Wednesday, October 30, 2013

The Walking Dead 4.03: Isolation

And it’s time for Week 3 of our Walking Dead posts (man, these weeks are flying by! I feel like we just wrote the last one).

Nikki: As if being stuck in a prison wasn’t bad enough, now many of the prison folk are actually trapped in Cell Block A, or Death Row. Where once it housed inmates who’d been charged with unspeakable crimes, now it simply houses people who have the flu, and will probably die from it.

“Isolation” wasn’t just about how certain people were trapped in a section of the prison, but also how each person seemed to be pushing their feelings down, denying what they were really going through in order to fit in in this new world. Beth holds Lil’ Ass Kicker and tells Maggie through the door that she can’t get upset about Glenn, because in this world, they simply don’t have the right to cry or get upset about things. Rick has been burying his sense of justice and righteousness and authority so deeply inside a pacifist shell that once that other side of him has been allowed to surface, he’s gone completely apeshit and beaten Tyreese to a pulp. Like Beth, Hershel tells everyone they have jobs to do, and his job is as a doctor, administering to the only other doctor they have, who is sick and dying.

And then there’s Carol. She quietly mourned the death of her daughter. She quietly flirted with Daryl. She quietly mourned the death of Dale. She quietly followed the others and made a place for herself. She quietly talked to Andrea. She quietly took care of Judith and quietly stood by Carl as he went through the death of his mother. She quietly stood back and watched Rick fall apart, and quietly continued to take care of everyone, stepping up to deal with food and be a part of the Council. She secretly took on the duty of teaching the children how to defend themselves, and agreed to become the adopted mother of the two little girls who lost their father last week. And then, when she saw two people being sick and not quarantining themselves, she quietly killed them, dragged their bodies outside, and burned them. And then quietly went about her business, collecting water, cleaning the pipes, taking care of the sick, helping quarantine them, agreeing to watch over Sasha, and giving her condolences to Tyreese. And then all of a sudden she wasn’t so quiet anymore, breaking down and kicking the water containers, wasting water, crying, and falling apart. Rick sees right through her calm fa├žade, and realizes she’s the one who’s done this terrible thing. What will he do now, after vowing to take down the person who’d done this?

Josh, what did you think of the episode?

Joshua: Season four to date has spent most of its run time re-introducing us to the prison colony – as residence and residents alike – and setting up the contagion storyline that began to take shape when poor bespectacled Patrick took ill near the end of the premiere. Both of those first two episodes were great, by my estimation, but that is nonetheless one big chunk of construction without much in the way of significant return. This week's episode, scripted by creator Robert Kirkman, corrected that course in spades as “The Walking Dead” began to pay off all that setup with bloody interest, setting into motion a chain of events that will doubtless carry us through to mid-season, likely right up to the point when The Governor's ugly cyclopean mug pops back up again like we all know it must. As for what will be left of the place – or the people – by that time, it's anybody's guess. Because we're certainly off to a damned nasty start.

First and foremost, there is the superflu, which is swiftly spreading its way through the population and killing its victims with brutal efficiency. A medical epidemic of this kind was probably inevitable at some point, considering the state of the World At Large, the specific proximity of their living conditions within the prison, the persistent lack of proper nutrition, the scarcity of clean water and medicine, and this show's natural affinity for anguish and despair. But the severity of the problem doesn't fully snap into focus until it begins to affect members of the core group – first Sasha, then Glenn. They both quickly quarantine themselves, but even in a best-case scenario, that still means two members of the already small council out of commission for the foreseeable future.

When the decision is made to sequester the young and old, it is obvious that neither Carl nor Hershel like being lumped in with those considered to be the most vulnerable. They both go, albeit reluctantly, but Carl takes his pistol, and Hershel is plagued from the start by the idea that he could be doing more than merely sitting around, staring at the walls. Even the walls themselves seem to be arguing his case, as evidenced by the inspirational poster that reads: “SMOOTH SEAS DO NOT MAKE GOOD SAILORS.” And then, as he stares at the coffee mug in his hand, he remembers his herbalism, remembers the elderberry tea his wife used to make as flu remedy, and knows what he needs to do, heading out into the woods with Carl in tow.

Hershel's speech to Rick on their return, as he justifies going into the quarantined area to attend the sick, was one of the best in the series' history. The philosophy he outlines is not only noble and poignant, but also brilliantly practical in the sense that this harsh new world is one in which life itself is a danger, and the only way to make that kind of endless struggle worthwhile is for it to mean something, for the actions you take to be worthwhile. When even the act of breathing could be deadly, then suddenly no risk is too great to ensure the future.

On the other side of the coin, we are faced with Carol gone rogue, far beyond testing the boundaries of principled behavior and deep into self-righteous delusion. I told myself that the culprit in Karen and David's murder must be someone we know, and she should have been one of my first logical choices, but I still didn't see it coming. And despite the different light in which this revelation cast her earlier breakdown by the water barrel (the first time we've seen such an outburst from Carol in as long as I can remember), I have to wonder how conflicted she really is about her actions. She sees the murders as service to a greater ideal, just as Hershel views his trip down Death Row. The major difference is that Hershel made his sacrifice voluntarily, whereas Karen and David had no such option. Carol's intentions were pure, but that doesn't make the act itself any less appalling, or the situation any less complicated.

