Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Husk: The Great Canadian Zombie Novel

I have been privileged to work at ECW Press for the last 15 years. Not just because it's the leading publisher of books on television, music, and wrestling, but because have published not one, but TWO of the great Canadian zombie novels. The first was in 1998, Tony Burgess's Pontypool Changes Everything. In 2009, that novel became a zombie film by Bruce McDonald simply titled Pontypool. (And if you haven't yet seen it, DO SO.) In an age of this movie, along with The Walking Dead, the zombie genre has moved up from being silly horror slapstick to a serious, thinking fan's genre.

Last year I acquired our second zombie book, and the second time I'd worked with its author, Corey Redekop (the first was for his brilliant debut novel, Shelf Monkey). The book is called Husk, and if you buy only one zombie novel this year, make it this one. It is horrifying, laugh-out-loud hilarious, and heartbreaking.

It is the story of Sheldon Funk — Shelley to his friends — a guy who dies on a bus and who wakes up on an autopsy table, just as his organs are being removed. We have the usual animation scene — the walker sits up, moans, grabs closest attendant, breaks his arm, shambles out — but this time it's told entirely from Sheldon's point of view. He's shocked that he's lying on the table. He doesn't understand why it's so cold, why his brain just feels like it's waking up, why this man is holding a bone saw and standing a little too close to him. He's terrified and confused, and grabs the man's arm intending just to get him to back off, and doesn't realize his own strength. The sound of his new, horrifying voice rising from the depths of what's left of his stomach scares even him, and he doesn't know what to do.

Of course, the scene is also played for laughs, and there are many reaction moments in this book that will have you in stitches (no pun intended).

Sheldon is an actor, and at first he wants to cover up his new undeadness, and decides to play it cool and try to pass as human and alive at his auditions. That doesn't go well. There's this whole... hunger thing. And goddammit if his voice isn't the worst thing anyone's ever heard. In one scene he tries to control it in the most mind-over-matter way possible:

I tried again, smiling around the word this time, picturing kittens frolicking in a meadow with baby goats, dolphins performing back flips in a tranquil bay.
The sound of orphans being strangled in their cribs soaked into the walls. The goats head-butted the kittens into red mush, and the dolphins lined up to be mercury-laden breakfast treats for Chinese children.

What follows is one man's quest to find out what this new life — if that's what you can call it — is really all about. If he can just stop the smell from emanating from every inch of his body, or his voice from making people want to throw up, and if he can convince people he's really human. And that's just the first third of the book. Let's just say when they find out who he really is, the world goes apeshit, and Redekop paints a fairly plausible picture of what would happen if a member of the undead ever "came out."

The book is hilarious and Redekop never spares the gore (he seems to revel in pushing us to our limits of what we can stomach), and, as mentioned, is very poignant. For, as Sheldon lumbers out of the autopsy room at the very beginning, he can't leave his heart behind, and eventually begins stapling it to his spine to try to keep it inside of him. The rest of him is just organic, but this heart means something to him, and he doesn't want to lose it.

And if that doesn't make him human, I don't know what does.

Husk by Corey Redekop, ECW Press, ISBN 978-1-77041-032-9, $18.95 CDN/U.S.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Once Upon a Time: "The Doctor"

We’ve run through many of our favourite fairy tales on Once Upon a Time now — many of them Disney, many of them Grimm. We’ve seen Jiminy Cricket and Pinocchio, Aurora, Snow White and Prince Charming and the Seven Dwarfs, Little Red Riding Hood, Rumpelstiltskin, Belle, Cinderella, Hansel & Gretel… and we’ve even moved to JM Barrie with Captain Hook, and Lewis Carroll with the Mad Hatter (though technically, both those properties were handled by Disney at some point as well).

What brings these worlds together is simple: they’re fairy tales, if we take “fairy tale” to mean a story in a world that’s not our own, where magic rules (and there are often queens and kings and flying dragons and castles).

So when Dr. Whale was introduced in Season 1, we all went to our collective knowledge and began working through any fish stories we could think of. Was he… the whale who swallowed Pinocchio? Was he… okay, I was fresh out of ideas with that one, frankly.

And then this week we finally discovered who he was: Victor Frankenstein, the scientist bent on discovering a way to bring the dead back to life. Why Whale? The director of the 1931 film Frankenstein, starring Boris Karloff as the monster, was directed by James Whale. And the only reason I know this is because of the elegant portrayal of the man in the film Gods and Monsters by Ian McKellen. Nice trick, Kitsis and Horowitz, nice trick indeed.

