Monday, March 31, 2014

The Walking Dead Season 4, Episode 16: A

And so ends Season 4 of The Walking Dead, with another brutal, grim and incredibly tense episode. 

Overall this season has been a huge improvement over the previous one. New showrunner Scott Gimple is steering the series more toward the comic book, and seems to be actually listening to fans and addressing some of the previous season's problems. The pacing's picked up quite a bit, characters have been fleshed out and they've committed far fewer boneheaded acts this year. Let's hope they keep up the good work. 


The Plot:
Rick, Carl and Michonne meet up with Daryl and finally make it to Terminus. As you might expect, things don't go well.

• The episode starts with a flashback from the beginning of the season. For a minute or two I was sure I'd downloaded the wrong episode.

Hershel figured prominently in the flashbacks, trying to convince Rick he could hang up his gun and become a farmer and build a life for himself in the prison. I wonder if they had these scenes planned out all along and shot them months ago, or did they bring Scott Wilson back just for this episode?

• Frankly I was amazed there were no major cast deaths in this episode. I totally expected either Glenn or Maggie to bite the dust, especially after last week when she told him he didn't need a photo of her because she'd never leave his side again.

• That was some pretty heavy-handed foreshadowing there when Rick showed Carl and Michonne how a rabbit snare works. He explained how you want to make a funnel shape along a trail and then set your noose in the middle of it, so any animal running by will have to run right into the trap. Say, that's just how Terminus works!

• Rick & Co. see a guy in a field surrounded by walkers. He swings a branch wildly around him, and it looks for all the world like one of the walkers flinches and steps back. Whoops! Zombies don't have reflexes!

• Joe and the Claimers, who we recently found out have been tracking Rick for a couple of weeks, catch up to him during the night. Joe then accuses Rick of strangling one of the Claimers (after they invaded Rick's home). It's true, Rick did strangle the guy, but I can't for the life of me figure out how Joe would know that. Seems like he and his group would have been too busy trying not to get bitten to stop and look for finger marks around their newly reanimated friend's neck.

I guess Joe must have read the script!

• Kudos to the creators, I guess, for making another incredibly uncomfortable and brutal scene. The Claimers hold Rick and Michonne at gunpoint while one of them prepares to rape Carl. Yikes!

Funny how the three most horrifying scenes of the season-- Hershel's grisly death, putting Lizzie out of her misery and now this-- involved humans and not zombies. Who are the real monsters on this show?
• The day after the Claimers incident, Carl's all moody and doesn't want to be around his dad. I suppose seeing your father tear out a man's throat with naught but his teeth would be kind of off-putting, but...  if Rick hadn't done so, Carl would have been butt raped for certain (and then no doubt killed). You'd think he'd be a bit more appreciative of what Rick did for him.

• Daryl tries to explain to Rick why he was with the Claimers. He says he knew they were bad, but he didn't think they were that bad. 

Well let's see, Daryl. Last week they literally kicked a man to death just for lying… I'd say that's pretty bad.

• I'm wondering why there's not a massive zombie herd marching down the railroad tracks that everyone's been walking on for the last half of the season. Back in Season 2 we were shown how a couple walkers saw a helicopter in the sky and followed it, and as they staggered along they picked up more and more zombies like an undead snowball rolling down a hill, until a gigantic horde converged on Hershel's farm.

So why didn't that happen in this episode? All these various groups have been following the same set of railroad tracks, so you'd think they'd be dragging along a big ol' herd in their wake.

Earlier in the season Daryl and some others went on a supply run to find medicine and ran into a huge horde. So they are out there...

• After two seasons we finally get the last piece of Michonne's backstory. She lived in a refugee camp with her boyfriend Mike, their infant son Andre and their friend Terry. Walkers attacked the camp while Mike and Terry were high and they let Andre die, getting bitten in the process. Enraged, Michonne "neutered" them by cutting off their jaws and arms and dragged them around on chains.

This all dovetails perfectly with what Michonne told TV Andrea about her "pets" in Season 3. She said they were people she knew and "they got what they deserved." I always wondered what she meant by that, and now we know. Well done, writers!

