Monday, October 31, 2016

Preparedness Review of The Walking Dead Episode 702: The Well

Episode 702: The Well

Morgan: He's called King Ezekiel.
Carol:  What?
Morgan: Yeah, King Ezekiel.  And he ... he does his own thing.

Carol (after meeting King Ezekiel):  You're shitting me, right?

Synopsis: TWD completely abandons the main Negan plotline to follow up on Morgan and Carol, who have taken shelter inside the Kingdom, another settlement run by King Ezekiel, a dreadlocked Shakespeare in the Park guy with his own pet tiger.   Morgan helps the Kingdom in return for their attending to Carol, and teaches Benjamin how to use the staff.  All is not as it seems though, as King Ezekiel is also under the thumb of the Saviors.  Few people inside the Kingdom know it, for Ezekiel fears the population will want to fight, and he is afraid the Saviors will destroy all they have built.   Carol has gathered enough supplies to leave, but Ezekiel calls her on her aw shucks act and offers to help her.  She settles in a home just outside the settlement surrounded by a tall fence, and Ezekiel visits her on her first night.

The Well is a somewhat jarring change of pace following the bloodbath of The Day Will Come When You Won't Be, and plays a few light comedic notes in addition to its revelation that the Saviors have co-opted even this seemingly idyllic community.  I'm still not quite buying the whole Carol doesn't want to kill anymore arc, but it's a welcome distraction from last week.   Overall, it is a lightweight episode, but it is deftly played by Melissa McBride, Lennie James, and newcomer Khary Payton.

Morgan marks the direction back to the main plot.
Carol regains consciousness in the bed of a horse-drawn wagon, and sees Morgan walking with the men on horseback they met at the end of Season Six in their improvised armor made from sports equipment (which begs the question: why hasn't this cropped up before in the series?  I am so tired of random walkers taking a chunk out of an exposed arm).  She loses consciousness again, and awakens to find her wagon overturned in the midst of a battle between the the humans and undead.   She begins hallucinating, seeing the walkers as they were when they were alive and then focusing back into their current undead state.  She staggers away and comes to rest at a tall wrought iron fence in front of a house.   She sees a woman in the window, who then morphs into a walker. A new group of horsemen approach and kill the remaining walkers.

He has his own quotes on a wall.  Riggggghhhht.
Carol wakes up in a bed, her wounds cleaned and dressed, where Morgan explains she has been asleep for two days.  Putting her in a wheelchair, she shows him around their temporary home, called the Kingdom.  It is a hive of activity, with well-developed gardens producing food, school in session for children, and even power in certain buildings.   The area is clean and well-kept.  Brick buildings are surrounded by people living and thriving in a community of hope.   It almost made me wonder if the settlement (filmed on the grounds of a 19th Century military base now owned by noted producer Tyler Perry) was part of a different show.   Compared to the chaos of Alexandria, the viewer is invited to explore the notion that maybe all the issues with our main group are a symptom of Rick's confrontational leadership style.

The dude has a tiger.  Let that sink in for a minute.
Morgan introduces Carol to King Ezekiel, who invites her to stay and recover.  He speaks using a commanding voice and archaic terms, as if from Shakespeare or some other classic author.   Carol, who has perfected the art of disappearing behind a guise of a helpless housewife, can't stand it and nearly laughs in his face, but recovers in time.  She tells Morgan that the Kingdom is a circus: a fantasy land that belies the horrors of the world in the worst way, by covering it up with some myth of royalty and knights.  Carol is leaving as soon as she gets better and can gather the supplies she needs to accomplish it.   Morgan insists that he is not going to let her die "out there."  She says he can't stop her.

Benjamin needs a red shirt.
Later, Morgan, Ezekiel and a small team led by Richard, Ezekiel's second in command, leave in a two-truck convoy and travel to a nearby city to hunt feral pigs, who themselves are feeding on the walkers.  They shoo them into a room in a warehouse where a tied up walker has been pre-positioned, and then shut the door.  As the pigs devour the walker, Richard remarks that he wanted the pigs to have "a belly full of rot."  Walkers approach because of the noise and Benjamin, a teenager who is new to the outside the wire group, is instructed to kill one using a machete.  He struggles to do so, and Ezekiel stabs the creature in the head with his sword. As they load up, Ezekiel instructs Morgan not to tell anyone about the hunt, and the pig truck leaves in a different direction than the other truck.

Ezekiel, impressed by Morgan, asks him to train Benjamin in the staff, because the younger man has shown little talent with other melee weapons or firearms.  Reluctantly, Morgan agrees to do so, but finds he enjoys instructing the young man.   Meanwhile, Carol wheels around in her wheelchair, stealing clothes, weapons, and supplies.

