Thursday, October 20, 2011

The real threat on 'The Walking Dead' isn't the zombies; it's the women

Sarah Wayne Callies and Melissa Suzanne McBride in The Walking Dead. Photo courtesy of hollywood.com.

The tense, terrifying highway attack scene that opens "What Lies Ahead," the second-season premiere of The Walking Dead, was brilliant in the way that this show can be when everything goes right. The scene was excruciatingly long in the best possible way, ratcheting up the tension as the survivors crouched under abandoned cars on the freeway, staying silent and hoping against hope that the zombie horde shuffling past won't notice them. There is never a large-scale fight with the zombies in this scene, just unbearably increasing tension as IronE Singleton's (yes, that's how you spell it) T-Dog cuts his arm open, Laurie Holden's Andrea desperately tries to put her gun back together, and Norman Reedus' fantastic Daryl saves the day with his crossbow. It was a fantastic scene, and a great way to kick off the season. If only the rest of the episode had managed to keep it up.

I'm not going to go into the deadly dull scenes between Andrea and Dale or Shane and Lori - scenes that did nothing to move the story forward, and instead just rehashed the problems I didn't care about last season - the painful church interlude, or Rick's stilted opening monologue. Those aspects of the premiere have already been critiqued endlessly. Instead, I want to talk about one of the most worrisome aspects of the episode: the women of The Walking Dead.

Every problem in the episode was the result of female incompetence. The initial zombie stampede (that's not the right word... what's a really slow kind of stampede?) may not have been anyone's fault in particular, but it led to various situations in which the women were always to blame. Andrea's complete incompetence with a gun led to her near-death at the hands of a zombie; not only couldn't she reassemble her gun in order to shoot the thing, but her panicked squealing alerted the zombie that was already leaving to her presence, necessitating her rescue by Dale. Lori (Sarah Wayne Callies) spent the entire highway scene with her hand over Carol's mouth, because apparently the woman couldn't keep quiet on her own, even though the two young children in the group - not to mention the guy who sliced his arm open and was bleeding everywhere - had no problem shutting up. And then Lori's complete incompetence as a parent led to her son, Carl, getting shot while on a zombie hunt with Rick and Shane. (I'm barely forgiving Sophia for running from the zombies here because she is a child. Just barely.)

Even when the women weren't actively causing problems, they were conforming to every terrible stereotype imaginable. Andrea was being a pouty, spoiled princess who was angry because her gun was taken away after she proved herself completely incapable of using it; Carol dissolved into a pathetic mess as soon as anything bad happened; and Lori was, as usual, a shrieking harpy. The men, meanwhile, got to kill zombies, cut the zombies open, fix cars and generally be tough and manly. Look at the scene where our plucky band of survivors finds the church, and a few zombies within. Rick, Daryl and Shane burst in and take out the zombies with little-to-no fuss, while the women (and Carl, who is on a zombie-hunting expedition due to his mother's bizarre conception of what it means to be a good parent) huddle in the back, completely useless.

I do understand that Rick, Shane and Daryl are the only characters whose pre-apocalypse skill sets are applicable to their current situation. However, that hasn't stopped Glenn (Steven Yeun) or Dale (Jeffrey DeMunn) from picking up a few tricks. Andrea, Laurie and Carol all made it through the zombie apocalypse somehow - for a while, Laurie must have been on her own with her sister Amy - but apparently none of them learned anything during that time. It seems completely implausible that these three women made it this far, given their complete lack of skills that don't involve crying, whining and yelling. No wonder Sophia ran screaming away from that zombie; she must have just assumed it's the way her gender deals with these situations.

If The Walking Dead wants to become the show that the opening scene showed it could be, a few things need to happen. The story needs to stop grinding to a halt for boring conversations, Shane needs to either get a serious personality makeover or just die, and the writing needs to get better. The biggest problem, however, is that of the show's women. I know that the target demographic for a zombie show is largely male, but there are a whole group of women out here who love zombie movies, and who really want to like this show. We just need a female character we can relate to who isn't a complete basket case. I'm hoping that Lauren Cohan's upcoming appearance will help, but I'm a little afraid of what might happen. If the show's writers manage to turn Chuck's Vivian Volkoff and The Vampire Diaries' Rose into just another useless damsel-in-distress, I'm done.

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