But the question becomes: can you really include Mary Shelley’s masterpiece in the genre of fairy tales? Clearly not: there’s no magic at work in this book; it’s all about science. The writers get around that by suggesting Frankenstein went to such lengths to procure a heart to bring his creature to life that he somehow came across the Mad Hatter (huh?) who proffered him a way over into a magical world (but… wait…) and he came over and met with Rumpelstiltskin (er…) and then tricked Regina into becoming evil, and got the magical heart (but… I thought…) and then headed back home to insert the heart into the corpse of his brother (brother? What did his brother have to do with this? The creature killed his brother… not…) and because of MAGIC, science prevailed.


I LOVE when the writers on OUAT take the fairy tales and turn them in on themselves, making us think one thing and then switching them. That Red Riding Hood was actually the wolf suddenly turns this innocent little tale into something quite sinister and Freudian, and we begin to think that maybe that’s what the story was telling us all along. Red Riding Hood just wanted to kill Granny, yo. Or that Belle was taken by Rumpelstiltskin — who was the “beast” in her story — and the tale is played out by crossing two of the fairy tales.

But there was something about incorporating Frankenstein into this that not only completely changes the original story by Shelley (a book that had absolutely nothing to do with magic) but brings someone from our world into that one, and just makes it rub together like sandpaper. It didn’t work.

I found the Mad Hatter jarring at first, as well. Last season we saw him trapped in Wonderland, where he stayed until he was zapped to Storybrooke where he was stuck in a little house by Regina, making hats all day long. He was a man torn apart by the loss of his daughter, something that happened in the fairy tale world of Wonderland (when Regina left him there) and carried over into Storybrooke. But in this episode he’s out and gallivanting around, acting like a bit of a jackass (but still very hot doing it… my daughter still disagrees with me on that assessment, “Mommy, STOP saying he’s handsome!!”) 

Of course, you don’t have to think about this long to realize if Regina is still young here, then this part of the Mad Hatter’s story actually preceded him becoming a father, and him being part of the plan to trick Regina into becoming evil actually turns his later incarceration into a form of karma: he created the monster, so to speak, and now he pays the price for it.

I do like the tie-in with Victor Frankenstein and who he was last season. He had a patient who was in a deathlike coma all season, and forgetting who he was, he didn’t realize he had the power to “raise the dead.” And ultimately, he WAS the doctor on watch when the dead arose and left the hospital.

Then again, that begs the question: if Victor is not ruled by magic, and is not part of the fairy tale world, then why is he in Storybrooke, and why were his memories taken from him, too? The writers would suggest that if you even pass through the storybook world, even briefly, then you’ll be stuck in Maine. But he was in that world and left.

Like Rumpelstiltskin’s son. 

Like Emma. 

Both had passed through the fairy tale world but weren’t actually physically there when the curse took effect. So… was Whale? Was he there? Or is this an inconsistency on the part of the writers?

I did love the little nod to Oz in this episode, though. Rumpelstiltskin has charged the Hatter with finding “the slippers” because he needs something that can travel from a magical world to a non-magical one. Clearly he’s referring to Dorothy’s ruby slippers, which took her from Oz to Kansas. I can’t wait until we actually do see Oz!

I’ve been enjoying this season of Once Upon a Time, by the way, even if I haven’t been very good about posting on it. My daughter and I watch it every Sunday night, and I think Lana Parilla is putting in a hell of a performance this year as Regina. (Her reaction to Daniel this week was incredible and almost had me in tears.) Though I will admit, two weeks ago when we followed Emma and Snow through the fairy tale world I wanted to throttle Emma for being SO STUPID at every turn. This week, thankfully, she redeemed herself.

I thought last week’s episode involving Captain Hook and Rumpelstiltskin’s wife was amazing. His story is becoming more and more fascinating, and is clearly the central story of the show. Robert Carlyle is putting in an equally stunning performance.

Next week: we go back to Emma’s pregnancy with Henry. We briefly saw a man at the beginning of this season who lived in an apartment building (remember he dropped his iPod off the balcony by accident?) who received a postcard saying “Broken.” I’ve suspected that man might be Rumpelstiltskin’s son, and in the preview for next week we see him with Emma. Could fans have been correct in thinking he’s the father of Henry? Hm…

Joss Whedon: Romney = Zombie Apocalypse!