I sure would hate to be Rick right now.

Nikki: Agreed on the Carol front; if they do manage to find a cure and heal those who are sick, then what she did is beyond appalling, and she’ll have to live with that forever. Now, interestingly, I did see something on another site where fans were speculating that perhaps Carol didn’t do it, and instead she’s covering up for the little girl who’s sick now. The suggestion is that Carol told her not to be weak, to stare danger in the face and take care of it, and Lizzie took care of it. But could Lizzie have taken down two adults, killed them, dragged their bodies outside, doused them in gasoline, and burned them without anyone noticing? Not bloody likely. I don’t buy this one at all, and think we have to see this as a shocking turn of events.

I also loved Hershel’s speech. “You step outside, you risk your life. You take a drink of water, you risk your life… the only thing you can choose is what you’re risking it for.” I hope this character lasts forever, because he gets all the great lines these days. Over and over, the writers are reminding us that this is not our world anymore, and the rules we follow don’t work here. In which case… are we allowed to hold Carol up to the same scrutiny as we would someone in our world who did what she did? It’s a tough one.

I want to give a special shout-out here to Chad L. Coleman, who plays Tyreese, for putting in a tour de force performance this week. The pain and anguish on Tyreese’s face, the barely repressed fury, was so palpable I swear I could feel him shaking in rage through my television screen. That was the performance of the season so far. First he is shocked and furious over the death of Karen. Then the left side of his face is beaten by Rick (his good eye is the right one now, which is the opposite of the Governor’s good eye, a comment on his character if ever there was one) and we watch him angrily shoveling the grave for Karen, refusing to listen to Daryl’s reason. Then he accepts Rick’s apology, but charges him with finding — and punishing — the person who did this. Then he realizes Sasha is sick, and we watch him talk to her through the window, possibly for the last time, before deciding he’s not going to wallow, but do what he can to find a cure. And we see him talk to Carol, calm but in extreme pain, asking for her help with Sasha, complimenting her on being a good person, completely blind to the fact that she’s the one who did it. And finally, we see him sitting in the back seat of the car, surrounded by zombies, and looking like he’s about to give up. To just sit there and let them rip him to pieces actually seems like the much easier, much better way to go at this point. It’s living that’s so hard for him, especially on this horrific day. But he gets out of the car, chops his way through the walkers, and comes out on the other side. Cutty was amazing.

Back over to the quarantine, though, I couldn’t help but think that locking these people in isn’t just locking them away for everyone else’s good, but locking them to their doom. What about the woman insisting she just had allergies? I have terrible allergies in the summer, and imagined being in a situation where I’m actually perfectly healthy, but having allergic reactions to the weeds outside, and then I get locked into the Apocalyptic Chamber of Doom, and I’m pretty much sentenced to die. Maybe this was supposed to be metaphorical — showing that on many a Death Row, there are innocents sitting there who’ve been charged with crimes they didn’t commit — but I honestly thought that putting the sick ones into a room that’s guaranteed to make them sicker just seems counterproductive in a way. Yes, it’ll keep everyone else safe, but it’s killing the people you’re putting in there. My heart broke into a million pieces when Lizzie walked up to Carol and said she had a cough. I imagined being the mom and grabbing her and running out of the prison with her instead rather than locking in that horrible place. But as Beth says, in this world they no longer have the right to show emotions. You’re sick, you go in the Doom Chamber. End of story.

Joshua: It seems that quarantine was the least awful in a list of terrible choices, ranging anywhere from banishment to Dr. Carolvorkian. At least in this case, they're still together. And aside from the obvious buffer that their seclusion provides the uninfected, this system also protects the weakened ill from any danger beyond the flu, as the cells offer ready-made cages for those that pass away untended and would otherwise simply eat their way through the rest of the patients. Inelegant, perhaps, but effective.

In the meantime, we have the strike team of Michonne, Daryl, Tyreese and Bob Stookey out on a long excursion for medicine that looks like it just got considerably longer with the loss of their car. Daryl comes across as a knowledgeable mechanic, so it is possible they could find another vehicle along the way and get it working well enough for the return trip, but they certainly aren't going to make it back in a day any more. Fifty miles is a three-day hike, bare minimum, and that's just one way. But the whole trip is moot if they can't find a way around the massive horde of walkers they've discovered. This throng is the biggest we've seen, far larger than the one that overtook Hershel's farm, and if it's headed toward the prison... Well, let's just hope it isn't headed toward the prison.

[As an aside, however, I have to say that if someone twisted and enterprising enough – someone with a specific facial disfigurement, perhaps, and a tendency toward antisocial behavior – were to figure out a way to herd and propel such a group, like an undead drover, then I'd imagine presenting such a threat as the front line of an assault would prove insurmountable, regardless of how well-fortified the structure under attack. Nothing of that sort ever took place in the comics, so this is pure conjecture on my part and probably more a result of nostalgia for the good old days of crazy “Lost” theorizing than anything else. Still, TWD does love its foreshadowing, and I'd have a hard time believing this slow stampede won't come back to haunt us in some fashion before the season ends.]

