Wednesday, March 28, 2012

An Open Letter to the Producers and Writers of the The Walking Dead

Now that Season Two has drawn to a close, I’d like to thank the cast and crew of the show for a great season of television.   This “zombie movie that never ends,” as Mr. Kirkman put it, is better than anything else on TV in my opinion.   Nowhere have I seen the stark realities of survival portrayed quite as vividly, especially the intense psychological stress of a survival situation.  The cast is fantastic.  The production values are high.  The universe you have created is a rich tapestry that revels in the bleakness of its central premise of a zombie apocalypse.

That being said . . .

I have been a regular visitor to some of the bulletin boards maintained by members of the preparedness community where your show is discussed, and frankly, many of us “preppers” are a bit concerned.  There have been instances where characters have taken reckless actions that seem contrived only to advance the plot.   The expanded episode count and pacing of this season have allowed you time to explore more of what living in this world is like, but many times the day-to-day struggle to survive has been perceived by many in the audience as taking a back seat to the character drama (or some would say melodrama).  Preppers are passionate about this show because the zombie premise is a stand-in for so many different types of emergency situations and disasters and your series serves as a primer to the uninitiated regarding what may happen and how to prepare and respond to a natural or manmade disaster.

So here, I humbly submit the following suggestions for you to consider as you break the major plotlines for next season.  Feel free to laugh, cry, or mock me as you stare at your computer screen.  Please keep in mind is that I am passionate because I care.

Make group security absolutely the first concern.  For too long the survivors lived an unguarded and idyllic existence at the farm, and paid the price for their complacency when their stronghold was overrun.  Security HAS to be the first priority.  If you have food and water, but no security, you are at the mercy of walkers or groups like Randall’s friends who want to take it from you.  Once they clear the prison facility of walkers at the beginning of next season, here are some ideas for increasing security.

Lock down the ground floor.  This is similar to what they did at the farm, but the covering of the window needs to be more robust.  It wouldn’t be a bad idea to cinderblock windows and certain doors if there are some on the property.  The design of the prison should help here.  Make sure you have one way in and one way out for new people, and plan routes out of sections so if one point of the prison is overrun, people can retreat to safety.

Get some more guns and ammo.  Locate and lock down the prison armory, if it has one.   Retrieve those weapons and distribute firearms and ammunition to the group.  Everyone should have a gun.  If there is not an armory, then someone needs to retrieve a phone book and find the closest gun store so that the survivors can retrieve weapons from there.  While we’re at it, we preppers sure do hope the next time you find an overrun Army garrison you pick up all the M-4s, M-16s and 5.56 ammunition.  A thirty round magazine sure does beat a six shooter when the zombies come marching.

No one goes outside the wire in less than groups of three.  That way, if one person is injured, two can carry him.  It also allows scavenging parties to carry more.  Hopefully this will keep Lori and Carl out of trouble.  Somehow I doubt it.

Practice noise and light discipline.  Morgan and Duane got it right in the very first episode.  Use blackout curtains or blankets to cover the windows at night.  While we’re on this subject, they should really find a couple more compound bows or even a .22 pistol with a suppressor fairly easy.  It’s Georgia. Lots of people own guns and bows.  Suppressors are legal, and at least one company in the state makes them for pistols.   Get some subsonic ammo and you’re set.  

Once everything is locked down, you can start doing some big time scavenging.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Product Review: NEBO CSI Edge Flashlight

Flashlights are usually one of the first things a person buys when getting into prepping.   Every prepper should have one in their Every Day Carry (EDC) load.   The problem is the bewildering variety on the market that come in all shapes, sizes, and battery configurations.

