Come and get some mercy.

Well, season 2 of Z Nation is complete and I am giddy.

There are other shows with zombies (I am pretty sure… although these days I’m only watching iZombie, and it kind of doesn’t count). There are other shows with pulpy, bright-and-quickly-drawn characters.  There are other shows with kind of cheesy premises that carry themselves through sheer momentum.


Continue reading “Come and get some mercy.”

“God, I hate the apocalypse.”

The opening chords and the "Have MERCY" catchphrase are stuck in my head, and I am gleeful.
The opening chords and the “Have MERCY” catchphrase are in my head, and I am gleeful.

It’s been a frustrating sort of day, so I am accentuating the positive. (This is me, so I am doing so by discussing Z Nation.)

God, I love that show.

I’ve basically dropped The Walking Dead, which I’m sure continues to be a well-acted depiction of desperate people driven to cruelty and making harsh decisions as kindness is slowly eroded from a dying world that they have no hope of salvaging.

I don’t think Z Nation is as good, in terms of narrative consistency or pacing, as TWD. I’m okay with that. It’s cheesy in its simplistic approach; it openly says that anyone still around three years into the zombie apocalypse is some kind of pulp-action-adventure badass, and then uses that as a reason to eschew grinding subsistence-level misery and proceeds to give a group of flawed, hopeful, mostly well-intentioned and kind characters a chance to actually do something that might save the world.

It has dark humour. It’s fun. It’s hopeful, in the game grim way apocalyptic settings can be if you give the characters an actual chance to achieve something. And there are moments–when Murphy leaves the door open–when I am actually shocked and horrified by the bad things people do. I like that. I appreciate the hell out of a post-apocalyptic story that can still make cruel things upsetting instead of allowing them to fade into a background slurry of mean-desperate-selfish-mean. Continue reading ““God, I hate the apocalypse.””

Walking Dead: No Going Back

(Yes, well, it’s the holidays. I can’t use the mouse too much, but games which are heavily or primarily keyboard-accessible? I am all over those.)

So, I finished Walking Dead: Season 2–the story game, not the TV show, definitely not the Walking Dead™: Survival Instinct game which from what I’ve heard is absolutely terrible–and it was good. (I generally find the Telltale Games stuff to be really good; the only work of theirs I haven’t picked up is the Game of Thrones one, and if they ever do a 100 Bullets game I will probably go missing for several hours at regularly spaced intervals. I find they don’t branch as much as the Choice of Games narrative fiction, but they are very good at inspiring an emotional connection with the characters.)

Anyway, the game’s been out for a year or for four months (depending on whether you count from the first or last episode), but I realize some people may not have played it yet, so I’m putting the rest behind a cut. Continue reading “Walking Dead: No Going Back”

Carrying on, into the dark of the year

I named it Sidney.
I named it Sidney.

I honestly didn’t remember it was the fifth of November until I was trying to come up with a post title. That puts today as being concurrently in the territory of NaNoWriMo, Noirvember, and Guy Fawkes Day; I think I may go with the “watch a movie and call it good” approach to celebrating.

Hallowe’en was very quiet; while I did the usual jack o’lantern, we ended up putting out candy with a sign asking people to please take one. The trick-or-treaters in our neighbourhood are mostly young kids with accompanying adults, so we figured it was a good bet, and it worked out.

Saturday was awesome; while some of the other people taking the Zombie Diefenbunker Tour were annoying, the tour itself was that kind of cheerfully unselfconscious pulpy creepy setup you’d expect from a Hallowe’en haunted house set in a Cold War bunker. And the bunker itself was amazing, in a rather understated but very stolid way.

(Apparently all 32,000 cubic yards of concrete were hand-poured. I find this particular detail oddly endearing.)

I will need to go back and pay attention to what it’s like when it’s not full of zombies, clearly.

Sunday was fun; the actual getting together and playing of board games in the same room as other people is something I haven’t done in way too long. There were several games of Gloom, one of the new Doomtown, one of Pandemic, and one of Redshirts. I find myself weirdly fond of Gloom in particular; there’s something about trying to kill the family or team represented by your own cards while saving everyone else’s that makes the competition a lot less acrimonious than it could otherwise get, which makes it a good game when you don’t know people too well yet. Plus the art is reminiscent of Edward Gorey.