I miss the days of crazy Lost theorizing...

Speaking of Bob Stookey... boy, does that guy have the worst luck or what? His first run after being taken into the group is the supermarket excursion where zombies literally rain down from the frickin' sky, and now he gets taken along simply because of his medical background and winds up in the midst of a Bonnaroo crowd of undead. It's almost like he's cursed. Fortunately, he couldn't be traveling with a band of bigger badasses than these three. But if the biblical plagues continue to follow him like this, I bet the invitations stop, whether he's a walking Merck manual or not.

Perhaps most significant in this sequence, however, was the cause of the accident in the first place: the sound of a human voice on the radio. The mind reels at the possibilities. Could you make out any of the broadcast, Nik?

Nikki: In the summer, at ComicCon, they aired a trailer for this season of The Walking Dead, and the trailer was subsequently posted to YouTube. In that trailer, they showed this very scene, and the voice on the radio was crystal clear: “Sanctuary,” it said, “Those who arrive, survive.” However, on the show’s broadcast on Sunday, the voice had definitely been distorted, like they didn’t want us to hear it that clearly. But here’s the trailer (the radio bit comes at the very end):

Is this the first they’ve heard a radio in the series? I don’t know why I feel like we heard another voice on a ham radio back in the first season, but perhaps that was in another apocalyptic TV show I watch (there are just so many!) I never even thought of The Guv’nah, but that would be amazing if he’s behind the massive zombie horde coming their way. That was terrifying to see them all coming up over the ridge. You’re right; they have to find another car to get back to the prison… if they’re on the run for drugs to save the lives of everyone in the prison, they don’t have three days to wait. Remember how fast this flu ran through Patrick?

Any final thoughts on the episode, Josh?

Joshua: Just one quick thing before we wrap. Excepting the possibility that Carol is protecting little Lizzie by confessing to the murders in her place (a scenario which I also find unlikely but dare not dismiss outright), I continue to be mystified by who was feeding the walkers through the fence. My initial thoughts linked the two actions together as those of a single saboteur, but now I wonder who else could be responsible, and why. Is this deliberate subversion or something else entirely? It is the show's first real mystery, and one that has my imagination tying itself in knots.

Whatever the case, I can't wait for whatever Sunday night brings.

Bits & Bobs:

•  Effects empresario and sometime-director Greg Nicotero and his KNB team really outdid themselves this week. Both the mossy and bear trapped walkers that Carl and Hershel encounter at the campsite were absolute classics, but in particular, the long looks at Karen and David's burnt corpses that we got this week revealed a level of detail I missed in their initial reveal, right down to the charred underwire of Karen's bra. These kinds of things really lend so much more narrative heft to these moments, and my hat's off to them.

•  Michonne: “He's already given me fleas.” A joke! Just for you, Nikki.

•  It's been a long time since we saw Beth and Maggie have a heart-to-heart. I sure do hope that doesn't bode ill for either.

•  Really surprised that Carl didn't press Hershel to shoot the walkers in the woods, considering what happened last time he left one moving. RIP, Dale.

•  “We decided to do that tomorrow.” “We don't know if we get a tomorrow.”

•  I may like Glenn and Hershel's relationship more than any other on the show these days. The two of them have come so far together, and I love how the writers have handled it. And that shot of the two of them silhouetted against the cell doors at the beginning of their conversation was just gorgeous. This show could use more beauty.

Happy Halloween, gang. Don't forget your flashlight.

Friday, October 25, 2013

Vampire Diaries: A Chat with the Authors of Love You to Death

As many of you know, it’s been a long road for me to appreciating The Vampire Diaries, and while my heart will always belong to Spike and Angel, in the past year it’s definitely found room for both Stefan and Damon as well. Mostly Damon.

About nine years ago, a new girl started working at ECW Press — my publisher and the house where I was an in-house acquisitions editor for 15 years, and am currently still freelancing for. Immediately we began talking about Buffy, and later Friday Night Lights, dinosaur comics, The Office, Arrested Development, and everything else pop culture. When the Buffy comics were first released, we’d both rush across the street each month to the comic book store, where the guy had reserved copies for the two of us, then we’d rush back, open them up and sit side by side gasping and freaking out about each page. She read all my books and talked them up to others, and I knew she was a very talented writer herself, so I kept bugging her to write a book. And eventually, she did, putting together an excellent companion guide to Gossip Girl. The following year, we discussed other options, and landed on The Vampire Diaries, and she struck out on her own and wrote three volumes of the companion guides, entitled Love You To Death, one for each season (you can find them here: Season 1, Season 2, and Season 3). And they’re astoundingly good.

Somewhere in there she met Vee, co-administrator of, and began doing recaps on the site (which series regulars — and series creator Julie Plec — saw and began commenting on) and for the Season 4 instalment of the book, Crissy joined forces with Vee.

This week I had the opportunity to talk with these lovely gals about TVD, spinoff The Originals, the book series, and which Salvatore is their favourite.

Crissy and Vee at the Gilbert mansion. Before it... well, you know.

Nikki: As Crissy knows, I was late to the TVD party, but once I announced I had arrived, many TVD fans seemed to want to know the answer to only one question, so I'll pose it to you: Team Damon or Team Stefan, and why? 

