Tuesday, 25 June 2019

ANTHONY NEWLEY: The Pop Career Of 'Sammy Lee'


Review of: 
 With Anthony Newley, Julia Foster, Robert Stephens, 
Wilfred Brambell, Warren Mitchell 
(British Lion Films, April 1963, DVD digitally restored 
StudioCanal November 2016)

The council sprinkler truck sprays its way past empty market stalls down Soho streets. Parking meters pace the early-morning pavement, where old tenements give way defiantly against new towerblocks. Pigeons scatter and take wing. Kenny Graham’s haunting theme sets the melancholy black-and-white tone. There’s a fast blur drive-past of cosmopolitan eateries, Pakistani, Italian ‘Toscana’ Trattoria, Indian, French ‘Chez Auguste’, ‘Choys’ Chinese, with a sprinkling of lost product names, ‘Players’, ‘Toby Ales’, ‘Senior Service’. Then a fleeting glimpse of ‘The Two I’s’ Coffee Bar, now nothing more than a plaque on the Old Compton Street wall, in 1963 the ‘Birthplace Of British Rock ‘n’ Roll’ and still very much a going concern. The basement where Tommy Steele once strummed, Terry Dene, Cliff Richard and Vince Eager played, where Lionel Bart worked and Larry Parnes talent-spotted. Then the perspective shifts, from dustbin-men emptying garbage outside dodgy ‘Books And Magazines’ shops and the ‘Moulin Rouge’ striptease, to the Cameo Moulin cinema with glamour-model Pamela Green postered for Harrison Marks’ nudie-sexploitation ‘Naked As Nature Intended’ (1961), and ‘Revudeville’ at the famous Windmill Theatre. Although they ‘never closed’ during the war, they would finally shut down 31 October 1964. Leaving this fleeting film reference.

Wide-eyed Patsy (Julia Foster) strolls curiously down the street, in her neat white coat and matching white handbag, carrying her small suitcase as far as the downbeat ‘Peepshow Club’ entrance where there are pin-up photos of the dancing girls in glass cases outside, and one framing club compére Sammy Lee (Anthony Newley). Going inside, she tells the cleaning women she’s looking for Mr Lee. ‘Alright ducks’ she responds wearily. Patsy has made the ‘big exit’ and escaped two-hundred miles down from Bradford to the Smoke, on a vague promise after Sammy fed her some chat-up lines doing Summer Season at a Holiday Camp. As the cleaner knows, Sammy is a chancer. His bachelor pad has a Sammy Davis LP on the record player, ‘Variety’ magazine in the floor, bongos on the side-unit, plus posters of him at the Palace and the Scala.

Born in 1943, a teenage Julia had started out as a student nurse in ‘Emergency Ward Ten’, one of ITV’s first Soap Opera’s, before a brief uncredited part in school drama ‘Term Of Trial’ (1962), with a pacifist teacher accused of inappropriate behaviour with an underage pupil, then she was ‘Gladys’ in Alan Sillitoe’s classic ‘The Loneliness Of The Long Distance Runner’ (1962) with a sullen and rebellious Tom Courtenay. While appearing with Oliver Reed in ‘The System’ (1964) she would be part of the perfect celebrity couple, married to Lionel Morton of squeaky-clean Popstrels the Four Pennies who topped the chart with “Juliet”.

But, attractively naive and vulnerable, this was Julia’s first major role in what would be an impressive TV and filmography. In club owner Gerry Sullivan’s (Robert Stephens) cluttered office she auditions for him, he impatiently demands ‘are you sure you’re eighteen?’ then talks on the phone as she undresses – urging ‘c’mon, let’s have a look at you,’ her eyes downcast as her bra comes off. He’s sufficiently impressed to offer her a job at £20 a week… just as Sammy bursts in, to advise her ‘you don’t want to work in a dump like this.’

Sammy opens the show with the throwaway ‘well, thank you for that thunderous ovation. Good afternoon, gentlemen, and welcome to the ‘Peepshow Club’… and you’re welcome to it.’ It’s a seedy down-at-heel Soho dive. With his role modelled on real-life ‘Windmill’ compéres such as Bruce Forsythe, Tommy Cooper or Peter Sellers, who valiantly perform to huge indifference bordering on active hostility, between sets by the dancing girls, who are the real attraction. ‘We’ve got a wonderful show here for you today so I want you to forget about the wife and make yourselves comfortable. Not too comfortable there, sir, thank you. We were raided last week. Sit back, relax, enjoy yourselves. We’ve got some really beautiful girls here, some really beautiful girls.’ As an impatient heckler shouts ‘well, let’s see ‘em then!’

‘Keep your seat-belt fastened sir, all in good time’ quips Sammy. The Peepshow Lovelies dance in a ghost of the Windmill’s tableaux vivants where the Lord Chamberlain’s censorial power determined that onstage nudes were forbidden to move, hence they form elaborate immobile presentations as excuses for nudity. There’s a humorous bubble-bath scene for Evette who protests the water is too cold, a dance of The Seven Veils, a Tribal Sacrifice, and a stripper who uses a prop-chair to arch her leg as she removes her black stockings in a slow tease to Dixieland jazz. ‘Waggle it, waggle it’ coaxes the stage manager as they rehearse dance moves. Although, with one cautious eye to certification, there’s no real nudity, with Burlesque nipple-pasties in place as required. ‘Now first of all, there’s Jacky’ announces Sammy. ‘Now Jacky, she’s a really lovely girl. She started off as a fan-dancer, saved up enough money to feather her nest...’ and when there’s no reaction, a dismissive ‘forget it.’

Expanded from a 1958 television play which also united Newley with writer/director Ken Hughes, Sammy Lee is first seen playing Poker in a card school – and losing. He punts on a cert at Newmarket, although he’s over his credit limit and they refuse to accept his bet. The horse loses. Heavily in debt to hoodlums he sees another of their victims in the café, who’s scarred face required twenty-four stitches, and he only owed them £200! Sammy’s £300 doesn’t sound like a great deal now, although at today’s rate it would be more around the £6012 mark. It’s the kind of problem that could easily be resolved with a simple bridging pay-day QuikQuid loan. But after desperate wrangling in the dressing room, he’s given a five-hour extension – they’ll come back at seven, or ‘they’re going to cut me up.’ Time for Sammy’s desperate bid to raise the outstanding cash by any means necessary.

Anthony Newley was the child actor who became the darling of the Las Vegas cabaret circuit. His brief flirtation with Rock ‘n’ Roll happened during his transition period from one to the other. Born in Hackney, London 24 September 1931, his most famous juvenile role was as the Artful Dodger in David Lean’s ‘Oliver Twist’ (1948) – a role later played on stage by Phil Collins and Steve Marriott. In 1959, having efficiently bridged the chasm to minor adult roles, he plays a conscripted Rock ‘n’ Roll singer in the John Antrobus-scripted film ‘Idle On Parade’ (1959) – sometimes referred to as ‘Idol On Parade’. It touched several bases. Conscription into military service was a compulsory right-of-passage, a familiarity inspiring TVs ‘The Army Game’ and the debut ‘Carry On’ film – ‘Carry On Sergeant’ (1958), to which Antrobus contributed.

Elvis Presley had become the high-profile victim of the US draft-board, while Terry Dene’s brief run-in with National Service proved a hot newspaper controversy. The combination was irresistible. As spoof cockney Pop singer ‘Jeep Jackson’, Newley sang and co-wrote the title song – ‘I’m a guy who doesn’t dig that stuff’, an infectious Rock number, despite the fact that it was primarily intended as parody. Check out the huge giveaway wink on the cover-photo as well as the amount of vocal-echo on “Sat’day Night Rock-A-Boogie” and “Idle Rock-A-Boogie”. Yet it accidentally launched him into an unlikely recording career. Despite being an EP it entered the ‘NME’ singles chart at no.17 (9 May 1959), then climbed to no.13 as Elvis’ “A Fool Such As I” took over the top slot. His throbbing power-ballad “I’ve Waited So Long” – played during the soundtrack NAAFI scene, was spun-off that same EP – to hit no.3 (6 June 1959) in its own right! Incidentally, this was also one of the first song-writing successes for Jerry Lordan (as Lauden). They’d both go on to greater things.