Work actually ran out of work for me to do, and asked that I not come in today, so that’s kind of nice. I’m trying to catch up on various things around the house before lunch.

Staggering determinedly on

Yesterday I ran Zombies, Run! for the fourth day in a row. I’ve decided I’m aiming for the “Every day ending in ‘y'” achievement. The game counts days as running from midnight to midnight, which is fairly straightforward.

Unfortunately, it’s a British game, and I am in North America. So the time difference means that because I ran later in the day on Wednesday, and then ran again yesterday, it counted my runs for this week as happening “Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, Thursday” rather than “Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday”.

(There’s not much I can do about this but shrug. Oh well.)

I am hoping to at least keep going today and through the weekend, at which point I will be able to honestly say to myself that I ran every day for a week, even if I didn’t get the achievement. After that, I will see what happens, and probably get the hospital built for Abel Township. The base-building was revised in Season 2, and the collect-resources/spend-resources/upgrade aspect of it is very motivational when it comes to interval training. (Interval training consists of zombie chases, and if you don’t run fast enough, then you loose some of the items you’ve collected as you drop or throw them behind you to distract the zoms. This means you don’t have those resources to actually upgrade the amenities in Abel.)

Hoping to get the hospital built by the end of the weekend. It would have been done slightly sooner, except I sort of misclicked on the base, and accidentally expanded it in the wrong direction. Hospitals require a 3×3 space, and I managed to clear a 2×4 one instead.

Not very interesting, I know, but it’s been a long week and this is about the only area in which I feel that my efforts to be productive have produced a measurable result.

Always it is the zombies.

There’s a nifty little running app called Zombies, Run! It assembles a playlist from music on your phone (I can’t remember if it uses WinAmp specifically or if that’s just how I use it), and then it intersperses the songs with radio transmissions from a camp of survivors after a zombie outbreak. You become Runner 5, one of the camp’s couriers, going out on assorted survival missions and not incidentally dealing with plot twists and betrayal and (speaking as someone who has not played very far in) another Runner who I think is just being a teeny bit too gleeful about the prospect of shooting me as a lying traitor.

(Okay, she probably wouldn’t use a bullet if she could avoid it. That would be wasteful.)

Anyway, it is a pretty awesome app for encouraging running–you get a cute little radio play mixed with your favourite workout songs, and then there’s also the option to have intermittent hordes of zombies show up and encourage you to really run, what with the slavering and the groaning–and I’m very sorry I took a break from it as long as I did. But I picked it up again today, and…

Eh. I have done worse. Mostly by not trying to go out for exercise walks at all, but I have done worse! So that was a productive exercise moment in my day.

World can’t drag you down if you start so low.

Notes on the latest Walking Dead;

I despise Shane.  I deeply, truly, honestly detest him in a way… well, honestly, I’m sick and I’m tired and I’m thinking a bit fuzzily.  But I can’t remember the last time I saw so little about a character in a TV show that I could like.  He walks over to talk to Laurie and the clearest thought in my head was “Oh, good, at least she’s got a knife.”  Not “I hope this doesn’t go too badly,” not “I can see where he’s coming from,” just a general attitude of “here comes the shitstorm, head down and shoulders up and let’s get through it.”

I can see where he’s coming from.  But it’s not a place I can feel for.

I’m glad he’s there as a character, but it’s in the same sort of way that I’m glad there are zombies.  This is a story with a threat that isn’t empathic in the slightest, that wants but doesn’t care, not now.  Everyone knows that the zombies are like that.  No-one seems to have fully internalized that Shane is.  (Well.  One person might be doing it; I refrain from saying who since I’m nearly done and am too wiped for talking around the spoilers.)

What else?  Still liking Glenn.  Watching the Daryl/Carol relationship, and liking how understated it is, since the bit about the Cherokee Rose.  Loved the ending,which is not to say I found it at all happy. Want to smack Andrea, but unlike my reaction to Shane I want to smack her in a way that’s like wanting to yell at a dumb human who could learn better.

Meeting a classic.

I’m a bit swamped/sick/exhausted right now, so I’m dusting off some old notes–my initial impressions from watching Night of the Living Dead, the original.

