The Walking Dead Post-Mortem: “18 Miles Out”
Who needs the boring, predictable, and oh so very out of touch Oscars when you can have grade A zombie entertainment like this? Greetings fellow Zombies lovers and fans of Dale, Daryl, Hershel, Carol, T-Dog, and Glenn…hold up, where was everybody this week? Oh wait, I don’t care, because this episode was amazing without them. It’s also entirely possible that their absence was one of the reasons that this episode was so successful, but more on that later. After the so-so offering that was Triggerfinger, The Walking Dead comes roaring back this week, with one of its best episodes to date. “18 Miles Out” rose to the level of excellence one expects out of AMC’s original programming and hopefully this episode will be a real turning point for the show in terms of its overall quality. All right, enough with the preamble, let’s begin exhuming this fantastic episode.
**Glenn Mazzara era continues to surprise and impress. Looking over his IMDB credits one can find an equal amount of encouraging things (The Shield and Life) and not so encouraging things (Hawthorne and Crash) he’s worked on in the past. The Shield was one of the greatest television shows of the past decade, and from what I’ve heard Mazzara was an instrumental part of its success having written many of the show’s all-time best episodes. AMC obviously trusts him, otherwise they would have handed their crown jewel over to someone else. After these past few episodes I’m starting to trust him as well.
***Though…I have to admit, I wish things between AMC and Frank Darabont would have ended on a more amicable note. Running a television show and directing movies are two very different skills sets, during his tenure as showrunner the show was very inconsistent, and has improved considerably under Mazzara’s stewardship. However, I would have loved for him to come back and direct season finales/premieres, or a theatrical movie at some point. Yeah, I said it…given the record breaking ratings this show pulls in week in and week out, coupled with its overall cultural impact, I would say it’s only a matter of time before The Walking Dead: The Motion Picture happens
The episode begins in a flash forward: Rick and Shane are warding off hoards of zombies while a tied up Randall (the fellow who got his leg impaled on the fence gate last week) drags himself over the gravel trying to get to a knife that’s located few feet away from him. Rick is about to get pinned down by walkers. Shane gets on a bus to avoid becoming walker chow. Cut to the opening credits. Wow! That was a great way to begin an episode! This was the first Walking Dead in recent memory that didn’t pick up exactly where the previous episode left off. As viewers, we don’t really need to see every excruciating detail of the daily tedium on Hershel’s farm; we just want the good stuff. We want only the juicy bits, held together in a cohesive and compelling narrative. Had this episode focused on the characters walking around the farm debating with each other about what to do about Randall, it would have been more of the same, and a disappointment. Instead, the writers wisely choose to cut the fat (both plot and character wise) and move the story forward in time, allowing the viewers to bypass the boring and get straight into the action. This week, the main focus of the episode was on Rick vs. Shane and Lori vs. Andrea. With only Randall, Maggie, and Maggie’s sister (Don’t look at me like that. You don’t know her name either. Oh, all right… I’ll ask the internet what her name is…) serving as supporting characters.
