‘The Walking Dead’ 100th episode special: from A to Z

Andrew Lincoln as Rick Grimes and Norman Reedus as Daryl Dixon – The Walking Dead _ Season 6, Episode 10 – Photo Credit: Gene Page/AMC

This was posted by RODNEY HO/rho@ajc.com on his AJC Radio & TV Talk blog on Monday, October 16, 2017

“The Walking Dead” producers from day one said this show on the surface is about zombies but it’s really about how the end of society can turn humans against each other. It worked. The show has been the most popular TV show of this decade.

The drama – shot in metro Atlanta – celebrates its 100th episode on October 22 on AMC. Here is my take of the show’s first seven seasons from A to Z. (I will be posting “Walking Dead” items each day this week.)

This is a comically arbitrary way to summarize the show because some letters are a surfeit of options (C could be Carl or Carol or the CDC or crossbow to name a few) while others are a bit tougher – as you’ll see with my rather tepid choice for the letter “O.” And thank you actor who plays Gregory for your first name or I’d be seriously groping for options with the letter “X.”

A. Atlanta: The comic-book “Walking Dead” started in Atlanta and thanks to the state’s generous tax-credit system, AMC also chose to plant the show here production wise. The first season and parts of season five were shot smack dab in the city though most scenes over seven seasons were shot in the rural woods around Senoia near Raleigh Studios, which AMC recently purchased. The show has been set fictionally in Virginia since season six so even if they ever choose to hit an urban setting in the future, Atlanta will have be disguised because it’s doubtful Rick’s crew will ever have a reason to venture back to Georgia.

B. Bunny slipper girl: This is the very first walker Rick Grimes kills in the first episode of ‘The Walking Dead” in 2010. He runs into poor girl Summer wearing slippers and a robe. Oddly, she is sentient enough to randomly pick up a teddy bear on the ground. (We have to give the producers a break. The walkers in season one were a lot more dexterous on many levels than those in later seasons.) With her missing jaw and foggy eyeballs, Rick realizes that she is no longer human. He shoots her in the head which for any new viewer is jarring because she’s clearly just a young girl.

Carl season 1 (left) season 4 (top right) and season 7 (bottom right). CREDIT: AMC

C. Carl. Over seven seasons, Carl has gone from a frightened naive little kid to a gun-toting eye-patch-wearing soldier. His path has been a wild and woolly one. Shy and withdrawn season one, he gets shot at Hershel’s farm season two. After recovering, he begins to learn how to use a gun and driving Lori crazy by running off, doing things he shouldn’t be doing. A redemptive moment: he ends up saving his dad by shooting zombie Shane. In season three, he becomes a warrior of sorts having to literally kill his mom before she turned into a zombie after giving birth to his sister Judith. He watches his dad become Farmer Rick, then go bonkers after all hell breaks loose with the Governor. By seasons five and six, Carl really begins to mature, showing empathy toward Gabriel, taking care of baby Judith and having a crush on Enid. Then rival Ron accidentally shoots his eye out. Season seven, he tries to kill Negan single-handedly but instead is given a creepy tour of the Sanctuary. Negan tries to win over Carl but Carl is not to be won over. He is strictly on his dad’s side as All-Out War begins.

Norman Reedus as Daryl Dixon – The Walking Dead _ Season 7, Episode 15 – Photo Credit: Gene Page/AMC

D- Daryl Dixon. Could I do an A to Z without Daryl? That would be blasphemy! No offense to Rick but Daryl is the show’s Mr. Popular and the man least likely to die. He may be laconic, a little on the depressive side but that James Dean-like aura makes him the perfect man for this world. He and his trusty crossbow are not to be messed with, be it a roving street gang or a teeming pack of walkers. Negan tried to tame him but even when he’s in a hole, he’s never truly broken. After feeling guilty for antagonizing Negan into killing Glenn, he is now thirsty for revenge. A vengeful Daryl is the best Daryl.

E. “Easy Street.” Season 7 was anything but easy street for Rick’s gang under the rule of Negan. In fact, a captive Daryl is tortured listening to this catchy ditty called “Easy Street” by the Collapsable Hearts Club over and over again. It’s an earworm that will implant in your brain long after you’re dead. And for fun, someone on YouTube used “Easy Street” as the possible theme song for a light-hearted sitcom version of the show.

F- Farming. In the zombie apocalypse, Twinkies are soon in short supply and scavenging has its limits. But tending to crops? An absolute necessity to survive. Rick at the dawn of season four seemed to have found his footing as Farmer Rick since the prison had become a sanctuary of sorts. He even stopped carrying his gun. Instead, he grew carrots and lettuce and even took care of pigs. Naturally, the Governor does not allow this rather boring version of Rick to last very long.

