I’m treating last night’s season premiere as partial vindication of my theory that a zombie anthology series with different settings and different casts from week to week would have been consistently more watchable than the “Walking Dead” universe we’ve come to know. Basically nothing happened last night, and yet — it was interesting! It started with some pro forma zombie-killing on the beach, then everyone got on the boat, then the Jennifer Love Hewitt lookalike started chatting on the CB radio with some guy who was obviously setting her up, and … that was it, until the vaguely silly finale involving shark zombies trying to turn the living into chum. You’ve got one genuinely intriguing character in Strand, one respected actor in Ruben Blades, and then a bunch of dead-weight leads and teenagers, one of whom spent the hour sulking not-very-convincingly about his dead mom. And still, somehow just the fact that this was all set on the water raised the curiosity level enough to keep things humming merrily along. How will zombies behave in the water? (We got a glimpse.) What will a naval battle between survivors and pirates look like? (We’ll find out next week.) Will one of the cast members be saved in the nick of time during a zombie attack in the water when a shark swims up and bites the zombie in half? (Yes, inevitably.) More seriously, how will the tensions between survivors be different on the ocean than on land given that the threat of a zombie ambush has been all but eliminated? I can’t recall ever seeing a film or show in the zombie genre set on the water, for the obvious reason that you can’t produce the same claustrophobic dread of being surrounded by zombies on all sides at sea as you can on land. The writers are gambling a bit with this setting. But they’re also shrewdly making it easy to switch settings quickly if they like. They can dock in a city, on an island, on a rural beach, you name it. A seaborne zompocalypse has its dramatic advantages.
One other hopeful note last was that they didn’t spend too much time agonizing over saving other survivors. The scene where they pass a ship full of people screaming for help without much of an argument between them about whether to stop would have gone verrrry differently on “The Walking Dead” and we all know it. We would have been treated to 45 minutes of debate, with Rick in insufferable Decider mode. Instead Strand pulled rank and that, mercifully, was pretty much that. A friend e-mailed me after last week’s TWD grumble thread to marvel at the fact that no one in the Grimes gang seems to have really adapted to their new world even though virtually every other community they encounter has adjusted in important ways. The Hilltoppers have built their own mini-society; Negan’s crew are soulless marauders but they’ve built themselves a nice protection racket. At some point you need to accept reality as it is and make peace with it. Instead, as my friend put it:
I mean FFS they are just grinding their axles. The Grimes Gang remains perpetually butthurt about the fact that they’re living in a Hobbesian nightmare. It’s pretty much been that way since Hershel’s farm. “Oooh how can we truly live when we’re surrounded by death. Blahbity blahbity blah.” Almost all of the dialogue is one soliloquy after another on some variation of this endless butthurtedness.
Meanwhile, they are like the only people who are still hung up on this! They run into one Hobbesian warlord after another who has accepted things for what they are. And then there is a big fight with the warlord, bing bong boom, warlord defeated, then back to more soliloquies. it’s been this way since Season 3.
Not so much of that last night. Shipful of survivors off in the distance begging for help? Yeah, nope — the Abigail’s just going to sail on by. In fact, that, as much as his omnicompetence, is what makes Strand an interesting figure. He seems like a warlord in the making, a guy who’s not only a step ahead of everyone else but who’s already made peace with the idea of sacrificing others to protect himself and his “friends.” The ship looks set to be raided next week but you’re confident as a viewer that he’ll fend it off or even turn the tables because he’s just that smooth. We may be seeing the first incarnation in the TWD universe of a good-guy warlord. (Rick Grimes has always been too guilt-stricken to really deserve the “warlord” title.) I’ll stick around for that.
One tiny grumble, though: It’s a little lame and obvious that the stern of the Abigail has no platform, guardrail, or anything. It’s literally just a platform on the water that’s four inches or so above sea level. Why do I get that feeling that a water-borne zombie’s going to end up clambering aboard onto that platform before the season’s over? At least build a little fence there to protect yourselves, guys. Sheesh.