At that time home-grown Rockers were thin on the ground, Lonnie Donegan was still around, Marty Wilde had already scored a few hits, and a sultry young Cliff Richard was the new upstart on the ‘Oh Boy!’ block. Nevertheless, already the wrong end of his twenties and rubber-faced in a not obvious teen fan-mag way, Newley had his foot in the Pop door. He’d been offered a chance, and he ran with it. The obvious thing to do was to cut a follow-up. So his unconvincing cover of “Personality” found itself in direct competition with Lloyd Price’s US original – and let’s be honest, superior version. Both were in the 4 July 1959 Top Ten with Newley three places higher at no.6.

Then, Frankie Avalon scraped into the Top Twenty with his big American chart-topper “Why”, but Anthony Newley’s more mature cover easily outshines its teen innocence, logging four weeks at no.1 from 6 February 1960, effectively denying Cliff’s “A Voice In The Wilderness” top slot. It was also being played all over the Pop radio shows as Elvis was being demobbed. As critic Patrick Humphries points out, ‘he wasn’t afraid of singing in his natural London voice, instead of opting for a slick mid-Atlantic accent’ (‘Record Hunter’, May 1991). The catchy finger-snapping “Do You Mind?” – written by Lionel Bart for the movie ‘Let’s Get Married’ (with Newley and stooge Bernie Winters) gave him his second no.1, for the single week of 23 April. Then he saw the year out with two more hits, plaintive ballad “If She Should Come To You” (no.4, July), and the more playful “Strawberry Fair” (no.3 in November), followed into 1961 by “And The Heavens Cried” (no.6, in March).

Never a natural teen idol or Pop Star, it nevertheless gave him profile enough to springboard him into other projects. His surreal six-part TV series ‘The Strange World Of Gurney Slade’ (22 October 1960) saw him wandering off a stylised ATV sit-com set for strange encounters as he meanders through London, with Bernie Winters, a talking dog called ‘Rags’, a conversation with a statue, a dustbin, and a girl from a ‘Klean-O De Luxe’ advertising Hoarding (Una Stubbs). In a similar way, Sammy Lee talks to his reflection in the mirror while shaving, then sticks a paper hat on his head and wishes himself ‘Happy New Year’. Written with Sid Green and Dick Hills of ‘Morcambe And Wise’ fame, ‘Gurney Slade’ was judged too baffling at the time, but has subsequently been reclaimed as a groundbreaking foray into postmodern comedy, part ‘The Prisoner’ in his refusal to be part of a scripted life, while ‘Gurney In Wonderland’ sequences anticipate ‘Hard Days Night’ and the wacky ‘Swinging London’ movies to come, with internal monologue and glimpses into the thoughts of passing strangers. The jazzy Max Harris theme was reconfigured into “Bee Bom” which – coupled with his bizarre reinterpretation of “Pop Goes The Weasel” gave him his last hit, up to no.12 in June 1961.

Three more lesser items, “Gonna Build A Mountain”, “Once In A Lifetime” and “What Kind Of Fool Am I?” (which inexplicably got no higher than no.36 in August 1961, despite being regarded as one his classic compositions), were all mainstays of ‘Stop The World, I Want To Get Off!’, the innovative stage musical he wrote with Leslie Bricusse in 1961, taking its title from some graffiti he’d noticed on the wall. The show not only broadened and revitalised the regimented structure of the musical, but also established the public image of subsequent Newley personas, of the dynamic, but tortured all-round entertainer. “D-Darling” in January 1962 (no.25) seems like a conscious last shot at replicating the breezy Pop of “Do You Mind”, and then the seriously silly novelty disc “That Noise” in July (no.34) – a subsequent ‘Junior Choice’ favourite, rounds out his chart career. The latter spoofs the recording of “What Kind Of Fool Am I?” with ‘I went down to the studio to record my latest hit, a sentimental ballad that I thought was full of… (pause)… potential.’ As a postscript to his Pop career, David Bowie deliberately imitates Newley’s vocal mannerisms as one of his early models, making Newley inadvertently responsible for “The Laughing Gnome”.

Meanwhile, teamed with assistant Harry (Wilfred Brambell), Sammy Lee desperately scams his way through the seedy London underworld in attempts to raise the outstanding cash, from one potential contact to the next, past the Whitechapel Tube station, down alleys and through the garbage in the street market gutter, to a cool jazz vibraphone soundtrack. He thumbs through his book of contacts. There’s the wonderful pairing of Warren Mitchell with Miriam Karlin as Sammy’s henpecked brother and disapproving sister-in-law. ‘You married me because I was smart and attractive’ she bitches as a reason for not advancing money, ‘I’m just trying to stay that way.’ Then teaming a camp Derek Nimmo with Roy Kinnear as Sammy benefits from broken glassware for their Lucky Seven Club opening. He checks out a black jazz combo to set up a pot score. He sells American Bourbon Whiskey and haggles a box of (allegedly) fifteen-jewelled Swiss watches, with ‘Steptoe’ Brambell delivering in a borrowed van. He finally agrees to sell his mother’s chair.

‘All my bleeding life I’ve been running’ says Sammy, like one of those white mice in a wheel ‘the faster you run the faster you don’t get anywhere.’ Back in his flat with a drummer rehearsing above, he’s in bed with an apparently naked Patsy. Despite her tearful protestations, he advises her to go back to Bradford, and even phones her travel arrangements. He misses the ‘Peepshow’ opening. ‘I know it’s a lousy show, but it’s got to go on’ protests Sullivan. ‘You’d think it was Sunday Night At The bloody Palladium’ he argues back. And – previously only waiting tables, Patsy strips in the ‘Garden Of Allah’ Arabian ‘hysterical… er, historical’ fantasy, to get his job back. ‘Tell your friends, but don’t tell the wife’ Sammy quips to the audience. Until, with his life falling apart around him, he delivers a final withering onstage blast – ‘well, Gentlemen, and I use the word loosely,’ telling how ‘the birds back here hate you, you make them sick’ and the Club is ‘the most second-rate nasty small-minded dirty little show in the West-End, and by the look on your faces it’s exactly what you deserve.’

In the eventual audit, Harry has accepted a cheque in lieu of cash, leaving Sammy well-short of the necessary £300. ‘In my day all the villains wore black hats’ he muses, ‘very smart, snap-brim.’ There are two enforcers. ‘There’s nothing personal in this’ says the older one as he slips his gloves on, and the younger more impatient thug locks the dressing room door. At first he tries to make a break for it. They pursue him. Patsy is catching a coach at Victoria Station. As Sammy gets a ticket to join her, the heavies appear – he pauses, and allows the coach to pull away. He resigns himself to the inevitable. He turns and gets into their waiting car. They drive into a derelict site beneath the railway, and beat him up as cool jazz plays. He ineptly fights back, but they leave him sprawled in the dirt, with his inadequate money-stash intact.

His laughter into the final credits is echoed into manic repetition.

As with ‘Gurney Slade’, Anthony Newley’s ‘The Small World Of Sammy Lee’ was initially deemed a failure, and lost money at the box-office. Yet has since been reclaimed, not least due to the fascinating glimpses it provides of a bohemian Soho low-life caught and preserved in crisply atmospheric monochrome. Just as the 1959 film ‘Expresso Bongo’ had opened with a long tactile tracking shot through a now time-lost Soho, so real you can smell its odours. This is the Soho that I remember from my late-teenage hitchhiking trips down to London, in all its intoxicating sleaze. The first film to be reviewed by Philip French in his ‘Observer’ column, it has only increased in critical reputation through the years since.

As he moved out of the orbit of his Pop career into more ambitious ventures, up and down, but never afraid of tackling high-risk projects, 1963 was also the year Anthony Newley married Joan Collins. He appeared in ‘Eastenders’ as a disreputable car dealer in 1998. And died aged 67, 14 April 1999.

THE SMALL WORLD OF SAMMY LEE(Bryanston Films/ Seven Arts Pictures, through British Lion Films, April 1963) Producer Alec C Snowden. Director and Screenplay Ken Hughes. With Anthony Newley (as Sammy ‘Lee’ Leeman), Julia Foster (as Patsy), Robert Stephens (as Gerry Sillivan), Wilfred Brambell (as Harry), Warren Mitchell (as Lou Leeman), Miriam Karlin (as Lou’s wife Milly), Kenneth J Warren and Clive Colin-Bowler (as muscle-men Fred and Johnny), Toni Palmer (as Joan), Harry Locke (as ‘Peepshow’ stage manager), Al Mulock (as Dealer), Cyril Shaps (as Maurice ‘Morrie’ Bellman), Roy Kinnear (as Lucky Dave), Derek Nimmo (as Rembrandt), Alfred Burke (as Big Eddie), Lynda Baron (as Yvette). Music by Kenny Graham. (DVD digitally restored BFI/ StudioCanal November 2016) 107-minutes

Monday, 24 June 2019



Retrospective Review of: 
(1972, Polydor 2383-132)

‘Bring Bring.’ A voice imitates a phone chime.