Crissy (@crissycalhoun): Team Salvatore! I'm a flip flopper when it comes to romance: whoever the writers want me to like with Elena, I do. While there have been some epically romantic moments in the series, I don't watch for the love triangle. I watch for the utter insanity, heartbreaking plot twists, and general amazing production values. 

Vee (@dieslaughing): I'm going to have to echo Crissy and say I am, and will always be, Team Salvatore. And that has nothing to do with Elena, but the relationship of these two brothers. I'm not a 'shipper; I am very much someone who is focused on character and plot, not romance. Not that I don't appreciate that element, but if it's all I focused on, I'd be incredibly bored most of the time.

Nikki: I’m so glad you both said that. I’m not a shipper either, and frankly I’ve tired of the Spike vs Angel/Jack vs Sawyer questions I get all the time, but I figured if I didn’t get that out of way it would just be hanging over us. And we have better things to move on to. Like… Klaus or Elijah? OK, kidding… kidding. (But seriously, it’s Klaus, right? RIGHT?)

Ahem. I’m pretty sure both of you were watching the show from the first night the first episode aired — when did you know that this was the show you wanted to write about? What was it about TVD that appealed to you?

Crissy: Well, I came to the series not having read the L.J. Smith books from the early '90s that it was adapted from. So I was drawn because (a) Kevin Williamson and (b) Boone lives! But quite early on what punched me in the gut about the show was how it was mixing this supernatural insanity, comedic touches, romance, and this really heartbreaking story of grief and isolation, centered on Elena Gilbert, recently orphaned, but it extended to the supporting characters as well. It struck a chord with a friend of mine who was going through something incredibly difficult, and that sort of showed me that you could watch this show just for the fun of it (and there's a ton of fun), or you could dig a little deeper and unpack what's going on beneath all that handsomeness and shirtlessness. That question of "Is there enough going on in this show to write a whole book on it?" is a tricky one until you get into it, but the answer turned out to be Yes, yes, a thousand times yes.  

Vee: Well, my history with the TVD book series goes back two decades; I read the series when it was originally released in 1991/1992. So the site I co-own (with Red, a longtime LJS fandom leader and one of my oldest and dearest friends),, has been covering the show since the pilot was announced in early 2009, first from the perspective of book fans worrying over the TV adaptation, then later as full-fledged fans of the TV series.

The Vampire Diaries had a lot stacked against it from the get-go: it predates Twilight, and there are some similarities to Twilight, but the smartest move the show made — and fairly quickly — was to place emphasis on characters and high-stakes plotting. There are few shows that move through story as ferociously as this one does, and they got to that point about halfway through the first season, and it's served them well. I can't remember the last time anyone compared it to Twilight and, trust me, that was all we heard throughout the first season. Bucking those comparisons and going whole-hog on story and mythology is what really made me fall in love with the show for what it is, not just because I was a fan of the book series.

Nikki: I remember having trouble watching TVD in the beginning because it was too Buffy-like for me: there's a brooding vampire (Stefan/Angel), and a vampire who doesn't care (Damon/Angelus/Spike), and a love triangle with a woman, and a best friend who's a witch (Bonnie/Willow). Throw the werewolf stuff in there and have that guy end up with the other best friend (Tyler/Oz) and the comparisons were driving me nuts. AND THEN I found out the book series predated Buffy by about five years. D'oh!! And it was that realization that made me start watching again, and I'm really glad I did. 

Crissy, this one's for you: Your first book was about the CW show Gossip Girl (Spotted), and I was there when you were pondering your next book project and landed on TVD, and you've done a book for every season since it started. Tell me how you first met Vee and when you knew you were destined to pull her in for the fourth book in the series. 

Crissy: Well, Vee is a gift from the Internet Gods. Back when I was working on the first Love You to Death book, there was a fansite that Knew All Things — — run by two mysterious characters, Red and Vee. I reached out to them, asking for an interview for the book. From there, we became Twitter pals, then I started writing for the site, so we had legitimate reasons to email each other weekly. At some point in the midst of all that, I was like, I want this Vee person to be my real-life friend because she is awesome. Red and Vee had edited the SmartPop book on TVD (A Visitor's Guide to Mystic Falls), so I knew she could write, and for book 3, I asked her to contribute a short piece on the introduction of the character Meredith. I always want to know what she thinks about the episodes, and I know I'm not alone in the TVD Family on that front. So I bullied her into cowriting the fourth book with me. (Which executive producer Julie Plec called a "genius move." Julie is among those in the TVD fam who want to hear Vee's insight on the series.) And, fingers crossed, we'll be back together writing the fifth soon...  

Nikki: This question is for both of you: I find the experience of working with someone through the internet to be pretty easy, and I would think today more people use that method of working together than actually working face-to-face with someone, yet people still ask me how I'm able to write with other people when I'm not sitting directly across from them. How did the two of you split up the book to work on it, and what was the process like?

