‘The Walking Dead’ 1.02 Recap: Gotta Have ‘Guts’

The second episode of AMC’s ‘The Walking Dead’, which aired this past Sunday, was solid enough that the AMC network brass announced that the series would be renewed for a second season. (Good thing too – I can’t handle these BBC-length seasons!) They saw something in the show that they knew was special. I’m sure a lot of people across the country were too busy watching the episode through a web of their own fingers, or tossing their cookies into the nearest toilet/trash receptacle. The episode is called ‘Guts’, and boy is it gross.

The first time I saw this episode was a few weeks ago, when I got a preview disc that contained the first two eps. The disc was marked as to warn that the final broadcast version might be different than the one I was about to see. I thought this was hyperbolic PR posturing, but I popped it in and was shocked by how violent the episode really was. What’s even more shocking, watching it again on AMC this Sunday, is how intact the episode is. So to speak.

It all boils down to one scene, really. Maybe Frank Darabont and crew didn’t want to get one-upped by everyone passing out during ‘127 Hours’. They wanted to deliver as visceral and primal an experience as they could on the small screen. Mission accomplished.

Let’s break it down:

This episode (unlike most future episodes, I’m told) takes place almost entirely in Atlanta. Our hero, the gruff sheriff Grimes, has to get through a swarming mass of zombies. For some reason, even though they’re reanimated corpses, the zombies’ sense of smell is keenly acute. So Sheriff Grimes and his buddy do the right thing: they chop up a zombie and wear its guts like a regal cloak, shambling through the undead horde. It’s the whole “chopping up the zombie and wearing it” bit that almost made me hurl. The sequence goes on for what feels like forever. Its tactile response is a testament to the conviction of the actors, and the convincing makeup job by the effects team.

That scene is the highlight of the episode, for sure. The rest of the episode is strong but not as much of a standout, visually or thematically, as the Halloween night pilot. The drive for Sheriff Grimes is still strong, and since we know what’s waiting for him when he finally gets to the human camp (his wife has shacked up with his former right hand man), we’re excited for him to get there. But this feels much more like typical zombie movie stuff. It’s robbed of the borderline lyrical images of Grimes riding his horse into an abandoned metropolis, and lacks the emotional heft of a man hiding in his home from his zombified wife. Instead, we get some fairly stock hillbilly banter and some appropriately apocalyptic vistas. I hope that, in future episodes, the human component is upped. That’d take serious guts.

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