It opens a direct-call from the distant planet Uranus for the Pink Fairies. ‘This is Uranus calling Pink Fairies’ with a vaguely Irish accent. And just enough Ur-Anus in the pronunciation to imply a tongue firmly-in-cheek.

The alien caller offers the band fifteen-hundred-thousand Galactic Credits to play a gig on frozen gas-giant Uranus. But uncharacteristically they decline. ‘No way man!’

The uncertain prologue dialogue closes ‘Have Fun. Get It On. Don’t Forget To Boogie. And – Up The Pink!’

There’s a tendency among vinyl cultists to build up luring mythologies about great lost American bands – The Stooges, MC5, Seeds, The Dictators or the Flamin’ Groovies, their mystique enhanced by distance and rarity value, to the extend that they sometimes overshadow their more accessible but equally worthy UK equivalents. Around that same turn-of-the-decade 1960s into the 1970s there were ‘Community Bands’ who operate around the battered edges of the fledgling counter-culture, at Happenings, Benefits, Free Festivals and Hippie Clubs, names such as Hawkwind, the Edgar Broughton Band, the Deviants… and the Pink Fairies. The baffled major record companies suspected there was some kind of product there, if only they could work out a way to market it. Polydor had the temerity to sign the singularly unpromising Pink Fairies – tested the water with a try-out single “The Snake” c/w “Do It” (Polydor 2058-089), then they issue three studio albums across three years, ‘Never Never Land’ (May 1971, Polydor 2383-045), ‘What A Bunch Of Sweeties’ (July 1972) and ‘Kings Of Oblivion’ (June 1973, Polydor 2383-212). It’s fair to say that none of them set the charts ablaze, but each is a unique and occasionally vital oddity, artefacts of a bizarre period of Brit-Rock’s evolution.

I’m just as bad as those other vinyl cultists. I bought ‘What A Bunch Of Sweeties’ from a second-hand record dealer in Hull, but wasn’t initially too charmed by its rough-edged pile-driver bludgeoning. It lacks the sophisticated interplay of a Jefferson Airplane album, or the lyrical-melodic invention of Love. But re-listening to it now, it’s full of surprise irreverence and playful pleasures. No arty Prog pretentions, more a direct continuity link from the earliest hard-line Rock ‘n’ Roll insurrectionaries, all the way to the minimal Punk intensity that was still a few years into the future.

There’s a gatefold sleeve that opens up into a colour Edward Barker cartoon strip, a visual style familiar from the pages of ‘It: International Times’. ‘It was a dark stormy night. The Terrible One who walked backwards, did so with gay abandon. When from out of the west came a teapot and he was stupid and with him there were three crows. And the three crows had with them three trees in their hands and were wise beyond reason and knew nothing…’

“Right On, Fight On” runs muscular drums and crunching riff around a Zappa-style break into plucked string distortion. Its rough Chuck Berry bones swell into builds and strong ‘Get Back’ guitar over shuffle-rhythms as loose as hell. Slurred subterranean off-mike vocals surface about ‘right on, for what you believe in.’ As a devotee of the strangely esoteric, Julian Cope explains how the track relates the story of police busting-up a Pink Fairies’ joint free gig with Hawkwind, held beneath the Westway overpass just off the Portobello Road. According to the sleeve cartoon-legend ‘they wondered greatly at the prowess of Mad Half-Breed guitar-picker Paul Rudolph. And smacked their lips when they heard the crazed Albanian Dwarf drummer Russell Hunter beat his meats. And swooned to the driving rhythms of suave Duncan Sanderson’s bass guitar.’ In fact, Hunter stomps through the whole thing as Rudolph mouths hoarse repetitions of the title, exhortations to ‘come together’ and to ‘keep a strong position’ in what Cope calls ‘a rallying cry over the loosest, blareing-est of street jams’.

The sleeve-photo establishes the band’s counter-culture provenance, with a dish of paraphernalia collected by roadie Boss Goodman. There’s a Rizla-pack for the recreational smoking of Mother Nature, ‘The Good Old Grateful Dead’, ‘Georgia Straight’, ‘Boogie With Canned Heat’, ‘Fight For Free Radio’, ‘I Am Enemy Of The State’, ‘Soledad Brothers’ and a ‘Progress For All’ JFK election button alongside a Deputy Sherriff badge, pen, pills and capsules. Based around the squats and low-rent Ladbroke Grove bohemia, Rudolph, Sanderson and Barry Russell Hunter emerged from the ruins of the Deviants following their traumatic American West Coast tour. The group’s manager, Jamie Mandelkau, had written a Tolkien-style short story from which Farren spoofed the name ‘The Pink Fairies Motorcycle Club And All-Star Rock ‘n’ Roll Band’.

Rudolph had already worked on drummer Twink’s ‘Think Pink’ (1970, Polydor 2343-032) solo LP. As John Charles Edward Alder, ‘Twink’ had led an R&B group called the Fairies, who issued three singles, a cover of Dylan’s “Don’t Think Twice It’s Alright” for Decca in 1964, and two for HMV a year later. He graduated into the Mod-pleasing In-Crowd, which in turn evolved into psychedelic band Tomorrow. Then he drummed with the Pretty Things. Now, he drums on ‘Never Never Land’. Together the Fairies play the first-ever ‘Glastonbury’ festivals (appearing on one side of the 1972 ‘Glastonbury Fayre’ souvenir triple-album), and at ‘Phun City’ where Twink and Russell fall out of their clothes onstage and embrace naked. When they aren’t invited to play they turn up outside the Bath and Isle Of Wight Festivals anyway, and play for nothing off the back of trucks, according to the dictates of their anarcho free-music ethos. They carry the freak banner, and stagger beneath it too, not only projecting the Underground myths, but doing their best to live ‘em out too. By the second album, Twink was gone, but Trevor Burton – formerly of chart-gods the Move, guests ‘tasty licks’ on the first two tracks.

Burton can be heard on “Portobello Shuffle”, a fast boogie-beat, with a spine-shivering heavy guitar solo, slowing into a reverb fade, ‘he’s drunk and he’s stinking’ but ‘I would hope that maybe, we could get it on’. Then “Marilyn” takes a blues-riff over speeding drums for what the ‘It: International Times’ review called ‘a cautionary tale that all god’s chillun should take to heart,’ adding ‘Oh Marilyn, whatcha carrying’’ this song should be compulsory background music at all clap clinics across the land,’ asking the groupie ‘you gave the band the clap, why d’ya wanna do that?’ intercut with swift riffing and the kind of drum solo that jazz-savvy Ginger Baker gets away with, but few others have the chops to attempt. There’s an almost Zeppelin-like attack interplay between guitar and drums here, deep and echoed.

Arcing back to the Prologue in a kind-of thematic continuity loop, “The Pigs Of Uranus” closes the first side, taking its lyrics from Gilbert Shelton’s grossly amusing ‘Wonder Warthog And The Invasion Of The Pigs From Uranus!’ cartoon-strip as featured in ‘Hydrogen-Bomb And Biochemical Warfare Funnies’ (1970, Rip Off Press). As the artist also responsible for ‘The Fabulous Furry Freak Brothers’ and ‘Fat Freddy’s Cat’ Shelton’s instantly-recognisable art-style was ubiquitous across numerous underground magazines, often regardless of any copyright considerations. The track takes a more playful hoe-down feel spattered with snorts and honks, ‘we’re big and smart and famous’ then ‘if you don’t like Uranus, you can pick up and get yourself out’, with a riffling circular section spiralling down to the end.

The inner comic-strip continues ‘and for 3000 years and a bit longer the Earth hung like a gleaming tit in the inky vastness of space.’ Until ‘at last one of the trees blossomed and its fruit was rotten.’ The rotten fruit bears a Hitler moustache. ‘And lo, the second tree also blossomed and its fruit was off.’ A frazzled female fruit. ‘And eventually the last tree blossomed and its fruit was pink. And the pink fruit was fell upon by all the creatures of the Earth who named it ‘Dope’ and couldn’t get enough of it.’ Nothing subtle here.