• Rick was smart enough to hide a weapons cache outside of Terminus and then sneak in the back way. Good move. If this was Season 2 or 3 they'd have ridden a parade float through the front gate.

• Once inside Terminus, Rick and Co. meet Gareth, the leader. He welcomes them, but tells them they'll have to give up their weapons. The Terminus people frisk everyone (except for Michonne-- was the frisker afraid to paw at a woman?) and then immediately give them back their weapons.

Huh? Why make them relinquish their weapons and then give 'em right back? Were they hoping to build a false sense of trust in Rick and his people?

• So what were the Terminus people doing in the warehouse? It looked like they were poring over maps or something. Maybe they were making more "Those Who Arrive, Survive" signs.

• Speaking of the Terminus signs... apparently at some point the Terminites canvased the area for miles around, putting up those signs to funnel unsuspecting survivors into their trap? A pretty good idea I guess, if you're a cannibal. Why go hunting when you can get your food to come to you? I wonder how far out they planted the signs?

• As I've been saying for weeks now, Terminus is bad news. How could it be anything but on this show? It's pretty obvious at this point that the Terminites are cannibals. Last week Mary, who's apparently the designated short order cook, told Glenn and his group that they'd get them settled in and then get them each a plate.

This week Michonne asks Alex why they let anyone in, and he says, "People become a part of us. We get stronger." If that's not another way of saying "Eatin' people builds strong bodies twelve ways," I don't know what is.

Not to mention the fact that Mary seems to be perpetually manning their grill, but there's no sign of cattle or other livestock anywhere...

• Did you catch all the items that Rick spotted on the Terminus people? For the record, one was wearing Glenn's police riot gear, one had Daryl's poncho (which Maggie had been wearing), one had the pocket watch that Hershel gave to Glenn, one had the orange backpack Rick took off a dead hitchhiker months ago, and one was wearing what appeared to be Bob Stookey's khaki pants.
• Rick and the others make a break for it and try to escape. At every corner they're shot at by rooftop snipers. At first I thought the snipers were the worst shots since Imperial Stormtroopers, but eventually realized they weren't trying to hit Rick & Co. They were trying to guide them to the railroad car.

There was also a quick shot in which they ran by what appeared to be a cage full of bloody human skeletons. The remains of walkers, or humans? My money's on humans.

• Eventually they're caught and herded into a boxcar labeled "A" (hence the episode title). Very ominous, especially if you know anything about railroad cars and the Holocaust.

• Rick, Carl, Michonne and Daryl meet up with Glenn, Maggie, Sasha, Bob, Tara, Eugene, Abraham and Rosita in the car. Why, it's a veritable family reunion. The only ones not present are Beth, who was obviously abducted by someone unconnected with Terminus, and Carol, Tyreese and Baby Judith. I'm betting Carol's going to be instrumental in rescuing everyone next season.

Rick says the Terminites are going to feel stupid when they realize they screwed with the wrong people.

Rick says pretty much the same thing in the comic when confronted with a group of cannibals (that were different from the ones at Terminus, which doesn't appear in the book), except there he says, "They f*cked with the wrong people."

Now I'm not for cursing just for cursing's sake, but in this case I think it would have been justified if they'd gone for it and said the f-word. They said it occasionally on Breaking Bad, so why not here? It would have been more realistic and had a lot more impact than the practically G-rated "screwed."

• So it looks like a couple of my plot predictions were wrong. Earlier in the season I suspected that Joe and the Claimers were a scouting party from Terminus. Nope! They had nothing to do with the place.

Then I thought that Rick and everyone would be captured by the Terminites, and Daryl would be the "man on the outside" who had to rescue them. Again, nope! But that prediction may not be totally off, as I have a feeling Carol will come into play somehow and help free them.
And now the moment you've all been waiting for: The Third Annual The Walking Dead Season End Awards, Even Though This Is Season 4! 

Best Showrunner Award 
Scott Gimple, c'mon down!

