Deadly Turning Points On The Walking Dead, Parts I & II

PART I:

The measure of a man is what he does with power.” Plato

 “Compromise our safety, destroy our community – I’ll die before I let that happen” the Governor

The pre-credits scene of episode three of The Walking Dead, “Walk With Me”, shows an army helicopter flying over rural countryside. Suddenly beset by technical problems, it crashes into the forest below. Watching from afar are Andrea (Laurie Holden) and Michonne (Danai Gurira).

 

Post-credits, the blanketed Andrea, still recovering from her fever, and the grim Michonne, pulling her armless and jawless pet walkers like a grotesque version of pack mules, slowly hike in to investigate. Viewing the horrific crash site, Michonne chains the walkers to a tree, unsheathes her katana and moves in for a closer look just as a couple of vehicles speed in. A group of tough-looking, armed men emerge; they fan out and carefully survey the site. Their leader, the Governor (David Morrissey), orders the men to conserve their ammo where possible (instead using baseball bats and bows and arrows), as they kill all approaching walkers. The pilot (Julio Cedillo) is found barely alive, and taken for medical care. As Michonne’s gurgling pet walkers reveal their presence, she’s forced to decapitate them. However, it’s too late; they are found moments later by none other than Merle Dixon (Michael Rooker), the seedy redneck racist not seen since the first season of The Walking Dead when he was handcuffed to a roof by the survivors and cut off his own hand to escape. As he recognizes Andrea, we see that in place of his hand is a bizarre prosthetic contraption. Andrea faints.

Blindfolded, Andrea and Michonne are stripped of their weapons and taken to the group’s compound, the town of Woodbury. Although given medical care, their requests to leave are denied on grounds that it’s dark and they aren’t well enough. Their questions receive vague answers, and they are heavily guarded. They are later interrogated by Merle, evidently now a high-ranking assistant to the Governor. Merle is initially cordial and asks about the survivors, including his brother Daryl (Norman Reedus), but is bitter about being left for the dead. When Merle leaves, the women are briefly introduced to the Governor, who listens to their request. Explaining that they can leave the following morning, he first shows them Woodbury’s tightly-guarded perimeter (his men quickly and efficiently pick off some approaching walkers, which they call “creepers”).  Additionally, the Governor enforces a strict curfew where no one is allowed out after dark. Although Michonne is suspicious, the Governor convinces them to stay awhile.  He shows them to their lodgings, a pleasant, spacious room with spare clothes, hot showers, and food.

In the morning, Andrea and Michonne stroll around Woodbury with an official escort, and for the first time, see the town. They gape at the trim lawns and men, women, and children walking casually though the neat streets and lounging on park benches.

Meanwhile, the surviving helicopter pilot recounts the final events before the fatal flight. As National Guardsmen, they were fleeing a refugee camp overrun with walkers; the Governor asks for the location so he can rescue the survivors. Later visiting a laboratory, we learn that his scientist/partner, Milton (Dallas Roberts) was commissioned by the Governor to experiment on walkers. In a gruesome display, we see Michonne’s beheaded walkers with their eyes rolling, still showing animation. The scientist explains that walkers act as repellant to other walkers (hence why Michonne kept them), or as the Governor puts it, as camouflage.

The next morning, the Governor and Milton join Andrea and Michonne for breakfast. Making charming conversation, the Governor extols the virtues of Woodbury and its people. Although Andrea chats away freely, Michonne remains mostly silent. In a post-breakfast stroll, the two women lay it on the line; Andrea wants to stay another “day or two” while Michonne wants out.

In a trip out of Woodbury, the Governor tracks down the surviving soldiers; although looking a bit shabby, the Guardsmen are suspicious, armed, and alert. Waving the white flag of truce, the Governor offers to help but instead ambushes them, and together with his hidden crew kill all the Guardsmen, and plunder their supplies.

Returning from the ambush, the Governor immediately gathers the townspeople in the town square. Lying to them, he gives a heroic speech about how they arrived too late to save the soldiers, and that the people of Woodbury should honor their sacrifice and give thanks for what they have. Michonne cynically listens nearby.

Later, the Governor enjoys a relaxing, late-evening drink in his mansion. Passing by his sleeping concubine, he retires to his den, where we glimpse a pre-apocalypse family portrait. Removing a key from around his neck, he enters a locked room off to the side. Then relaxing on a comfortable chair with his drink, he stares at the wall opposite him, covered wall-to-wall by a grisly aquarium full of decapitated walkers’ heads, including that of the pilot.

 “Walk with Me”is an odd duck of an episode for The Walking Dead; however, coming from a series where freakish and nightmarish scenarios pop up like mushrooms after the rain, that’s not bad at all. Eschewing the slam-bang action of the season’s first two episodes, “Walk With Me” alternates between surprises and character development, mainly the slow and methodical introduction of the crafty, sadistic Governor and his fiefdom, the town of Woodbury. Ultimately, it waves the true flag of serial TV by leaving more questions than it answers. Who is the Governor? What did Merle do to acquire such a high and trusted position with him? Will Andrea and Michonne stay? What will they discover? Why is Milton so fascinated with walkers’ possible memories? What is the true nature of Woodbury? Is it a ruse to lull newcomers (notice no one entered any of the “stores”), or a Prisoner-style village where everyone is treated well but forbidden to leave?

