The Walking Dead
Webisode “Torn Apart”
Starring: Lilli Birdsell, Rick Otto, Griffin Cleveland, Madison Leisle
DIR: Greg Nicotero
Blurb [Wikipedia]: The web series tells the origin story of Hannah, also known as "Bicycle Girl", the walker whom Rick Grimes killed in the first episode. Rick risks a walker encounter to go back and find Hannah before he sets out for Atlanta. After telling her he is "sorry this happened to you," Rick shoots her in what is clearly a humanitarian gesture, which reveals much about Rick's own character and sets a tone for the rest of season one.
My Blurb: Before we start the review, this webisode was released in six parts. But each of these parts is only minutes long with the shortest being part 5 at 2:22 and the longest being part 6 at 5:06. With the entire production only being a little over 19min, I’ll be reviewing the whole series on this one posting.
Also - ‘amctv.com’ is plastered all over the thing, so screen caps may have to include their logo. Finally, speaking of caps: I wanted to include one or two scene from each ‘episode’, so this is cap heavy for being a review of a short film. Some caps have grue included.
Part I: “A New Day”
Scene 01: We open looking at a dead goldfish floating in a bowl of water. As the camera view glides upward over the bowl, we see a mother and two children heavily backlit so we can’t make out their features gazing at the bowl. A boy’s voice asks why things have to die. The mother responds that this is God’s plan and that everything dies.
We fade to black.
Scene 02: Suddenly we’re on a close-up of a blonde with her head lying against a steering wheel and the horn blaring. Obviously this is a) the mother and b) she’s been in some sort of accident.
Coming to, Hannah sits up to hear the sounds of alarms and yelling around her but no one is trying to assist her. She checks the back seat on the condition of her children, only to find Billy and Jamie missing.
She escapes from her vehicle, screaming for her kids. As she stumbles down the block, she passes a bicycle we’ll see later.
Commentary: It seems like Greg was having fun with directing this mini-sode, but there are some heavy handed directing choices which were really unnecessary - focusing attention on The Bike is one such case. It would’ve been more fun if the audience had realized the significance of this random bike without him grabbing us by the shoulder and pointing it out.
Scene 03: Hannah continues to run down the block, screaming for Billy and Jamie. Around her are signs of violence and she’s her running stops short when she notices the remains of a birthday barbecue in the front yard of one home. A man who has already been killed lies near a cooler.
Scene 04: She takes off again, rounding a corner of the block shouting for someone to help her. Instead she finds to walkers, eating a pedestrian’s remains. As she watches in utter disbelief, one of the walkers decides she looks more appetizing than the hand he was munching on.
He gasps at her and starts to get up in her direction, sending her on another panicked race.
Commentary: Which actually brings up a good point about zombie movies/shows in general… no one can resist showing torn apart bodies and the dead tearing at limbs/guts but we never see these remains being animated. Since the brains aren’t being destroyed, you’d think - using internal logic - that the remains would animate at some point and you’d think that it’d be irresistible to show just how bad being a zombie could be by showing the audience some of these really, really unfortunate victims but we never really do. I can think of Hannah, herself [not a spoiler if you’ve seen Episode 1 of the series], but even she’s got a relatively intact upper torso. Romero’s “Day of the Dead” did have a zombie spilling its internal organs onto a floor without being bothered, but that’s about it. I always wonder just how much damage needs to be done before reanimation to stop it from happening, even if the brain isn’t affected directly by said injury. For instance, that nurse in episode one lying on the hallway floor would’ve been a good one to suddenly show still moving around….
Scene 05: With the undead on her heels, Hannah rushes up to a door and bangs for help. She lifts up the mat for the key she expects to find there, but there isn’t one.
The door suddenly swings open and a man is pointing a shotgun at her head. He lifts it and blows a hole in the walker’s head coming up the walk behind her. He then reaches down and yanks her inside before slamming the door.
Part II: “Family Matters”
Scene 06: Hannah has been grabbed by a man with a shotgun and hauled inside of the home she whose door she was banging on. Inside, she’s greeted by her relieved children. The man asks her if she was bit and wonders about the wound on her head.
She tells him about swerving into a tree because people came out of nowhere and were in the road. She then turns her attention to her children and wonders why they didn’t stay at the car. They tell her that they thought she had died. They huddle on the floor to get their wits together.
