Last night’s episode of The Walking Dead, the 11th out of 16 this season, is the 46th since the series began on Halloween 2010. Assuming a rather conservative estimate of two dozen zombie kills per episode (In some there have been hundreds, but there were a few episodes during the “Sofia watch” where there were only one or two), we’ve seen characters large and small, important and trivial, kill more than 1,100 walkers. They’ve used weapons, sharp objects, sides of cars and the heels of their boots. What we haven’t seen until last night was someone who killed zombies then said, “I’m the luckiest guy in the world.”
Those words came from a new character, Sergeant Abraham Ford, who we first met last week sporting an impressive Fu Manchu, an array of weapons and the swagger of a former military man. On first sight, I wrote that Ford looked like a new villain, but readers of the comics commented that he was far from it (I haven’t read any of the comics on purpose so I could judge the T.V. show on its own merits). We learned pretty quickly last night that Ford is not a villain – he didn’t blindfold Tara, or take her weapons. He took out a few walkers, showing far less expertise than I would have expected from an Army veteran, then told Tara, with a glint in his eye, how lucky he is to have the chance to kill zombies.
Ford isn’t killing for the thrill of it, nor is he just happy to be alive. He possesses an optimism we haven’t seen in a while because he has a mission – to get a scientist to Washington who presumes to know what caused the plague. Ford explains that someone from the government was in contact on a radio, then went silent. Ford’s mission is to escort Dr. Eugene Porter to the capital so they can literally save the world.
Ford’s optimism, his ability to believe in a higher purpose beyond basic, day-to-day survival, is a left turn from the direction we had been headed. I would have a lot more confidence in “Dr. Eugene Porter” if he didn’t have a mullet like something out of a bad Saturday Night Live sketch, but assuming he is a man of science and not a cheesy Canadian caricature, his knowledge could be the end game of the series. Then again, our faith in positive outcomes could turn out like the CDC scientist from Season 1 who tried in vain to find a cure.
Porter might be our savior or he might just be another detour in a show that, thanks to sky high ratings, AMC would surely like to keep going for the conceivable future. But there needs to be some sort of end game, a larger goal the characters strive to find in the wreckage of the world. It could be Porter and a cure, or it could be some sort of safe colony where they could live in a semblance of peace. Each group of survivors from the prison has stumbled across the sign on the side of the boxcar: “Those who arrive, survive,” and instructions to follow the railroad tracks. The odds aren’t great that a random sign will lead to their salvation, but after struggling to stay alive one more day, even a sign could give them the courage to keep going. Besides, the world was at its bleakest when the camera peaked over the horizon and showed us the prison, a place where our main characters found a temporary measure of peace. We haven’t seen too far down the railroad tracks; another form of salvation could be just over the horizon.
And now for a hail of bullets:
Zombie Kill Report: This entire season has been in double digit territory, and there were more than a dozen zombie kills. Perhaps the biggest surprise is that Sgt. Ford is not exactly an expert in dispatching zombies. He has military training and talked about operating in the desert (we can probably assume by this that he was in Iraq), but perhaps he doesn’t have much experience with taking out walkers by hand. We’ve been spoiled, if that’s possible, with a group that’s pretty fearless, figured out the walkers’ weak spots and generally dispatch them by the dozens. Ford hasn’t quite gotten there yet, but at least he’s not as bad as his scientific companion who did little other than kill a perfectly good truck.
Home invasion: The second half of last night’s plot involved Rick having to escape from a nasty group of men who busted their way into the house where he, Carl and Michonne had taken refuge. The feel of the entire sequence felt like a home invasion movie: a semi-anonymous group of bad guys; a wounded character hiding under a bed or in a bathroom; and finally scrambling off a rooftop to safety. This section of the plot didn’t add much to the overall story. It had some nice set pieces where it genuinely looked like Rick was in trouble, and it served as a reminder that sometimes humans can be the most dangerous creatures, but overall it felt a bit like filler.
Pointing the way home: There are still five episodes left this season, so we’re not out of the woods yet. It looks like most of our characters are headed towards the safe place listed on the side of the boxcar, but there will likely be some twists and turns before we get there. It will be interesting to see if the writers abandon entirely the idea of taking Dr. Porter to Washington to try and save the human race. Porter’s appearance is the first time since the CDC scientist in Season 1 that we’ve heard anything about a potential cure or some kind of permanent end to the suffering. Even if it takes another season and a half to get there, Porter may be a mirage, or he may be the savior everyone’s been hoping for.