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Monday, August 22, 2016

'The Walking Dead' S6 BD: Symbol-Laden 21st-Century Western

  • The Walking Dead, Season 6
The August 23, 2106 Anchor Bay Entertainment Blu-ray and DVD releases of the 16-episode Season 6 of the zombietastic AMC series "The Walking Dead" provides a chance to prepare for the October 23, 2016 (rather than October 16 as the S6 packaging states) AMC S7 premiere.

The exceptional quality even for Blu-ray of this set makes paying a few extra bucks to buy it in this format a no-brainer (pun intended). The sharp picture literally makes every highly visible tear and bead of sweat shine; the crystal-clear sound enhances the intensity as the zombie moans and background music build up and makes the contrast of the ensuing silence that much stronger.

This season is notable as well for greatly enhancing the post-apocalyptic dystopia vibe of this series in which the living must battle both the massive hordes of titular zombies and human enemies who do not hesitate to threaten, kill, and torture to obtain what they mistakenly believe they have a right to possess. The timing of this in an era in which America is horribly divided along ethnic and class lines and in which we lack any acceptable choice for president is perfect. Additional apt symbolism comes in the form of genuine eye-for-an-eye justice, one character regularly wearing an "old timey" Western hat, a motorcycle gang (SO AWESOMELY) literally becoming Hell's Angels, etc.

The relatively slow early S6 episodes has some of the wandering group of survivors led by former local lawman Rick taking refuge in the fortified wall community of Alexandria, Virginia. Meanwhile, this peacekeeper and several core members of his group are starting the most creepy cattle drive ever. This relates to the imminent threat of a herd of zombies breaking through their pen requiring taking them on an extended road trip to the walls of Alexandria. As in an actual Old West cattle drive, stragglers create serious threats. 

This journey further can be compared to the thinning of the buffalo herds and the Trail of Tears that is behind a horrible decimation of the Native American population.

These episodes quickly give way to entries that easily surpass the "one more" test to saying "we have to watch the next one; tomorrow is not a school night" and having awesome late-nightish marathon (rather than binge) sessions this past weekend. 

The first human threat comes in the form of the DC-area marauders The Wolves creating mayhem from within the walls of Alexandria; regarding the extent to which resistance is futile requires watching the episodes. 

One spoiler is that the Wolf Pack attack triggers an existential crisis for long-term survivor Morgan and provides the basis for a story arc involving him and fellow been-there-from-the-start good Christian (and abused) housewife Carol. The spoiler this time is that Carol awesomely ultimately first unleashes her inner Tarantino and then channels Thelma and Louise.

More mayhem ensues following an aforementioned episode-ending that prompts the aforementioned "school night" remark and leads to zombies running amok in what was once an upscale DC suburb. Needless to say, any calm that is restored after this is short-lived.

The events that lead to the awesomely tense and intense S6 cliffhanger (the fantabulous extended version of which is on the BD bonus disc) begin with Rick and long-time (platonic) companion Darryl (whose brother is not named Darryl or Larry) finding their own personal Jesus while seeking badly needed supplies; a series of events that follow leads to a Old West story arc in which Rick agrees to help a community that a stronger group is coercing into giving it half of its goods "or else." This ultimately leads to what is very close to an actual road trip from Hell and a treat in the form of the appearance of Jeffrey Dean Morgan, whose many roles include a perfect portrayal of John Winchester on "Supernatural."

Rick's now teen son Carl and high school style drama involving that boy, his rebellious girl, and his oh-so-Shakesepearean bud contribute additional angst to a series that drips with it. The fact that Rick is responsible for the death of the father of the bud is only part of it.

S6 additionally is the season of the death of an uber-favorite and the revisiting of that arc a few episodes later that is the root of mayhem among "Dead" fans. Both developments have such a strong impact that the typically stoic semi-domesticated partner of your not-so-humble reviewer reacts strongly on viewing the death.

Another lesson regarding the popularity of "Dead" characters relates to discovering the surprising appeal of newcomer Denise the doctor. Disdain for this woman prompting a pre-review tweet expressing a desire that the zombies get this annoying whiny doctor, who seems more apt for being a nursery school teacher (or student) than a physician, apparently coming at the cost of several Twitter followers is the first clue. Media reports, which still do not cause regret chants of "zombie chow" while watching episodes in which Denise ventures out for medical supplies, that criticize her coming to a degree of harm also show the unexpected love for this annoying and whiny juvenile adult. 

The award for best casting must go to Alicia Witt, formerly of "Law and Order: Criminal Intent" and several other prime time NBC dramas, as twisted survivor Paula who awesomely channels her dark and moody teen Zoey from the mid-90s CBS Monday Night sitcom "Cybill." One can easily imagine Zoey becoming just like Paula in a world in which zombies and equally hostile pre-dead individuals roam the earth.

The aforementioned extended episode is only the tip of the iceberg regarding the plethora of extras that require their own disc. An incomplete list of these awesome featurettes includes one on the character of Morgan, "Guts and Glory" about the death of a character, and a "making of " documentary. These extras and the episodes themselves will be behind scads o' high school fan boys dozing off during the first days of school; do not worry, nothing important ever happens in school before Labor Day.

Anyone with questions and/or comments regarding "Dead" is strongly encouraged to email me; you can also connect on Twitter via @tvdvdguy.