After a series premiere that felt familiar, but still riveting thanks to a confident execution, The Walking Dead‘s second effort, “Guts,” just feels familiar. I’ll be the first to admit that I’m not a massive fan of the zombie genre, I have nothing against it, but it’s not one of my favorites. Thus, I’m trying to evaluate Walking Dead as a television series first rather than how well it nails the conventions and inventions of the genre it finds itself within.
With that in mind, “Guts” is a wholly conventional and often times too-convenient episode and feels like the middle part of a mediocre zombie movie that I don’t really care about whatsoever. While the episode is more action-packed than the premiere, the eerie aura that carried the pilot throughout its 75-minute running time is missing here, replaced with typical manic pacing, lots of running and a whole lot of character “types” that I would hope the series moves past in the future.
Most of “Guts” deals with Rick’s struggles in Atlanta, where he’s helped out of the tank by Glenn and eventually meets up with a group of survivors who are only in town to make a supply run. However, Rick’s gunfire while on the run has brought a ton of zombies to the survivors’ location so they have to figure out how in the heck to get out of there without being killed. The episode follows that planning process while attempting to introduce us to a number of new characters, most of which feel like cardboard cut-outs of actual people in a way that at certain points it feels like the series is trying to make some racial quota: There’s Glenn the Asian, the snappy black woman, the Latino gentleman, the pretty blonde, chubby Samuel L. Jackson (complete with a generic Kangol hat as if this zombie apocalypse was happening in 1997) and the ridiculous white racist Merle. I’m not sure if the series is planning on using these stereotypes to make some sort of commentary on the zombie genre in the future, but here, they pretty much exist at face value.
Racist Merle draws even more attention to the group with his sniping, then turns his racist intentions on 1997 Samuel L. Jackson and finally decides he wants to be the leader of the group, you know because that’s what all racists want. Thankfully, Rick steps in, beats him down and handcuffs him to a pipe on the roof.
From there, the middle of the episode is actually a bit boring. Some people go down in the sewers looking for a way out, some stay up top and there isn’t a whole lot of talking so the scenes serve as any sort of moment for real characterization. Rick shares a moment with the pretty blonde Andrea, but it’s not much.
“Guts” rarely comes close to touching the greatness of the pilot, but in the final Atlanta, it comes close. The group decides the only way to move out there with the zombies is to smell dead, so they bring in a “dead” zombie and Rick chops the hell out of its body (but not before making a really great speech that shows he’s coming at this whole thing slightly differently) so that he and Glenn can wear its body parts to get across the way to a massive truck that can transport everyone successfully. Their walking down the street is intense and even a little funny, but from there the ATL story gets bogged down by a few obvious coincidences that really just irked me, most notably where 1997 Samuel L. tries to unlock Merle’s cuffs, but trips on a pipe and drops the key down a tremendously small hole that probably had like 1 in 40 million odds of happening. But it’s okay, because he knocked over a random tool-belt that will surely provide the hacksaw Merle has been wanting all episode! Wow.
Back at the camp, we learn a little something about Shane. Well, it’s not anything new, but “Guts” really hammers it home: Shane is kind of a dick. He doesn’t seem bothered by his relationship with Rick’s wife Lori, even if she is still wearing Rick’s wedding ring around her neck, and he unsympathetically doesn’t want to head into Atlanta when the crew calls for some helping, basically telling Andrea’s little sister to deal with it.
I’m still sold on The Walking Dead, but I’m hoping that the cliches, broad types and familiar situations here are played in more complex ways in the future. We kept hearing about how this series was going to be about the people, but thus far, in “Guts” it’s all about the zombies, and it can’t really work as a long-term TV series.