Joss Whedon. Brilliant as usual.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

The Walking Dead 3.2: Sick

Josh: Welcome back to our weekly rundown of the morally ambiguous fray that is The Walking Dead. Last week's season premiere saw our survivors encamp in a new semi-safe harbor behind the fences of a prison. Hershel was bitten in the process of clearing out its dark corpse-strewn hallways, and Rick quickly hacked off the offending limb in front of some surprise onlookers: a quartet of prisoners that were holed up in the prison's cafeteria. But was the sheriff quick enough with his blade to beat the infection into Hershel's bloodstream, provided our bearded elder statesman even survives the impromptu amputation? Who are these convicts, and how will they take the encroachment of this ragtag family into their stronghold? Will they be friend or foe, fighter or fodder? Here we go again, folks. It's season three, episode two: "Sick."

Our story picks up right where we left off at last week's cliffhanger, with everyone in the cafeteria scrambling to get Hershel up and headed back toward the cell block and the rest of the group. Our people barely give the new prisoners a second look before commandeering a food cart to employ as a stretcher and beating a hasty retreat, leaving Hershel's foot lying useless in the middle of the floor as a gory point of focus for the convicts, all standing there slack-jawed and trying to process what's just occurred in front of them.

The gang gets Hershel into a bed and continues to try to stem the bleeding from his leg stump, with a relative minimum of panic from the others who had stayed behind, Beth included, at the news of this fresh horror. Meanwhile, Daryl – in one of my favorite moments from this week – calmly moves back to the corridor entrance, notches a bolt into his crossbow, places the stock to his shoulder, aims at the darkened doorway, and waits. Sure enough, it isn't long before the jumpsuited uninitiated show up and start demanding answers. And I can't say I blame them.

I also have to say, Nikki, that it hadn't occurred to me these new guys would have no idea what had happened outside. It seems perfectly obvious now, particularly when taking into consideration the fact that they would all be used to the confinement and isolation anyway, but for some reason I had been assuming they saw zombies, added the passing of almost a year's time without so much as a hint of communication from the outside world, and thereby jumped to all the natural apocalyptic conclusions. Was it as much a surprise to you?

Nikki: It was a huge surprise to me. I didn’t put that together at all. And how amazing was that, by the way, that these guys were completely oblivious to everything going on. At this point you figure there couldn’t be anyone who didn’t know… and then we find them. The only thing that makes that a tad implausible is that the hundreds of zombies in the prison have been moaning and groaning and banging on the doors for months now, and they never once thought, “Huh. A little unintelligible for human beings. I wonder why they’re making noises and not talking? Ah well… pass that tin of green beans.”

My husband and I wondered throughout the episode if these guys weren’t exactly the toughs we were expecting them to be. Dude in the ponytail — I didn’t catch his name — seemed like he was a little off (read: batshit insane) but he also seemed like he was trying to prove something to everyone else, as if he was a carjacker who wanted them to think he was a mass murderer. Of course, by the end of the episode we realize that he was, indeed, badass, but the other two guys were small-time criminals. Can they be trusted?


Back over to the Lori/Rick camp, last week a poster by the name of Joel wrote a comment saying he read an article where the actors who play Rick and Lori were explaining that Lori isn’t upset with Rick because he killed Shane and she was secretly in love with Shane; she’s upset because Rick admitted he WANTED Shane dead, and she feared that he was now as bad as Shane was. I think there may have been something missing in that scene, because that meaning was lost on pretty much everyone who comments on this blog, as well as us. I just took her as being inconsistent (still in love with Rick but suddenly taking a moral high ground) and everyone else thought she was in love with Shane still. Now we move to this week, where despite thinking that several months ago, she tells Rick that she truly believes there is no malice in his heart. In a scene where it looks like they may find a connection again, he hesitates, thanks her in the most indifferent and cold manner, and walks away. She knows he’s actually capable of planting a machete into a guy’s skull, but perhaps believes if she repeats it enough times he’ll remember the man he used to be and think before hurting anyone. She wants the old Rick back. Rick, however, is living in a new world and simply can’t afford to be that man any longer.

What did you make of their relationship this week?