I am something of a flashlight junkie.   I started years ago with the tried and true D-cell Maglites, but I was always replacing bulbs and the lights are too bulky for EDC purposes. I still have a couple at the house to use in blackout situations and as a self defense club as a last resort.  I have a few Mini Maglites as well, which are smaller, but still have bulb replacement issues. Mostly I use smaller LED lights now that don't use traditional bulbs and make more efficient use of battery power.  One day while I was in a local battery shop to replace a cell phone battery I saw the NEBO CSI Edge Flashlight sitting on a rack at the counter.  Intrigued, I bought it for $9.99, as I had never heard of the brand and I was looking for a smaller EDC flashlight.  Sure I have a Surefire G2 and a P6, but I wanted an EDC that a) used conventional batteries, unlike the Surefire products; and b) could fit in my pocket.

The NEBO CSI Edge fits both requirements.   It delivers 50 lumens with a single AA battery with a total run time of five hours.  The beam extends out to 45 meters, but I almost  never use it to view something that distant.   My everyday use for this light is simply for emergency illumination of my immediate area.  I have used it to move through darkened hallways at my home, church and workplace.  I have used it to search for my cell phone in the car at night.   I have used it to illuminate my key ring when I forgot to leave my porch light on one night coming in from the store.  I even used it a couple of times to sneak into the bedroom while to grab my work shoes while my wife was sleeping (I have to leave for work before she does due to travel times). 

The CSI Edge fits neatly into the palm of my hand with a total length of 3.75 inches.  The construction is rugged and made of anodized aluminum, and includes a scalloped bezel to act as a self-defense edge (the edges have served as an ad-hoc screwdriver several times as well). The light is water resistant;  I once jumped into a pool and forgot I had it in my pocket and it was none the worse for wear.   It also has been dropped on concrete, stone and wood with no ill effects.   If I had one criticism, it would be the metal clip.  Mine broke.  Up until that point I had used it to clip it to a hat brim at night and onto a shirt pocket.  I am really hard on clips for pens, etc., as well. 

Overall, I would recommend this product for an EDC carry or for an emergency kit.   I have had the light for a year now and I am satisfied with the performance.  I plan on getting one for each car.  Just don't try to use the clip to put it on a sun visor. That is how I broke mine.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Preparedness View of the Walking Dead Episode 213: Beside the Dying Fire


Rick (to the group):  "This is not a democracy anymore!"

Synopsis:  A massive herd of walkers overwhelms the farm, killing Jimmy and Patricia and scattering the group into the woods; Rick comes clean with what Dr. Jenner told him at CDC, and that he killed Shane, causing Lori to draw away from him.  The group is on the run, without resources, and low on ammo.   A new character is introduced, and a possible safe haven is teased in the last shot of the season.

Newbie out front:  This walker did not die during the summer.
Beside the Dying Fire is the payoff episode many preppers were looking for because of vocal criticism of how unprepared the farm really was to repel walkers.  The episode opens with an group of small walkers following a helicopter in the distance.  The herd picks up members as they ramble across the countryside heading in the general direction of the helicopter.  They walk for days, weeks, and finally mill about in a patch of woods until the sound of Carl's gunshot draws them in.  This is literally an all-consuming herd.  It is also interesting to note that many of the walkers are newbies; some are dressed in warm clothes like jackets, sweaters, and vests.   They didn't die during the sweltering summer and it may be that Randall's group of 30 guys with automatic weapons met with an untimely demise, since Maggie said the herd came from the direction of the highway and Randall said his group was camped just off  the highway.  That would render the entire debate about killing the young man moot.