 In any case, due to the Governor’s increasingly pointed interest in the survivors, we can expect an eventual showdown with Rick Grimes; as with other movies or comics where two badasses lock horns, it will be a true “clash of the titans”. One thing is for sure, I wouldn’t want to be there when it happens. Continue reading

Sci-Fi Heads Of State

 

Romney? Obama? Who’s your choice for president? Would you rather choose someone else? Well how about these presidents and heads of state that have appeared in science fiction? Love them or hate them, they were memorable leaders.

The Despotic

Science fiction is probably the best vehicle for showcasing villainous presidents. Look at it this way, few will get offended with these fictional tyrants that star in cautionary tales that take place in dystopian times.

Take President Erwin Rexall in the classic Frank Miller/David Gibbons mini-series Give Me Liberty. Though not the main character in the comic book, his presence in lieu of his harsh policies had an impact on Give Me Liberty’s heroine, Martha Washington. An exaggeration of Ronald Reagan, Rexall was a far-right, callous man who cared little for the average American. His successor, Howard Nissen was the complete opposite, a far left liberal who turned out to be a drunken incompetent. Eventually Rexall has his brain implanted into a robot’s body and continued his presidency after Nissen was assassinated.

A more infamous president was Lex Luthor as seen in the pages of Superman. Holding the highest office in the land, allowed Luthor to be an effective thorn on Superman’s side. Adding insult was Luthor’s early popularity, though he didn’t do anything to prevent aliens from destroying Topeka, Kansas. Eventually, he fell from grace and power thanks to the efforts of several superheroes.

But more well-known despotic heads of state have been seen on film. The most recent one was Mr. Thompson in Atlas Shrugged, Part II. Played by Ray Wise, Thompson, although never referred to as the president, is the socialist head of state in the U.S. who implements unpopular reforms and mandates that strip away citizens’ rights. Another recent tyrant was President Snow (Donald Sutherland) in The Hunger Games. He wasn’t a prominent character in the book but appears in the film. Seemingly laid back, Snow actually has a sadistic demeanor.

One truly despicable despot was Greg Stillson in The Dead Zone. Based on the Stephen King book of the same name, the hero Johnny Smith discovers with his psychic powers that a local politician (played by Martin Sheen) will become a crazed president who unleashes a nuclear holocaust. The future scenes where he defies everyone’s pleas and launches nukes were quite chilling. The character also showed up in The Dead Zone TV series.

While the U.S. has had youthful presidents (keeping in mind that presidents in their forties like Kennedy or Clinton or Obama are considered young), there was Max Frost (Christopher Jones) in the film Wild In The Streets. A socially conscious and ambitious rock star, Frost manipulates politicians to pass a constitutional amendment that lowers the voting age and when a person can run for president. This allows the youthful rocker, whose in his twenties, to ride a wave into the White House where he becomes a dictator that banishes old people into re-education camps.

The Incompetents

Not all future presidents are dictators, many are just not up to snuff. There was President Chet Roosevelt (John Ritter) in the comedy Americathon where a bankrupt U.S. has to hold a telethon to raise cash. Then there was President Dwayne Elizando Mountain Dew Herbert Camacho in Idiocracy who leads an illiterate nation and is all about style but no substance. By the end of Idiocracy, it falls on the modern-day hero who winds up in that future, Joe Bauers a.k.a. Not Sure, to begin the re-education and salvation of American citizens by becoming president himself. But the most ill-suited president has to be Peter Sellers’ indecisive President Merkin Muffley in Dr. Strangelove.

Leaders On Television

There have been notable presidents or leaders in several sci-fi TV shows. For instance Lisa Simpson in The Simpsons was shown to be president sometime in the future in the episode “Back To The Future”. The most recent world leader was President Elias Martinez in The Event. Skillfully played by Blair Underwood, the president seemed unsure of how to handle the alien refugees the government was holding captive, but by the series’ end, President Martinez became more determined and decisive in protecting the U.S. and the world. The show Jack & Bobby took place in modern times but was framed by bookending commentaries by people in the future. One of the boys featured in the show grows up to become president years into the future. In the anthology show The Outer Limits, one episode “Trial By Fire” featured a newly inaugurated President Charles Halsey (Robert Foxworth), who unexpectedly has to deal with a first contact situation. An alien armada is on its way to Earth and Halsey has to decide if they are friendly or not. President Halsey is wracked with the knowledge that his decisions will severely impact life on the planet.

