Let me start off by saying that the second episode of AMC’s The Walking Dead, “Guts,” was not as powerful as the first.
It’s still very, very good.
Episode One left our hero, Rick Grimes (Andrew Lincoln) in a bit of a pickle. He had lost most of his weapons and had become trapped in a relatively safe place. With no food, limited air, and a horde of hungry flesh-eaters surrounding him, though, safe is a relative term. Then he made contact. Someone knew where he was, and was trying to talk to him.
Episode Two of The Walking Dead, naturally, picks up right where we left off.
Grimes and his unknown benefactor dispense with pleasantries. After some rushed instructions and quick but concise directions, Grimes exits the safety of his hidey-hole and comes out shooting. Every zombie in a five mile radius hears the shots and begins to follow him while he neatly dispatches all in his path. He meets up with his previously unseen savior, Glenn (Steven Yeunn) and together they climb to safety.
Apparently zombies don’t know how to use ladders.
Glenn leads Grimes into a department store, where he introduces him to a group of survivors. Most of this new group are not happy about Grimes’s less than stealthy method of getting himself to the relative safety of the store where they’ve holed up.
And with good reason.
Sure enough, his shooting and shouting has led every “walker” in the area to their painfully fragile glass doors. After some brief arguing, the group finally falls into acceptance of their new situation. They can’t stay.
More shots are heard from the roof. It seems one of their fellow survivors has also become a bit trigger happy. Here, we learn that not every survivor is a wonderful person who is helpul and kind. Merle Dixon (Michael Rooker) is a sociopathic racist with a chip on his shoulder. We don’t like him. Nobody likes him. Rick Grimes quickly earns the respect of the rest of the survivors by putting him in his place and handcuffing him to a steam pipe on top of the department store roof.
Then it’s on to finding a way out, as the cracks in the department store doors become larger and closer together. There isn’t much living flesh left in Atlanta, and the zombies outside are starving.
The most macabre scene in “Guts” comes when Grimes decides they must go through the zombie horde in order to get to a vehicle. He theorizes that if they smell like zombies, the real ones won’t be able to distinguish them from their undead brethren. A dead zombie, a fireaxe, and a heart-wrenchingly disgusting scene later, Grimes and Glenn are shambling amongst the “walkers,” covered in zombie grime and guts, giving the episode its title.
The actual harvesting of the parts needed for their disguises is shown in gory detail, but the weight of what they must do does not escape the characters. Revulsion, sorrow, and apologetic angst at having to disembowel a former fellow human in order to survive is portrayed most convincingly by all involved.
As Rick and Glenn shuffle down the road, many of The Walking Dead approach for a close sniff, leer over Glenn’s shoulder, and even snarl cordially at the pair in passing, but none attack. The plan works. The scene works as well, and to chilling affect. You can feel the fear our protagonist and his new sidekick feel as each zombie on the street approaches for that “will-they-or-won’t-they” closeness, even as the thunder cloud that has loomed over Atlanta for the entire episode threatens to rip open and wash away their thin disguises.
Even without Frank Darabont (The Shawshank Redemption) directing, this episode of The Walking Dead is very strong. It may not be the tour de force that I hailed the premiere as, but that’s to be expected. They’ve got to put this kind of spine-tingling horror together on a weekly basis, and not every episode can stand alone as a cinema quality masterpiece. The episode does stand alone well, though, in terms of story, with a beginning, a middle, and an end to the particular situation that Grimes finds himself in this week. An adventure is had, and new allies and enemies are made. While Darabont’s cinematic flair from the pilot is missed, this episode’s director, Michelle MacLaren, does a fantastic job moving the series forward, especially with the previously mentioned disguise scene.
All in all, “Guts” is a good follow-up to the premiere episode of The Walking Dead, keeping the show on track and hinting at its brilliantly dark future. There’s more conflict to come for the survivors, both from the undead, and from each other. Even without a cliffhanger ending, I’m waiting at the edge of my seat for the next episode. I care about these characters, and I want to know what fates await them.
The Walking Dead airs Sunday nights at 10PM Eastern Time on AMC.