I actually only saw it six years ago–I’d read Russo’s novelization, which pretty near exactly follows the screenplay–and it was interesting to note what does and doesn’t show up. The word “zombie” doesn’t appear; they’re “ghouls”, “flesh-eating ghouls”, or “flesh-eaters”. They’re afraid of fire, and dislike particularly bright light, which never really seems to show up later (although the modern The Walking Dead does mention that walkers seem to be more active after dark). They seem to kill you first and eat you once you’re dead, rather than start chowing down while you’re still warm and screaming as in the later movies. They can use tools, crudely–a couple of them pick up rocks to break windows, and a couple pick up a club or a knife (actually, a trowel, but the intent’s there). This, to my mind, is something Dawn and Day did better than Night; the zombies in them don’t use tools, which makes the slow almost-recognition they display towards certain objects much creepier.

Apparently only the unburied dead rise–the radio broadcast uses that particular adjective at one point–which while it’s fairly conventional is something that’s rarely specified in zombie movies (to the point that I for one hadn’t consciously noticed it before). And the first one you see is pretty quick, although his fine motor control is for shit–he’s walking slowly at first, but he manages a shamble that could match a decent jogging speed for a while chasing Barbara. They’re all stumbling around very slowly by the end of the movie, though. Maybe he was particularly fresh at the beginning, or maybe they just can’t see very well in the dark and move slowly as a result…?

A couple of the events in the movie happen very abruptly; there’s a little dramatic build-up, and then a sudden resolution in which the movie generally does not behave the way polite convention indicates the movie is supposed to behave. It’s not quite disconcerting enough for me to call it shocking, but I think it might have been if I didn’t already know how the movie was going to run, and I sure it would have been if I deeply expected movies to follow polite convention. (If I ever get a week to spare, I’ll sit down with a bunch of mid- and late-sixties horror movies to get into the mindset, and then watch Night of the Living Dead and Westworld and anything else I can find that includes scenes which specifically break with the conventions of the time.)

The actual scenes of the zombies eating were much better than I expected. I thought I’d be interested–this is, after all, pretty much the zombie movie–and maybe a little squicked. It was interesting and squicky.

It was also creepy. I did not expect that. I am glad it happened, though. It was fairly standard presentation, I guess–level, detached shots of humans eating human bits, unflinching presentation of girlfriend gnawing flesh off former boyfriend’s hand, clinical and helpless protrayal of horrific events, uncaring universe, etcetera. (Best example I’ve seen of this is still the end sequence of Hannibal.) The scenes were pretty dark, which is a little unusual and probably helped the creepiness factor, putting together a relatively rare combination of indifferent horror with the viewer’s imagination needing to be involved to identify all the elements of the scene.

(Sidenote: dammit, creepy can’t be that hard to produce if they were doing it in ’68. Why am I not getting more creep in my horror movies? Why am I so often stuck with something that gets a twitch or a yelp or a flinch instead of that feeling that my skin is trying to crawl off my spine so it can leave the room where the scary pictures are showing? Come on.)

On a related note: I need to watch a little more of John Carpenter’s stuff. He’s prone, I think, to very static shots with very little movement in the frame, and I’m trying to figure out if it’s just me anticipating that something will happen that makes this disconcerting, or if he’s actually doing something with the composition of the scenes or the pacing of the movie.

Walking amongst the Dead

Yeah, there’s been more Walking Dead than American Horror Story lately.  The light of my life has laid hands upon Skyrim, and I’m holding off on watching new episodes without him.

Daryl’s my favourite character[1], although I think that’d change if we saw more of Glenn.  Stupid situation or not, something to be said for a guy who manages to lasso a zombie while being in serious danger of being dropped on it.  And is not charging merrily forward on the “OMG sex” bandwagon (pet peeve; have had too many people drop the “if a guy does not immediately jump at offers of (straight) sex, there is something wrong with him” line lately).  And sticks his neck out for utter strangers on a pay-it-forward theory.  And (practical or not) cares about how the formerly living dead are treated…

…okay, now?  Now I’m annoyed we haven’t seen more of Glenn.  Daryl’s cool, and Rick’s decent, but Glenn’s kind, and while I can understand that not being hugely valuable I think it’s important.  (How much has he been around this season?)  It’s not like it’s a case of people just needing to do anything they have to to get over the next hill; there doesn’t seem to be any greater social structure or network left.  If people who are scrabbling for their lives aren’t kind, it’s not as if people who aren’t scared and in danger will pick up the slack.  If people who are scrabbling for their lives aren’t kind, then no-one is kind, and that is a sad sad world.

