Spoilers for last night’s The Walking Dead coming up:
Because we began The Walking Dead (after the pre-zombie prologue) with Rick, waking up after a coma in the midst of the apocalypse, each episode has been a process of filling in the blanks in his, and our, knowledge. Not only are we learning about the physical realities of Zombie World, we’re also learning about the new, improvised rules of conduct among the survivors in it. First, we learned who the dead “walkers” were, and how to deal with them. Now, we’re learning how the survivors deal with their own dead—and, even more disturbingly, the still-living but infected, who will inexorably become the enemy.
The rituals and rules for dealing with the dead are ad hoc and still a work in progress. But we see, in the aftermath of the zombie attack, that there is a need to distinguish between the way they treat the recently deceased and the re-killed walkers—if for no other reason than to affirm that the living have some principles higher than survival, that they are more than meat in a different stage of development.
Thus it’s important to Andrea that she take care of her own, blowing Amy’s reanimated brains out after saying goodbye to her as she reawakens—a remarkably tender scene for one involving a revivified corpse. (Carol’s pickaxing of Ed is considerably less tender, but no less emotional for their abusive history.) And thus Glenn rebels at Daryl’s unsentimental suggestion that they burn the infected corpses as they do the bodies of walkers: we bury our dead, he insists, we don’t burn them, a reaction that seems to come not from the idea that burning is inherently disrespectful so much as that there has to be a distinction maintained.
What to do with the living-but-dying is a trickier question, one that Jim’s injury forces on the survivors leaving the quarry. And the resulting crisis is an example of how The Walking Dead—which had to introduce a lot of characters awfully quickly—is now fleshing them out, so to speak, through action. I still feel that most of the people, even Rick, have been drawn in pretty broad strokes, but I do see the outlines of better-developed characters emerging, and I hope a second season will have more time to do that work.
Speaking of which: we got yet another take on Shane this week, not just in his showdown with Rick over the next step for the fleeing survivors, but notably in his moment of temptation (witnessed by Dale) on his walk in the woods with Rick. Though he didn’t act on the impulse to shoot his friend, it takes what had been ambiguity in his behavior—he hooked up with Lori, for instance, but as we discussed earlier it wasn’t entirely clear if he deliberately lied to her about Rick’s fate—and showed him in a much less flattering light. (From what I understand of the books, the scene is definitely consistent with his behavior there, and echoes a scene from them, though clearly the writers of the series don’t feel bound to make the same choices.)
The episode ended with the survivors making their way to the CDC building, where we got our first taste of what went on in the larger world as “Wildfire” went down. And though I’m loath to make this particular comparison, when the door opened at the end, you can’t help but note the overtones of another series about the survivors of a calamity, endangered in a hostile wilderness, bathed in a glow of light as they opened the door to a subterranean compound.
I’m certainly not calling The Walking Dead the next Lost, and the comparison is burdensome anyway. And I think this series has catching up to do on the character and writing levels; while we still had a lot to learn about Lost’s survivors after five episodes, one advantage of its flashback structure is that at that point the characters already felt like they had more distinct individual voices and backstories. (We had already had “Walkabout” at that point, for instance.)
But the surface similarities do make me hope that, given more hours to tell its story, The Walking Dead will be able to develop characters to match its already deeply absorbing plot. If, of course, they don’t keep dying off at this rate.