Crissy: We relied really heavily on Scrivener and Dropbox! It would basically have been impossible to write this book without file-sharing and the wonders of Scriv. Vee's in Arizona and I'm in Toronto, so we Skyped a lot, divvied up the sections of the episode guide and the sidebar material (Vee is a history and mythology whiz, so she took the reins there, for example), and hid shirtless photos of David Alpay in our file for each other to find. (For science.) It was really smooth and easy — from my perspective at least! — and Vee was always ahead of me, so she made me type faster and (almost) meet my deadlines.

Vee: Yes, huzzah for Scrivener and Dropbox! I can't imagine co-writing any other way. I loved opening the file and seeing funny notes and photos from Crissy and being able to easily move things around, insert footnotes so we could hash things out right there within the file, and then be able to reference those notes later. My brain melts when I imagine us using any other method. And because we were feeling things out as we went, I believe the next time around will be even easier.

Nikki: For anyone who hasn't yet read Love You to Death, this is an analytical and fantastic episode-by-episode guide with a lot of sidebars, extra information, feature chapters, bios... basically it sits with you while you rewatch the season, and tells you everything you missed in the episode and more. But let's get to the part that made me squee with excitement when I saw it: creator Julie Plec wrote the foreword, and it's amazing! She refers to the previous books as "legendary" and gives a huge bow to you for toiling away on this series as she toils away on hers, referring to the season 4 book as "an entertaining, exhaustive bible of the character arcs, plot lines, mythology, and the behind-the-scenes happenings of a TV series made by people who are crazy in love with their work. Or just crazy. Hard to say." So... tell me how you both met Julie Plec in the first place, and on a scale of one to EPIC, what was your reaction when you got the foreword from her? 

Vee: I first "met" Julie during pilot pre-production, through the wonders of social media. But I met her (and Kevin Williamson, Ian Somerhalder, Paul Wesley, and Nina Dobrev) in person at Comic-Con in 2009, when TVD was there for the first time. I don't think I can overstate how supportive and open and encouraging she and Kevin were in the early days of the show — and even since! But their enthusiasm and respect for as a site and us as longtime fans has always been second to none. And that respect is entirely mutual. As contentious as the discussion and passion around the show can be, this fandom lucked out in a big, big way having Julie Plec captain this entire endeavor. Take away all of her responsibilities, she's a fan at heart, and that passion is infectious.

The foreword made me cry. There's a lot of history there, but what I appreciated most was her recognition that we love celebrating the unsung heroes of the production and are genuinely fascinated by the process of getting this show on television every week. We learned so much in writing this book, yet there's still so much to learn!

Crissy: I also "met" Julie through social media and then met her in person for the first time at Comic-Con, between seasons 2 and 3. My favorite moment from that experience was when the TVD signing was about to start in the WB booth and Eliza Dushku came up to say hi to the cast and Julie. Julie grabbed her name sign, wrote "Faith!!!" on the back, and held it up to Vee and me to make sure we saw her; Julie was totally fangirling over the presence of a Slayer. She gets it.

The foreword 100% made me cry too. It cannot be overstated how freakin' busy she is (running three TV series will do that) and yet she's been so generous with her time, with her answers to our endless questions, and by writing that foreword. It means the world to us to get that kind of recognition from her. Epic is the exact right word for it.

Nikki: We're only a few episodes into season 5 of TVD right now, so it's hard to say if you like the direction of the season so far, but what do you think of The Originals? Were you happy when the announcement was made (I mean... two shows!!) or upset (the Originals are leaving TVD?!) Judging from the handful of episodes so far, how has it lived up to expectations? 

Crissy: When The Originals spinoff was announced, I was among those cheering. As much as Klaus, Rebekah, and Elijah have been a massive part of the past few seasons of The Vampire Diaries, the characters and their near limitless backstory felt so ripe for their own series. The backdoor pilot (save for a few clunky moments) was awesome and had quite the controversial twist, so my hopes were high. The first couple episodes suffered from Exposition Addiction — like, they all but explained what a vampire is — but the latest episode, "Girl in New Orleans," just knocked it out of the park. I now officially care about all the characters, they each have interesting stuff going on, and it's all a bit intertwining supernatural fustercluck. And of course, any show with any amount of Elijah Mikaelson is A-OK in my books.

Vee: I was flat-out ecstatic about The Originals and, yes, there was a bit of worry losing such a vital dynamic from The Vampire Diaries. But I think it was obvious from as early as TVD Season 3 that the Original story was so much bigger than a subplot; a spin-off made complete sense and, as we are now learning, it reinvigorated The Vampire Diaries, putting the focus on characters who have often been sidelined. More importantly, giving Joseph Morgan, Claire Holt, and Daniel Gillies their own show validated how outstanding they have been on TVD. While The Originals is still in its growing stages, its latest episode lived up to the expectations I've had for this show since it was announced. I couldn't be more pleased with how quickly its findings its voice and footing.

Nikki: Am I correct in thinking you have both been to "Mystic Falls"? Tell us about the spot where they film. 

Crissy: "Mystic Falls" is a lovely town called Covington, Georgia (and a whole bunch of sets in a nearby studio) just outside of Atlanta. I went there a few years back for a convention and it was there that I first met the lovely Ms Vee. The town square looks just as it does on your TV, and admittedly I got a little verklempt when I saw the clock tower in real life. (Yes, I am lame.) There's a locations tour — Mystic Falls Tours — that we went on and it was very cool to see all the spots and these grand old plantation houses used in the flashbacks to the Civil War era. Fun fact: the tour company now has a storefront on the town square, which means you can buy the Love You to Death series in Mystic Falls. Which I love, obviously.