On the mantle, we see a photo of the two kids but they’re not with their mother in the photo. This lets us know that we’re in Hannah’s ex-husband’s home. The woman is his current wife, Judy. Hannah asks where she is, but Andrew turns attention to the gash on her head without answering.
Commentary: I like that this is taking place at the very beginning of the epidemic because in these stories, I’m always interested in the flashbacks to when everything very first started, and for obvious reasons it’s often skimmed over to get into the thick of the world having fallen apart for our characters. It’s also kind of neat that Greg was allowed to go back and tell the story of the bicycle zombie, considering just how impressive that work was and how it grabbed - probably - everyone’s imagination who watched the first episode of The Walking Dead.
As to our actors - thus far Lilli has had the most to do and she’s handling the role well. We haven’t really seen enough of the kids performing to tell but I have to say that Rick as Andrew is coming off a bit awkward.
Scene 07: Sometime later, we time-transition with a shot of the outside of the house.
Inside, Andrew is dabbing at the cut on Hannah’s head. He tells her that just before the Emergency Broadcast System cut out, there were reports that whatever is happening is everywhere. He tells her that his neighbor is claiming it’s the work of terrorists.
Scene 08: Billy comes in and asks about the dog, Max. Andrew claims he’s asleep in the backyard, but when Billy says he’s going to go out and wake him, Andrew panics and shouts at him that he’s not going to do any such thing. He yells at him to put the dog bowl back where he found it.
Hannah and Andrew have a stressful exchange about his raising his voice to their son. Hannah reminds Andrew that he’s only a holidays and weekends dad.
Commentary: Uh… what does that have to do with his shouting at his son? This is a really awkwardly scripted moment between the exes. It should’ve had more to do with Andrew’s worrying over anyone going outside with what is happening out there - not with Hannah and Andrew’s difference of opinion over parenting!
What a weird place and way to tell us that Hannah and Andrew have ex-style problems over their children.
Scene 09: In the dining room, Billy is walking with Max’s dog bowl. He’s got a bandage wrapped around his lower leg, an injury that hasn’t been mentioned. After he’s laid the bowl down and walked away, a rolled up carpet in the fore-frame starts to move. There is a huge dried blood stain on it.
Part III “Domestic Violence”
Scene 10: We open on the woman from the photograph, Judy, walking down her block with a bag of groceries. She is gazing about in confusion at the accident scene Hannah will pass later. Near an abandoned car, a young woman lies on the ground without apparent trauma.
Judy drops her bag and rushes to the young woman’s side. She lays her head against the young woman’s chest, listening desperately for a heartbeat [which would be easier if she’d stop huffing and puffing through it…].
A close up on young girl’s pale face shows us her eyelids opening. Her eyes have the colorless irises and yellowed sclera that we know means bad news.
Unfortunately for Judy, she doesn’t know what is happening -- she starts mouth to mouth breathing in an attempt to revive this victim. She screams in shock and pain as her mouth viciously bitten by the new walker.
Commentary: This was a really good scene of mayhem and I liked Judy just for dropping everything and responding with help immediately. I had expected her to be a bitch so that we’d feel good that she was about to get her zombie brains beat out over at Andrew’s later; I’m glad that she wasn’t a caricature for Hannah to hate. I also like that they dug out the make up effects from Amy’s turning, because it’s such a good, creepy effect.
The only thing that I don’t quite like about this is the flashing back set up. We saw Judy’s photograph for like 4 seconds. On first watching this on the web, I had no idea that this was a flashback to Judy and how she ended up rolled in a rug. In this instance, I wished we’d had a “one day earlier” title on screen.
Scene 11: Sometime later, a radio is playing in a kitchen where a radio newsman is saying he’s never seen anything like this before. From outside the home, the sound of a shot gun blast is heard.
It’s Andrew. He comes in with his hands full of blood and looking panicked at obviously just shooting an attacker. As he’s scrubbing his hands, the power goes out in his home. Sounds of banging and breaking glass are heard close by and he snatches up his shotgun.
As he makes his way through his house, he finds the front door wide open. He shouts to the intruder that he has a gun with him, while also spotting blood droplets on the hard wood floors. He continues through the house, warning the intruder that he’s not afraid to use the gun.