I have to admit I was a little apprehensive when it was announced he was taking over Season 4, as he was the THIRD showrunner in four years. Happily, he proved me wrong. He's gone a long way toward solving the show's problems and wrote many of the best episodes of the season. Let's hope he stays on for good.

Fastest Return From The Edge
Goes to Carl Grimes. At the end of Season 3, Carl gunned down a young, twitchy Woodbury resident just for looking at him funny. It seemed like he was on his way down a dark and dangerous path. 

Then suddenly at the beginning of this season he's fine, his problems having apparently been resolved offscreen during the summer hiatus.

Reddest Redshirts Award
Goes to the remaining Woodbury residents. At the end of last season the Governor bugged out and killed most of his own people, leaving just a few kids and seniors still living in Woodbury. Rick graciously invited them to live in the prison.

Halfway through this season every single one of them was dead. So much for Rick's hospitality.

Second Chance Award
And the winner is: Carol Pelletier! 

As I'm fond of endlessly pointing out, the TV series seriously botched the character of Andrea. I think Scott Gimple realizes this, and is slowly turning Carol into the character Andrea should have been all along.

Worst Prescription Award
Goes to Hershel Greene. During the flu epidemic at the prison, he asks Daryl to go on a run and bring back antibiotics for his dying patients. Whoops! Herschel was supposedly a veterinarian and should know that antibiotics are useless against a viral infection like the flu.

Breaking The Color Barrier Award
Goes to Scott Gimple (I guess). In the first two seasons of the show, fans accused the writers of having a "one black character or less" policy. According to some, there could only be one black character, and the only way to add another was to kill the existing one. 

That's all in the past now. As of this episode we've got four main black characters on the show. Well done, Gimple!

Misdirection Award
Scott Gimple again! In past seasons whenever an episode would focus on a previously underdeveloped character or they infodumped their backstory to us, that was a sure sign they were doomed to die the next week. It happened over and over and over again.

This season several characters have opened up and been fleshed out, and… nothing happened. I think the creators know we figured out their pattern, so now they're playing with us.

Good Grooming Award
Goes to Rick Grimes. In the first couple of seasons Rick had a hairy chest. This season in Claimed, he examined his bruises in a mirror and his chest was as smooth as a baby's bottom.

Nice to see that even in the middle of the zombie apocalypse, Rick can still find time to do some manscaping.

Most Improved Character
Goes to Michonne er... whatever her last name is. I was positively giddy when she first popped up in the Season 2 finale, but my happiness was quashed during Season 3 when she was portrayed as little more than a snarling, growling animal.

It's taken a while, but they've finally fixed her character and now she actually speaks and has a personality.

Priorities In Order Award
Goes to Rick Grimes. In Internment Rick returns to the prison after banishing Carol. He runs up to Maggie and breathlessly asks, "How's Carl and Judith and Glenn and Herschel and all the other main characters?" 

Eh, never mind the other thirty or forty people you're responsible for, Rick, whose names you apparently never even bothered to learn.

Love At First Sight Award
It's a tie! The award goes to Tyreese and Karen and Tara and Alisha.

Karen showed up at the prison in the Season 3 finale. When Season 4 started up, she and Tyreese were practically married.

Then when Tara follows the Governor to his new camp, she takes one look at Alisha and the next day they're keeping company.

I guess you gotta move fast in a world where every day could be your last.

Didn't Think That Through Award
Goes to the Governor. He wants to kill Rick and everyone in the prison so he and his followers can move in. How does he try to accomplish this? With a tank. He knocks down the security fences (letting in hundreds of walkers) and blows several gaping holes in the side of the prison, rendering it effectively useless as a secure refuge. Good job, Gov!

I Need A Shower Award
Goes to Daryl and Beth, who team up after the destruction of the prison. 

Believe it or not there's a sizable group out there in the dark, scary bowels of the internet that want to see these two characters hook up. Despite the fact that, you know, Daryl is thirty five if he's a day and Beth is seventeen. Ew.

Most Telegraphed Name Award
Goes to whoever named Terminus "Terminus." The word means "the end" (among other things). Gee, that's not ominous at all, is it? Why didn't they just name it Cannibalville?

