SPOILERS — IF YOU HAVEN’T ALREADY SEEN THE EPISODE, DO NOT READ ON.
The good news: Rick Grimes (Andrew Lincoln) has found survivors in the city of Atlanta. The bad news: it’s also teeming with the living dead. Worse, his presence has drawn the hungry horde of undead to a group of survivors looking for supplies, and they are not the least bit pleased. Actually, they’re pretty pissed off, and if Rick doesn’t do some fancy talking and soon, he might never live to find his beloved wife and child, who we have since learned, are very much still alive. That’s the other good news. The other bad news? Rick’s wife and child are now with Shane (Jon Bernthal), Rick’s former partner, who has become, er, very close with Rick’s wife Lori (Sarah Wayne Callies). Can you say, “Man, that is going to be one awkward reunion”?
Taking place immediately after the events of the pilot, 1.02, “Guts” finds Rick rescued by the resourceful Glenn (Steven Yuen), after which he encounters the scavenging survivors, including Andrea (Laurie Holden) and Merle Dixon (Michael Rooker), who just by the name alone, you know is one stereotypically racist Southern bastard. Since the survivors are quite the eclectic racial mix (there is one Hispanic, two African-Americans, and Glenn is Asian), it stands to reason that racist Dixon has plenty to get racial about. Quickly, though, Rick takes control. But with the undead now drawn to their department store hideout, the survivors are trapped, and Rick must come up with a plan to save them all or die trying.
“Guts” features teleplay credit by showrunner Frank Darabont, and besides introducing us to the small group of survivors/scavengers in the city, it also introduces more characters from Shane and Lori’s group, hiding out in the hills outside the city. By now most people will have realized that the two groups are one and the same, just split up. After a brief interlude with Lori and Shane, where we see just how involved Shane and Lori have become (hint: very), most of the episode occupies itself with Rick in Atlanta with the second group of survivors. Tensions are running high, but thanks to some quick thinking and sure shooting, Rick comes up with a plan to save the day. Shout out to “Shaun of the Dead”, anyone?
After the edge-of-your-seat tension of the final few minutes of the pilot, “Guts” makes for a thrilling follow-up. Imagine the final 30 minutes of most zombie movies, minus the set-up and character stuff, and that’s essentially “Guts” in a nutshell. The entire episode is one big zombie movie final act. Though I’m a fan of Darabont’s writing, he does drop the ball a bit with the Dixon character. Guest star Michael Rooker is criminally underutilized throughout the episode, not helped by his silly and one-note character. Rooker is a great actor, but hiring him on and never taking him off the rooftop seems like such a wasted opportunity.
“The Walking Dead’s” zombies continue to evolve, and I suspect Darabont and company were creating their zombie bible as they went. These undead are essentially Romero zombies, but they can pick up the pace when they smell food. Nevertheless, these aren’t the speed freak zombies that have become the fashion lately, which for a show that wants to hang its hat on being as realistic as possible, makes some kind of sense. Rigor mortis does have a place in “The Walking Dead’s” universe,it would appear. Also, the dead smell. The episode’s highlight involves a dead zombie and a fire ax, and how well Darabont scripts the whole scene. Too bad he couldn’t think of something better to do with Merle Dixon. I’m just saying.
Although it only cuts away to the first group of survivors for a few minutes, “Guts” presents a very interesting take on Shane and Lori’s relationship. Their little jaunt in the woods at the start of the episode makes you wonder if it’s little more than sex for Shane; but then later, you see him with Carl, Rick and Lori’s son, and it makes you question your previous conclusion. If nothing else, establishing the relationship between the two certainly sets up an interesting foundation for future episodes. Readers of the Robert Kirkman comic book will already know how the situation resolves itself, but I am very curious if Darabont has something else planned.
I guess we’ll find that out in episode 1.03 of “The Walking Dead”, titled “Tell it to the Frogs”, which will air next week on the AMC channel.