Josh: The impression I've been given from their discussions so far this season, particularly after this episode, is that Lori realizes she encouraged action on his part and then reacted badly when he took it. She wants to make amends, wants him to believe he has her support, but he can't get past that initial abandonment. I think Rick was counting on her to be there for him after what happened with Shane, to offer consolation and understanding and trust, and instead she just affirmed the isolation he already feared would be an inevitable part of embracing the leadership of the group. He needed someone to help him shoulder the weight of that responsibility, but she showed him that the consequences of his decisions are his burden alone to bear.

And that may not be a bad thing, in the long run; it's a hard truth, to be sure, but they are his burden alone to bear, just like the repercussions of anyone's choices. The more comfortable Rick becomes with that idea, the easier it will be to make the many awful new-world decisions that have become necessary parts of a life he'd like to keep ongoing. That first conversation between the two of them about the convicts was very telling in that regard:

Lori: “What are your options?”

Rick: “Kill 'em.”

Though it may be sweet of her to act as advocate now and tell him to do whatever is necessary to keep them safe, with a clear conscience, I think he realizes they're past the point that it matters. I believe she's earnest in her support – and I'm sure Rick does, too – but she's also fragile and heartbroken and desperate, and frankly, any such advocacy at this point is not only suspect but also too little, too late. Calling a truce and being at peace are not the same thing.

Speaking of shaky truces and tough decisions, let's talk about this episode's big moment. Yeah – that one. The 'Whoa, Holy CRAP' one. I didn't notice anyone call the ponytail guy by name, either (I referred to him as Rico Suave in my notes), but he doesn't really need a name any more, does he? That scene was crazy anyway, from the moment the doors were jerked open, unleashing the clutch of zombies on the other side. Everything about the ensuing fight was frantic and thrilling and wildly effective, but the tone shifted radically when Rico shoved the walker toward Rick. Daryl had his back, as always, and the melee was over pretty quickly after that, but the silence that followed as Rick and Rico stared each other down served to dramatically amplify that tonal shift.

And then, in a split second, the duel was over. Diplomacy, thy name is machete.

Nikki: No. Kidding. I couldn’t believe it. And that’s where (I hate to admit it) I actually have an enormous amount of sympathy for Lori and agree with your assessment of her. She reacted badly when she should have supported him – as I maintained last season, she was the Lady Macbeth who pushed him to that action – but couldn’t hide her disgust when she realized what he was capable of. Despite watching him take charge, I think she truly does believe he’s not a cold-blooded killer deep down, because she knows the man she married. And we know him, too. He’s the sort of guy who would be suspicious of someone who willingly threw the doors open knowing it would imperil everyone, and who threw a walker in Rick’s direction and then watched to see what would happen. Rick would now keep such a close eye on that guy, Ponytail wouldn’t be able to pee without Rick knowing. (In my notes, by the way, I called him Jesus. Pronounced Hey Zeus.) Rick wouldn’t actually take revenge on the spot, right? RIGHT?!

Wrong. And our surprise and shock in that moment puts us on exactly the same page as Lori – knowing what he’s done, yet still believing the best in him. The world has changed, and Rick did what he had to do. Wait’ll Lori hears about THIS one.

Now, where I disagreed with Lori’s reaction (while, admittedly, understanding it as any mom would) was when she was chewing out Carl for having gone to the infirmary on his own. While other people are changing drastically in this brave new world, becoming different people than they’ve been their entire lives; showing new loyalties; adhering to new sets of morals… Carl was a little boy when it all started, and he’s not only having to change to fit the new world, but he’s growing up and becoming a man, too. In this world, you have to show independence and initiative. There’s simply too much going on right now for Carl to wait around for someone else to risk their lives to go to the infirmary. He knew Hershel needed that stuff NOW or he would die, so he took the risk (and his gun) and headed out. And when he came back with a bag full of stuff, he should have been lauded as the white knight. Instead he was chastised by his mother for having been stupid, and he quite understandably stormed out of the room (I don’t think we see him again after that, so even after his actions DID save Hershel’s life, no one apologizes to him for it).

I can’t believe I’m sticking up for Carl, but I actually quite like him this season. Yes, he was an annoying kid who never stayed in the house last season, and that became the biggest joke among TWD fans, but he’s past that now. He’s been forced to grow up much more quickly than any child should be, and rather than rebelling against it, he’s embracing it and trying to become a man. I’m really intrigued by what the rest of this season holds for him.