The Governor was filled with rage and it cost him his life and Rick’s sanctuary. CREDIT: AMC

G- Governor. Protagonists need antagonists and it took “The Walking Dead” three seasons to bring out the Governor. On the surface, he’s a charming rogue, his community a seemingly well-oiled machine. (Just ask a smitten Andrea.) But underneath lurked a crazy mind, haunted by his young daughter’s zombification. Michonne added to his nuttiness by actually killing his daughter and poking his eye out in the process. After torturing Glenn and trying to pit Daryl vs. his brother Merle, he forces his Woodbury crew to try to take over the prison and fails so miserably, he shoots most of them. Later, after nearly dying, he resurrects a new crew to take over the prison yet again and ends up on the receiving end of Michonne’s katana.

H. Hershel. In season two, this genial, avuncular vet is wary of Rick’s group and wants them gone as soon as possible. Instead, he learns the zombies will never become real people again and a horde overtakes his farm. At the prison, he becomes a fatherly figure and a moral compass – even after he loses a leg. This made his sudden beheading at the hands of the Governor that much more shocking.

Jeffrey Dean Morgan as Negan, Steven Yeun as Glenn Rhee – The Walking Dead _ Season 7, Episode 1 – Photo Credit: Gene Page/AMC

I. “I Will Find You” Glenn was a scared pizza boy early in the apocalypse but he fell in love with Maggie on the farm and transformed into a warrior with a heart of gold, fighting with dignity and determination. After way too many feints (the dumpster, anyone?), the producers finally had Negan and his trusty bat Lucille kill Glenn during the season seven debut, one of the grossest/saddest moments in the show’s history. But at least they gave him a goodbye line to Maggie: “I will find you.”

J.  “Just Look at the Flowers.” Can this A to Z get any more depressing? Yes! Lizzie was a child who found zombies more enticing than dangerous. She even murdered her sister Mika, unable to differentiate the difference between humans and walkers. Carol felt she had to make a mercy killing telling Lizzie to “just look at the flowers” before shooting her to death.

Khary Payton as Ezekiel – The Walking Dead _ Season 7, Episode 3 – Photo Credit: Gene Page/AMC

K- King Ezekiel. On a lighter note, King Ezekiel is not an evil leader who wants to eat you or enslave you. He combined his skills as a Shakesearean actor and zookeeper to Shiva the Tiger to create a well-functioning colony where he gets to speak in a comically pretentious way. Then Carol and Morgan arrive and he finds out their friends are under the clutches of Negan. Afraid to blow up what he has going for him, he waffles even while Negan shakes him down. But this season, he’s all in with Rick and the gang. And bonus: he has the hots for Carol!

L- Lori and the love triangle. Sarah Wayne Callies’ Lori was married to Rick but on the presumption Rick was dead, she quickly shacked up with his best friend Shane. Then, in a horror/soap opera way, Rick survives. For a time, Shane tries to hide what had happened but Rick finds out and it’s soon game over for Shane. Shane tried to take down Rick first but instead, it took both Rick and Carl to end the reign of Shane.

M- Morgans’ madness. He taught Rick about the ways of the walkers. They lost touch but Rick finds him again season three in the height of madness after his wife and son were killed. Later, he meets Eastman, who teaches him martial arts and how to use a staff.  He then finds a map at Gabriel’s church that leads him back to Rick.  As seasons six and seven reveal, Morgan continued to struggle with killing non-zombified humans with Carol and Ezekiel. But no worries: he is very much part of Rick’s team as the War with Negan begins.

Jeffrey Dean Morgan as Negan made his introduction in the final minutes of the season 6 finale of ‘The Walking Dead.” CREDIT: AMC

N- Negan. Of course Negan. The man could take down Governor with a smirk. He’s either a loutish bully or a charming bully, depending on your point of view. He commands respect with a violent authoritarian streak, torturing or killing folks who betray him. After Rick’s crew killed a bunch of his men, he wreaks revenge, whacking Glenn and Abraham and subjugating Rick to humiliating indentured servitude during season seven. But Rick decides to fight back, readying us for season eight.

Chandler Riggs as Carl Grimes, Ann Mahoney as Olivia – The Walking Dead _ Season 7, Episode 8 – Photo Credit: Gene Page/AMC

O. Olivia. When Aaron recruited Rick’s crew to come to Alexandria, he had no idea that soon after, a good portion of their populace would be dead. The problem was that many of them had no idea how to live outside the walls or fight walkers or other people for that matter. Olivia was one of the poor victims. She seemed singularly ill-prepared for battle but ended up overseeing the armory. When Negan found out two guns missing last season, he took her hostage and terrorized her. At least she had the guts to slap in the face when he offered to have sex with her, then insulted her weight. (Harvey Weinstein: take a memo!) Later, after Negan offs Spencer and Rosita shoots Lucille the bat instead of Negan, he orders Arat to just kill someone, anyone. She chooses Olivia. Random death. Classic “Walking Dead” moment.

P. Pet walkers. Kitana-wielding Michonne enters the show at the end of season two with her two jawless walkers to ward off other walkers. (You’d think she’d be overcome by the smell but that’s an issue this show rarely addresses.) Tough as steel, she only began revealing her softer side to Carl and Rick once she gained their trust. With her katana, she is a trustworthy killing machine. Then surprise! During season six, she and Rick become lovers at Alexandria. By that time, the pet walkers are long gone. You have to wonder why more people don’t try this tactic more often – or smearing zombie goo on themselves – to survive.