The major retread of the Ventures hit instrumental “Walk Don’t Run” is another album standout, written by jazz-guitarist Johnny Smith in 1954, it peaked for the Ventures at a ‘Billboard’ no.2, 25 July 1960, to return as “Walk Don’t Run ‘64” as high as no.8, 8 January 1964. In the UK it hit no.8 (6 October 1960) despite competition from an opportunistic John Barry Seven cover – beneath the Shadows “Apache”, and one slot above Duane Eddy’s “Because They’re Young”. What they’d think of the Pink Fairies version is anyone’s guess. It’s spun out to 9:13-minutes, and to 10:32 on an outtake later issued as a CD bonus track. A shimmering Hendrix guitar, cymbals and drum-kicks lead into a heavily-distorted reconfiguring of the familiar guitar-figures, as you never imagined them. Credited ‘Johnny Smith: arranged Pink Fairies’, whether Smith was consulted about the inclusion of a vocal verse is open to conjecture. Largely written by Rudolph, ‘I saw her yesterday, I saw her look my way’ leads into ‘and then she said to me, can we have some fun?’ It’s a straight pick-up that takes an absurdist turn when ‘I went up to her room, she hit me with a broom, yeh, and then she said to me, Baby – walk don’t run, you’ve gotta walk don’t run.’ There’s a hasty reprise of the verse, with stereo phasing shocking left-right, left-right through the Leslie speakers, and a ‘middle run’ that rifts into zones that – incredibly, anticipate Television’s “Marquee Moon”! before returning to the statement-figures into an intense Hawkwind wall of noise. A stunning track.

How to follow that? With “I Went Up, I Went Down”, a token softer more melodic shot, even venturing into harmonies. Again there’s the story of a casual street-meeting that takes an unexpected turn. ‘I met a girl the other day, she asked me if I’d been to see a milky way, I told her no, but would she show me a way I could escape reality?’ It’s stoned cosmic Robert Crumb cartoon-banter, with frames that reel inside your head, ‘and then she said lay on the bed… I took a pill, it was a thrill.’ Suddenly colours never-seen are all-spinning, and psychic energies bright with visions thrum up beneath solid ground. There are surges of what sounds to be reverse-tapes imitating oriental tunings, buzzing and tripping, rising into steady solid drumming and smashing Who guitar into the fade.

The jagged “X-Ray” is another eccentricity, Rock-literate in a way that recalls Mick Farren’s lapsed input, with ‘I’m ready, steady, to Rock and Rave, c’mon let’s set the town ablaze.’ And ‘the hand-jive never went so slow’ – maybe a masturbation reference, because he’s waiting for his lover’s return, ‘is my Baby coming home at three?’ With oddly British sense-of-humour he recalls how we ‘dance until the music stopped, and then we went into the Fish-and-Chips shop.’ How can he tell if she’s coming home? He invests technology with supernatural properties, ‘X-Ray, you can see through me, X-Ray tell me what you see, do you know what is about to be?’

The album closes with a fairly straight concise 3:09-minute cover of “I Saw Her Standing There”, the first track on the Beatles first LP, the inaugural countdown to Rock ‘n’ Roll’s biggest adventure. Although the ‘alright John’ aside into the instrumental break – surely it should be Paul? From that same studio sessions the relentless Don Nix hard-Blues outtake “Going Down” – as recorded by Freddie King, was later included as a CD bonus. Proving the Pink Fairies could Rock worthy of a ZZ Top, altering the lyric only as far as ‘going down to Birmingham,’ with piano surfacing in the pounding mix.

There’s nothing fragile or effete about these Fairies. Moving from the Deviants shambling looseness into tighter harder guitar-driven heavy Rock. An uncompromisingly focused attack intent on pummelling the audience into submission with its sheer Punk-intensity. It’s nasty and it’s in your face, ‘a mystifying jumble of tracks as exuberant as they are shambolic’ (Julian Cope). But ‘it was at this point that the Fairies unique self-destruct mechanism came into play,’ as Mick Farren writes in the ‘New Musical Express’… revealing ‘the rumours behind the truth’ (26 April 1975). By the time of ‘Kings Of Oblivion’ Rudolph had quit – going on to work with Eno and Hawkwind, with various line-up changes resulting in Larry Wallis taking lead guitar. Which was it, for now. There was a one-off reunion for the ‘Live At The Roundhouse’ LP (Big Beat WIK14), recorded 13 July 1975 but not issued until a revival of interest in 1982. There were various other incarnations, for the attention of obsessives and vinyl cultists. But really, all you need to know is here and now.

Meanwhile, ‘Have Fun. Get It On. Don’t Forget To Boogie. And – Up The Pink!’

The ‘Julian Cope Presents Head Heritage’ site… www.headheritage.co.uk/unsung/thebookofseth/pink-fairies-what-a-bunch-of-sweeties
Full album…

Friday, 31 May 2019

Poem: A Convenient Wife


she’s the convenient wife
he bought at the market where
off-world traders barter wares
from across the galactic spiral arm,
he avoids the dream-dealers
jugglers, sky-opals and time-eggs,
but keeps a keen eye for a bargain,
he resents her price, although it’s low,
she’s elfin-skinny with bright black eyes
strong enough to work, and eats little,
requires only the occasional beating
to teach her obedience and the
appropriate degree of servility,
she works hard,
cleans his golden manse
on the headland of the endless sea,
cooks and serves him food
which is good, although he complains
and finds endless fault,
she sews and she sings and she weeps for
the luminous moons of her lost home-world

he decides he needs a convenient son
to assume his work-load while he relaxes, to
carry his proud name forward into coming years,
so in obedience to his wishes
when he forces himself upon her
she plants her seed within him
in the manner and biology of her people,
as the seed grows and begins to feed
she soothes his terrors and agonies
as the embryo devours him from inside,
until she retrieves the child from the
wreckage of what had been his body,
she loves her son as her son loves her,
they share the golden manse
on the headland of the endless sea
and stroll the harbour together
as the suns set in streamers of fire

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'Dreams & Nightmares' (no.112, May 2019)
My thanks to editor David C Kopaska-Merkel
for a fine collection at work... from
1300 Kicker Road, Tuscaloosa AL 35404

Thursday, 30 May 2019



 DVD Review of: 
 (33-Disc Box Set, 2017, AMC Film Holdings LLC) 
(6-Disc set including the 100th episode, plus 4-hours of 
bonus content, 2018, AMC Film Holdings LLC, 
Fox Network and eOne)

Post-apocalypse has a long tradition. ‘The Day Of The Triffids’ (1951) opens with biologist Bill Masen returning to consciousness in a deserted hospital, venturing out through empty corridors and wrecked wards to discover the outside world irrevocably altered. Just as Kane County deputy sheriff Rick Grimes (Andrew Lincoln) wakes from his gunshot coma in the launch episode of ‘The Walking Dead’, he’s bare-foot and hospital-tagged, with strip-lights pulsing along bare corridors, amid fly-crawled body-bags. Unlike the John Wyndham scenario he finds the world infested – not with giant perambulating vegetables, but by zombie ‘walkers’. Naturally, we’ve been here before too. Richard Matheson introduced the supernatural apocalypse, in a modern vampiric sense, with his thrice-filmed novel ‘I Am Legend’ (1954), the third version – with Will Smith as sole survivor Robert Neville, appeared in 2007. Then there’s George A Romero, who serves up the TV-series’ most obvious flesh-eating antecedent.

The other niggling suspicion is, as in that notorious TV-Soap episode where Bobby Ewing takes his ‘Dallas’ shower, that Rick never actually wakes up. That everything that happens is all a nightmare fever-dream in his tortured mind. That the series will end when he does eventually wake. He wonders this himself, ‘Is this real? Am I here? Wake up, Wake up!’ Later, his gunshot in the confined space of a military tank sets off jarring echo-reverberations in his head. Post-apocalypse Georgia has all the ingredients of trauma hallucination nightmare. Although this dénouement becomes less and less feasible as season follows season.