Vee: Covington's a small town with very distinctive features, so I see why it's the filming hub it is, and it was charming to recognize so much from watching the show. I was especially impressed with the "Lockwood Mansion," with the lake out back, the aggressive Steve the Swan, and the owners of the house were just lovely. I really enjoyed our time there.

Nikki: Thanks so much for this, ladies! One final question: Will you guys be doing a S5 book together and will it include The Originals?

Crissy: Happily we have just been offered a contract for Love You to Death Season 5! So you have the totally exclusive scoop on that news, Nikki. We're talking about The Originals and waiting to see how the series develops, but we would love — and Vee would love especially — to have the opportunity to dive as deeply into that world as we've been able to for TVD.

Vee: Crissy and are indeed hard at work tracking down our doppelgangers so we can realize our LYTD5/The Originals companion dreams. Very much hoping The Originals is picked up for a back nine so we can start talking about that, but I am equally excited to get going on a TVD Season 5 guide because, three episodes in, it's already bananas. Plus, I'm just really proud of how LYTD4 came out, and love working with Crissy, and I think we can up the ante for the next book.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

The Walking Dead: 4.02 "Infected"

And with death, mayhem, Tom Waits, and poor slaughtered pigs, we welcome (I think) another week’s episode of The Walking Dead! As always, I’m joined by Josh Winstead. Let’s jump right in.

Nikki: And the grim just keeps getting grimmer. I’ll be honest, after this week’s episode my husband and I had a discussion about whether or not we’re still enjoying watching The Walking Dead, given how terribly bleak it’s become. There’s not an ounce of humour or lightness to be found on the show. Sure, there’s hope — Tyreese finds love, Carol and Daryl possibly get together, Beth has a new boyfriend, Glen and Maggie get married, Rick finds inner peace and builds a garden, they fortify the prison and begin to live real organized lives — but we see NONE of that. All we see is when their worlds begin to fall apart, when Tyreese and Beth lose their loved ones, when Rick loses all hope and his inner peace is destroyed, when the farm is burned, when parents lose their children, when children lose their parents.

I’d like to talk about the mothering aspect first. As we know, Carol lost her abusive husband, and then lost her beloved daughter, looked for her for most of a season, and then discovered she’d been turned into a walker when Sophia came lumbering out of Hershel’s barn in what is still the saddest moment of the series for me. She almost went into a sort of denial, didn’t seem to be in mourning for very long, and ended up joking and an even happier version of her normal self soon after. Now she’s taken on the mother bear role of the group, teaching all the children how to wield weapons and protect themselves when in harm.

When the two little girls lose their father in this episode and moments later, Carol, their surrogate mother, is telling the eldest girl how weak she was for not staring her dead daddy in the face and sticking a knife through it, I immediately thought she could take the prize for most ineffective mothering ever. Couldn’t we give these girls 24 hours to mourn before giving them the whole, “YOU ARE WEAK AND WILL NEVER SURVIVE” speech? But then I realized no, this is a new world. A world where Beth no longer cries when someone dies, because people dying is as common as going out to fill up the car with gas once was. It’s a world where you can’t let the girls mourn for 24 hours, because in 24 hours they could be dead. She needs to teach them that this world is a harsh, terrible one, where the corpse they saw is no longer their father, but a shell that will momentarily house a demon that will rise up and kill them with no remorse. It’s no longer their father. She needs to instill this in them because for all she knows, the little one will be dead tomorrow and the older girl will need to stick a knife in her forehead.

Like I said, grim.

Josh, what did you think of this episode?

Josh: I'd say 'grim' sums it up quite well. The events of “Infected” served to accelerate us directly into the oncoming train of contagion we glimpsed at the end of last week's premiere, and it did so very effectively, killing off perhaps a dozen denizens of the expanded prison colony in very short order. And no, that's never going to be fun. Unless you place bets, or maybe turn it into some kind of predictive drinking game. But assuming you watch the show for entertainment instead of an excuse to gamble and/or imbibe hard liquor (not that you can't do both), I'll admit that season 4 thus far has been short on optimism.

Of course, no one watches this show for its levity. Still, I think it's reasonable to wish a finer balance could be struck, some way to temper all that darkness with a bit more light than is offered by brief, glancing instances like Beth singing the baby her a cappella rendition of “I Don't Want To Grow Up.” In fact, I was faced with a similar situation last year when, after almost ten years of being a steady fan, I elected to stop reading the “Walking Dead” comics for just the same reasons. Any ongoing series with a premise so dark runs the risk of overwhelming its audience at some point – of crossing the line from dour to unpleasant – just by the nature of its own frequency, if nothing else. The ideas and situations that logically carry such a narrative forward are not cheery ones, by and large; something needs to happen, and it probably wouldn't be the whole gang throwing an old fashioned hoedown in the prison gym. It's a slippery slope for a writer, finding something for the audience to cling to in a story where everything is so tenuous by default. I think in this instance, things will get worse before they get better, and mileage will surely vary on where the line falls for the viewer.

