Sunday, February 23, 2014

TV Review: 'The Walking Dead'-4.11-"Claimed"

At the very end of “Inmates,” last week’s episode of The Walking Dead on AMC, the show gave you your first glimpse at a trio of new characters that fans, especially fans of Robert Kirkman’s comics, have been waiting for. Presumably, “Claimed,” this week’s installment, will introduce Sergeant Abraham Ford (Michael Cudlitz), Rosita Espinosa (Christian Serratos), and Dr. Eugene Porter (Josh McDermit) in a little more depth. Does it? Read on to find out, but know that there are serious spoilers lurking in the bushes ahead.

Like the previous two episodes—the two since the show returned from its annual mid-season hiatus—“Claimed” has a relatively limited scope. Not quite as limited as the last two weeks, but still constrained. The action focuses on two of the post-prison splinters: Rick (Andrew), Carl (Chandler Riggs), and Michonne (Danai Gurira); and Glenn (Steven Yeun), Tara (Alanna Masterson), and the new additions. I’m glad that the producers are taking their time with getting the group back together. We know it’s going to happen eventually, but in the meantime episodes like this give the writers time to more fully develop and explore the characters.

You start out with Tara and Glenn, riding along in the bed of Abraham’s truck. When they see some walkers and stop, you learn just how badass the handlebar mustache-wearing former soldier really is, as he dispatches them with a crowbar and the butt of a rifle. You can tell he’s enjoying himself, at least a touch. Some people are particularly suited to the brutality of this world, and you get the impression that Abe is one of them. He also appears to be the kind of person who needs a job to do, or a mission to complete.

Though we get to see the newcomers, we don’t go into too much depth with any of them. Rosita has like three lines, and one shot where she bends over in front of the camera in an attempt to add a little sex appeal. It’s really awkward and obvious, and more than a little creepy. What we learn about Eugene is that, though he may be smart, he sure isn’t particularly capable of surviving on his own. Haphazardly blasting corpses with an automatic rifle, and poking a hole in the gas tank of their primary mode of transportation, he leaves them stranded. Having survived as long as he has, you know he relies on other people to do the dirty work, and you don’t particularly trust him.

While we see Abraham’s tough side, we also get a peek, the slightest little glimpse behind the curtain, at his softer side. When Glenn storms off to go find Maggie (Lauren Cohan), Abe gives a heartfelt speech about loss and duty. The situation quickly degenerates into a fistfight, but it’s enough to hint at the pain and that he keeps bottled up inside, and that he, too, has experienced his share of horror and tragedy.

Perhaps most importantly, we learn about their mission. As it turns out, Eugene is a scientist, one who knows exactly what caused the zombie outbreak, and slightly more pressing, how to end to it. They’re on their way to Washington D.C., where, presumably, he’ll get together with other likeminded folks and manufacture a cure. With their ride in ruins, and Glenn on a mission, the group decides that there is safety in numbers, and that they have a better chance of staying alive are better together than alone.

Over in another part of town, metaphorically speaking, the reunited Carl and Michonne have settled into a state that is almost normal. He sits at the dinning room table, eating a bowl of cereal, while she tries out a new look, wearing a crisp white button down shirt and a vest. As usual, this idyllic moment is short lived, as the specter of baby Judith, and Michonne’s own dead child, rears its ugly head. Quickly as it goes, this sort of peaceful moment occurs throughout “Claimed,” at least for these two.

Rick is still beat all to hell, and while he stays home to recuperate, Carl and Michonne go on what feels strangely like a run to the grocery store. Sure, they’re sweeping for zombies and ransacking abandoned homes, but again, there’s a sense that this is a mundane errand.

Along the way, the two strengthen their bond. It’s nice to see The Walking Dead continue to develop these two characters. Michonne has more personality than she ever has up to this point, and has become exponentially more likeable, as well as relatable, over the past few episodes. Something broke inside her, ripping through that cold, callous exterior she erected, and all of a sudden, she’s able to be a real goddamned person. Imagine that.

As they clear a house, they play a modified version of 20 questions, where Carl, and us by proxy, learns more and more about his mysterious companion. The information that comes out about her child—his name was Andre—gives her discovery of an entire dead family, all lying in bed together, that much more weight. This is a murder-suicide kind of situation. With all of the death we’ve seen in The Walking Dead, this sort of thing doesn’t usually leave much of an impression anymore, but her response creates more impact than usual.

And because nothing is ever easy in The Walking Dead, Rick can’t just relax with a book and take a catnap. Oh shit, a bunch of bad guy bikers show up to ruin everything. You can tell they’re up to no good because two get into a fight about what bed to sleep in. If you’re going to kill a dude, it might as well be over where you lay your head. Rick strangles a guy on the can and sneaks out a window, with a sweet new Uzi. After a tense few moments, he’s able to grab Carl and Michonne and make a break for it, providing an answer to her question of if this house is home or a stop along the way.

Strangers just showing up as they do—this house, this moment—feels cheap. An obvious ploy to get them back on the road, the diversion works, and on their way is what they are again. As they follow the train tracks, and, like Tyreese’s (Chad L. Coleman) group last week, see the sign for Terminus that promises sanctuary for all survivors. You have to imagine that these bikers will show up again down the road. Fans of the comics might be inclined to wonder if they are a part of Neegan’s Saviors, who show up later on in the comics. This could be a hint of things to come, but we’ll have to take a wait and see approach.

While there we some hiccups, some decisions that are contrived, “Claimed” continues to move The Walking Dead forward. The separated survivors from the prison are all, unknowingly, on a path towards each reuniting, and with the new faces there is a great deal of feeling out that needs to be done. With the world as it is, you need to trust the people you stand with, and there’s still a ways to go until the characters, and viewers, trust Abraham, Rosita, and Eugene.

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