The Walking Dead: Looking back at S1E4 – ‘Vatos’

Would a bag of guns have been worth all out war? (Photo: Walking Dead screenshot)
Would a bag of guns have been worth all out war? (Photo: Walking Dead screenshot) /

Episode 4 of season 1 of The Walking Dead is about family, conflict avoidance, and reconciliation.

At the beginning, we see Andrea and her sister Amy in a boat discussing which fishing knot approaches their father taught them.   In a Full House moment, they both almost cry until Andrea says, “Remember what dad says, no crying in the boat. Scares the fish.”  The spirit of Danny Tanner lingers over that lake, and no zombies leap out of the water to grab either of the sisters (much to the chagrin of Andrea haters).

Meanwhile, through a pair of binoculars, the ever watchful and wise Dale spies Jim doggedly digging holes in the earth.  Is he looking for treasure?  Old buried Playboy magazines (which could also be considered treasure)?  We don’t yet know.  All we know at first is how weirded out Dale is by it.  And why not?  It’s a hot summer day, and digging for no apparent reason seems stupid even on a cool day.

Then we are whisked away to an infamous rooftop in Atlanta, where Daryl is having a cow due to finding his brother’s severed hand (Again:  One wonders how much harder it would have been to saw through the pipe to which Merle’s pig-cuffed hand was attached).

Playing the vengeful redneck, Daryl aims the crossbow at T-Dog who had dropped the keys, but Rick plays cowboy sheriff and aims a gun at Daryl,  saying he doesn’t care if every walker in the city hears the shots ring out.  Daryl lowers his trademark crossbow and T-dog grabs the hacksaw and Dale’s toolbox.  This is clearly a “Now now, you boys play nice” moment (conflict avoidance!).

Back at the campsite, Dale meets up with the digging Jim.  Jim won’t explain why he’s digging and declines to drink any water.  Dale tells the rest of the group his concerns, disrupting a serene fish feast courtesy of Amy and Andrea’s fishing skills.

Serene scenes like this are rarely disrupted in The Walking Dead. Surely everything will be fine. (Photo: Screenshot from The Walking Dead)
Serene scenes like this are rarely disrupted in The Walking Dead. Surely everything will be fine. (Photo: Screenshot from The Walking Dead) /

We venture yet again to Atlanta, where Daryl, Rick, Glenn and T-Dog follow Merle’s blood trail to a kitchen.  They find evidence that Merle cauterised his stump (which he probably did while hurling racial epithets at no one, or defiantly not begging Jesus for forgiveness).  Despite how strong his brother supposedly is (“Nobody can kill Merle but Merle”), Daryl insists on finding and helping him.  Rick objects, however, saying they need the bag of guns Rick had dropped previously first.  Everyone listens to Rick as usual, because he’s the true alpha male/father figure of the increasingly family-like group (apparently, those who don’t adhere to Rick’s every command must be fools like Merle).

Then we go back to the campsite, where Shane urges Jim to stop digging.  Jim doesn’t appreciate this, saying he doesn’t want to get his face beaten in like Ed Peletier.  Jim then swings his shovel at Shane, which prompts Shane to tackle him to the ground.  Even though Shane doesn’t destroy his face, Jim suddenly starts to cry, revealing he only got away from a previous zombie attack because they were too busy eating his family.  This is not much of a Full House moment.  The spirit of Danny Tanner surely weeps.

As we go back to Atlanta, we witness an inter-group conflict between our usual heroes and a group of predominantly Hispanic men.  They want Rick’s guns, Rick wants Rick’s guns, and they start fighting over the bag.  One gets  an arrow in the butt by Daryl.  Glenn gets kidnapped, and Daryl and Rick hold one of the other group’s members hostage (Miguel).  Tension is clear.  After Miguel gives Daryl some lip over how redneck-like the name “Merle” sounds, Daryl takes Merle’s hand out of his backpack, saying it’s what happens when people cross him.