A big part of what keeps me engaged and invested is the way each character's history continues to inform their behavior, and how well that plays into my emotional response, strumming my empathy like a virtuoso. Episodes like this deliver their hits with such regularity and precision that afterward, I'm left reeling. And sure, I'm basically a big teddy bear, but those moments of poignant relativity are the reason I love movies and tv in the first place. I watch because I want to feel something, and from the pain on Rick's face as he throws that last runty pig to the walkers, to the gentle way Carol tucks that flower behind the little girl's ear after the harshness of her instruction, to the cathartic release of Michonne's breakdown as she finally takes Judith in her arms, “Infected” delivered throughout.

One of my favorite aspects of these first two episodes has been the continuing evolution of Rick and Carl's relationship. I loved the way their scenes played out this week. In particular, Carl's decision to tell Rick the truth about Carol's covert weapons training not as instigation but ingress, as a way to prompt a deeper discussion about their own rapport and their place within the larger group, indicates a much deeper respect and maturity than I would have expected. I'm curious to hear what you think so far.

Nikki: Well put. Hope is something I can’t get rid of, no matter how dire the circumstance, and it’s been what I’ve clung to the entire series. Hope that they’ll stay together, hope that Sophia is still alive, hope that they’ll be able to get on top of the zombie apocalypse. Then we lose people, Sophia is dead, and not only do the zombies keep coming, but now we know THEY will all turn into zombies, too. In the book World War Z (spoiler ahead): they eventually find an end to the zombie plague, but only after the world’s population has been decreased exponentially. But that’s because it’s a different kind of plague, not one they all contain within them. It’s a dark but brilliant metaphor, that in some sort of Hobbesian way, man is essentially evil at his core, and contains a darkness within that he cannot escape no matter what.

I laughed out loud (see? There WAS some levity after all!) when Rick said, “Carl, don’t ask questions, just go to the tower with Maggie,” and I wondered if that would be the new meme: Rick says, “Carl, get in the fucking tower!” Carl’s not in the tower… But Carl really has matured. There’s a moment where we all go, “CARL!” when he tells Rick exactly what Carol made him promise not to tell him: that she’s training the children to use weaponry. But then he immediately stands by her, telling Rick she’s doing the right thing. Of course, there’s a self-serving aspect of it — he wants his damn gun back — but Carl doesn’t want the gun just to shoot things; he wants the gun to protect people. And he proves that when he grabs the gun and instinctively kills the zombie who’s grabbing Michonne, when 95% of the people who would have grabbed that gun would have instead accidentally killed Michonne. He knows how to use the gun, and he’s old enough to be a protector. His dad wants him to be a peaceful farmer, but that’s not what this society demands or needs as much as a protector.

And let’s move over to Michonne for a moment. That last scene with her was extraordinary. We know very little about Michonne pre-plague, and now there’s a suggestion that she lost a child. Which, of course, puts a whole new spin on that scene from last season in the Governor’s secret room. He was “protecting” his daughter, hoping he could find a cure for what ailed her, and was failing to see that she was long gone, and instead her body had simply been reanimated by this monster within it. Michonne, on the other hand, knew the hard truth, and shoved a sword through the child. Did she have to kill her own child? Or is she just remembering her two pets, which we’ve strongly assumed could have been brothers of hers? Were they kid brothers? Did she raise them when they were little babies, and then just killed them outright without a second thought? Did she keep them close to harden herself against them, knowing they weren’t her brothers anymore?

Usually episodes of The Walking Dead have a common thread running through the stories, and there was definitely a parenting one in this one: how does a father say goodbye to his girls? How do the girls look upon the body of their father and believe it’s not him? How must one be a parent and a child in an apocalypse? Can a parent allow his/her child to take up weaponry? Can you be as callous-seeming as Carol, knowing that through her tough love she’s actually being the better parent?

Rick and Carl are forging a new relationship, trying to find their way from being a father and son in the world they once knew to equals in a fight against monsters. Glen and Maggie are newly married, but the possibility of a pregnancy terrifies them, rather than being the happy news it should have been. Carol has mourned Sophia, and now will raise these two girls very differently. Sophia was her daughter in the world before the plague, but she will convey completely different parenting techniques in this new world. Michonne has been the hardest of them all, but she doesn’t want to be anywhere near Lil’ Ass Kicker, and when she’s forced to, she breaks down. Perhaps that hardened exterior is all a show, hiding a devastated mother underneath it all. No wonder she took to Carl over all of them. In the now-infected cell block, parents are burying their children, and children are burying their parents, and they’re trying to do it without tears, blocking the emotions they once reserved for occasions like this.

Joshua: I want to take a moment and make special mention of the actor who played the girls' father. Dealing with so many new characters among an established cast always opens up the possibility of these big emotional beats landing flat when they relate to people with whom the audience has no history. Save the writing, there's probably no more significant aspect of keeping things compelling than the cast chosen to illustrate it, and that guy was fantastic. His performance was the primary reason I got wrapped up in their story, and as it undoubtedly progresses in the future, the idea that his delivery of two or three simple lines of dialogue will be enough to keep his memory clear in my head is remarkable.