T-Dog, Lori, and Beth escape.
Rick and Carl are still walking away from Shane's body  while the rest of the group digests the fact that Randall turned without being bitten, and immediately are put to flight by the oncoming walker swarm.   They flee to the barn while the rest of the group arm up and try to herd the walkers away from the barn.   Rick and Carl set fire to the barn with walkers and themselves inside, hoping to distract the herd and warn the others.   Daryl has Jimmy drive the RV around to pick them up, but in the process the RV is overrun and Jimmy is consumed.   Rick and Carl escape the barn and make it to the house in time to save Hershel, who is on the verge of being overwhelmed by the attack despite having the largest shotgun magazine tube in history (he must have fired 10 or 12 times during one sequence before reloading.  Here's a tip:  directors need someone in the edit bay who knows something about guns).  Lori notices Carl is gone and freaks, and the girls agree they have to leave.   As they run to the truck where T-Dog (who was forced to leave Andrea and Carol surrounded by walkers) is parked, Patricia gets taken.  Carol is about to be consumed when Daryl rides in to pick her up.  Andrea is cut off after a dead walker falls on her.  Maggie and Glen retreat after almost being overwhelmed by walkers in Shane's Hyundai (where he hid the ammo the group now needs).

Eventually, the group returns in dribs and drabs to an ad hoc rally point - the car where they left supplies for Sophia.   Andrea retreats through the woods with walkers in trail. They mourn their dead. They also learn that Shane is gone.   The farm belongs to the dead now. 

The group finds some breathing space and begin to recount how Randall reanimated without being bitten, and Rick confesses that back at the CDC Jenner told him they are all infected; regardless of how they die, everyone will eventually turn.   Rick also confesses to Lori that he killed Shane, and that he wanted Shane dead to "end it."

Lori's upset reaction prompted a lot of  eye-rolling.   She is mad at Rick.  Really?  She set this in motion.  She has been whispering in Rick's ear about taking care or Shane like Lady MacBeth, and she screwed up Shane in the last episode and prompted his descent into madness.  I hope Rick finally sees her for who she is.

The rest of the group begins to openly question Rick's leadership, causing him to explode, tell them he killed Shane for them and offer them a chance to leave.  When no one does, he informs them that this is no longer a democracy and from now on he will lead as he sees fit.

Andrea runs out of ammo and goes hand-to-hand.
Meanwhile, Andrea is on her last legs in th woods, out of ammo, and out of luck.  She is about to be overtaken when a stranger kills the last walker with a large sword.  Oh, and the stranger, whose face is never shown, is dragging along two walkers with missing arms and mouths by chains.  The last shot of the episode shows a prison facility in the distance.


This episode did some things right and some things wrong from a preparedness standpoint. Rick's earlier decision to place the cars where they were easily accessible paid off, and the group did their best under the circumstances.  The attempt to herd the walkers was the right one;  they didn't have the ammo or the fortifications to hold off that big a horde.

 In other ways, the survivors' preparations were completely inadequate.   Two-way radios would have helped the group coordinate the defense.  They are plentiful and the local sporting goods store probably stocked them along with much needed ammunition. There should have been more standoff defenses, like a deep vertical trench to trap walkers that could have been constructed from a commandeered backhoe, and stout fencing close to the house to form a redoubt.   Likewise, there should have been supplies loaded in the cars and EVERYONE should have had a bugout bag.  They had no designated rally point; everyone just happened to show up on the highway. The cars should have stayed topped off with gas.  Given that they had collected a ton from the abandoned cars on the highway per previous episodes, that was a huge oversight.

They also could have done some more offensive things, like luring walkers into abandoned buildings in town before herd got there and burning them down like the barn.   They also could have dug some large pits with a backhoe near the highway, tossed in some wood, planted a boom box in there with the volume up, and once it was full dump in gas and light it.  The highway was the most likely avenue of attack. 

During the debate, Maggie remarks that no place is safe, and they could all be overwhelmed again by another herd.

Maggie:  "Look what happened with the farm.  We fooled ourselves into thinking it was safe."
Hershel: "We won't make that mistake again."

Finally someone realizes how poorly defended the farm was from the beginning.   Maybe Hershel's remark could serve as Patricia and Jimmy's epitaph.

