Recap | The Walking Dead: ‘Vatos’

“I remember my dream now, why I dug the holes.”Jim

Readers of The Walking Dead comic series knew the moment was coming, likely sooner rather than later, but that didn’t make Amy’s death any less shocking, or the immediate aftermath any less heartbreaking. That’s a testament to the talents of director Johan Renck (Breaking Bad) and writer/creator Robert Kirkman, who manage to lull the audience with bucolic scenes all while telegraphing that Something Terrible is about to happen.

The signals couldn’t be any more clear, really, from the gorgeous opening with sisters Andrea (Laurie Holden) and Amy (Emma Bell) fishing on the blue-green water of the quarry while swapping memories of their father to shots of an unhinged Jim (Andrew Rothenberg) obsessively digging holes — okay, not holes but graves — just outside of camp. But Renck and Kirkman draw our attention from the obvious signs by cutting back and forth between the survivors camp and what’s nominally the A storyline: the mission into Atlanta to rescue the (previously) handcuffed Merle Dixon (Michael Rooker) and to retrieve the bag of guns and ammo — oh, and Rick’s hat.

That’s right, “nominally.” With the discovery that Merle had sawed off his hand to escape the Walkers (or exposure, or dehydration, or …) on the rooftop, the sortie by Rick & Co. into the zombie-infested city begins to falter. Daryl (Norman Reedus) scoops up his brother’s severed hand, placing it in the backpack of a grimacing Glenn (Steve Yeun), before narrating Merle’s flight and explaining his survival — as much for the audience’s benefit as for the searchers’. It seems that Merle hacked off his hand when the saw blade proved too dull for the handcuffs, then cauterized the stump in a kitchen before heading out into the Walker-filled streets. “Told you he was tough,” Daryl gloats to the others. “Nobody can kill Merle but Merle.”

The foursome agrees to broaden the search outside the building, but only after they’ve retrieved the bag of weapons Rick (Andrew Lincoln) dropped near the tank. Glenn, a former pizza-delivery boy, devises a plan that uses the street layout to their advantage while putting only himself and the crossbow-wielding Daryl at risk. (“You’ve got some balls for a Chinaman,” Daryl says. “I’m Korean.” “Whatever.”) What could possibly go wrong? Very little, at least until they’re interrupted by the tattooed teen Miguel (Anthony Guajardo), who’s on his own quest for the guns. Chaos ensues as a gang — the “Vatos” of the episode’s title — kidnaps Glenn, leaving Miguel in the hands of Daryl, Rick and T-Dog (Robert “IronE” Singleton). This leads to a tense standoff with the gang, whose leader Guillermo (Neil Brown Jr.) alternately threatens to drop Glenn from a building and feed him to his ferocious dogs if Rick doesn’t turn over the guns and ammo.

Thankfully, the Vatos aren’t as one-dimensional, or as stereotypical, as they seem — something we learn only after the showdown is defused by the timely appearance of the grandmother of one of the gang. It turns out, in ABC Afterschool Special fashion, that the Vatos are actually caring for elderly hospital patients who were abandoned them when Atlanta fell to the Walkers. And Guillermo’s man-eating dogs? Adorable little chihuahuas! Seriously. The storyline takes some saccharine turns on its way to, what, delaying the hunt for Merle? Showing us that there are other groups surviving in different ways? It’s a frustrating, and ultimately unfulfilling, detour for the fourth episode of a six-episode season.

Rick divvies up the weapons cache with Guillermo and, with the plan to expand the search for Merle seemingly forgotten, heads back with Glenn, Daryl and T-Dog to the truck. Or at least where the truck used to be, before a certain one-handed meth addict stole it. Sure that Merle is on his way back to the camp to exact revenge, Rick & Co. set out of the city on foot.

Events are much more interesting back at camp, where Jim’s obsessive hole-digging unnerves the other survivors so much that Shane (Jon Bernthal) handcuffs him to a tree (shades of Rick and Merle, there) for his own good and for the peace of mind of the others. Jim’s bizarre behavior is triggered by survivor’s guilt — he only escaped the Walkers because they were busy eating his wife and sons — but also by a dream that he can’t quite remember.

Once Jim comes to his senses, and apologizes to Lori (Sarah Wayne Callies) and Carol (Melissa McBride) for frightening their children, the group settles around the fire for a fish fry and to tease Dale (Jeffrey DeMunn) about his daily watch-winding ritual. It’s a nice moment interrupted when Amy goes off to pee and it becomes instantly apparent we’re watching that pivotal scene from The Walking Dead #5 in which we realize none of the central cast is safe. Walkers invade the camp, falling upon the wife-beater (and possible pedophile?) Ed, who’s sulking after his brutal beating, and then Amy. What moments before was the very picture of tranquility erupts into a wonderfully choreographed fight scene that draws in the late-arriving searchers from the city, and leaves the camp littered with dead bodies and shell-shocked survivors.

It’s a powerful ending, perhaps the best of the series to date. Unfortunately, however, the bulk of the episode — the Vatos and the supposed search for Merle — doesn’t live up to the final moments.