As he turns his back, we see Judy wandering up behind him, drawn by his shouting. She’s… uh… not herself. She hisses.
Andrew spins with a alarmed shout and fires before checking his target, getting Judy right in the abdomen. She goes down. He drops the gun and rushes to her side, beside himself at having accidentally “killed” her. He breaks down.
Commentary: This is either an inconsistency or is just badly set up. Either Judy was actually already dead, which you’d think via her wordless stumbling around so that it’s inconsistent that she’d just like there after her gut shot. Or she wasn’t quite dead, but just infected and stumbled home for help, where she was inarticulate because of the damage to her mouth and then was actually killed by her husband… which is just awkwardly and clumsily filmed.
Either way, it’s unconvincing getting Judy into the carpet to menace Hannah’s family later.
But since I called out his acting earlier, let me say that Rick Otto really comes through in this scene. He’s better at the physical acting than line delivery, I think.
Scene 12: Andrew rolls up Judy in the carpet….
Part IV: “Neighborly Advice”
Scene 13: We join Andrew sometime later in a basement. Outside, Max is howling in distress. As Andrew continues to ruffle through shelves, a gun comes from stage-right and is pressed against his head. Somebody tells him to freeze. It’s his neighbor, and this is his neighbor’s house.
Neighbor and he have obviously had some sort of problems in the past, as Neighbor - let’s call him Rex Palmer - has a stick up his ass about something. Rex asks Andrew what he thinks he’s doing in his house and when Andrew admits that he’s looking for a gun, Palmer berates him for always thinking he was better than him but now is looking for help from him. He asks Andrew what the gun is to shoot. Andrew tells him it’s for his howling dog - something has torn into Max.
Rex sits down on the stairs and informs Andrew that he has bigger problems than a rabid dog. He shows him a wound that he’s packed with what looks like a sponge and duct tape. He asks him if he hasn’t been paying attention to the news.
This is Palmer, the neighbor who claims that it’s terrorists attacking [and this means that we’re still in Flashback-Land]. Rex has been keeping up with the news reports and knows that some sort of disease has been burning through the human population. He mentions that the news reports say that the CDC is working the problem. He blows off Andrew’s suggestion that he needs a hospital.
As Andrew tries to absorb what Rex has shared, his neighbor goes on to say it’s his birthday today - the big five-o. He also shares with Andrew that he can feel a fever hitting from his bite. Upstairs, we can hear banging at the basement door, while outside poor Max continues to whine and howl.
Rex Palmer goes on to describe his birthday thus far. He tells Andrew that he shot his wife awhile ago. He admits that he couldn’t do his kids, which explains the banging above their heads. He tells Andrew that the shotgun in his hands have eight rounds left: One for himself, one for Max, and if Andrew would -- two for his kids, leaving him four rounds left.
Commentary: Which puts this not just in Flashback-Land, but in flashback before Judy’s return home, which is before Hannah shows up at his door. We’re moving further back into the past, but it was left confusing to me because there isn’t any indication beforehand of what they’re doing. It’s kind of annoying, since I can’t see a specific storytelling purpose in playing with the timeline without indicating to us that we’re seeing parts of the past. This is usually done in mysteries, especially as the denouement is approaching to explain all of the clues that were laid in the open, but didn’t have attention drawn to them so that the audience can catch up with the script and director about what really happened. But this isn’t that type of story. This is more of just director’s showing off, than having a story purpose to keeping the timeline fuzzy to us to figure out later.
Having reached the obvious conclusion about his own fate, Rex decides he’s about to choose his own exit. He has Andrew hold the stock of the shotgun, while holding the barrel toward his own face. He repeats to Andrew, in case it wasn’t clear, that he never really liked him… until now.
The shot gun goes off.
Commentary: This is a well acted scene and I liked the dialog for Palmer as well as how Rex Linn handled it, but again, this feels awkward. Rex just turns into diarrhea-mouth, and yet, he doesn’t actually tell Andrew enough about the consequences of his bite mark to justify Andrew pulling the trigger at the end. Andrew isn’t aware at this point that a bite from an infected turns people into the walking dead, who in turn will infect others as shown clearly by the fact that Judy isn’t properly taken care of after this. It’s just not convincing that he’d pull the trigger on Rex without either a direct threat that Palmer was going to kill him instead, or without a far more detailed description from Rex as to why he wanted to die immediately, instead of seeking help. This scene is both long enough for some good interaction between these two characters, but too short to set up the resolution between them.