Rick Vs. Shane
After the opening credits we see Rick and Shane driving up a long stretch of road. Rick parks their car and the two men get out. Shane thinks that this is the spot they are going to drop Randall off at. Rick has other plans. Rick confronts Shane about everything, he even tells Shane he knows about what really happened to Otis. Surprisingly, Shane doesn’t deny it, which was very refreshing; instead of an hour of intense side glances and macho posturing between these two characters, we get right into the meat of their conflict. The entire sequence has a quiet intensity to it, the dialogue is terse and effective, not to mention it’s kind of great to watch Andrew Lincoln finally breathe some life into Rick Grimes. He lays things out very clearly for Shane in his speech. He is Lori’s husband. He is Carl’s father. He is willing to do whatever it takes to protect them. He tells Shane that when he found out about him and Lori, he wanted to break Shane’s jaw and watch him choke on his teeth. Rick claims it took every ounce of strength he had not to attack Shane. This was the strongest moment of the entire scene: Rick explaining to Shane why being a good leader takes a different kind of strength, one that should not be underestimated. Rick wraps things up with an ultimatum: if Shane can’t accept his lessened role in Lori and Carl’s life… he can’t be a part the group anymore. As they drive off, Shane glances over at a field where a lone zombie is slowly ambling around, a black dot of empty death mindlessly making its way through the world. We get the sense that Shane is having a moment of introspection and considering just how different from that zombie he really is. We also get the sense that for the first time in a long while, Shane might actually be questioning his survival philosophy. However, after Rick and Shane drop Randell off at an abandoned police station he reveals to them that he knows Maggie. All their blindfolding was for nothing as he already knew all about Hershel’s farm. Shane wants to kill him on the spot. Rick wants to have a discussion about what they should do with him. Then the epic brawl is on! Admittedly, the fight was a bit over the top; when Shane pinned Rick down with the motorcycle I laughed out loud, but I still loved it. The Walking Dead doesn’t always need to take itself so seriously. (Also, I believe the Rick and Shane fight was an homage to another very long fight scene: watch.) Eventually the action catches up to the opening scene. Shane is trapped inside the Bus. Rick catches up with Randell before he can escape. At first, it appears Rick is going to be a cold-hearted bastard and leave Shane to face a grisly death, but of course Rick comes back and ends up saving him. On the drive back to the farm Shane notices the same lone zombie from earlier, having now made its way up the fields a little further, Shane looks away and shakes his head slightly. Leaving us to wonder what he is thinking….has this experience changed him for the better…or the worse.
Lori Vs. Andrea
Back at the farm, Maggie’s little sister Beth has had enough of this zombie-filled world and wants to commit suicide, but Lori won’t let allow it. This spurns Andrea to defend Beth’s right to choose her own fate which in turns leads to a debate between Lori and Andrea about what types of roles women should be playing in this new world order. Lori thinks that the women should be cooking, cleaning, and that zombie killing should be left to the men-folk. Andrea disagrees. The writers have been painting Lori in a very negative light these last two weeks, last week she was pulling a Lady Macbeth on Rick subtly encouraging him to kill Shane, and this week she goes on her little sexist rant telling Andrea that she needs to stop pretending to be tough chick and start helping out in the kitchen more because that’s what Lori thinks all the women should be doing. Andrea takes her down a peg, reminding Lori that all things considered the end of the world really hasn’t been that bad for Lori, and that it’s easy to be hopeful when you have a husband, a son, a baby on the way…and a boyfriend. After that, Andrea relieves Maggie from suicide watch and promptly encourages Beth to make her own mind up about what she wants to do, she even goes so far as to open the bathroom door, giving Beth access to all kinds of ways to kill herself. Beth ends up cutting one of her wrists but decides that she can’t go through with it. After Andrea finds out about what happened, she explains to Maggie and Lori that it’s a good thing that Beth was given the option to choose life or death, and ultimately chose life. Maggie doesn’t exactly see it that way and tells her to stay the hell away from her sister. Oddly enough, it’s Lori who comes to Andrea’s defense with Maggie. Though Maggie isn’t very interested in what Lori has to say on the matter. There were some very interesting conflicts here at the farm this week, ones that charted new ground thematically. Free will vs authoritarian control, sexism, the role of women in this new society they are forming. I’m just glad it wasn’t another debate about God or faith. They had worn that one out.
All in all, this was a fantastic episode from start to finish and should serve as a template for all the character driven episodes moving forward. We don’t need to see every single minute of these character’s lives and we don’t need to see every character in every single episode. We just need to see the dramatically interesting moments of their fictional lives. Also, it needs to be said: zombie killing alone isn’t going to make this show. It’s fun and entertaining for sure, but we have to feel something about these characters, we have to care about them, we have to care whether they live or die. Otherwise, there is no point in telling this story…and there are plenty of zombie videos games out there where we can get our zombie killing fix.
This week’s movie recommendation is Lucio Fulci’s Zombi 2. A zombie fights a shark. ‘Nuff said.