Preparedness Lessons from Episode 213
  • Two-way radios are vital tools in a crisis situation.  
  • Without ammunition, a gun becomes a very expensive club.
  • Most people will stay in place when an emergency occurs unless there is a mandatory evacuation order from the government, i.e., during a hurricane or flash flood.   We should make our homes secure and safe as possible.  Sure, we could all go live out of a bugout bag for a week in the woods, but if we don't have to, why should we?
  • It may be necessary for us to bug out (leave home because it is no longer safe).  If that happens, every family member should have a bugout bag, even small children.  Keep at least a quarter to a half a tank of gas at all times, and store at least enough extra gas (if you can safely do so) to top it off without going to a gas station. For instance, my Toyota Tacoma four-wheel-drive has a 21 gallon tank.  I can typically fill it up from a quarter tank full with 15 gallons, so I store 15 additional gallons in five gallon cans in a secured outbuilding.
  • Drill your family or group on what to do in a bugout situation. They should know what to grab and how to get out of the house.  Designate a rally point on the property for everyone to meet in case of a fire, etc.
  • Have a rally point that everyone knows in case your family or group gets separated. If you can cache some supplies there in advance, it wouldn't be a bad idea.  How easy would it have been to throw some water, beans, rice, extra ammo, blankets and cooking utensils in one of the abandoned cars on the highway, covered the stuff with a tarp, and locked it up?  You could have gotten an SUV started, gassed it up, and hidden it to the side.  Cache the keys in a hiding place just inside the woods and you have a vehicle and supplies.

What's next?  Stay tuned as I post an open letter with preparedness tips to Robert Kirkman and Glen Mazzara next week!

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Preparedness View of the Walking Dead Episode 212: Better Angels


Rick (to Shane): "Damn you for making me do this Shane.  This is you, not me.  You did this to us!"
Synopsis:  Shane and Rick's conflict finally boils over into lethal violence, with Shane plotting to kill Rick and Rick finally seeing that he can no longer turn a blind eye on a man who was once a brother but now is a threat to him and everyone in the camp.  It's about time.

This may come across as a rant, but honestly, I spent so much time yelling "FINALLY!" at the screen Sunday night I feel like I have to address some core preparedness issues.

Better Angels finally shows that yes, this tattered group of survivors might actually deserve to survive.  The group realizes that if a walker can get into their inner sanctum near the farm to kill Dale, they are not as safe as they once thought. The group makes many prudent preparations "just in case:"  The tent dwellers are moved into the house, and cars are positioned to make a quick getaway; observations posts (OPs) are established on the windmill and in the barn loft to give early warning; the basement is stocked with siege provisions and the windows of the lower level are boarded up; and Shane leads a patrol around the property to check fences and put down a group of seven walkers feasting upon a dead cow.

Chris Rock gets a shovel to the face.
It's about bloody time.   For too long these people have been living like there was nothing out there threatening their existence.   The farm's isolation lends itself to building a false sense of security.  The problem is that this land is not that far from a highway, and from a town we know is now overrun with walkers.  All that rotting mobile flesh has to go somewhere.

That's another problem I have with the preparedness of this group.   The town is now full of walkers, and there is no way to get in to get the drugs out of the pharmacy or (gasp) find a sporting goods store to resupply with ammunition.   They have been going through an awful lot lately, and with Shane hiding mags and boxes of pistol ammo in his car in Judge, Jury, Executioner, it's bound to be getting thin.  Winter is coming, and without scavenging canned goods and other needed items from the town and surrounding farms people are going to starve to death.  This may all be moot given how the episode ended, but we'll discuss that in a second.

The episode starts with Rick's speech over Dale's grave about unity, and how the group needs to live up to its dead friend's ideals, is a good one.  Telling also is the fact that the captive Randall is still alive and Rick plans to take him further out and cut him loose ... with Daryl.  This is a huge turn in the relationship between Rick and Shane.   Shane so far has been tolerated because he is Rick's partner and has a ton of survival skills.  He gets stuff done when Rick cannot, until last week, when Daryl took Rick's gun and put Dale out of his misery.  There is a really nice beat between Rick and Daryl on the porch when they discuss the latter's actions:

Rick: "That thing you did last night ..."
Daryl:  "Ain't no reason you should do all the heavy lifting."

