The Walking Dead gets it right

Those familiar with my blog will recall a recent post in which I decried the writing job on American Horror Story: Coven. I’m pleased, on the other hand, to praise the writing for the latest episode of The Walking Dead.

Scribed by Dead creator Robert Kirkman, and based on two of the issues from the Dead comic series, this past Sunday’s episode, “After,” was riveting and deeply moving from the start.

As fans of the series know, the humans who had been occupying the prison are now all on the run following a devastating attack by the Governor in the midseason finale. Prior to Sunday’s episode, I had been growing a bit critical of the Dead because the cast had grown too large and the prison setting seemed, well, confining. But with everyone on the run, without the shelter of the prison walls, the show has taken a turn for the better.

“After” focuses heavily on Rick, his son Carl, and huntress Michonne. Both Carl and Michonne endure deeply emotional crises that require them to make life-changing decisions. In Carl’s case, he starts off as deeply angry at his father for failing to adequately protect the community at the prison. He believes he is capable of surviving on his own and would be better off without having to look after Rick. When he kills three walkers on his own, he declares: “I win.”

But when Rick falls into a coma from his injuries and reawakens, Carl mistakenly believes Rick has become a walker. In facing a decision to kill his own father, Carl finds he can’t do it, revealing that he still needs him in his life, that he’s not ready to take things on by himself. Fortunately, Rick isn’t quite “dead” yet. Rick realizes that Carl has grown up and declares him a man.

Michonne, meanwhile, goes on her own journey of self-discovery. After coming across Rick and Carl’s tracks in the mud, she opts not to pursue them and go her own separate way. Ever the loner, it took a couple of seasons for Michonne to feel at home as part of Rick’s group at the prison. But after losing everything, it seems Michonne isn’t willing to put her faith in anyone else again and can do better on her own. She thinks back to her earlier life in which she had a child, a boyfriend or husband and possibly brother, all of whom she lost to the dead plague.

With her life at a crossroads, Michonne joins a herd of walkers, literally, by disguising her presence among a pair of dead she has enslaved. All of them walk aimlessly toward some unknown destination, mindlessly numb to anything and everything. At this point, she notices a walker who looks very like her, which only serves to make her snap. In a fit of rage, she kills the entire herd of walkers. Finished, she backtracks to where she found Rick and Carl’s footprints and follows them to the house where the pair are hiding out. She, too, has discovered that she doesn’t want to be alone, that she does want to be with others.

If good writing is about the transformation of characters — and all the how-to books, conferences and webinars say it is — then “After” is the perfect sample script/episode that every writer should take to heart. Not only was it an emotionally moving episode for Carl and Michonne, it was a deep examination of their characters and what motivates them.

Next week’s episode, and subsequent episodes, are supposed to focus on some of the other survivors of the prison attack. If they prove to be as emotionally powerful as the past one, this will be a welcome change of pace for a series that had become overloaded with too many stock characters.

I’m hoping we also see more scary scenes like the pile of walkers attack on Carl. This is a show about zombies, after all. With some exceptions, the zombies have become all-too-easy to dispatch and, frankly, somewhat laughable. If worked into scripts like they were in “After,” the scare factor will be back big time.

American Horror Story is horribly written

I’m a huge horror fan and always have been. I love a good scare, I love monsters. Give me Godzilla, give me Frankenstein’s monster, give me Pinhead. I love it. And when it comes to the small screen (not so small in today’s homes at 55-plus inches), The Walking Dead rules.

So, you’d think I’d be crazy about American Horror Story: Coven as well.

Unfortunately, that’s not the case. AHS is a welcome change of pace from the standard detective/crime of the week fare on tv, to be sure. It’s stylish and Jessica Lange and Kathy Bates are incredible actors. The starting sequence for Coven is downright spooky and one of the highlights of the show, even after having seen it each week. And the show itself is filled with wild, over-the-top bloodshed.

But, admit it, the show is a chore to watch — and not just because of the bloodshed.

It’s a chore because I just don’t care one bit for any of the characters. The whole coven of witches seems to exist for one reason only, to knock each other off in the most gruesome, violent way possible, only to have the character be reborn in the following episode. Hey, just about everyone has “died” on AHS once, and been brought back good as new in the eleven episodes shown so far. One of them supposedly is going to be the coven’s new supreme, but who cares. The show has proven so far that you can’t take any of the deaths seriously, nor any of the characters for that matter. Its violence is gruesome for the sake of being gruesome, nothing more.

Horror, if it is to be effective, needs to sneak up on you. It needs to be subtle, not so in your face. In AHS:C, there is less in the way of horror than there is in the horrific.

If you look back at episode one, there was a promising premise there. A young woman (Taissa Farmiga as Zoe Benson) discovers she has unusual powers and is enrolled in the coven to help her control her powers. The series should have followed through on that. The show should have stuck with Zoe and her journey, her discovery of her powers and how to use them in a world run by dollars and technology. The show should have let us experience her growth as a character as she decides how to best use her powers, whether they are for her own selfish reasons or for the good of the coven, or better yet, the good of mankind.

Instead, we get tangents. Stories about a voodoo queen, a tongue-less butler who collects dolls, and a witch with a fetish for Stevie Nicks. Oh, and then there’s Kathy Bates torturing people in the attic, losing her own head, then getting it back and being led around on a leash, and so on. Throw in an axe-wielding psychopath who is apparently a ghost of his former self and a bunch of witch-hunters that he dispatches with ease…

But, I digress…which is my point about this whole series. It chases every rabbit trail and doesn’t stay true to any of them. Lost in all of this is the story about Zoe. Remember her?

There are two episodes to go in the series at this writing. I’m doubtful at this point that the writers will be able to pull it all together into a cohesive whole. I’ll keep watching, but I’m past the point of caring. Maybe season four will get it right.

Addendum:

The riotously funny finale aired last week:

  • Zoe died while playing a game of transmutation tag. Of course, she came back in the end.
  • Fiona came back from her “death.”
  • Myrtle was burned at the stake again.
  • Kyle chokes Madison to death.
  • And new Supreme witch Delia announces the school will be open to new witches.

After 12 previous episodes of equally silly plotting, I couldn’t take any of the finale seriously and was actually laughing. Um, this was supposed to be a horror show, wasn’t it?