Speaking of the resurrection of Hershel (my husband will hate me for saying this), when Lori was giving him mouth-to-mouth and he jerked up and grabbed her, it’s the only time I’ve ever seen my husband not only leap up into the air, but scream like a girl. And he has a very deep voice, so I thought screaming like that would be near impossible.

Highlight of the evening for me. J

Josh: That scene was so well-constructed that you know she's about to start CPR even before she makes a move. I was up off the couch by the time she did, too, sort of hopping from one foot to the other, chanting, “Your lips! Your lips! Protect your liiiiiiips!” And when he actually wraps his arms around her? Well, I didn't scream or anything, but I wasn't far from it. Fantastic stuff.

Remarkably, I think a big part of why that sequence was so effective can be credited to the amazing turnaround of Lori's character so far this year and the way that the writers, combined with a first-rate performance from Sarah Wayne Callies, have taken a role that was previously the least sympathetic in the show, at least by my estimation, and completely turned her around in only two episodes. Again this week, I was surprised by how very sympathetic I was toward her, both in her dealings with Rick and in the scene with Carl as well. I agree that finding the infirmary was great work on his part – astute, enterprising and self-possessed, certainly mature beyond his years and well worthy of commendation – but also undeniably reckless and dangerous. I don't think Lori's response was out of proportion for a mother in that situation, and a hormone-drenched pregnant one at that. It's hard to imagine how it would feel to watch your only child, your baby, transform before your eyes like that, regardless of the necessity thereof. Circumstances only offer so much comfort.

Like, for instance, the need for an untrained hand to practice abdominal surgery before it becomes essential. Even on a moldering corpse. Erk. Carol's come a long way in the intervening months as well, and her plan to, um, sharpen her skills ahead of time is a sensible one, since it seems obvious that she's in no way comfortable with the idea, much less the procedure. I wonder what the watcher in the woods must be thinking. And also, you know, who the hell is watching from the woods.

I'm looking forward to your final thoughts, Nikki, but I'd be remiss if I didn't mention Maggie's tearful goodbye to Hershel before he made his unexpected revival. “I just want to thank you” tore me up, man. Again this week, the balance between the action and the character work struck me as right on the money. There wasn't any kind of big cliffhanger to end this episode – which nicely sets up the transition to Andrea & Michonne's story for next week, I would imagine – but I couldn't be any happier with the way things have played out thus far. If this level of quality continues, I'll be very satisfied (and possibly a bit incontinent) by season's end.

Nikki: Haha! I’m right there with you. And I’ll also mention that, as I was telling a friend of mine yesterday, I was unable to watch the scene of Carol cutting into the zombie. It was weird; on the one hand it was the sort of thing where I thought, “Oh god is it possible that thing isn’t dead and it’ll grab her wrist,” and then also thought, “Is it REALLY going to be a proper depiction of what a uterus would look like? That has got to be one of the most shriveled zombies I’ve seen on the show.” And finally thought that it seemed like a terrible indignity to the body. Isn’t that a weird thing to have thought? This is a walker, a zombie, a monster, a shell of the person that used to house it. I’ve watched the survivors stick pick-axes in foreheads and impale their heads with knives and even rip them in half (Well-Zombie… you will forever haunt me…). But somehow this shriveled-up zombie, with flowers in her hair and her little yellow dress still on, was so… vulnerable. And Carol pulled her dress up so tenderly and the little white panties just suddenly made it human. And that’s when I dropped my head and couldn’t watch her cut into it. I still can’t quite grasp my reaction, but I love when they take those little moments to humanize the zombies.

The Maggie scene was the highlight of the episode, and some beautiful acting by Lauren Cohan. I’m actually watching The Vampire Diaries for the first time right now, and I’m in S2, and was shocked to see Lauren Cohan playing a 500-year-old vampire named Rose. (She’s using her real British accent on that show.) She’s great over there, and amazing over here. Again, it’s these moments — a mother chastising her son out of fear for his life; a boy trying to be a man; a husband needing to rise to the situation regardless of what it’ll do to his marriage; a daughter kneeling before her father and saying goodbye — that make this show SO good, and prove that it’s so much more than just a zombie show. This was a truly wonderful episode.

Next week, as you say, we’ll be back with Andrea and Michonne, and I’m looking forward to seeing what’s happening over there. Is it possible they’re the ones who were peering through the trees at the prison as Carol was cutting the zombie, or was that a new threat altogether? I’ve heard about a certain character coming back this season… I wonder if it could be that person. Hmm….

