Well, I think I’m done with “The Walking Dead.”
The much-hyped fourth season premiere Sunday night left me cold, with little hope for the future – a cat and mouse game with no end, where the brutality is a little too much of the norm.
The whole caveat for zombie films, from the beginning, was to accept the fact that killing these creatures wasn’t like killing people at all. These were zombies, not humans, we were reminded. And the only way to stop them was with a shot to the head.
It would seem to be something to become accustomed to in accepting the rules of this fictional world. But maybe because it hasn’t been on for months, and that they compensated with dozens and dozens and dozens of deaths – decapitations, poles to the brain, gunblasts to the face – it’s both shocking and soul-deadening.
Plus there’s a way to do these things without demonstrating the obvious glee the creators have in making a “cool” killing. There’s a scene early in the premiere where T-Dog, one member of the tribe of survivors, kills one walker and then backhands another just off screen, so we see the splatter but not the impact. Fine. But that wasn’t enough for the filmmakers who had to show the full rotting tomato effect to the undead head. Unnecessary overkill.
What made “The Walking Dead” standout from standard splatter movie fare in the beginning was the detailed zombie makeup of course, but also that split second of consideration – this monster coming toward me is in the form of a little girl, how can I bring myself to kill it? – before, of course, they kill it.
There were complaints about last season, when they holed up at a farm while they discussed leadership issues. Mostly, it didn’t seem as intense as the first season, when highways and cityscapes were overrun.
But the philosophy is what makes the show a cut above mere splatter. When Lori, the very pregnant wife of the sheriff wondered if her baby were stillborn, and if so, would turn into a zombie that would kill her from the inside, it was an interesting new twist to consider, but not one that would happen because they want to keep her around as a main character.
There may be hope also in a new character, Michonne, who made quite a striking entrance in last season’s finale – a fierce female warrior accompanied (for no reason we are yet aware of) by two zombies in chains whose arms have been hacked off. She by now has befriended the tribe member she was saving, Andrea, and will likely join up with the others next week.
The other thing coming this season is English actor David Morrissey as Governor of the prison, with whom Rick and the tribe will clash. In this, “The Walking Dead” becomes yet another post-apocalyptic faction vs. another faction vision of the future, a la “Revolution,” “Falling Skies,” “Jericho,” some of “Lost,” you name it.
Except this one has the backdrop of mass slaughter — not of people, we are reminded, but of zombies in human form.
Right. A term like genocide doesn’t apply to them. Still, there’s something about the setting that should be more than unsettling – especially the bodies in a prison as wars rage on, with images of Abu Ghraib prison torture still fresh in our minds.
Once zombie films were created in part to be very pointed commentaries on these grim aspects of life. But this one has moved beyond that to the point of kill, kill, kill.
Not just by the former sheriffs and appointed guardians of the crime, but y the young men and woman along for the ride, the old men, and yes even young Carl, now a pint-sized zombie killer of his own.
And why not? It’s just like the video games other kids his age would be playing (whatever the M rating). Kill, kill, kill. You almost start looking for a scoreboard in the corner to see if they’re approaching a high score.
It’s no surprise that lot of the ads surrounding the premiere were about nonstop killing as well. And the premise set up for the new season, that the survivors are trying to set up within a prison, allows for a number of those point of view scenes of going around a corner, weapon up, awaiting the gang of zombies that might be behind any corner.
In addition to the seamless tie-in to mass murder video games are the promos for AMC’s Halloween fest, “the place for gore.” Lovely.
And perhaps more troubling of all is the out of place commercial tie in for cars. Yes, there’s ads for the new Hyundai, which for no discernable reason the tribe seems to be driving – a pristine, shiny new Hyundai amid the more credible beat up trucks. As they wouldn’t use the car to mow down errant walkers on their trip (who’d leave a splatter mark and hair if not dents).
Soon, Rick and the people will be sipping on delicious Pepsi Zero as they weigh their next gruesome slaughter as well. Game over.