And I do mean “a” zombie. By my count there was one — “Kimberly,” the cashier whom Travis couldn’t quite muster the strength to liquidate. Which brings the grand total of zombies in the last two episodes to, uh, one.
I’ve soured on this show and not just because the nature of a weekly grumble thread requires me to. Increasingly I don’t see what it adds to the original series. Scott Meslow at The Week writes that the moral of last night’s story is that “If you’re going to survive, you’d better be ruthless.” Yes, that’s … also the moral of every episode of “The Walking Dead,” including every episode that deals with Rick’s crisis over how ruthless he needs to be to serve as an effective leader, which is pretty much every episode. The only wrinkle last night was that Salazar is revealed to be a sort of proto-Rick, a guy who made his pact with the devil in the name of survival back in El Salvador as a torturer and who’s now forced to reclaim that role during the apocalypse. Except it’s not clear why he feels forced. The kidnapped soldier seems pretty forthcoming even before the torture begins, and he seems sweet enough on Ofelia that he might spill the beans about what “Cobalt” means even without a straight razor being taken to this forearm. It might have added something interesting if Salazar had clearly enjoyed torturing the soldier, raising the question of how much ruthlessness committed in the name of survival is a matter of circumstance and how much is sadistic people using the moment as an excuse to indulge their cruelty. But no, Salazar’s pretty grim about the whole thing, just like Rick Grimes would be. Zzzzzz. (Although this may be the first TV show since “24” to make the case that torture really does work.)
I don’t understand why the military seems so easily routed by the zombies either, although veteran David French argues somewhat persuasively not to underestimate the effect that deteriorating morale during a zombie apocalypse would have on the troops. I can see that, just like I can also see how even a well armed contingent of soldiers could be overwhelmed inside a city overrun by hundreds of thousands of zombies on every side. If you get surrounded with no way to resupply, you’ll run out of bullets eventually. Simple as that. Except … we’re not yet at that point where swarms of zombies are roaming the streets, in which case it’s hard for me to imagine a scenario in which six reasonably well-trained Guardsmen armed with M-16s could ever find themselves cut off inside a building and overrun by unarmed, slow-moving undead stiffs. It seemed like the unit that went into that building last night to rescue another unit that was in trouble lasted about five seconds before several of them were killed and the rest ran away. Paint me a picture of how that happens, even with bad morale. Watching that, I thought back to the end of “Night of the Living Dead,” where rednecks in rural Pennsylvania head out into the countryside with their rifles and turn the apocalypse into a turkey shoot, essentially. That seems far more realistic to me than the idea of military units disintegrating against big numbers. A big city would be more challenging due to the density and the lack of armed civilians, but still. These aren’t half-drunk hunters stumbling around looking for targets, they’re U.S. soldiers who’ve been trained in tactics. Is there any reason they’re having a difficult time at this stage of the zombie bloodletting apart from the fact that the writers are eager to move on to the post-military pure-anarchy stage of the apocalypse?
Ah well. At least we got to meet that guy in the suit in the military holding pen with Nick the junkie, the first genuinely interesting character the show’s produced. If everyone but him ends up being killed off in the season finale, I’d say it’s worth giving the first few episodes of season two a shot. Until then, though, we’re stuck waiting for the predictable climax next week, in which Salazar cuts the chains on the doors of the local arena to free the thousands of zombies inside, ensuring that the military will be too preoccupied with the undead to execute their “Cobalt” orders the next morning. Exit question: What exactly does “Cobalt” entail? The kidnapped soldier says it involves “humane termination of…” but never finishes his sentence. Is it humane termination of those suspected to be infected or humane termination of all civilians, i.e. mass murder of the population to destroy their bodies before they can eventually become zombies? In that case, why didn’t the soldiers kill everyone in the neighborhood expeditiously when they first got there? Why hang around for weeks waiting to put the order in effect?