Sometimes less is more.  That simple exchanges spoke volumes between the two;  Rick knows he can trust Daryl, and Daryl is coming into his own as a group leader.  Daryl also subtly lets Rick know that the conflict between him and Shane is destructive to the group as a whole when discussing the trip to drop off Randall.

Rick:  "You okay with this?"
Daryl: "I don't see you and I trading haymakers on the side of the road.  Nobody'd win that fight."


Then we have Lori going up to Shane and apologizing for shafting him once Rick came back in a conversation that indicates she still has unresolved feelings for him.  Great.  Just when Shane is getting his head screwed back on straight.  She messes him up again.  At this point it is really difficult for me to believe she was not doing this somehow on purpose.  Not to sound sexist, but given that her kid slips out pretty much all the time and gets into trouble (last week he went into the swamps and freed the walker that killed Dale; this week he sneaks out of the house at night to find his dad) you'd think she's keep her focus on what's important.  Like making sure her kid is not out somewhere causing trouble.  One could say the same of Rick, but I don't think he trusts Shane to do the right thing anymore about anything, so he is going off the property more and more.

Carl and Shane:  two damaged people.
Speaking of Carl, he confides to Shane that he was responsible for Dale's death and hands Daryl's gun back.  Shane confronts Rick about it, and tells the father that he needs to attend to his son's needs before taking Randall off the property.  Once the scene between Rick and Shane ends at the porch, it's pretty obvious that this is not going to end well. Rick goes to talk to Carl about his actions, and hands him back the gun so that his son can defend himself.   Rick says that he is going to have to grow up because of the world they live in now.

One could say the same thing about the adults in the group.  This episode was supposed to be about restoring hope.   Instead it's about the end of innocence for everyone on the farm.

Shane finally decides to act on his desire to get rid of Rick.  He takes Randall into the woods and kills him, then smashes his face to act like the boy knocked him out and escaped with his gun.  He and Rick take one search area, and Daryl and Glen head off in another direction.  The search goes on into the night.   Daryl and Glen find and kill a zombified Randall, whose neck is broken but is otherwise undamaged.  He was not bitten, so how did he reanimate?

Zombie Shane approaches Rick from behind.
Shane and Rick keep plowing through the woods, with Rick growing more suspicious all the time, until finally they stop in a field.  Rick tells Shane he knows what is happening, and Shane goes on a tirade, calling Rick weak and telling him he had no idea how to keep his family safe.  Shane tells Rick that they will get over his death.  After all, they've done it before.  Rick talks in a soothing voice to Shane and slowly hands his former partner his gun.  As Shane, who is visibly calmed,  reaches down to take it, Rick draws his knife an brutally stabs him in the chest.  Shane dies in the arms of his former friend.   Later, Rick is sitting beside the body and Carl shows up.  Shane and Rick walked in a huge circle in the dark and ended up on a few hundred yards from the house.   As father and son approach each other, Shane reanimates despite not having been bitten and Carl shoots him, saving his dad.

I can't say I blame Rick.  The conflict between the two was never going to be over as long as Lori was still in the picture.   Shane had many good, practical ideas for the survival of the group, but his jealousy of his friend drove him to to obsession and violence.

I was shocked that the "good guy" managed to take Shane off guard and suck him into a trap.  There is a lot of dark stuff loose in Rick's head as well it seems.  It's also interesting to me that the hothead redneck Daryl Dixon has kept his stuff wrapped tighter than a couple of upstanding police officers. 

We're about to see if all those preparations around the farm are going to pay off, because the episode ends with a massive herd of walkers hearing Carl's shot and moving to attack the farm house.  The question is:  how did Shane and Randall reanimate?  It has been a hard and fast rule that bites kill you and infect you, so what has changed?  