Incredibly, things gradually cool down between everyone in both the camp and Atlanta.  Jim becomes calm and explains that he can’t even remember why he was digging (evocative of a fever dream).  The Hispanic group — led by a man named Guillermo — lower their arms after one of their grandmothers walks into the standoff.  It turns out most of the unfamiliar group are hospital workers, doing what they can to take care of some abandoned elderly folks.  Glenn is revealed to be safe as well.  Tension eases to make room for candor, and Rick says to Guillermo, “You’re the dumbest son of a bitch I ever met. We came in here ready to kill every last one of you.”  Guillermo says they were just trying to protect the medicine and supplies (and also get some guns).

The watch is a Dale thing. You wouldn’t understand. (Photo: Walking Dead screenshot) /

How were they to know Rick and crew weren’t a serious threat?  A truce is called, with each getting a fair share of the guns (reconciliation and conflict avoidance!).

As night arrives, the group — minus the Atlanta rooftop crew — unite around a campfire where Dale, in an almost grandfatherly way, explains that he keeps his wristwatch as a “mausoleum of all hope and desire.”  Not long after this anecdote, Ed Peletier’s hopes and desires are permanently ended by a walker creeping into his tent.  His neck is bit into, as well as his savage male dominance fantasies.  Ed is dead, baby.  Then, sadly, Amy is also bitten by a walker, as well as some other previously happy campers.  It’s a walker swarm!  Daryl, Rick, Glenn and T-Dog conveniently return to help kill the remaining walkers, but no one can help Amy and other expendable characters who get chomped on.

As if on cue, Jim says, “I remember my dream now. Why I dug the holes.”  He is obviously referring to all the bodies around them.  Those old Playboys are still safely buried for now.

Zombies like to go camping, too. (Photo: Walking Dead screenshot).
Zombies like to go camping, too. (Photo: Walking Dead screenshot). /

So what’s the big lesson to be learned?  Don’t fight each other.  Focus more on fighting zombies, if that’s what’s going on.  It seems like a simple enough lesson, but people stubbornly grip to their old ways.  We learned this from Merle, and we also learned this from the examples of Ed Peletier and Rich versus Guillermo.

At the core, none of these conflicts are necessary, and result from plain old human stupidity.  Even group allegiances aren’t absolutely necessary — or wouldn’t be if people would treat everyone with basic respect, rather than cling to one leader or another and afford them greater respect.  Allegiances are actually one of the main causes of conflict in this show, as paradoxical as this may seem to some.  This is not only true for the The Walking Dead‘s universe, but for the actual human world we live in.  People end up doing many things they wouldn’t do under normal circumstances, because they suspend their own judgments and simply do as they are told.

A breakdown of examples from the show:

  1. Rick almost got numerous people killed over guns he had sloppily dropped in Atlanta.  That didn’t have to happen.  People didn’t have to follow his lead.  It may have been wiser to just let the guns go, take it as a loss, and avoid possible conflicts and kidnappings.  The same applies for Guillermo.
  2. Merle ultimately lost his hand over racist values he had accumulated from his upbringing (and also because he couldn’t saw through a pipe).  Had he just shut his mouth and treated his group better, his problems may have been minimal.
  3. Ed became estranged from the group because, somewhere down the line, he learned men are allowed to physically reprimand women.  He never had to slap or otherwise harm Carol.  Similarly, Shane didn’t have to act like such an aggressive defender of the camp.  One can understand his intervening between Ed and Carol to a point, but was threatening to beat Ed to death necessary?  Possibly not.   He let his emotions take control of the situation, and threatened to make the overall situation spiral out of control (Jim may not have attacked him with a shovel had Shane not beaten Ed).

Next: Episode 5: Wildfire

At what point does loyalty to a group or principle become overkill?  At what point do families and similar groups become more of a burden than a benefit?  These are all questions which tie into the issues of conflict avoidance, and there aren’t any simple answers.  Hence, when the group(s) on The Walking Dead are faced with challenges, so is the average viewer.

“Whatever happened to predictability?
The milkman, the  paper boy, evening TV….”