See you next week!

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

The Walking Dead 3.1: "Seed"

Yup. It’s that time again… time for Josh Winstead and myself to recap The Walking Dead for y’all! This week marked the return of our favourite zombie show, and since it’s been a while since I’ve watched a show that truly made me squirm in my seat and punch myself in the leg repeatedly while looking down and moaning, “No… no… no… so wrong…” it’s probably time for a quick recap.

Where we left our survivors in S2 (you can read our recap here):

  • Lori showed her true colours: all season long she’d been pushing Shane to take out Rick, and Rick to take out Shane. I believed she truly loved Rick, but when Rick stepped out and killed Shane, she reacted with true revulsion, freaking out that she couldn’t believe Rick would do that. And that’s when you could tell he realized it was Shane she wanted to survive that battle.
  • Carl killed a walker. The little annoying kid who never stayed in the house even though they constantly told him to STAY IN THE DAMN HOUSE finally stepped up and killed a walker. Oh, and Lori’s pretty pissed about that, too.
  • T-Bone disappeared for most of the season and came back at the end and somehow didn’t die.
  • Hershel took out a ton of zombies before vacating his farm because his shotgun happens to carry TWO THOUSAND ROUNDS at once. Amazing.
  • Maggie and Glenn got it on.
  • Fans wished Carol and Daryl would get it on.
  • Hershel did not get it on.
  • Dale died.
  • Hershel’s other daughter, Beth (the suicidal one), also made it off the farm.
  • Andrea split off from the rest of the group and fought off a ton of forest zombies, only to be met by what I referred to in my final recap as “Dark McScary and his two faithful creepazoids,” showing I really had no clue who this person is. For, as we now all know if you’ve followed entertainment news at all this year, Dark McScary is actually a SHE named Michonne.
  • Jack Shephard Sawyer Rick told the gang that there’s a new sheriff in town, and he is it, and secondly, they’re all infected with the zombie virus, and if they die they will reanimate as a walker. They’re pretty ticked off that he had kept this news from them. (Our main discussion post-episode was whether or not this was information he should have shared.)

And that’s where we’re at. So before I bring Josh on board for his opening comments, I’ll just say I really enjoyed this opening episode, especially because for the first time things have been pushed far into the future. We’re now several months later (and even though we saw the prison in the distance, they are only finding it now) and Lori is very, very pregnant, and somehow they still have all their numbers intact. The episode opened with an incredible shot that looks almost like the inside of a seashell, then it pulls back and we realize we were inside a zombie’s eyeball, and it’s as lifeless on the inside as it is on the outside. What an extraordinary shot.

From there we watch our gang move into a house by first killing all the walkers, then going through the cupboards for food, and Carl finds some dog food. He pries it open and Rick sees what he’s doing and, in front of everyone, picks it up and hurls it to the other side of the room. There’s tension you could cut with a knife, and when they see another group of walkers coming they all hop in their cars (Daryl prefers his bike) and leave.

There isn’t a single word uttered in this opening, but the silence is heavy with meaning. Rick and Lori don’t even look at each other, the people aren’t happy with Rick’s leadership, Carl has grown up, Glenn and Maggie are still together, and it is tense. The perfect way to open the season.

What were your initial thoughts on the opening of the episode, Josh?

Joshua: Opening on the close-up of an eye like this seems... familiar somehow. I can't shake the feeling that I've seen it somewhere before. Help me out here, TV Scholar. :)

Well, we're back on This Island Earth, and Jack whoever this eye belongs to has seen better days. So has this kitchen. And whoa, that may be the most desiccated corpse I've ever seen on this show. In fact, everything appears to have continued its steady decline into post-apocalyptic miasma and ruin except our band of merry misfits, who instead have grown lean, cool and ruthlessly efficient in the interim. Or maybe they're just really frickin' hungry.

I too loved the way the lack of dialogue in this sequence further communicated how well the group has adapted to the day-to-day operational demands of their situation, requiring no more than hand signals between them to carry out their search and destroy mission. And, of course, it also served as a poignant reminder of how golden silence has become in a world wherein the noisier you are, the more attention you attract from your ravenous adversaries, a fact further telegraphed by the large handmade-looking silencers on their guns.

All in all, we are given the impression that during the six or seven months' time that has passed since the end of last season, everyone has moved well past the kind of growing pains we previously experienced ad nauseam and have fully accepted their new lot in life, if not exactly embraced it. Even Carl appears quite capable, and now that I think of it, that's a great way to keep up with him – put him on point!

