Fresh meat keep­ing flies off Walk­ing Dead

View­er­ship fad­ing but hard­core fans lov­ing con­stant story re­sets

The New Zealand Herald - - Entertainment - Hank Stuever

Al­though many of us have given up on The Walk­ing

Dead, which in the US has shed an av­er­age of 5 mil­lion or so view­ers in the last year (fear not — it still draws more than 7 mil­lion each week, keep­ing it ca­ble’s high­es­trated drama by far), the lat­est episode of­fered a fit­ting op­por­tu­nity to come back for an hour and wit­ness the emo­tional exit of its lead char­ac­ter, Rick Grimes.

Rick, played by An­drew Lin­coln, sur­vived eight-plus sea­sons in a dreary, of­ten ex­ces­sively vi­o­lent zom­bie apoc­a­lypse epic, which all be­gan from his per­spec­tive: He was a wounded sher­iff’s deputy in Ge­or­gia who woke from a coma in a hos­pi­tal that had been aban­doned dur­ing a sud­den zom­bie out­break.

Ini­tially re­united with his wife, Lori (Sarah Wayne Cal­lies), son Carl (Chan­dler Riggs) and his col­league Shane (Jon Bern­thal), Rick be­came the de facto leader of a band of sur­vivors who slowly jour­neyed out­ward from the At­lanta mega­lopo­lis (and its in­fi­nite sup­ply of zom­bies).

Many ar­du­ous sea­sons later, Rick’s group made its way to North­ern Vir­ginia in a seem­ingly hope­less search for safety and se­cu­rity amid stress­ful group dy­nam­ics and deadly con­flicts with packs of other hu­mans.

No char­ac­ter on this show is ever guar­an­teed a per­ma­nent stay, re­gard­less of what hap­pened to The

Walk­ing Dead comic-book char­ac­ters they were all based on: Shane be­came a zom­bie and was killed; Lori died many sea­sons ago, leav­ing Rick with an in­fant daugh­ter, Ju­dith.

Even Carl, who had grown from be­ing the show’s pre­teen nui­sance to one of its no­blest cit­i­zens, took him­self out of the pic­ture last year after a zom­bie bit him.

Count­less other friends have come have gone — eaten, mur­dered, beaten to a pulp. Along the way, Rick changed. The vi­o­lence and loss took its toll, and his hero­ism flagged in the face of all that self-preser­va­tion.

Thanks to far too many vi­o­lent en­coun­ters with the liv­ing, the leader of the pack dis­cov­ered his own in­ner mon­ster, as well as a po­ten­tial to be a righteous tyrant.

Rick got lost in the post-zom­bie world’s widen­ing chasm of moral choice and view­ers stopped wor­ry­ing so much about zom­bies. The show was about hu­mans treat­ing each other ter­ri­bly — with no end in sight.

It was that as­pect of the show — no end in sight — that ef­fec­tively keeps fans of the show tuned in, while slowly alien­at­ing the rest of us.

The Walk­ing Dead is a show for the video game era — re­set­ting and re­ar­rang­ing play­ers with­out any hope of true con­clu­sion.

The lat­est episode saw Rick fend­ing off the zom­bies once more — pulling him­self off the rod of re­bar on which he was ac­ci­den­tally im­paled last week, then hal­lu­ci­nat­ing his way through some flash­back-type set­tings and en­coun­ters that have de­fined the show since its 2010 de­but.

He vis­ited with dead char­ac­ters (Bern­thal’s Shane; the late Scott Wil­son’s Her­shel; Sonequa Mart­inGreen’s Sasha), each urg­ing Rick back to con­scious­ness, where, in a fi­nal scene, he blew up a bridge that sent dozens of flam­ing zom­bies into a swift-mov­ing river.

De­spite AMC and ac­tor Lin­coln’s in­sis­tence that this is the end of Rick, he was nev­er­the­less found down­stream, alive, by a char­ac­ter named Anne (don’t ask me, I’ve moved on to 500 other TV shows), who sum­moned a he­li­copter (!) that scooped Rick up, tended to his wounds and flew off into the far hori­zon. If that’s the last we ever see of Rick Grimes, I’ll eat some­one’s arm.

Rick or no Rick, The Walk­ing Dead thrives on its own in­ten­sity, shed­ding pro­duc­ers and showrun­ners wher­ever nec­es­sary.

The act­ing is still of­ten quite con­vinc­ing and emo­tion­ally sharp — a tone Lin­coln helped de­fine.

The pace can­not be ar­gued with, par­tic­u­larly the keen way with which the show con­structs its cliffhanger scenes.

There’s a good rea­son so many peo­ple watch the show. It still de­liv­ers on a sim­ple for­mula.

This was cer­tainly true of the last episode, when the touted hook we showed up for (Rick’s de­par­ture), had its thun­der im­pres­sively stolen by a last-minute swerve that seemed to be an open-in­vi­ta­tion for lapsed fans to start believ­ing again.

In the episode’s fi­nal scene, the show’s time­line shifted for­ward six years, where a group of hu­mans were res­cued from a zom­bie at­tack by a pis­tol-packin’ young lass named . . . Ju­dith Grimes.

It’s the eas­i­est kind of emo­tional sym­me­try, pro­vid­ing the show one more op­por­tu­nity to press that re­set but­ton and lure the hordes of Walk­ing

Dead zomb — I mean, view­ers to­ward the scent of an­other re­set.

The exit of Rick Grimes, played by An­drew Lin­coln, has let The Walk­ing Dead re­set its nar­ra­tive again.

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