I confess, in a fit of being horribly unjaded and sympathetic towards people who have had their lives fall apart, I like most of the characters.  Actually all of the group from last season except Carl and T-Dog and Sophie, who really seem the least fleshed-out; they’re watercolour sketches.  (Also I’m disappointed we haven’t seen more of the Greenes yet.)  I’d probably be a lot less sympathetic if I had to deal with the characters (see: Shane), but I like watching them.  It’s easier to put up with and watch their human failings from the safety of my living room.

Andrea makes me the most uneasy–I can see how she’s gone from having something to prove to having explicitly failed to prove it and, having been guilted out of a clean and relatively painless suicide, has sort of given up on these silly things like “group bonding” and “relying on others”.  She’ll still learn from them, which is practical, and I think she might still feel mild affection towards some of them, but in a really fundamental sense she seems to have checked out, and it makes me sad.[2]  And I get being upset–furious–at being guilted out of a clean and painless and easily-managed death.

At the same time… well.  A solid chunk of her is looking to kill herself.  I’m trying to figure out where to stand between the “ohgod I’ve been there, no-one can blame you for wanting this but that doesn’t mean a sane you would want it, please please don’t” and the “you know, even us stressed and crazy people can actually manage to make real and valid decisions about what we want to do with our lives”, and…

Been on both sides of that.  Like I said… uneasy.

[1] “Copperhead Road” ninja.
[2] Actually, looking back on last season, it also annoys me that the characters who chose to kill themselves were two women and one of those edumacated guys.

That? That ain’t no miracle, that’s just the way things are.

I get that zombie stories are usually natural-disaster-survival stories. How far would you go, what would you get stripped down to to avoid getting stripped down to the bone, all this. But it amazes me how throughly that’s integrated into the in-character perspective of the stories, how they’re seen as nothing more than an emotionally charged mechanical threat.

I mean, this is a genre that involves dead people getting up and walking and then (usually) falling over when you damage a particular chunk of their body which by virtue of being dead they are not using for its intended purpose. That doesn’t happen. There is no currently plausible scientific mechanism by which it can happen. Viruses (virii?) do not do that, bacteria do not do that, radiation does not do that… And yet so few people in these stories ever suggest a fantastic explanation, a supernatural or super-scientific cause. The closest you get is the line “When there’s no more room in hell the dead will walk the earth,” and that is treated more as an expression of the unknowable monster we are helpless against. Not as a cause to hit the Orne Library and look up “Property Expansion, Infernal”.

I am not saying this is a bad thing, mind. Around the time you start digging into the exact structure of an archetypal monster, you start off the line of approach that leads to “Ah, well this is just a condition,” and take that too far you get “A misunderstood condition, which in actual fact is manageable,” and then you are telling an entirely different kind of story and a lot of the power to horrify seeps out of the monster.[1] But it’s kind of surprising that the characters never try to attribute causes. “Dead people walking around” is not the kind of thing you would expect people to shrug off with “just a disease”[2]; that’s an explanation that’s so facile and blatantly unlikely…

I mean, you wouldn’t expect people to handwave it with “Just a disease” if everyone who died got up and grew wings and flew away. I know people are probably not up for deep theorizing, what with trying to avoid being eaten, but there are times when the characters have a chance to talk and humans try to explain things. Put labels on them.

I mean, I understand that generally, attempts to explain the zombie apocalypse don’t matter.  That’s a basic conceit.  And yet, in a story about surviving a natural disaster, you could expect to touch on people’s attempts to explain it and thereby cope with it in more contexts than just watching them scrabble for answers while falling apart.

[1] I mean, consider the vampire. Yes, the basic idea of the monster is horrific, but at this point I think some variation of the phrase “he’s not sparkly, he’s a real vampire” would creep into a lot of explanations of that. And when the sparkle gets so deeply associated with the perception of the monster, when it becomes not only familiar but banal, the story-telling power of the tool is weakened.
Of course, you can also say that the association of “destroy the head, and it’s okay” with the zombies is an idea with a similarly neutralizing effect on the horror of the monster. Associates them with a purely mechanical solution, takes the focus away from what they are… And I suspect this shorthand, this taking the focus away from the zombie, is what allows zombie stories to be about people.
Okay. Footnote getting way too long, back to text.
[2] Or radiation from a downed satellite, or whatever.