Morgan is training Benjamin when Ezekiel and Richard ask him to come with them.  Richard tells him to bring his gun.   The trio leave with a small team and rendezvous with the now slaughtered pigs in a parking lot.   A group of Saviors arrives, and when Dianne, a member of the Kingdom, explains to Morgan who they are, Morgan says, "I know who they are."

I really hope this guy dies soon.
As they load the pigs into the Saviors' trucks, one of them picks a fight with Richard.  Richard has the upper hand, is clearly very skilled at fighting.  Ezekiel orders his people to stand down, and the Savior uses the opportunity to get a few free shots in until the lead Savior orders him to stop.  He reminds Ezekiel that next week is produce week, and if they are short Richard will be the first to die.

Back at the Kingdom, Benjamin explains that Ezekiel is keeping their obligations to the Saviors a secret to prevent people from wanting to fight back and cause the Saviors to destroy them.  He knows the Saviors outmatch the Kingdom.  Benjamin's father was one of the best fighters in the Kingdom but died with eight others "clearing walkers from a building."  It would come as no surprise if it emerges that Negan killed those people, and Benjamin tries to seek revenge later.   

Ezekiel confronts Carol.
Exekiel confronts Carol in the apple orchard as she gathers fruit for her journey, and confesses that he is playing a part and being a leader "because people want to follow someone."  Carol thinks he is a joke, but then seems to understand.  He was a zookeeper who nursed Shiva back to health before the fall of civilization.   Carol explains that she wants to leave, but he encourages her to embrace life and the hope it offers.   He suggests a plan where she can "go and not go."

Morgan and Carol go on horseback to the fenced in cottage where she passed out, and she enters and kills the walker inside.  She cleans it out and sets it up as her home, safe behind the iron fences.  There is a knock at the door, and Ezekiel is there. He offers her a pomegranate and she smiles at him.

Preparedness Discussion

Over armor, not under armor.
It's about time someone started using body armor of some sort in this world.  When venturing into
danger, Rick's group routinely wears short sleeved t-shirts and no gloves while facing herds of dangerous walkers that have to be put down at close range, many times with melee weapons (then again, they can also gargle zombie guts and blood safely but one scratch and it's lights out, but I digress).  The Kingdom's armor is a mixture of sports elbow and knee pads, motor cross chest protectors, and other odds and ends, but it works:  no walker is going to chew through a plastic shinguard worn on the forearm.

Of course, the trade off with wearing armor is mobility. You are more protected but carrying extra weight, which slows you down and tires you out more quickly.   U.S. troops often wore full body armor in Iraq, where they were close to their operating bases and usually rode around in vehicles using that country's modern road network.  In Afghanistan, where the steep terrain often meant dismounted patrols for days at a time, troops, and special operations forces in particular, sometimes jettisoned their heavy ceramic body armor plates to cut weight.  When everything you own for upcoming operation is being carried on you back, the 10-15 pounds of body armor can be excruciating after a time.

The Kingdom is more worried about walkers than bullets, however, so what they have works for the situation.   As preppers, we should critically examine whether body armor is an expense we are willing to incur.  There are several reputable companies that market body armor, and a variety of plate carriers available on the market.  The question is:  what are you preparing for?   Does body armor make sense in that scope, and do you foresee a need for it?

Also think about your home.  If you plan to shelter in place during a crisis, will your home withstand gunfire?  For most of us, the answer is no, unless you have a brick home or poured concrete home.   These materials are more resistant to high velocity rounds.   Cinderblock is not and can be penetrated relatively quickly (don't believe me?  Check this video).  If you are planning to include a panic room or defending your home from armed attackers in your preparations, do a critical appraisal of your home and its ability to provide cover for you and your family.  Standard wood and drywall construction will do little to stop high-velocity rounds..

Also of note is the sheer amount of work the Kingdom puts into feeding itself.  There are gardens everywhere.  I particularly like the use of filing cabinets as containers for plants.  As a prepper, you should try to produce at least some of your own food.   It could be as simple as a few containers with a tomato plant in each one, but working with plants puts you back in touch with nature and also gives you insight into the challenges of agriculture. I know there are companies that sell "crisis seed vaults" of heirloom seeds  -- those that are not genetically modified and thus will germinate the next season if saved properly, unlike hybrid seeds that will not.  Do not expect that you would will be able to crack open one of those vaults and plant an acre garden that grows itself.   Gardening takes time and effort to be successful.  Again, experience and skills trump supplies and gear. 