The other worrying irritant is the time-scale involved. Rick has been shot by the third armed fugitive to escape from an overturned vehicle. When he wakes, the flowers on his bedside cabinet are dead. He’s been out long enough for the world to go to hell, but not long enough for his own physical emaciation to set in. There’s a flashback sequence in the season one closer, which shows Rick’s police-partner, Shane Walsh (Jon Bernthal) barricading a comatose Rick into his hospital room as Walkers and troopers overwhelm the Harrison Memorial Hospital. Later, the disparate group of stragglers arrive at the ‘Center For Disease Control’ – the first of many illusory sanctuaries they’ll encounter over the coming series, the shutters opening in a blaze of light resembling the ‘Close Encounters Of The Third Kind’ (1977) alien revelation, and Dr Edwin Jenner (Noah Emmerich) explains that it is sixty-three days since the contagion went global. Which provides a usable timeframe.

The spin-off prequel series ‘Fear The Walking Dead’ – which launched on AMC 23 August 2015, partially provides further answers, showing how Los Angeles gradually submerges in the zombie plague. There’s Chaos Theory and rumours of ‘toxins, poison water, virus’ as the Paul R Williams High School descends into a horror-show bloodbath, and social control collapses around a twitchy charismatic junk-head kid (Nick Clark, played by English actor Frank Dillane). As geeky Tobias (Lincoln A Castellanos) says ‘the desert will be safer because things will fall apart now. No satellites, no internet, no cell phones.’ Communications will fail ‘cause there’s no-one’s there to manage the servers. The electrical grid will collapse for the same reason. It’s all gonna go to hell. And that’s what they don’t get. When civilization ends, it ends fast.’ So yes, it hangs together. ‘This here is the new real.’

At the CDC, pathologist Jenner’s Wildfire project seeks an experimental cure, and shows for possibly the first time, the clinical Zombie rationale involved. Rick’s team watch the MRI scan of dying Test Subject Nineteen, as the glimmers of onscreen light denoting memory and personality flicker into extinction, then after a varying indeterminate pause, the single pulse brainstem reignites. But pure motor reflexes only, establishing absolutely that the Walkers have no human personality-remnants left, although there will be repeated futile attempts to prove otherwise. In season two, god-fearing Hershel Greene (Scott Wilson) argues with simple faith that, as with the AIDS-virus, medical science will render the zombie plague at least manageable, that it is ‘nature correcting itself. Restoring some balance.’ It’s the first, but not the last time the question will be asked. Can there be a cure? Not so to Jenner, ‘there is no hope, there never was.’ In a later episode Rick reveals he was told ‘we’re all infected. Whatever it is, we all carry it.’

We see the process at close range. Tormented mechanic Jim (Andrew Rothenberg) only escaped pursuing Walkers because they pause to eat his family. Now, in survivor-guilt madness, he compulsively digs graves. As Walkers overrun the survivor’s camp, Amy (Emma Bell) is bitten and killed. Sister Andrea (Laurie Holden) sits in vigil nursing her bloodied body. Then shoots her in the head as she reanimates. ‘I remember my dream now, why I dug those holes’ says Jim – who’s also bitten. ‘That sound you hear’ he says, ‘that’s god laughing while you make plans.’ At his request they leave him to die by the roadside.

The tentative first season consists of just six episodes, the pilot debuts 31 October 2010, faithfully adapted by writer Robert Kirkman from his scripts for Tony Moore’s black-and-white graphic novel series launched by Image Comics in 2003. Its overwhelming success breaks existing viewer-figures for any previous cable drama, guaranteeing more series. From Bear McCreary’s edgy title sequence strings that surge around the iconic image of Rick riding a horse down empty Highway-85 towards garbage-strewn Atlanta, it perfectly captures the flavour of what is to come. It’s the western cliché of the Lone Gunman riding into town. Only here crows feed on the corpses of dead soldiers in the streets. Through to the series closer as the CDC shuts itself down, to be blown sky-high in cleansing flame, and the survivors resume their trek to Bob Dylan’s stark acoustic “Tomorrow Is A Long Time”.

Post-apocalypse novels, from the classic ‘Earth Abides’ (1949) by George R Stewart or ‘The Death Of Grass’ (1956) by John ‘Samuel Youd’ Christopher, have the fictional effect of reverting our safe comfortable society to its basic tribal roots, and – with a particular relevance to the USA, creating a new unexplored wild frontier, thronged with dangers and unknown hazards. When we can no longer believe in Space as the Final Frontier, we can re-imagine the transfigured Earth instead. Apocalypse clears cities, and reclaims the world for adventure. Just as it creates what Andrea calls the ‘endless horrific nightmare we live every day.’

The other strengths of ‘The Walking Dead’ are undoubtedly the casting and character interactions. Rick as the central gravitational core, taciturn and solitary by nature, his sense of purpose nevertheless gradually assumes reluctant leadership of the survivors. To Hershel, Rick is ‘a man of conscience.’ Cycling from the hospital he first encounters black father-and-son squatters Morgan (Lennie James) and Duane (Adrian Kali Turner), who help him. Morgan’s wife (Keisha Tillis) is one of the encircling Walkers, rattling the door-handle. With a telescopic rifle Morgan lines up his gun-sights on her forehead, but can’t bring himself to pull the trigger. An ongoing continuity link is provided by Rick’s daily radio status update to Morgan, as the group moves on. Morgan will briefly reappear in series 3 (“Clear”) to warn Rick that ‘you will be torn apart by teeth or bullets.’

Rick’s more easy-going regular-guy friend and partner, Shane provides the counterbalance, and the emotional triangle. They go back to school-day pranks together. Assuming Rick to be dead he’s first glimpsed in the survivor’s Winnebago camp protectively assuming the supportive-role while fast-bonding with Rick’s wife and son, Lori (Sarah Wayne Callies) and Carl (Chandler Riggs). He good-naturedly jokes with Carl about the necessity of maybe having to eat frogs – Kermit-legs. ‘I would rather eat Miss Piggy’ Lori responds, ‘yes, that came out wrong.’ In a fairly explicit sex-in-a-forest-glade scene with Shane she removes her ring and drops it in the grass. In a flashback sequence she confesses her earlier marital doubts. Does she still love Rick? ‘Yes, trying to remember how that works.’ So Rick’s unexpected return in a white Ferenc van disrupts the cosy new tryst, as they exchange guilty tension glances. When abusive Ed Peletier (Adam Minarovich) wife-beats Carol (Melissa McBride), Shane explodes his pent-up rage by punishment-beating him. Then the group brutally gang-stomp and behead a Walker in an outbreak of murderous fury. Shane razors his hair with attitude. Will Shane shoot Rick? In the original graphic novel it is Carl who shoots Shane, but that occurs in a different narrative strand, and an alternate continuum.

There’s an argument that all the characters are psychologically damaged, that no-one can endure what they’ve lived through, and remain rational. Shane increasingly becomes the wild card. He’s out of control, leading to an out-of-out fistfight. When he insists ‘Rick, it ain’t like it was before’, he means that morality has been suspended. Rick is saying pretty-much the same thing when he tells Hershel that ‘it changes you. Either into one of them. Or something a lot less than the person you were.’ ‘Who says we’re civilised anymore?’ argues former Civil Rights Lawyer Andrea.

It’s Korean former pizza-delivery boy Glenn Rhee (Steven Yeun) who rescues Rick from the Atlanta Walker-horde. Escaping from a Department Store they smear themselves in disguising corpse-gore and entrails. ‘We need more guts’ says Rick in grotesque black humour, but it’s alright because ‘he was an organ-donor’. Until a cloudburst washes the death-smell away! Yet one of the series’ most intriguing psychological relationships is the one with redneck Daryl Dixon (Norman Reedus). He’s initially under the sway of abusive older brother Merle (Michael Rooker, Colonel Edwards from ‘Stargate SG-1’ episode “Enemy Mine”, 2003). Merle uses the ‘n’-word to genial black survivor T-Dog (IronE Singleton), so ‘Officer Friendly’ Rick takes Merle down – calling him a ‘dumb-as-shit inbred white-trash fool’, and handcuffs him to a pipe on the flat rooftop.