Grade: B

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Comments

  • Mhawes1973

    I have to disagree, isnt that how life works, while in the middle of one thing something else pops up that takes your attention away from the original thing you where doing. That is how life goes in general, not to mention it makes sense, when you are looking for something and it pulls you to far away from the other things that must be done , you have to make a choice, continue or deviate and take care of step number to and then go back to what you where looking for later. In this case our group has no viable clue as to where our one arm redneck went to, so they decide to grab what they know is still there , the guns. As for the vatos, i think it was handled extremely well, loved the judge the book by its cover part. I also shows that even with the world crashing down that Humanity still lives on in the most unlikely places and people.Then to return and find the truck missing, did Merle make off with the truck and is that concern from his brother Daryl, that Merle maybe heading back to camp for revenge.The end was awesome though,Just as you are starting to become comfortable with some of the cast, their number is cut in half by the attack of the walkers. The character development continues to get better with each episode and the continuing story about Merle is also a great twist, its like a side bar storyline that is running along with the book version, both becoming intertwined while giving the readers something unexpected to watch.

  • Squashua

    I’m wondering if Merle actually drove all the zombies up there in the van.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_VFY5LMHRHWBE5HXP7YJWEIKQD4 Michael Bryan Walt

    Thanks to Mhawes1973, you voiced my opinion with your review almost to a T. Probably a little more elegantly than I would have. Obviously, Kevin missed the whole point of “judge the book by its cover” theme that Mr. Kirkman intended with the “Vatos” storyline. Poorer he is (nuts, I read like Yoda) for not seeing it. I thought the sidebar with the hunt for Merle was suspenseful, and the men (both everyday guys and gangbangers) protecting the elderly was both off putting (stereotypical gangers) and heartwarming (these bad-asses have hearts). Sorry you couldn’t completely enjoy the episode Kevin, I had no problems with it. To me, the show has gotten better with each episode, which means, the cliff hanger for this season will more than likely make my head exploded. 6 episodes! 6 episodes!! And possibly a year long wait for season 2!!! DANMMMMM!!!!

  • Wes

    I have to disagree. The idyllic opening is made more so by the apocalyptic end. The one question I have is, how did none of the zombies trip the can alarms? Merle? On that note cauterizing a wound still needs to be dressed; pus and blood blisters are still going to leak without antibiotics Merle’s dead.

  • http://www.spinoffonline.com Kevin Melrose

    I didn’t miss the point, Michael — I just don’t think it was one worth making. In an episode and, to date, a series marked by complex drama, I think a platitude like “don’t judge a book by its cover” feels terribly out of place.

    I enjoyed (a great deal) the scenes back at camp, but the interactions between Daryl and Glenn aside, I felt the excursion into the city was wasted after they discovered Merle’s severed hand.

  • http://www.spinoffonline.com Kevin Melrose

    I talked about that this morning with a friend: If I recall correctly, the back of the van opens directly into the cab, which means Merle wouldn’t have any protection from the Walkers. Besides, as set on revenge as he is, I have trouble believing he’d risk endangering his brother (who for all he knew was back at camp).

  • Bclewis6593

    Last week when the walker stumbled into camp that should have been an indication that where they were was no longer safe. And that if one found them others were bound to as well. In their situation staying in one place too long and relatively close to a population center was flirting with disaster.

  • Ironman63

    I think they’re positioning Merle to be The Govenor.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_VFY5LMHRHWBE5HXP7YJWEIKQD4 Michael Bryan Walt

    Sorry we disagree on this point, Kevin. Too add to the city excursion, Darryl (did I spell that correctly) seemed to grow a little more tolerant of the others (Glenn and T-Dog) as their adventure continued. Darryl also seemed (to me) to have his eyes opened, a little, by the “evil Mexican gangbangers”, seeing that they have a heart by protecting their elders. Ol’ Kirkman showed some nice storytelling with that in my opinion. Again, sorry we disagree.

  • Mark J. Hayman

    That’s a novel suggestion but I doubt that he has either the organizational skills or the charisma to establish and operate an entire town. Besides which, the town should have been running for some time, Merle would have been late to the party. Now, one of the governor’s henchman, that would be casting on type. I’d even buy his seizing power in a bloody coup, but the place would almost certainly begin to fall apart immediately.

  • JRobb

    I saw this episode as showing what people are willing to do to survive, which is the crux of the comic series. The “Vatos” at the nursing home were only trying to gain more weapons to protect their home. Which if anyone has read the comic series, as nice a fortress as the nursing home was, someone else is going to want it for their own. It’s also something simple that if they had stopped to explain themselves (which you can’t do when civilization is falling apart around you) then everything would have been fine. Nothing is as it seems and no one is safe.

  • Alemander

    I have never read the comics version, so I am going into the show completely blind. I really enjoyed the opening and that made Amy’s death so much more tragic. Really a shame she is dead, as I was really beginning to like her, almost as much as Rick.

  • http://twitter.com/TheTVCriticorg Robin Pierson

    It was a mixed episode but the last five minutes was very strong. It sent a good message about the show’s intensity and tragedy going forward. More of that on the podcast http://www.thetvcritic.org/casts/34.The_Walking_Dead_104_Vatos.mp3

  • http://www.facebook.com/david.schmitt#!/ David R. Schmitt

    Well the Vatos surprised me! lol. I like being surprised and I think it was necessary to show more survivors seeing how big Atlanta is. Also some nice character moments between Rick and Daryl. I hope Daryl sticks around and sides with the survivors in the end rather then his brother. Very glad Atlanta was used more here then what was in the comic.

  • Crippy1000

    No one would know what to do because it hasnt happened.