Best Makeshift Weapon Award
Goes to Maggie's No Parking Sign weapon that she wielded to great effect in Alone

Least Adorable Kid Award
Could it go to anyone besides Lizzy Samuels, the show's resident child psychopath and bunny killer?

Worst "Code" Award
Joe and the Claimers, come on down! Basically they're a group of grown-ass men who live by a code of calling the equivalent of "shotgun" on everything.

Least Convincing Genius Award
Yep, you guessed it-- Dr. Eugene Porter, the man who claims to know what caused the zombie apocalypse and how to reverse it, but who doesn't seem like he could figure out how to make a grilled cheese sandwich.

Saturday, March 29, 2014

The Incredible Shrinking News

Take a look at yesterday's Family Circus comic. Notice anything unusual about it? Besides the fact that for once in its life it's actually kind of funny?

No, it's not Daddy's look of horrified realization at the fact that his own son considers him hopelessly square. Nor is it Little Billy's patented Alex P. Keaton brand sweater set.

It's the newspaper Daddy's reading. Look at it! Just look at the size of that thing! It's easily three times the width of Daddy's head!

I don't know how it is elsewhere in our great Republic, but here in Evansville our newspaper hasn't looked like that for a long time. Ours is positively diminutive. Fun-sized, even. 

It all started back around 2006 or so. Back then we had a normal-sized paper, around 18" x 24" or so. As readership and ad revenue began decreasing, management decided to save money on printing costs by steadily whittling down the size of the newspaper.   

By the time I left my job at the paper... er, I mean shortly after management eliminated the entire graphic design staff, the dimensions of the newspaper were down to a ridiculous looking Hobbit-sized 10.5" x 22". No, that's not a typo-- it's barely 10" wide. Not a whole lot bigger than a comic book!

Note that the price didn't decrease along with the size. Instead it went from the fifty cents it cost when I worked there to the whopping one dollar it costs now. Less for more!

So what's up with that impressively wide anachronistic Family Circus newspaper? At first I thought maybe this was a recycled strip from the 1970s, but a quick look at the signature shows that it's from Jeff Keane, the current writer and artist. So it was drawn recently. 

I can only think of three reasons why Daddy's newspaper is so wide. A: Mommy found a yellowed, vintage newspaper lining a drawer and set it next to the trash and Daddy's so addled with worry about his job that he picked it up and started reading it, not noticing it was thirty years old. B: The newspapers in Pleasanton or Blandville or wherever the hell Family Circus takes place still have a robust readership and haven't yet been forced to shrink, or C: Despite the fact that Jeff Keane has his own daily comic strip, he hasn't seen an actual newspaper for going on ten years now.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

One Haircut Right Or Wrong

Today North Korea announced that from this point on, all male citizens are required to sport the same hairstyle as nutsy-cuckoo despot and blessed leader Kim Jong Un. Tres chic!

So what do suppose they call that particular coif? The Un? The Macklemore? The My First Big Boy Haircut?

Sure, such a thing sounds crazy to us here in the land of the free, but ehh... who knows? Maybe it's not such a bad idea.

After all, having one standard, planet-wide haircut seemed to work out OK for the Vulcans.

Monday, March 24, 2014

The Walking Dead Season 4, Episode 15: Us

It's the penultimate episode of The Walking Dead Season 4. And by the way folks, "penultimate" just means "next to last." It doesn't mean "super mega ultimate" as many people seem to think.

Super Mega Penultimate Spoilers Ahead!

The Plot:
We follow four different groups this week, and some of them finally make it to Terminus, the super mega ultimate refuge we've been hearing about all year.

• Our little peek at what Rick, Carl and Michonne are doing did absolutely nothing to further their storyline and seemed like it was included for no other reason than to remind us that these characters still exist.

• Welp, looks like I was wrong about Joe's gang (the one's Daryl's hooked up with for now). I was sure they were a scouting party for Terminus, but this episode indicates they have nothing to do with it. 

And even though we already knew it, it was confirmed that they were the ones who invaded Rick's house a few weeks back.