The group will escape ‘only if we keep a level head’ demands Rick. ‘I can do that’ concedes Daryl, as Rick begins exerting his own control. Daryl rides a chopper motorcycle, uses a high-tension crossbow – a more sustainable zombie-slayer than gunshots, and he has backwoods tracker skills useful when’s Carol’s twelve-year-old daughter Sophia (Madison Lintz) gets lost in the woods in season 2:1. And Daryl shows unsuspected sensitivity when he tells the ‘Cherokee Rose’ story to Carol. But first, in their panic-escape they leave Merle still handcuffed to the pipe, in a sequence of genuinely skin-crawling horror, hallucinating terror as the Walkers begin breaking down the door towards him. By the time morally-conflicted Rick mounts a rescue Merle is gone, leaving only the severed hand he’s self-amputated in order to escape. 

‘The world ended. Didn’t you get the memo?’ banters Carol. The women gossip about the things they miss from their old lives as they wash their clothes in the lake… ‘texting’, ‘coffee’, ‘my vibrator’… ‘If I’d known the world was ending I’d have brought better books’ ruefully comments wise old Dale (Jeffrey DeMunn). The images are striking. The Southern Baptist church-bells still chiming on an automatic timer. The migrating herd of Walkers – although others say ‘Rotters’, ‘Eaters’, ‘Roamers’ or ‘Biters’. The empty inward freeway, with the outward lane gridlocked with fleeing dead traffic.

There’s intriguing speculation between John Wyndham and John Christopher concerning the aftermath of apocalypse. In ‘The Day Of The Triffids’ survivors co-operate to establish a stable Isle of Wight colony. In ‘The Death Of Grass’ engineer John Custace competes for resources in escalating violent anarchy with other survivor-groups as he attempts to lead his family to the hidden Cumbrian Blind Gill valley. Civilisation’s veneer of civility is tenuous, and once fractured, it’s hopelessly lost. For ‘The Walking Dead’, logic and reason suggest the survivors work together for the mutual good, pitting themselves against the common threat presented by Walker’s. Inevitably, that doesn’t happen. In Atlanta a rival Hispanic gang jump them as they retrieve Rick’s bag of guns. ‘The same as it ever was. The weak are taken.’ Until an old grandmother intervenes by interposing herself between their armed stand-off, and it becomes apparent they are caretakers protecting a hospital of oldsters. In this case, appearances prove deceptive. Worse will follow. ‘It’s all about slim chances now’ concludes Rick.

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‘Got Bit. Fever Hit. World Gone To Shit. Might As Well Quit.’ Daryl finds a suicided Walker suspended from a tree by his own noose. ‘Dumb-ass didn’t know enough to shoot himself in the head’ sneers Daryl. Hershel’s daughter Beth goes through her own suicidal crisis, but pulls through.

With thirteen episodes, the second series (from 16 October 2011) allows itself a less compressed, but nevertheless compulsive pace, centred around the next illusory sanctuary, Hershel’s bucolic idyllic rural antebellum farmstead off Route 9. Although he’s not a doctor as they at first assume, but a veterinarian, he saves Carl from gunshot wounds. From now on Carl wears Rick’s cop’s hat, and Shane teaches him to shoot. While – ‘Hello Farmer’s Daughter’, Glenn can’t believe his luck when he gets to get intimate with Hershel’s daughter Maggie (Lauren Cohan). And Lori is pregnant. Is it Rick’s or Shane’s child? Torn between two lovers. Will she use the abortion Morning After Pills? It’s every Soap Opera dilemma. Scott Wilson who plays Hershel Greene was also mad preacher Orison in ‘The X-Files’. But why is Hershel so keen that Rick’s people move on? What’s in the barn they’re not supposed to see? Glenn has two secrets – Lori’s pregnancy, and zombies in the barn. ‘My farm. My barn. My say’ argues Hershel, ‘I can shoot. I just don’t like to…we don’t shoot sick people.’

 The question hangs all the way to the absurdly grotesque yet movingly intense climax, as Shane releases the barn-Walkers, shooting Hershel’s family-members, wife and stepson as they emerge. And with grim resolve, Rick must shoot Sophia, as Carol howls in anguish. This time the soundtrack moves to the darker Stoner-metal Clutch track “The Regulator” from their ‘Blast Tyrant’ (2004) album. 

‘I’m not the good guy anymore’ admits Rick. And later ‘this isn’t a democracy any more.’ Later still he even claims ‘we are the Walking Dead’. Yet debating what to do with Randall (Michael Zegen), their prisoner from another rival group, Rick insists ‘we have to eliminate threat,’ but backs down from execution at the last moment. Bringing Rick and Shane into final confrontation in a well-structured episode. It’s the classic stand-off. The two friends and long-term companions ripped into unavoidable conflict by the irrevocable force of cruel destiny. By rivalry over leadership, and a woman they both love. It has all the elements of heroic myth writ large. Shane returns a gun to Carl, via Rick. Shane has a touching final reconciliation with Carl and Lori. Then Rick knifes Shane to death in a duel beneath the full moon. Carl shoots him as he reanimates in gory flash-frames. Then Dale is killed too. ‘Dale could get under your skin’ says Rick, ‘he sure got under mine. Because he wasn’t afraid to say exactly what he thought. How he felt. That kind of honesty is rare, and brave.’ 

Apocalypse used to come in the form of nuclear war, which fuelled a generation of great fictional speculation. But although the prospect of total End-Of-Times atomic annihilation has receded since the Cold War meltdown, apocalypse has four horsemen. ‘The Walking Dead’ succeeds because it subliminally taps into the fear of pandemic. In ancient times, as one civilisation declined in isolation, another was ascending a continent away. Back in medieval times the Black Death crawled its insidious way across Europe taking years. Today, we are a global culture. Now, a virus can jump species, and literally be around the world in six hours, as graphically illustrated in the opening credits airport sequence of ‘Dawn Of The Planet Of The Apes’ (2014). We’ve seen HIV, ebola and avian flu, we know how this thing operates. It’s not that we fear an actual zombie plague – of course not, and yet ‘The Walking Dead’ feeds off that same terror. In an obsessively hygiene-conscious century, this is not the choreographed zombies of Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” video, it’s the very real fear of infection, of disease, contagion and flesh-corruption.

There’s an Alamo last-stand as Hershel’s farm is over-run, elegiac against the blazing collapsing barn. The group reconvene, arcing the season back to the opening point where they’d originally lost Sophia. With Shane and Dale eliminated, Hershel and his daughters join them as the group move on ‘from one pipedream to the next,’ with Hershel assuming Dale’s wise old voice of reason role, into the sixteen episodes of season three (14 October 2012-31 March 2013) – ‘Fight The Dead. Fear The Living’, trailered by closing glimpses of the West Georgia Correctional Facility in the night, and Andrea’s rescue by a hooded figure drawing two chained and armless Walkers in her wake. This turns out to be the brooding charismatic Michonne (Danai Gurira), one of the most powerful of the show’s second generation characters.

‘We’ll find shelter somewhere’ says Rick. ‘There’s gotta be a place. There’s got to be a place. Not just where we hole up, but we fortify, hunker down, pull ourselves together. Build a life for each other. I know it’s out there. We just have to find it.’ Living as highway gypsies, looting, running and hiding, they eventually find the prison on Highway-34. Designed to securely hold miscreants inside, it now forms a fortress to keep the madness out. With new terrors, zombie guards in riot helmets and armour as their cell-block by block assault clears the penitentiary – T-Dog gives himself to save the others, Hershel losing his lower leg to a zombie-bite, and there are new antagonisms with five prisoner survivors.

There’s renewed post-Shane tension between Rick and a heavily-pregnant Lori too. Her guts tell her it’s close, and she dies as Maggie performs a crude caesarean. Carl shoots her in the head before she ‘turns’. But she will return as Katie Bowman – and as occasional director, in the alien-occupation Sci-Fi series ‘Colony’ (US debut 14 January 2016). Rick’s mad axe-rampage of remorse and self-recrimination over her death bizarrely ends when – as an episode-closer, the disconnected phone rings, and he finds himself in a conversation with her. In a state of what Glenn calls ‘crazy town’, he sees Lori, haunted by her ghost-image, through which he’s able to exorcise his feelings of guilt, and accept ass-kicker baby Judith. He also emerges into a renewed mindset. He was wrong. The group is a democracy after all. Decisions will be made collectively.