Preparedness Lessons for Episode 702:

  • Is body armor right for you?   Does it fit your preparedness plan?
  • Consider how well protected you would be from gunfire in your home.  If you need to reinforce an area consider sandbags on the outer walls or fortifying a couple of key rooms to protect your family.
  • Try some gardening, even if it's just one plant in a container.
Next week: Daryl gets to play Cool Hand Luke to Negan's Strother Martin.

Monday, October 24, 2016

Preparedness Review of The Walking Dead Episode 701: The Day Will Come When You Won't Be

Episode 701: The Day Will Come When You Won't Be

Abraham: Suck my nuts.

Synopsis:  Negan kills Abraham, and when Daryl tries to intervene and punches him, Negan turns and kills Glenn. When Rick threatens to kill him one day in retaliation, Negan takes him in the camper and forces him to wade through a crowd of walkers to retrieve his own hatchet to display his power over the group.   When Rick still displays defiance, Negan orders him to cut of Carl's hand, but relents at the last minute when Rick begs him not to make him do such a horrific thing. Negan tells the group that he will be at Alexandria in one week to receive his tribute, takes Daryl hostage, and leaves the group, who load the bodies of their friends onto the camper and proceed to the Hilltop to get care for Maggie.  

The Day Will Come When You Won't Be is a solid hour of new bad guy Negan, who loves playing power games, breaking Rick's will and forcing him to comply with the "New World Order."  It opens with Rick threatening to kill Negan in retribution, but Negan, not impressed drags Rick to the camper with Rick's hatchet and goes on a short road trip to the log barricade built by the Saviors.   There, he forces Rick to wade into a crowd of walkers to retrieve his hand ax from the top of the RV.  During this scene, there are flashbacks to the events at the end of the last season, and while resting in relative safety on top of the RV, he relives in flashback the events from a few minutes before. 

He's just getting started. Or Something.
Negan chooses Abraham as his victim, and pummels the man once with his bat, Lucille.   Abraham, who might be dead, but was never defeated, utters "Suck my nuts," to his killer's face before Negan beats him to death.  He then orders Rosita, whom he has correctly surmised had some sort of previous relationship with Abraham, to look at his blood-soaked "vampire bat."  When she cannot, Daryl leaps up and punches Negan.  Once Daryl is subdued, Dwight asks to kill the man with his own crossbow.  Negan tells him know, but then immediately pivots and brains Glenn twice.   Glen manages to mutter a goodbye to Maggie, then collapses as Negan beats him to death.   

Back in the present, on top of the RV, Rick hears Negan losing his patience, and explains to Rick that he should imagine what could happen if Rick does not toe the line.   Rick, picturing the other members of the group falling to Lucille, makes it back inside, but it is clear he is still seething.   Negan tells him it must be "rough" for him, having been in charge so long.   He cleans the hatchet with alcohol and gives it back to Rick, telling him he can still live a long and productive life.

They drive back to the murder site, where the other hostages are waiting.  Negan orders Carl to come forward and he is held to the ground.   The head Savior then orders Rick to chop off his son's left hand to show loyalty.   As Rick lifts the hatchet after begging Negan to not make him do this (and Carl telling him to get it over with), Negan relents now that he sees Rick is truly broken.

Negan tells him that the Saviors will be in Alexandria in one week for the first tribute, and then the bigger group withdraws, taking Daryl as a hostage.   Negan sees potential in the man, who Negan says "isn't a bitch like someone else we know."  

The rest of the group is left weaponless and grieving.   Maggie is inconsolable, but stands unsteadily and announces she is marching to Hilltop alone while the rest of them go back and prepare to fight the Saviors.  Rick tells her it's useless;  they will kill Daryl if they resist. The group slowly pulls itself together and load the bodies onto the RV and depart.  As they leave, a lone walker wanders onto the scene and begins eating the scraps of flesh left on the ground from Glenn.

All in all, it is a solid, well-acted episode, but I was bothered with the amount of gore and the and the gratuitous violence on display.   This is an episode I will never re-watch because it is just too disturbing.  We have had deaths and gore on The Walking Dead before, but the gory deaths of walkers can be disconnected.  These are monsters, things, that are out to devour our heroes.   The deaths of two characters so central to the story of this series in such a shocking way just seemed way over the top.

At the center of it all is Negan, played by the excellent Jeffrey Dean Morgan, who delivers his "lessons" without a trace of the Governor's underlying malevolence.   He is a true sociopath.

Preparedness Discussion

This was a hard episode to derive preparedness advice from for me (always have alcohol on hand to sterilize your hatchet, though;  I wrote this in my show notes).  The biggest lesson derived is the need for developing as full of an intelligence picture as possible during a crisis situation.   Rick didn't understand the true nature of the threat he faced, and his friends paid the price.