Part V: “Step-Mother”
Scene 14: Back in the present, Hannah is telling her ex-husband that the day started with a funeral for a goldfish. She tells him that she just keeps thinking she’ll wake up soon. In the meantime, he’s loading up a duffel bag.
Scene 15: While they talk, the kids are in the dining room. Jamie is eating peanut butter from the jar, while her brother Billy is standing at the window. Jamie asks snottily what he’s doing and when he tells her that he’s worried about Max, she tells him point blank that Max is dead.
Meanwhile, the rolled up carpeting continues to shift and move unnoticed.
The kids get into an argument both about whether Max is sleeping or dead, and more generally whether their father is just a big ol’ liar or not.
Walker-Judy gains her freedom from the carpeting, but [Yes! It’s unbelievable, but a tv character actually has peripheral vision and notices something not in their direct line of sight! Hallelujah!] Jamie notices her stumbling up to her feet and waves at her brother with a look of utter terror.
Billy goes to scream, but Jamie launches herself from the chair and grabs him, clamping a hand over his mouth and dragging him to the floor. They crawl silently under the dining room table as Judy stumbles her way across the room.
Judy continues to hiss and growl as she wanders around the dining room, within touching distance of the kids. With her back turned, the kids crawl out from under the table and into a closet - but Walker!Judy turns at the last moment and sees the door moving closed. She heads for it.
With Judy clattering at the think closet door, the kids scream armed with an umbrella.
Just after Judy manages to tear the door open, Hannah shows up with an axe. Judy gets it in the face.
Commentary: This scene was excellently done [except for the obvious CGI blood -- an evil we’ll never be able to put back in the box] and I was really impressed with actress, Madison Leisle as Jamie through this sequence. The make up on Judy was excellent and the whole scene was tense and exciting - especially since we know that things have to go so wrong for Hannah, in order for her to be left for Rick to find in “Days Gone Bye”.
Part VI: “Everything Dies”
Scene 16: In the aftermath of axing Judy to the face, Hannah sits on the floor cradling her children, while Andrew focuses on getting them ready to run for safety. Jamie tells her parents about Mr. Palmer’s truck parked in front of his house [I guess that Andrew & Judy didn’t own a car?] and Hannah wonders if Andrew can hotwire it. But Andrew tells her he knows where the keys are at.
Scene 17: Next door, Andrew climbs down into the very dark basement. He finds a load of blood evidence that Rex was dragged away from where he’d left him deeper into the basement. He follows the drag marks deeper into the dark at the rear of the basement [Rex has the keys on a belt loop].
Andrew finds Rex’s body and retrieves the truck keys. But when he turns around, he’s confronted with the Palmer kids, which he obviously did not put down as per Rex’s request to him.
We go to black as Andrew yells and there are squishy wet sounds….
Commentary: I really loved the way that he lighting was handled for this scene. Rather than “Hollywood Dark”, it was filmed with real blackness in the basement, and when Andrew sees the Walker!Palmers in the tiny light of his penlight, it actually looks like all he has to see by is the little flashlight. This was excellent work by the cinematographer, lighting experts and camera crew.
Scene 18: Sometime a bit later, a helicopter is hovering over the neighborhood. A man’s voice over loudspeaker is instructing people to abandon their homes and relocate to the local city park where evacuation is being carried out to safety [hah, as if]. The plan is to get people to a camp in Atlanta on the CDC grounds [which alas, we saw the end results of that at the end of ‘Wildfire’ and in ‘TS-19’].
In the living room of Andrew and Judy’s, Hannah hears the broadcast while waiting for Andrew to return with the keys to the Palmer truck. She grabs a pistol and the duffel bag and orders her kids to move. Jamie asks about her dad, but Hannah is determined to get to the park and get out of town while the getting is good.
Scene 19: The family rushes outside, where Hannah spots the hovering helicopter. They’re faced with several walking dead who all notice the fresh meat rushing down the street.