Preparedness Lessons for Episode 213:
  • The time to gather resources is before the zombies (or unprepared normal people) stampede into town.
  • Have a defense plan for your bugout location.  If you are bugging in, start talking to like-minded neighbors about community security before something happens.
  • If you think you might need to bug out, stock some supplies in the vehicle.  If you don't want to keep it in the vehicle, put a couple of quickly-loaded plastic bins in a convenient location.  If you travel long distances to work, put together a bailout bag with essentials to get you home.
  • There are people out there, even in your circle of trusted associates, that are untrustworthy.  Stop talking and start listening.  They will usually reveal themselves. 
  • You might be forced to do some bad things to survive.  Know what your limits and abilities are BEFORE the crisis hits.
  • Don't be like Shane; if everyone in the group has to keep giving you the benefit of the doubt, pretty soon they are going to doubt your benefit.  
Next week:  Walkers overtake the farm like a wave breaking on the shore?  Who will survive?  Who will perish?  And will Carl sneak out again?  Season Three has been green lighted for sixteen episodes, so someone has to live. 

Monday, March 5, 2012

Preparedness Review of The Walking Dead Episode 211: Judge, Jury, and Executioner


Rick (to Dale): "He's a threat."
Synopsis:  Dale pleads the case for civilization, but it mostly falls on deaf ears;  Carl tries to show just how tough he is, and indirectly causes the death of Dale.  Daryl steps up to become a leader.

Judge, Jury, Executioner

It's tough to write a preparedness-themed review of this episode.  The human drama on display here is on par with great works like 12 Angry Men.  The issue at the central core of the show is what makes us human, and what this world does to the characters that forces them to compromise their humanity.  I cannot think of a better episode that displays this theme than Judge.


Dale has been the odd man out for most of the season, constantly being outmanuevered and outflanked by Shane and others as he sought to be the moral center of the group.  In this episode Jeff DeMunn's acting prowess is on full display as he pleads for the life of Randall.  He's unsuccessful, and one wonders if he would pack up in his RV and leave had he survived another episode.

He has a point.  If they were going to kill the kid anyway, why in the world did Rick go to the trouble of saving him if they were going to end up shooting him?  The group wasted valuable medical resources and potentially compromised their group security.  


Dude, really?
I just have one thing to say:  What does it say about camp security and the the security of their arsenal if the 12-year-old can wander unseen out of camp, grab a .45, get tangled up with a walker and LOSE THE DARN GUN!!!!  I know it is a cruel, hard world, but as the potential future father of humanity, you might want to keep tabs on the kid.    Not that this kid minds.  The fact that he was cheering his dad on to shoot some guy in the head speaks volumes about how far this group has moved from a group of humans trying to survive the Apocalypse to a hard, broken band of people threatening to tear each other apart.

I honestly don't know what is worse, the walkers or the people.  At least with the walkers you know what you've got.


Mercy killing:  Daryl puts an end to Dale's suffering.
Daryl is all business.  Randall has to die, and he is okay with it.  He was okay with Shane shooting Otis, pointing out to Dale that he didn't believe Shane's lie for a minute since Shane returned with Otis' gun.   I was wondering when someone was going to mention that detail.  There was a very quick scene right as Dale was attacked that showed Randall in the barn, strung up, with Daryl sharpening a knife.  It appeared as if he was about to take care of the job for Rick when the walker attack went down.  I don't know if this show has room for two Colonel Tigh-type personalities.  Also note that it is Daryl who shoots Dale at the end of the episode instead of Shane when Rick falls apart.

So what are we left with, preparedness-wise from this episode?  First, the group is running low on ammo as expressed when Andrea goes rummaging through the gun bag.  Also, it's getting colder, and Rick and company are going to have to move of the tent city soon.  They'd better get cracking on grabbing food out of the town and the surrounding houses before a big freeze or vermin ruin it as well.

Finally, there has got to be improved security.  If a walker can just traipse through the meadow and attack Dale and that cow, they are in for a rude awakening.