently without significant conflict, since they first came to Atlanta, and he decides that a zombie attack that literally requires cooperation for survival is the right time to alienate everyone. No plausible explanation is ever given for this decision, and that’s because there isn’t one. Merle’s not insane, either; in fact, his conversation with T-Dog shows him to be fairly crafty. His attack on the group is just a plot-convenient way to let Rick step in and stop Merle to prove to the group that he’s a hero.
It’s possible that I’ve watched Serenity too many times, but I can’t help equating the walkers with Reavers, and really wanted T-Dog to simply do Merle a favor and just shoot him once the zombies had broken into the building.
Watching the show with verbal footnotes — my friends who have already read the books — is helpful in this regard. They all pointed out that Merle was not in the comic, and that his cartoonish racism was pretty ridiculous. And similarly, another friend noted that the sexist dialogue in the first episode was also nowhere to be seen in the books. I’m not sure why this adaptation had to add racism and sexism to the mix, but the theory that it makes Rick look good, and his adversaries worse, makes sense, I suppose.
Guts also lived up to its name, and was a bit gorier than the previous episode. Oddly enough, I wasn’t that affected by the scene where Rick chops up the decomposing body of a zombie and has the group smear its guts on him and the very interesting new character Glenn. The guts are to camouflage Rick and Glenn so that the zombies, who find victims by smell and sound, won’t notice them as they get to a truck so they can transport the group out of Atlanta.
The eeriest part of the episode was when Glenn and Rick shamble through the crowd of zombies; getting up close and personal with walking dead, they literally walk with them. It’s very effective.
I’m pretty disappointed in this episode overall, though, and I hope it’s not a sign of the way the remaining four will go. And considering the series just got picked up for a second season, it’s likely it will deviate further from the comics as time goes on. That may be a good thing, but not if it stays on the same trajectory.