There’s also the rival centre of Woodbury, population seventy-three, an idyllic all-American town of bunting and Kool-aid, which just happens to have zombie-baiting gladiatorial contests too! Andrea and a suspicious Michonne fetch up there. ‘Sitting pretty at the end of the world’ as Andrea tells it. But are they guests or prisoners? Andrea is immediately charmed by smooth-talking Governor – Philip Blake (David Morrissey), and begins a sexual affair with him. Less impressed, Michonne calls him a ‘Jim Jones-type’, comparing him to the lethal Guyana cult leader. Of course, she’s right, all is not as perfect as it seems. Brutal redneck Merle – Daryl’s brother is there too, as the Governor’s ‘hammer’. ‘I guess this old world gets a little smaller towards the end’ he comments with grim menace, his amputated hand replaced by a bayonet. Pursuing Michonne through the forest he taunts ‘are we having fun yet?’, most likely quoting Dolph Lundgren’s ironic one-liner from ‘Universal Soldier’ (1992).

In a reprise of Hershel’s dilemma, the Governor brushes zombie-daughter Penny’s hair – ‘Daddy still loves you.’ He fills exercise books with repetitive lines. And – arcing back to Jenner at the CDC, he sponsors Milton’s Research Team experiments with a prostate-cancer victim’s assisted death, using Jo Stafford’s “Long Ago (And Far Away)” on a vinyl record-player as a prompt, to discover if trace-memories remain, if there’s an echo of personality in the Biters. Predictably no, there isn’t. When the military helicopter Rick glimpsed in Atlanta crashes, Lieutenant Wells from the chopper directs Woodbury to its back-up squad of National Guard. But instead of offering alliance, they massacre the soldiers. Why do that, when armed disciplined military could help reinforce Woodbury’s defences? Because the Governor can’t tolerate any threat to his authority. In his private quarters the Governor has an aquarium of severed heads – now including Wells!

And after all, isn’t Rick equally ruthless with outsiders attempting to join his group, as with the unfortunate teenage Randall, or with the convicts hiding out in the prison? They’re convenient only in the sense that ‘Star Trek’ ‘redshirts’ are useful, as shock-value when killed off by prowling zombies or Woodbury snipers without deleting any core cast-members. Episode 12 – ‘Clear’, is a virtual stand-alone where they make a home-town run for weapons. On the way they pass a desperate lone straggler who yells and waves and runs after them. Carl glances at Rick. Will they pick him up? No. Rick ignores him and drives on. On the return journey they pass the smashed remains of the straggler’s body smeared along the roadside. Rick stops only long enough to retrieve his backpack. Outsiders are suspect, a responsibility he resents and no longer needs.

While things are shaping up into a post-apocalypse clash of cultures, replaying the power-wars of Rome and Carthage. Woodbury captures and tortures Glenn, the Governor forces Maggie to strip with implicit rape-threat, as Rick organises a retaliatory raid on Woodbury. And the Governor launches an attack on the prison using Walkers as a weapon. This means war.

There are three main strands to the confrontation. Andrea, who is buffeted between the two groups. She backs down from killing Gov Philip, and tries to find a way of accommodation instead. By Series 3 Episode 13 – ‘Arrow On The Doorpost’, she arranges face-to-face negotiations between Rick and the Governor, over glasses of whiskey. Finally, the Governor kills Milton, and allows him to turn and kill Andrea. As she dies she tells Michonne, ‘I tried’. Then there’s Michonne who ‘mercies’ Penny and blinds the Governor in one eye by stabbing him with a shard of glass from his shattered aquarium of severed heads. ‘In this life you kill or you die. Or you die, and you kill’ he philosophises. And Merle. Why does the Governor denounce the lieutenant who’s killed sixteen men for him? As a distraction from his own fallibility? Or because he’s testing Merle’s loyalty against his sibling bond to Daryl? Yet there’s an unlikely turn-around for Merle before he’s summarily executed by the Governor. Daryl is then left to discover zombie-Merle chomping corpses, and has to finish him. By now well into its third series ‘The Walking Dead’ still packs a mighty gut-wrenching emotional punch. It still springs shocks. 

At series end Woodbury arrives in tooled-up force, to find the prison seemingly deserted. Venturing into the ‘tombs’ they’re scattered by a sudden shock of zombies, and as they emerge they’re gunned down by Rick’s forces. Routed, the incensed Governor turns on his own men, and shoots them down in cold blood.

Carl shoots down a straggler. His father no longer the censuring authority. His talking-back independence increases. In a much later episode Rick reads a Jack London fiction collection, and Carl reads a paperback novel. What relevance are its twentieth-century urban concerns to his life of empty homes and deserted highways? This is virtually the only world he knows. A world with no time. It’s always right now…

The Un-Dead are fun. Even romance has a black-humour edge to it. Glenn severs zombie-fingers to get a wedding ring for Maggie. And already the theme is being twisted into comedy, by Simon Pegg in ‘Shaun Of The Dead’ (2004), while the Brad Pitt action-movie ‘World War Z’ (2013) is pursued by the over-the-top excess of Syfy-TVs ‘Z Nation’, the first series of the horror-comedy premiering 16 June 2016 following another group of post-apocalypse survivors trekking across another zombie-infested America, tipping its gore into laugh-out-loud lunacy. There’s a runaway zombie cheese-wheel, stoned dope Z-weed, Area 51, the Phytos vegetable-zombies, the Z-nado zombie tornado, Talking Zombies controlled by brain-biscuit, and an Elvis Zombie. While ‘The Walking Dead’ itself spins-off its ‘Fear The Walking Dead’ series, which soon generates its own fan advocates. While Rick and the crew continue to hold ratings. We are meat, it tells us. We eat flesh. And we are meat-animals to be eaten. We devour, and we are devoured. Even Rick is brutalised to the extent of ripping out the ‘Claimer’-leader’s throat with his teeth, to save Carl. Things are ‘going Darwin’, survival of those most fitted to survive.

With Season 4 Rick tends his garden using his iPod to drown out zombie-sounds from beyond the mesh-wall. Expanded by Woodbury survivors the prison population prospers, with Carl joining new children attending Carol’s school, while warning them off playing extracurricular games of feeding rats to the Walkers. In minor plot-shifts Rick encounters a mad-woman in the forest, then a doomed survivor couple, with Sam, played by Robin Lord Taylor – ‘Gotham’s Oswald Cobblepot! And Walkers rain down through the collapsing supermarket roof during a foraging trip. Yet the momentum can’t stay still, in a blighted world, human compression itself causes contagion hazards. A pleurisy-like infection jumps species from Rick’s pigs, resulting in death – and the inevitable zombie rampage through the block that results.

With the community in lock-down, Carol becomes ‘changed’, killing victims before they have chance to change… or maybe recover? Rather than seek confrontation, on a trip with Rick, he permits Carol to drive away to seek her own separate future. Inevitably, she will return. As a regular cast-member Carol’s character is allowed to significantly develop away from her portrayal in the source comic-books, emerging from her initial timidity to show a strong resolve and a conflicted moral core that is a hinge in her closeness to Daryl, and later, with Morgan. Where a sense of guilt and right-and-wrong remain, in a transfigured world in which all rules have been removed, every day demands new existential decisions in a fluid situational morality. Her evolving character portrays that stress-within-ambiguity most effectively.

Again, there’s evidence of the series’ character-depth in special self-contained sequences, ‘Live Bait’/ ‘Dead Weight’ (episode 6/ 7) draws material from Robert Kirkman and Jay Bonansinga’s 2011 spin-off novel ‘The Walking Dead: Rise Of The Governor’ (ISBN 0-312-54773-0), charting Philip Blake’s shell-shocked post-Woodbury hobo wandering when ‘I tried to die’. As a vengeful Michonne still hunts him, the Governor assumes the guise of ‘Brian Harriot’ to the holed-up Chamblers family, recognising something of his own lost daughter in their semi-mute Meghan. He’s a powerful multi-layered character with ‘ice in his veins’ and a history of being beaten-on by his mean abusive father. In that he’s humanised by this love for Penny, and his determination to protect ‘Pumpkin’ Meghan in her place, he’s seen as much victim of the apocalypse madness as he is sadistic control-freak. The only way to survive is to control events. And when he reunites with Martinez, he feeds him to the Biters-pit and murders his way into leading the group.