But the best known fictional presidents in sci-fi TV have to be Laura Roslin (Mary McDonnell) and Gaius Baltar (James Callis) seen in the remake of Battlestar Galactica. Roslin was the sole surviving member of the president’s cabinet following a surprise robotic Cylon attack on humanity. Although inexperienced, Roslin quickly grows into her role, becomes presidential and ultimately helps save humanity. Baltar on the other hand is more complex. Best seen as an enigmatic anti-hero, Baltar is responsible for the near extinction of humanity by the Cylons. There were broad hints that Baltar was insane but cunning and he aided the surviving humans. Eventually Baltar defeated Roslin in a presidential election and settled humanity on a habitable world. His presidency was unpopular especially after he surrenders humanity to an invading Cylon force.

Heroic Leaders

Not all presidents in sci-fi are evil or incompetent. Many were shown in a positive light and were even heroic. Roslin in Battlestar Galactica was heroic during her appearances in the show. Superman himself served as president of the United States in a fantasy “future” story in Action Comics Annual #3. Thanks to his diplomatic skills, Superman/Clark Kent has a successful presidency where he brings about world peace and lowers the deficit (thanks to some help from Aquaman, who dredges up sunken ships laden with treasure).

Another potential president was Steve Rogers. In the pages of Captain America # 250 he is approached to run for president of the U.S. but eventually declines. In the comic book What If Captain America Had Been Elected President? # 26, Rogers has a successful presidency, one of his major accomplishments being to make America energy independent. In the mini-series The Last Avengers Story, it’s stated that in the future Rogers becomes president of the U.S. but is apparently killed in his third term. Recently in The Ultimates # 16 the Steve Rogers in that universe is elected president of the U.S.

Other positive presidents seen in movies include Tom Beck (Morgan Freeman) in Deep Impact, who helps the U.S. and the world to recover from a comet strike, and the two Federation Presidents seen in Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home and Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country. It should be noted that Captain Jonathan Archer from Star Trek: Enterprise eventually becomes the first President of the Federation. But out of all these fictional sci-fi presidents probably the most heroic one  is President Thomas Whitmore from Independence Day. Patterned loosely on Bill Clinton, Whitmore is a young, beleaguered commander-in-chief who heroically leads the nation in fighting off an alien invasion. Although his military role in the final counterattack against the aliens is implausible it was heroic. Seriously, it is a stretch to believe that one of the few remaining world leaders will be allowed to fly a fighter jet to lead an attack on alien invaders. But he does give one heck of a rousing speech. So would any of these candidates earn your vote?

Lewis T. Grove

Prison Life In The Walking Dead

To survive it is often necessary to fight and to fight you have to dirty yourself.

-George Orwell

 Do whatever you gotta do to keep this group safe…and do it with a clear conscience.

-Lori Grimes, to her husband Rick

The pre-credits scene of episode two of The Walking Dead, “Sick” opens where episode one left off; as Rick Grimes (Andrew Lincoln) and the survivors in the walker-infested prison are amputating Hershel’s (Scott Wilson) leg, the survivors are surprised by a group of five prisoners who emerge from a side room. Removing the barricades from the door, the survivors kill the approaching walkers and race against time, wheeling Hershel to safety.

Back in the survivors’ safe cell block, while the group struggles in providing Hershel with medical attention, the prisoners followed the survivors and arrive at the cell block’s entrance. In a tense, armed standoff, the two groups communicate for the first time. The dominant prisoner, Tomas (Nick Gomez) – a Latino gangster– demands rights to the survivors’ cell block (“C”); the survivors flatly refuse. Rick, although suspicious, tries to diffuse the tension but learns that the prisoners have been shut away for ten months, and while aware of walkers, they are unaware that society has collapsed (no phones, computers, police, etc.). To make his point, Rick leads the prisoners outside to the yard to view the walkers – both animated and dead. Emerging into the sunlight, the two groups strike an uneasy deal; Rick and the survivors will help the prisoners clear out the prisoners’ cell block from walkers in exchange for half the prisoners’ stored food; in return, the prisoners will stay to themselves and avoid all interactions with the survivors. As Rick, T-Dog (IronE Singleton), and Daryl (Norman Reedus) return with heaping boxes of canned goods, the women struggle without medical supplies in tending to the unconscious and barely alive Hershel. Rick wisely takes no chances; in the event that Hershel dies and is re-animated as a walker, he orders Glenn (Steven Yuen) to handcuff him to his bed.

Off to the side, in a chilling conversation, Rick updates his wife Lori (Sarah Wayne Callies). Admitting to her that the prisoners’ pose a possible threat, he calmly reveals he may need to kill them. Lori reacts with approval.

Later, Rick and the others return to the prisoners’ cell block as agreed upon. Rick briefly instructs them on battle tactics (maintain formation, head shots only), but when the action starts, the prisoners, armed with pipes and crowbars, break ranks and go berserk in what can only be described as “prison freestyle”. After Daryl corrects their wild techniques, they kill more efficiently; but one hulking prisoner, Big Tiny (Theodus Crane), edges to safety at a side room and is scratched by walkers. Afterwards, both groups consider what to do before Tomas suddenly bludgeons him to death. Continue reading