Speaking of bit players, this week saw the death of Karen, who I thought would wind up playing a larger part in the season after how prominently she figured into these first episodes. Her horrible end, and the circumstances thereof, service the larger mystery introduced in the opening – namely, that someone inside the prison has been sabotaging its defenses. Details are scant at this point, but we know a person (or persons) has been feeding the walkers at the fence, presumably in an effort to compromise the perimeter, as we saw with the almost-breach foiled by Rick's clever porcine diversion. Less clear are the reasons for the burning of the flu patients; we aren't even certain they were dead when they were burned. At first, I thought that it might have been done in an effort to eradicate evidence, to render the bodies unsuitable for investigation and/or testing that might illuminate the details of the contagion and maybe allow for the beginnings of protection against it. Then again, such tests could easily be impossible to perform under the circumstances, so I don't know. Right now, we have nothing but questions. Is the illness a deliberate creation or merely bad luck? Is it just the rats at the fence, or are there other methods of treachery we don't yet know about? Is the culprit someone we've already met or an entirely new character that won't be revealed until later? We know that Michonne's systematic combing of the countryside in search of the Governor has yielded nothing, so it is conceivable he's hiding out somewhere in the bowels of the prison, creeping out under cover of night to wreak his twisted havoc on both Rick's team and the Woodbury emigrants he no doubt views as having betrayed him. It remains to be seen how long we'll have to wait for solid answers, but right now, pretty much anything's possible.

Meanwhile, poor Cutty is in a bad place. We've been led to believe that Tyreese has been having a hard time incorporating into the group; we know he doesn't like working the fence or going on supply runs, and we haven't seen him close with anyone except Karen and Sasha. Now his meager support system is halved, and with the remaining half serving as part of the council, he's left with a lot of anger and no ear to bend, much less a quiet method of diversion. The longer this situation drags on without resolve, the angrier he's going to get. And I don't believe the answers are coming soon.

Nikki: They won’t be coming soon at all, you’re right; this is clearly the mystery that will be drawn out throughout the season. Poor Cutty… I hope Sasha doesn’t get sick, because I’m not sure he’d be able to go on after that. At first, I think we’re supposed to believe when we see the blood in the bed that Karen died like Patrick, with blood coming out of every orifice of her face, and then dragged herself along the ground to the outside (at least, that’s what I was thinking was happening at first). But then we see the charred bodies outside and it was far more sinister than that. It looks more like she was hit in the head or something, or shot, then dragged outside and incinerated. God, I hope she was dead first (shudder at the thought she wasn’t).

My immediate reaction at the end of the episode is that the rat feedings and burnings were being done by the same person. My husband, on the other hand, didn’t see a connection at all. He didn’t think the rat feedings were being done to hurt the fence on purpose, but that the little girl — who referred to the zombie as “Nate” — saw the walkers as some sort of pets that she needed to take care of. I disagree with that notion. For one, I’m pretty sure we see the rats dangling far above the zombies’ heads at first, and the little girl simply isn’t that tall. I think there’s something far more purposeful at work here.

As grim as this show is, I think it’s brilliantly done. In a world where zombies are everywhere and you’re running to stand still, you simply can’t get on top of the carnage. There’s no way to get ahead, no way to find a light. Now that they’re all possibly infected, the only way they can sleep at night is to lock themselves into the cells the way that one guy did. But do they have keys to all the cells? If so, they’ll have to each go to their own cell, lock the door, and pray that they’ll be human the next morning and able to open it. The prison was created to lock inmates in. Then it became a place to lock the zombies out. Now it serves both purposes simultaneously. It’s starting to make Woodbury look like a haven again…

Any last thoughts, Josh?

Joshua: As much as “The Walking Dead” is a show about survival, it is also a story about home: what it is, what it means to have one, and, in absentia, what it costs. This season began by reintroducing us to these characters' present homes, both physical and emotional, and then began to systematically break them all apart, piece by piece. I hope these relentless attacks don't eventually serve to drive them out of the prison altogether, because as vulnerable as it's been made to seem – and aside from tenacity and togetherness – it's pretty much all they've got.

Bits & Bobs:

•  Noted during the D Block attack that all the usual running and screaming, but with the addition of children into the mix, was infinitely more upsetting. Not a fan of kids in jeopardy.

•  During the council meeting scene, I thought the matchstick lamp on the table was a particularly brilliant touch. Prison arts & crafts for the win.

•  “You see mistakes. I see when the shit hits, you're standing there with a shovel.”

•  Michonne, again. That scene with Beth and the baby was just goosebumpy, heartbreaking perfection.

•  The walker getting squeezed through the chain link fence made me think the show should investigate the possibilities of a Play Doh playset cross-promotion. I swear they'd make a fortune.

•  Props to the venerable Bear McCreary, whose score for this entry was outstanding, particularly during the pig slaughter sequence. That music coupled with Andrew Lincoln's extraordinary silent performance was so good as to rival even the stuff with Michonne. Almost.

•  “I know you're gonna say it's not up to you. But it can be.”

•  From my notes, when Rick strips down and throws his bloody shirt in the fire: “Fan service, ladies! Next week, Daryl spills motor oil aaaaaaall over himself!”

See you then.