Scene 20: Hannah passes the car sitting in the road that both she and Judy had passed before [where Judy got bitten]. She stops the kids to check for car keys in the ignition, which she successfully finds. But before the kids can join her, a walker comes from the shadowed back seat and bites her arm. She shoots it in the head.
But the damage is done and she knows it. She forces her children to take the gun and head toward the exit point in the park. Over cries and kisses, she sends them off while she acts as a distraction to keep the zombies beginning to close in on them from following.
Jamie tells Billy that it’s alright over her their tears. She reminds him that it’s God’s plan for everything to die. They run off as instructed, leaving their mother behind.
Commentary: Oh, no. Nobody could make that line sound good, and tying it back to the first line of the webisode was really awkward. That totally didn’t work, but both Lilli and Madison continue to turn in some great acting work.
And it still bugs me how they have zombies just hanging out in the weirdest places,when you'd think they'd be doing their utmost to actually find something to eat - driven as they are by the instinct to spread the virus.
Scene 21: As she watches her children run off down the block, Hannah tenses up as the dead grab at her. She is dragged to the street, screaming. She’s ripped apart, but at least her death is a quick one.
Scene 22: We rejoin her days later, where decomp has started. Her eyes are open and she is gasping and hissing.
Scene 23: Weeks pass, and she’s well into decomp but still hissing and gasping. [Except of course, for the eyes: For some reason, zombie viruses always keep the eyes from degrading grossly… very convenient.]
Half-Hannah rolls over and crawls her way toward the park where she’d sent her children… the last place occupying her mind before her death….
The Good: I love that we're getting the background of that poor, pathetic zombie in the park that Rick mercy kills. It's so sad to me that no one in-universe will ever know who she was or what she did for her children's escape.
I found both Lilli Birdsell and Madison Leisle's work well done and enjoyed their performances.
I also enjoyed Rick Otto's physical performance, when he was alone and reacting to the horror of the situation.
The short episode with Judy's encounter with and attack by her first walker was great.
I have a caveat in Other Thoughts, but I did really enjoy the bit of Andrew running into his infected neighbor.
The scene of Walker!Judy going after the kids was the best segment in the series and was excellently done with a lot of tension.
I loved the work done in the Palmer basement when Andrew meets his fate.
The Bad: I didn't like how the flashbacks were handled, because it felt confusing as to when we were, until the scene had been mostly played out and I can't see why it was necessary for us to put together when certain things happened; Again, this isn't a mystery so playing these sorts of time-shenanigans isn't adding anything and so ends up distracting.
The shooting of Judy and her ending up in a rug so she could menace later was really clumsily done and it's unclear why she spends so much time inanimate after she's gut shot. It's either really badly led to with her being alive, but gravely injured to begin with, or it's insconsistent with the show for her to be temporarily disabled as a walker by a shotgun blast to the abdomen.
That line of Jamie's tying things back to the lesson of the goldfish dying was just awful.
Other Thoughts: I generally really liked the directing by Greg, but there were a few instances that were just a little too much "look at me" which keeps it out of The Good.
I have a mixed reaction to how information is drabbled out to us as well. For instance, when Hannah first encounters her ex-husband, it takes us quite a few minutes to realize that they know each other at all, let alone that they have a past together. And it seems done strictly for us... to slowly allow us to fill in who these people are, which just doesn't seem necessary since we're not dealing with a noir-mystery type situation.
Some of our scenes were too awkward with the intent of hiding things unnecessarily until they could be revealed in another installment, like the fate of Max the dog. As part of this, some of the interactions with our characters were discussing things that didn't make sense for the context or were just awkwardly approached to hint at something bad but not tell the audience what happened exactly until we could see it later. It feels very self-conscious.
I have mixed feelings as well about Andrew's encounter with Mr. Palmer. It is again playing timeline-shenanigans without any storytelling purpose, but more it ends in a way that doesn't seem justified by what Andrew would know at the time.
The Score: The series was an uneven affair, but in total I enjoyed the story. It definitely suffers somewhat in skipping over some scenes that seemed needed as far as our characters really learning what is going on and the rules governing the walkers, but the performances help things along and some of the behind-the-camera work is just excellent.
3.50 out of 5 stars
Next up: Those comic reviews for Buffy and Angel's latest seasons.