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The Walking Dead Review (Episode 1.4 "Vatos")

November 22, 2010  |  1:20am
<i>The Walking Dead</i> Review (Episode 1.4 "Vatos")

My Spanish is only passable, but I’m pretty sure “vatos” means “The Others.” Atlanta’s a big city for just one group of survivors, and as the Merle rescue party goes back for Rick’s bag of guns, they meet up with a surly looking Mexican gang. The initial encounter leads to a hostage stand-off, and the vatos want more than just their little cousin—they want the guns. Things get tense until an old abuela wanders in and the surprising nature of the vatos becomes clear.

Their leader, Guillermo—G—has taken to caring for the residents of a convalescent home abandoned by the staff. He now leads the crew in scavenging for food, medicine and weapons and holding off the geeks and “the worst kind, plunderers, the kind that take by force.” His cousin Filipe, who we first met wielding a baseball bat on Daryl and Glenn, is a nurse, and G was the janitor. A recurring theme in the episode is the irrelevancy of previous jobs. Glenn delivered pizzas, and is now the chief strategist for the survivors.

It seems that the apocalypse has brought together a multiracial S.S. minnow, where the Professor quotes Faulkner by the fireside. Emotions at the survivor base still run high, and this time it’s Jim’s bad dream that has him digging graves and freaking everyone out. But sisters Andrea and Amy have caught a mess of fish, and everyone except wife-beating Ed is enjoying a rare moment of contentment.

But the real villains of this episode are the zombies—and possibly the crazed redneck who may or may not have brought a van-load of them back to camp. Having been left for dead, handcuffed to roof, cursing God’s name, Merle has sawed of a hand and cauterized the stump with an iron. He’s a tough son-of-a-bitch, but he’s a son-of-a-bitch who may be looking for vengeance.

In another gripping final scene, the silhouette outside Ed’s tent isn’t his wife. It’s one of a swarm of hungry Walkers who eat Earl, Amy and at least three other unnamed survivors before Rick’s posse returns from Atlanta guns blazing. For all the zombies we’ve encountered, this is the first time we’ve seen them make a kill (horses and rats excluded).

It’s a sudden reminder that, yes, this is still a show about flesh-eating zombies with all its attendant bullets through undead brains, gruesome close-ups of cannibalism and even blood splatter on the camera lens. For all its wide shots of quarry lakes, literary references and patient character development, what keeps its audience on edge is knowing that reanimated dead bodies can appear at any time and trump any relational squabbles or fireside monologues.

But with survival at stake, those peaceful moments take on greater heft, which is why I don’t mind listening to Dale wax philosophical about time or Guillermo wonder why anybody decided to follow him. The whole spectrum of human nature is on view when civilization is stripped away—the bigger the immediate threat, the more varied the response. And it’s this balance between action/horror and personal drama that makes The Walking Dead so compelling.

Stray Observations:

• The look on Glenn’s face when Daryl is putting Merle’s hand in Glenn’s backpack is priceless.

• Daryl: “Even I think it’s a bad idea, and I don’t even like you much.”

• Glenn: “Admit it, you only came back to Atlanta for your hat.”

• Jim: “I remember my dream now, why I dug the holes.”

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