I don’t think any episode of AMC’s post-zombie-apocalypse series “The Walking Dead” has reminded me of Stephen King’s classic “The Stand” quite as much as tonight’s installment, “Chupacabra.”
Sure, it’s impossible for any end-of-the-world-and-after story to do anything but remind us of King’s epic. But tonight’s adaptation of Robert Kirkman’s comic book series had a couple of moments that evoked King’s masterpiece.
The episodes opens with a flashback to the early days of the zombie apocalypse as Shane, Lori and other survivors are stuck on the highway, watching in horror as the military drops napalm on a city — Atlanta, I’m guessing — to knock down an infestation of “walkers,” the show’s term for reanimated dead. The moment reminded me not only of “The Stand” but also “World War Z” and “The Strain,” two modern classics of the apocalypse.
But the moments most reminiscent of “The Stand” came when Daryl, the show’s new unlikely hero, is scouring the woods for a missing girl. He takes a tumble, ends up injured and gets a hallucinatory pep talk from an unlikely source: His brother Merle (Michael Rooker), the murderous racist from the show’s first season.
As Merle — whose return was teased in previews for this episode — taunts and insults Daryl into getting up and out of his predicament, a couple of echoes of “The Stand” came to mind: Nick Andros appearing to simple-minded Tom, telling him how to save injured Stu Redman, and also the internal battle going on inside Harold Lauder. In “The Stand,” Harold could turn bad or good and he struggles with his soul and his conscience before making a fateful and explosive decision. We haven’t yet seen what Daryl decides.
The episode also showcased the growing tension between Rick and Shane — who don’t yet know that Lori is pregnant and one of them is the father — and a freaky finale in which Glenn discovers the secret behind the peaceful farm in which they’ve taken shelter.
There are a lot of complaints online about the pace of “The Walking Dead,” but I’m enjoying it. Moments like those tonight, with Rick and Shane recalling their high school years and then debating the finer points of every-man-for-himself, and Merle’s brief appearance, are keeping me happy.