Monday, October 17, 2011

Preparedness Review of The Walking Dead Episode 201: What Lies Ahead

The Walking Dead debuted to great fanfare last fall, but the abbreviated six-episode first season felt like it was ending just as it was warming up.  Following the events in the cataclysmic finale, it was interesting to see just how the themes of hope, adaptation, and survival would play out.  
When we last left our intrepid crew of survivors, their safe haven, the Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta, Georgia, had blown up in their faces and they were forced to return to the road to find a safe place to weather the undead storm.
Spoilers lie ahead now … you have been warned …

 1. The will to survive is important. There is an opening monologue from Rick Grimes, the central character, regarding his doubts about their survival and the loss of hope among some of the group.  Hope may be the most precious, yet fragile and elusive, survival asset.   One character has given up hope and chosen suicide via the CDC explosion, while another was saved from the same fate only by the intervention by Dale, the elder statesman of the survivors.  Grimes himself has voiced doubts about their survival.    You may have guns, ammo, food, and water, but without hope for the future, why do you even bother to survive?
The US Army Survival Manual perhaps summarizes this hope best as “the will to survive:”
It takes much more than the knowledge and skills to build shelters, get food, make fires, and travel without the aid of standard navigational devices to live successfully through a survival situation. Some people with little or no survival training have managed to survive life-threatening circumstances. Some people with survival training have not used their skills and died. A key ingredient in any survival situation is the mental attitude of the individual(s) involved. Having survival skills is important; having the will to survive is essential.
The most interesting dynamic regarding this theme is Andrea, the survivor who left the CDC after Dale decided he was going to die with her if she would not come with the group.  She clearly hasn’t dealt with her sister’s death, but didn’t want Dale’s blood on her hands.  Now she has to survive in a world she no longer wants to inhabit, and resents Dale for it.   Dale is so worried about her he confiscates her gun. 
2. Having a place of security and safety is important, because bugging out (leaving a place of danger in search of a place of safety) stinks of ice, if you are more than a few days into an emergency.  The group is forced to abandon Atlanta to the dead in an attempt to find safety at Fort Benning, Georgia. Several cars are abandoned and their gas siphoned for the trip, and Daryl (let’s face it, when the stink hits the fan, you want a gun toting redneck riding shotgun) switches to a motorcycle.   
Here is my first problem with the episode.  A motorcycle is a mixed blessing.  It is nimble and can weave around stalled traffic, but it’s loud and draws attention.  We’ve already established in previous episodes that walkers use sound, smell and sight to hunt food.  A regular car is loud enough without that hog drawing walkers to the group.
The group also keeps Dale’s old RV for the trip, which is handy, can hold a bunch of gear and probably has its own generator, but guzzles gas.  It’s hard to maneuver around stalled cars as well.  This point strikes home when they run into a massive traffic jam, complete with flipped tractor trailers bracketing the road.
3.  Spare parts are a good idea.  Dale’s much maligned radiator hose finally gives up the ghost, forcing the group to stop for repairs.  While most cars have progressed to the point that almost anything more than a minor repair requires a trip to the mechanic, keeping an extra belt or length of radiator hose in the trunk might just save you.   Too often we expect our cars to just work.   We don’t remember that vehicles have a failure point.   That’s why most people don’t have a repair fund for their cars.
Shopping Spree: The survivors scavenge for supplies.
4.  When resources are sparse, you are going to have to scavenge – meaning loot – what you need to survive. While the group is stopping for repairs to the RV, the party fans out to search the abandoned cars for items they can use to survive.  Shane finds a full water truck, ending their chronic water shortage at least temporarily.  T-Dog and Daryl begin replenishing their meager fuel supplies by siphoning gas tanks.  Carl finds a stash of machetes and blades (I loved seeing the Bear Grylls parang I own in action later in the episode) that are put to good use.    The group searches for a replacement hose for the RV, and the ladies in the group pilfer new clothes and food.  I was cheering the screen at that point.   There was all this abandoned stuff that could make their lives measurably better, and someone finally recognized it after a few minutes.
5.  Group dynamics in a survival situation can splinter people off and make survival more difficult.  Shane and Andrea are considering leaving the group for different reasons; Daryl is another question mark. 
The zombies aren't the only threat to survival.
Shane and Lori are still at odds over their former relationship and his actions at the CDC.  He is short with Carl, hurting his feelings in a huge contrast to the father figure he represented before his dad returned to the group.  Shane is a tragic figure.  He made all the right moves as the world fell apart, attempting to save his friend and rescuing his friend’s family, only to fall in love and have that love thrown back in his face when Rick re-enters the picture.  He's trying to do the honorable thing by bowing out, but can the group survive without him? 
Daryl has spent his whole life hating people of color (check the Nazi SS runes on the side of his bike’s gas tank) yet saves T-Dog from a walker when the roving hoard moves through the area.   He seems to have found his niche, but T-Dog DID leave behind his brother last season.  I expect we’ll run into Big Brother Merle before the season ends, forcing Daryl to make his own hard choices.
Then there is Carol; she blames Rick for leaving her daughter alone in the woods when he draws off the walkers pursuing her.   She’s clearly hanging by a thread.  Her reality has been defined by her now-dead abusive husband so much that she is having trouble accepting that this is a big, bad world, and Rick had to make a choice that gave them BOTH the best chance to survive.  She's going to have to start making decisions for herself and living with the consequences.
Dale's little fib regarding the status of the RV is another interesting point.   He knows the pulse of this group.  The fact that he needed to stall the group for fear that some of them would want to abandon the little girl is telling.
6.   They FINALLY took perimeter security seriously, with Dale on the RV as lookout and Rick serving as sentry while the group scavenged the cars.  Big step up from last year, when roving Walkers swept through their camp and killed several people.  Had they been scavenging with the others, the group most likely been decimated.  Last year, their camp security consisted of Dale on the RV during the day and a string of tin cans on the perimeter.
Let's face it, when SHTF, you want a Daryl in your group.
7.  Splitting the group is a BAD idea.  Rick leads a search party for Carol’s daughter, while Dale and T-Dog stay with the cars.   On the way back Rick, Carl, and Shane stay behind to search the area around the church (minor nit:  the timed bell broadcast gear still had power).  The group is exposed, in the open and in unfamiliar territory.  They are divided and weak.  And that is when the big shock of the episode occurs.  Which brings me to my final point …
8. Assuming the thing or event that caused the emergency is your only problem is foolish.  Other survivors can be just as dangerous.

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