Within the first few minutes after the new credit sequence, Rick has found the prison we saw in the distance at the end of last year's finale, and everyone's quickly delegated to clear the yard for some well-protected campground. The whole group seems much tighter, more like a real team than a loose aggregation borne out of necessity, and I found myself really enjoying their banter for the first time in as long as I can remember – Carol's playful flirting with Daryl, the tenderness between Maggie and Glenn, Hershel urging Beth to sing. Their choice of 'The Parting Glass,' an old traditional farewell song from the British Isles, was a poignant one, and the lyrics in this context gave me chills:

But since it falls unto my lot,
That I should rise and you should not,
I gently rise and softly call,
Good night and joy be with you all.

I thought Emily Kinney's rendition was lovely. She has a singing career on the side, and it shows. (As a side note, I understand the version available on iTunes is orchestrated, not a cappella; I'll try to check it out before next week.)

And then there's Rick, who has certainly made good on his promise of leadership but comes across as haunted and hollow in a way the others don't. We are shown that his relationship with Lori is more strained than ever, despite (or perhaps because of) her growing belly. What do you make of this, Nikki? Is Shane still coming between then, even from beyond the grave?

Nikki: I didn’t actually rewatch the end of season 2 before season 3 began, and it could have been why I was perplexed about his behavior towards Lori in this episode at first, but when I reread our recap of that S2 finale, I was reminded of her hostile reaction to him reassuring her that he did away with Shane and Shane won’t be botherin’ them no more. Rick clearly saw through her in that moment and realized that she wanted to be with Shane over him. Now, several months later (hard to tell since she was a month or two into her pregnancy at the end of S2 and now she’s near the end, so maybe 7 months later?) she’s come to terms with Shane being gone, and knows Rick is her only hope of a relationship, and obviously she still has feelings for him. But he’s decided to bury his feelings (again like a certain doctor we’re both very familiar with) and has hardened himself to the group. He’s more of an army commander out of necessity, and can’t let Lori cloud his judgment by getting in his way, so he just nudges her aside.

However, watch how instantly concerned he is when Carol comes out and asks for Hershel in the jail cell.

The jailbreak scene (er… what do you call it when someone is breaking INTO a jail?) was gruesome and horrific, and made me groan with disgust and look away more than once. As you say, these people are no longer a haphazard group of survivors throwing rocks and shrieking as they run away: they are killing machines, and they’re REALLY good at it. They move swiftly and efficiently, doing away with the zombies usually with a single stab. Though I’ll admit, my husband and I couldn’t figure out why they’d throw open the gates and go right in there, when clearly the zombies are stupid enough to walk right up to the fence and you could take them all out, one by one, without ever risking anything. That said, they did move pretty quickly to do the job on this one. And it wouldn’t have been as entertaining for us as an audience to watch them jabbing people through a fence for half an hour.

Two moments of fan service I loved in this one:
  • Carol propositioning Daryl: something we’ve wanted all along (though she was joking).
  • Rick saying, “Carl? Stay behind.” HAHA! Both my husband and I simultaneously through our arms up in the air and made noises of disgust. And then… he stayed. Turns out, the only thing that’ll keep Ranger Carl rooted to one spot is a super-cute girl.

So what did you make of the Andrea/Michonne situation? You probably know something about Andrea’s illness via the books, but I’m thinking it could just be a flu. Something small could bring a person down and spell death in this new world.

Joshua: Actually, I don't recall Andrea's illness being part of the comic's narrative. If memory serves, Michonne appears outside the walls of the prison one day, saves Otis' life (who was around a while longer in the books) and is assimilated into the group. The show obviously has other designs for her. But flu (with maybe a bacterial complication like pneumonia) is what I thought, too, and you're absolutely right in that it could easily be deadly without a source of medication or even a place to rest. Their storyline was only grazed in this episode, but we did get a nice implication of the closeness that has developed between them with their brief exchange in the cooler. I am more curious about the ambiguity of Andrea's statement that “They're coming,” which almost gave the impression they're being pursued. It could certainly have been referring only to walkers in general, but I like the idea that there might be more going on than meets the eye. At any rate, I assume the two of them will get more focus in Sunday's outing.