Since presumably none of us are privy to classified government threat analyses, we should do what we can to develop local intelligence:

  • Start with our immediate neighborhood.  If you take walks around the area, use the time not just to enhance physical fitness. Look around.  Note the general condition of the homes and yards -- are they well kept and tidy?  Is there a home or homes that don't fit that mold?   Why?  Is it a senior citizen that can't perform the labor anymore?  You now have a chance to get to know a neighbor and build community by helping them.  Do you notice strange traffic patterns, like strange cars coming to a particular house and then departing after only a few minutes? If so, there is a decent chance that a drug dealer has taken up residence.  Check local police blotter reports that are published in newspapers and scan for incidents close to you.
  • Buy a handheld scanner and start listening to police radio reports.  While a growing number of cities are now encrypting communications, many still do not.   
  • Enlist friends and family to help develop an intelligence picture.   In The Rabbit Hole has a really interesting podcast on how to accomplish this. 
Finally, you have to consider how Negan came to power.  Imagine the damage someone like him could do to a preparedness group.  Negan feigns concern for his people, but his real desire is to be the top dog of the food chain, and he could probably sacrifice the entire group if it suited his purposes.  You need to carefully consider who you decide to work with.  Natural News has a neat little article on recognizing sociopathic characteristics.  Only a trained mental health professional can correctly diagnose sociopaths, but if you notice any of those traits, you might want to steer clear.  Bottom line:  listen to your inner voice, and if something doesn't feel quite right about the person, distance yourself.

Preparedness Lessons for Episode 701:

  • Work on improving your personal intelligence picture.
  • Learn to critically evaluate people and steer clear of potential hostiles by knowing some simple warning traits for sociopaths.
Next week:  The full impact of Negan's assault is felt as Rick has to tell Alexandria as whole he is no longer in charge.  Oh, and Glen and Abraham are still dead.

Monday, August 8, 2016

Hope You Are Having A Great Summer!

Hi everyone:

I hope you are all having a great summer prepping and enjoying life, because I sure have!  I have been traveling,  carrying out various home improvement projects, and re-working some of my prepping goals  -- basically just taking stock of where I am and what I want to do.  Some of my activities include:

Home Maintenance.  I made sure my furnace filters were clean and clear (my HVAC system uses a pair of permanent filters that must be cleaned every few months) and scheduled a yearly service on my HVAC system.  I purchased a new pressure washer and pressure washed all the concrete patios, porches, walks, and driveways on my property.  I still need to repaint the wood on my sun porch.  More one why in a minute. 

Personal Maintenance.  Continued working out when I could to build strength.  Personal achievements were making it 5K on a treadmill.   I also had routine doctor's appointments to check blood work, etc.  as diabetes runs in my family and I wanted to monitor that as I am approaching a certain age. 

Skills Maintenance.   Increased my practice with firearms and researched more on shooting fundamentals.   I am happy to say that my work with rifle platforms and handgun platforms has improved markedly.

Supply Maintenance.  Inventoried supplies I have accumulated and rotated out old stock.   I had been a little lax in this department.
This is a house on fire, floating down the river.

Spiritual Maintenance.  My home state of West Virginia was subjected to massive flash flooding in late June, and as part of my church relief team I spent time in the town of Clendenin, West Virginia handing out relief supplies as part of the volunteer effort. There is still a massive amount of cleaning up to do. Some parts of the state received two months of rain in 24 hours.

The biggest challenge I faced this summer was a physical condition that hampered my mobility.  I was diagnosed with psoas tendonitis of the left hip.   This inflammation of the tendons of the hip is painful and takes up to three to four weeks to recover from.  The psoas muscle, for the uninitiated, is used in virtually every movement of the hip.  As soon as my hip was feeling better I came down with a pretty bad upper respiratory infection as well, so I was out of commission for four weeks or so.  This slowed me down, but I am back up to full speed now.

I could have used my down time to review Fear The Walking Dead,  but honestly, the second season has not grabbed me like the first season did.  Much of the characterization that was developed during the first season was jettisoned and the show meandered through the first seven episodes.  I may go back and do a "best of" preparedness lessons learned during the first part of the season, but at this point I simply don't feel like writing seven reviews on disappointing episodes.

Alternatively, I would recommend Containment, a limited series on the CW network that follows an inner city area of Atlanta after a disease outbreak forces it to be walled off in a cordon to stop the disease from spreading.  It has some of the usual Hollywood tropes (people with guns are either gang bangers or racist rednecks, government conspiracies, etc.) but watching a quarantine area slowly devolve into chaos is an eye opener.