R. Rick’s monologues. Every few episodes, Rick the leader feels compelled to get the troops in order. That means it’s time to become Mr. Orator. Sometimes, he’s strong but urgent like in season 2: “We found each other! We’re together!” Sometimes, he’s defensive: “I didn’t ask for this! I killed my best friend for you people, for Christ’s sake! This isn’t a democracy no more!” Sometimes, he’s low key, like the contemplative season five speech ending with the line “We are the walking dead.” Or he can be plain nutty like when he points a gun at Deanna in Alexandria and Michonne has to whack him on the head to shut up: “We know what needs to be done. We do it. We are the ones who live! If you don’t fight, you die!” But his diplomacy skills don’t always work.  “We aren’t too far gone. We get to come back. We all can change!” he pleaded to the Governor season four. Unconvinced, the Governor muttered “Liar!” and beheaded Hershel.

Q. Quarry. Formerly Bellwood Quarry, this scenic site in Atlanta was the site where Carol, Andrea and others camped out during season one. It’s going to become Westside Reservoir Park, set to open in 2019.

S. Sophia. With budgets tight, “The Walking Dead” stayed at Hershel’s farm for the stretched out second season. Much of it was spent looking for Carol’s daughter Sophia, who ran off after a bevy of walkers came upon them on the highway. In the end, she was corralled in Hershel’s barn as a walker, a discovery that broke the hearts of Rick’s crew as she came out.

Terminus is an old railroad facility in Mechanicsville. Sanctuary? Not so much. Ratings? Huge! CREDIT: AMC

T- Terminus. After the prison was broached, Rick’s crew scattered but they saw signage pointing to Terminus: “Sanctuary for all community, for all who arrive survive.” As we now know, that was a big fat lie. The cannibals were seeking fresh food. Exiled Carol saved them from that fate in the nick of time.

Jeffrey Dean Morgan as Negan, Andrew Lincoln as Rick Grimes – The Walking Dead _ Season 7, Episode 1 – Photo Credit: Gene Page/AMC

U- Us. Vs. Them. This is what drives the entire show. “Us” is almost always from the standpoint of Rick and his gang. We are supposed to root for them, even when Rick has them make some morally questionable moves. (Killing Negan’s crew in their sleep? Cold!). They ran ramshod into Alexandria, forcing their “Us-ness” onto them. The “them” is virtually everybody else, be it the walkers, the Governor, that crew at the Atlanta hospital or Negan’s Sanctuary, which will be the focal point of season eight. If there’s no big enemy, the show has nowhere to go.

V- Virus. The reason for the zombie apocalypse has never been fully explained. Perhaps it’s a virus. Perhaps it’s something else. Nevertheless, everyone is infected, even the seemingly healthy. If someone dies and isn’t moshed in the skull, they turn. Ironically, it was a pig virus that killed many members of the prison crew season three after Rick tried to domesticate himself. That was sad because there is a serious shortage of farm animals on this show.

W- Woodbury. In season three and four, Woodbury was the site of the Governor’s home. It was actually Senoia, a small town 40 miles south of downtown Atlanta. It has become a de facto “Walking Dead” tourism site with a show-related tchochke store and even a restaurant co-owned by executive producer Greg Nicotero and Norman Reedus.

Xander Berkeley as Gregory – The Walking Dead _ Season 7, Episode 9 – Photo Credit: Gene Page/AMC

X- Xander Berkeley. This actor plays one of the most annoying characters in the history of the show Gregory. He is a mealy mouthed, checked-out accidental leader who barely knows the names of the people at the Hilltop Colony. He likes to drink Scotch and bemoan how much his life has sucked since Rick’s group arrived. He quietly gives in to Negan’s demands, anything to save his own hide. Worse yet, he has never even killed a walker before and given the chance, pregnant Maggie has to save him. Yet he is still alive as we enter season eight.

Y- “You’re my brother.” Rick told Daryl this season four. Although there was some minor friction between the two of them early on, they quickly became co-patriots. Rick could always trust Daryl to kill when needed and support whatever he wanted. In real life, Reedus and Lincoln are best buds on set who love playing pranks on each other.

Abraham goes after a zombie as he and his group try to get their way to D.C. CREDIT: AMC

Z. Zombie. No character on the show has ever used the term zombie. It’s as if the people on the show had never seen “Dawn of the Dead,” “Zombieland” or “28 Days Later.” They make no wisecrack references to George Romero or “Shaun of the Dead.” Instead, they come up with their own terms for the undead, which is why Rick’s crew ended up calling them “walkers” and others show up dubbing them “biters,” “creepers” and “roamers.”

TV PREVIEW

“The Walking Dead” returns Sunday at 9 p.m. on AMC for its 100th episode and the season eight premiere

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