Since you discussed the jailbreak, I want to make special mention of the zombies in riot gear, which I thought was a great way of turning the situation on its ear by introducing a simple, logical element that complicated their raid in a truly novel way and worked wonders ratcheting up the tension in an already tense scene. It also gave Maggie a perfect moment to shine when she figures out how to foil the helmet by stabbing up through the chin, a technique that everyone else immediately adopts to expert result.

Also, face-off = awesome.

Once they get inside the prison, we get another great sequence of social moments – the  second of the episode – with Glenn checking Maggie for scratches, and Carl in Beth's cell, with Hershel appearing at the perfect moment to foil his play for top bunk, and Rick moving off by himself. I love the balance they struck this week, with these intermediary personal scenes to offset the violence and horror, and I think it bodes well for the season as a whole if they look to maintain a similar tone throughout. I loved the use of your Canadian compatriot Patrick Watson's beautiful song 'Quiet Sunday' too, which is my favorite from his recent album and was perfect accompaniment for their moments of repose.

But, of course, the quiet never lasts long on 'The Walking Dead.' Rick, knowing Lori could give birth any day and desperate to provide the group with a safe haven after months of being on the run, has them press on into the interior of the compound, to predictably horrific results. How's that for a cliffhanger? Yikes.

Nikki: Not only that, but looks like Lori may be out of luck for a delivery doctor. Eep. I was so happy to see that Hershel was still with the gang after all these months, and so sad to see that he might be the first major casualty of the season. But mostly, as I said aloud to my husband, what the hell will Lori do if the doc isn’t there to deliver the baby? (Poor Hershel, reduced to his occupation…) I guess we’re going back to the basics: she wouldn’t be the first woman to deliver a baby on her own. At least she’s surrounded by other people who are survivalists.

And the face-off scene may have topped the zombie body breaking in half as they pulled it out of the well. Geeeeeaaaaaaahhhhhh…..

Next week, I’m looking forward to seeing if Carl will continue to stand still, if Hershel can survive having his leg amputated (good GOD that scene was horrible to watch; in fact, I’ll confess now that I covered my eyes) and what the deal is with Andrea and Michonne. But mostly, finding out who the other human beings are inside the compound. The fact that they’re all in prisoner clothing doesn’t bode well (they aren’t exactly upstanding citizens by the looks of it) but Rick will have to swallow his morality and team up with them if he wants to survive, methinks.

One note, however: I’m wondering if Carl can possibly survive this season? I worry he’s going to suffer from Lost’s Walt Syndrome: they have a young actor who is noticeably aging every year, and they can’t keep zipping us ahead 7 months every time we start a new season. Will they off him just to keep the storyline consistent?

Any final thoughts, Josh?

Joshua: Scott Wilson has done such a terrific job with his portrayal of Hershel, and he was breaking my heart as he weathered the agony of those moments post-chomp. Rick was fast on the hatchet, though, so maybe he'll pull through. Sheriff's hats off to Andrew Lincoln for his performance in that scene, as well; I was so captivated by the two of them that I have no recollection of what anyone else in the room was doing at the time, Maggie included.

Speaking of anyone else in the room, I think you're correct that the dirty new faces in prison jumpsuits are reason for concern. But it has been many months since the fall of the world; maybe they're all simply former guards who raided the laundry for clean clothes. Right? Let's be positive here. I'm sure none of them are institutionalized lunatics driven further toward frenzied psychosis by the dawn of the zombie apocalypse. They're probably all perfectly nice boys, just in desperate need of a bath. In fact, I hereby predict that next episode will be all about making fire, for the shared purposes of ghastly hatchet wound cauterization and warming bath water.

Bits & Bobs:

  Daryl's new Man-With-No-Name poncho gets a big thumbs up from me.
  Still no substance to T-Dog's character at all. I hope they figure out what to do with him soon, because it's gotten a bit ridiculous at this point.
  MICHONNE. Finally. (That delicious snarl, by the way? Never leaves her face.)
  Despite the addition of a samurai sword to the ever-broadening combat arsenal, this episode's pitchfork-and-clawhammer combo may be my new favorite.
  I neglected to mention so earlier, but the conversation between Lori and Hershel about the birth and its enormous potential for atrocity accomplished something I wasn't sure possible: it made me feel sympathetic toward Lori. Well-written, well-played. Nice work all around.

And that's it for this week, folks. Cinch up those tourniquets and elevate the injury; it's gonna seem like a long time until Sunday night.