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Mermaid's Tale: The Mausoleum of All Hope and Desire on The Walking Dead

"I remember my dream now." - Jim

Those of you who follow me on Twitter know that I've been watching screeners of AMC's zombie apocalypse drama The Walking Dead but haven't been as captivated as I was with the pilot episode. However, I watched the fourth and fifth episodes of the series over the weekend and found both of them to be on par with the harrowing atmosphere of the pilot, giving viewers an intense experience that shows the gripping struggle for and by humanity.

In a land beset by demons, can the survivors of a global apocalypse retain their humanity? Or does killing monsters make you a monster yourself? Once you cross that moral line, can you step back over it?

This week's sensational episode of The Walking Dead ("Vatos"), written by Robert Kirkman (who created the series' underlying material) and directed by Johan Renck, put the focus back on the human aspect of the drama, giving us an installment that largely revolved around familial bonds, starting with that gorgeous scene in the boat between Andrea (Laurie Holden) and Amy (Emma Bell) in which they reminisced about their father, likely dead, and their own childhoods, the way in which their father taught them to fish using different methods.

He understood that the two girls, separated by twelve years, needed different things: that Andrea needed to catch fish to feed the family and that Amy needed the throw them back into the water. Two very different women joined by the unbreakable bond of blood.

But, even amid the madness of the helter-skelter world they live in, Andrea's focus wasn't just on survival by on Amy's birthday and she wanted to make it as special as possible, looking everywhere for something to wrap up the mermaid necklace she took from the department store back in "Guts." A birthday present, a charm, for a smiling girl.

It was not to be.

I want to commend Laurie Holden for her breathtaking performance in this episode, for both the love and loss that she conjured out of thin air and for the heartbreak she displayed upon Amy's death at the hands of a walker. Her eternal concern for her younger sister--evidenced by when Amy got up to go to the bathroom--transforming itself into a keen grief when she sees her ripped into my a walker upon emerging from the RV in search of toilet paper.

Such a human dilemma, really: her final words, her last thought on this earth, being something so trivial and so universal. A flicker of normalcy in a world gone mad. The horror that Holden's Andrea displayed filled me with dread, so connected as it was with Jim's own history: his own experience of seeing his family ripped apart by walkers, unable to save them, unable to do anything. Amy's fate decided while Andrea sat not 30 feet away with the others.

If Merle hadn't have taken the van, it's possible that Rick and the others could have saved more of the group. As it were, they arrive just as the walkers attack the camp and are able to save the majority of refugees. But if they hadn't gone back for Merle in the first place--or that bag of guns (or gotten diverted by the vatos who kidnapped Glenn), Amy's death could have been prevented.

Instead, a few hours shy of her birthday, Amy bleeds to death in front of the RV, her broken body cradled by her sister Andrea. "I don't know what to do," Andrea cries out, guilt and her confusion coursing through her veins as her sister dies in her arms.

The fragility of human life, the transience of all things, are only too fitting when juxtaposed with Dale's concerns with time, his insistence on winding his watch, his belief in the importance of keeping time. The watch itself emblematic of Faulkner's line about "the mausoleum of all hope and desire."

The horror of Amy's death is at odds with that beautiful scene at the beginning, two sisters in a boat on a cerulean blue lake. What's left of that bond leaks out onto the ground. But the terror is not just of a woman passing, it's that death isn't the end anymore. In this new world, the dead walk again, demons in human form, all teeth and nails and insatiable hunger. Is this what time holds for Amy? For all of them? Is there any place of safety remaining in this world?

There's something to be said for the vatos' philosophy. They closed themselves in, barricaded the doors and looked after the elderly that were left behind. Their aggression a front for something else. While I wasn't crazy about the vatos storyline--thugs with hearts of gold! a factory concealing an old folks' home--it showed that there is still humanity in the midst of savagery and there are other bands of survivors just like our central group.

But surviving is a relative term. Jim survived the zombie attack that killed his family. He escaped at the price of their deaths but he's haunted by what he experienced. How does one go on with that rambling through your head? His dream, the reason for digging those graves, tenuously out of grasp until he glimpses the carnage around the campfire. He now knows why he was digging those holes. He knows for whom he was digging them. But is it a sign of prescience? Or of inevitability? That death would claim those close to them, breaking their charmed circle?

"Wildfire," next week's episode--which I watched yesterday--continues the threads here, exploring the aftermath of the attacks and giving Holden another incredible opportunity to soar as an actor. (The teaser scene below gives you a taste of her agony.) It's an episode that sets up the final act of the season and offers a few intriguing questions as well as some potential answers.

While it might strike fans of British drama series Survivors as somewhat familiar (and seemed to jump over some key points along the way), the episode plays out with a tremendous amount of tension and dread, a riveting installment that refuses to let go of your attention. It's both harrowing and heartbreaking, gruesome and gripping. And I can't wait to see just what happens next...

Next week on The Walking Dead ("Wildfire"), Rick leads the group to the CDC after the attack; Jim must make a terrible life and death decision.


Byron said…
I agree. I really liked the first episode and then felt let down by the second and third. They seemed predictable and cheesy at times (at least the dialogue did). But the last couple of episode have me hooked again, especially as there have been some surprises and interesting story developments.

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