• Speaking of Joe's gang, they're an odd lot. They supposedly live by a strict code, but back when they were in Rick's house they didn't seem all that honorable. One even strangled (and possibly killed) another just for a chance to lie in the bed he "claimed" first.

But then in this episode they're after Rick because he killed one of their number.

I guess it's OK if they kill each other, but woe be it to an outsider who does so?

• It's funny to me that Joe is more intelligent and well-spoken than Eugene, who's supposed to be some king of super genius.

• Why is Daryl staying with this band of morons, who's moral code is the equivalent of calling "shotgun?" They apparently don't post guards at night, so he's had ample opportunity to leave them. Is he staying because they remind him of his big brother Merle?

• I'm having a hard time understanding why all the characters seem to automatically take Eugene at his word. He says he knows what started the zombie plague, and immediately everyone believes him. No one even bothers to question him.

Why not? He just a big be-mulleted goon. I wouldn't trust him to make my Subway sandwich, much less save the world. Why doesn't anyone ever just once ask, "Say Eugene, just how do you plan on reversing all this?" 

I don't know if it's the writing or the actor portraying him, but it's pretty obvious that Eugene is lying and has no special knowledge, and I don't get why none of the characters can see that.

• Um... why is Abraham wearing his mom's winter coat?

• OK, I know Glenn was all hot to reunite with Maggie, but going through a long dark tunnel filled with audible walker noises was about the stupidest thing anyone's ever done on this show.

• We got another new kind of zombie this week: Buried In Rubble Walkers.

• Tara''s doing her best to fulfill every "damsel in distress" cliche there is. First she falls and twists her knee. Then in the tunnel she gets her leg pinned under a rock. What next, catching her dress on a fence?

• Eugene did do one intelligent thing this week: he got Rosita to make three consecutive left turns, which put them at the other end of the tunnel that Glenn and Tara entered.

• Glenn and Maggie are finally reunited! Hooray! The young lovers are together again at last!

Then Maggie sees Glenn's carrying a blurry photo of her, because it's "the only one he has." She immediately sets fire to it and says, "You won't need a picture of me. You never will again." Uh-oh.... 

If that ain't tempting the gods, I don't know what is. Why doesn't she just walk up to the nearest walker and lay her head in its lap.

• Maggie welcomes Tara with open arms when she hears how she helped Glenn survive. Glenn even goes out of his way to not mention that Tara was one of the Governor's people who attacked the prison. I bet Maggie won't be hugging her when the truth comes out.

Glenn and Maggie's groups combine and decide they have nothing better to do than check out Terminus. They finally arrive, and... the place looks deserted. Security seems to be pretty lax at this supposed sanctuary. They don't even have guards posted at the front gate. They just push the door open and walk right in. What's to keep any walkers from doing the same?

They wander around for a bit and finally meet one, and only one person. A woman who calls herself Mary, played by none other than Denise Crosby of Star Trek: The Next Generation fame. Mary tells the group, "Let's get you settled and then make you a plate." I don't like the way she said, "make you a plate." She might as well have told them to all get in the oven.

Next week: the big season finale! We'll finally find out if I've been right all along and Terminus is another Woodbury-- or worse.

This Seems Like More Social Media Than Necessary

I was reading an online article today, and at the bottom of it I saw this:

Look at that! I swear this is not a Photoshopped image. Look at all the ways you can share this incredibly interesting story with your social media friends. Not one, not two, not three, but TEN freakin' different ways. Ten. Actually the count goes to twelve if you count email and printing it out I guess mailing it to someone. The mind boggles.

Do we really need ten different kinds of social media to keep up with? Aren't Facebook and Twitter more than enough? 

I don't even know what half these icons are. There's Facebook and Twitter of course, followed by... Happy Robot? Gee Plus? Indiana Interest? Inchworm? Proctologist Network?  Depends Media? Red Pee? Not-Twitter? I have no idea.

Jesus. It's clear to me that if I want to keep up with all this social media I'm gonna have to quite my job and devote a full twelve hours per day to updating my status on all these sites. It'll be more than worth it though, to let everyone know what TV show I'm watching or that I just got my hair cut.
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