There are shock images – a legless amputee zombie stuck in a bathtub. Mud-zombies stuck up to their waists in marshland. Murdered Pete writhing on the lakebed as the Governor calmly looks down on him. And a relentless zombie who crawls through a blazing fire in order to reach the Governor, with the same relentless hunger that he directs at the Prison, and his personal vendetta against his only real rival Rick. But now he has a new army, with a National Guard tank, and he quickly has Hershel and Michonne as hostages in a new stand-off. It’s only when he learns that Meghan has been killed by a Biter, and when Rick’s persuasive argument seems about to sway his followers, that the Governor peremptorily beheads Hershel with Michnonne’s Samurai sword, exploding the situation into all-out war. As the tank-tracks rip the prison’s defensive barrier aside and devastates the building itself, the Walkers advance on the smashed prison, Rick and the Governor fight hand-to-hand with all the visceral hate-brutality of Rick vs Shane. It’s the classic Clash Of Titans dramatic confrontation, only decided when Michnonne spears him through, leaving his corpse for the Walkers to devour. She also skewers Hershel’s still-mouthing severed head.

So Woodbury, and the Prison community, as well as what had been the Martinez group, are shattered and scattered not by Walkers, but by intractable human antagonisms. They’re travel-grimed, spattered with blood and entrails, yet every day above ground is a win. Subsequent episodes lose focus, and drift, tracking the separate diaspora travels. Every direction is a question. Legitimising individual tales allowing relationships to be explored and deepened with back-story, flashback, backtracking and connections. Although Rick is central, it’s a group-jeopardy thing, and he doesn’t feature in every episode. Beth angles an auto wing-mirror to concentrate sunlight to ignite her campfire. Daryl skins mud-snake ‘jerky’. And there’s the darker tragedy of Tyree and Carol with Judith, Mika and deluded Lizzie. Like Hershel and the Governor before her, Lizzie can’t accept the Walker’s inhumanity, her attempts at befriending them dooms them both. While Michonne, returned to drawing two chained and armless Walkers in her wake, finds herself uncannily alongside a black woman Walker with dreads. The reflection sets off visions of her own pre-Apocalypse life, and to her first two limbless zombies, Terry and boyfriend Mike, the father of her three-year old son Andre. Haunted by images of her own dead past. 

Two threads emerge. Glenn and Tara, daughter of the Chamblers family, find themselves thrown together with Dr Eugene Porter (Josh McDermitt) – not combat-ready or combat-inclined, and his fanatically-protective Sergeant Abraham Ford (Michael Cudlitz) speeding on their way to Washington to ‘save the world’ in the Church bus, then by Firetruck. Claiming to have worked on the Human Genome Project weaponising diseases with pathogenic micro-organisms – as ‘The Murphy’ in ‘Z-Nation’, surly sulky Eugene offers hope of a cure for the zombie plague, to ‘make the dead die’. He wears a mullet hairstyle, which makes him a ‘fun guy’. Yet when he’s forced into an eventual admission that his fraudulent claim is merely a survival strategy, it exposes the interdependent nature of his relationship with Abraham, robbing them both of motivation.

While earlier, Daryl had heard the car-radio directing them to ‘Sanctuary’. Damn right! Now the various groups follow rail-tracks, ‘to the end of the line’ towards the next illusory sanctuary, converging on Terminus – where ‘those who arrive, survive’. Inevitably it’s not what it seems, and they soon find themselves locked into a cannibal abattoir railroad box-car. ‘You’re either the butcher. Or the cattle.’ Season four closes with a defiant Rick, ‘they’re fucking with the wrong people!’

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Very conveniently the Terminians slaughter three non-essential cast-members first, allowing escape-time by an invasion of burning Walkers ignited by Carol’s exploded fuel-tank. NEVER AGAIN. NEVER TRUST. WE FIRST ALWAYS. Then the black humour irony of ‘Pardon My Dust’. Once free the fugitives encounter Gabriel Stokes (Seth Gilliam), the Priest of St Sarah’s Episcopal Church, who protests ‘the word of god is the only protection I need.’ In an echo of Edgar Allen Poe’s story “The Masque Of The Red Death” (1842) he’d barricaded himself in the church as the plague raged beyond. Over the chapel arch there’s a grimly ironic biblical quite, ‘he who eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life’. Now he frantically scrubs the blasphemous bloodstains from the floor. ‘This is the lord’s house’ he argues, to the response ‘No. Just four walls and a roof.’ Although he – and Eugene, are characterised as cowardly (Eugene partially redeems himself in the episode “Spend” where he lures Walkers away from the Warehouse, allowing Glenn and others to escape), terror is surely not an unreasonable reaction to a world overrun by the flesh-eating Dead! ‘I’ve changed. I’ve adapted. I’ve become a survivor!’ Eugene protests.

‘This is the real world’ emphasises Rick. ‘No. This is a nightmare. And nightmares end’ argues Bob Stookey (Lawrence Gilliard Jr)… just before his leg is amputated and eaten by Terminus survivors. Eugene reads HG Wells’ ‘The Shape Of Things To Come’ (1933)… and wonders? Barricaded in a library, bookshelves form a protective wall. Paper burns in the fire. Classic Literature. Fiction. Art. Cookbooks. Reduced to utility. This is Season five, sixteen episodes, running from 12 October 2014 to 29 March 2015.

In a related strand that recalls a JG Ballard scenario, Beth wakes in the towering modernist Grady Memorial Hospital, where police and medical staff determinedly continue a surreal normality ‘safe enough to be bored.’ There’s even Caravaggio art ‘rescued from the trash.’ But following treatment, patients must work off their debt in a kind of bond-slavery, from which she – and Noah (Tyler James Williams), contrive to escape.

Again, there are stunning images. Weeds grow through a skeleton’s ribcage. The tied-up Walker kidnap-victim eternally locked in a car trunk. A pack of feral dogs that first pose a threat… then provide a campfire meal. The Priest tears pages from the bible, one by one. And tosses his dog-collar into the same consuming flames. Daryl burns a glowing cigarette into the back of his hand in pain at Beth’s death. And a haunted sun-through-the-trees collage of past-and-present spins in hallucinatory soft-focus radio-blur of voices as Tyreese Williams (Chad Coleman) succumbs to a Walker bite.

Having lost Washington as a destination, Michonne insists they continue to DC anyway. Where – through the instigation of the series’ first Gay character, Aaron (Ross Marquand), they arrive at the next illusory sanctuary, the eco-based ‘Start Of Sustainability’ planned community of Alexandria Safe-Zone off north Route 16, run on a democratic basis by former-Congresswoman Deanna Monroe (Tovah Feldshuh). Surrounded by walls constructed from materials intended for the Woodlands Shopping Mall – ‘Big Things Are Coming’, and in an area evacuated at the start of the outbreak, the community lives in protected exclusion – like the Church, and like the Hospital, they continue with a determined pretence of normality. ‘Fight’s over. Got to let it go’ urges Michonne, as she retires her sword, mounting it over the fireplace, ‘we’re catching our breath right now.’ Despite his reservations, hyper-cautious Rick nevertheless allows his ‘family’ to be drawn into the new co-operative shared society, ‘it’s like the communists won after all.’ Shaving off his wild Moses beard, he showers, gets a haircut and gets back into uniform as local policeman. The Bee Gees sing “Spicks And Specks”.

There’s a polite cocktail party in the ruins of the world. Yet, as outsiders, the group begin to be resented as a destabilising element. Is Rick the voice of New Reason? Or are his fears evidence of damaged paranoia? There’s overlong moral soul-searching, some longueur and sensitivity guilt-issues. ‘This is the beginning’ writes Noah in his journal, before he’s ripped apart on a foraging-run. 

THEN. NOW. Everyone has a story. A reason. The reappearance of Morgan (Lennie James) and how he learned the ‘Art Of Peace’ is one of them. How he became the Red Poncho Man with aikido skills. ‘All life is precious.’ But can all humans be redeemed? The image of Morgan riding a horse in his search for Carol echoes back to Rick riding into Atlanta in the early credit sequence. Carol is a woman on the verge of a nervous breakdown. Tired, not so much of death, but of killing. Afraid of caring, when caring only turns into the pain of losing. While wanderer Enid (Katelyn Nacon) eats tortoise, spells out JSS with its bones, writes JSS in car window dirt, and on the back of her bloody hand. What JSS stands for kicks up internet dialogue. Until the note she leaves for Carl says ‘Just Survive Somehow’.

The conflicted priest, torn by doubts over his wavering faith, is a standard fictional trope. Given fresh impetus by Gabriel. How can the zombie apocalypse be interpreted and reconciled as part of a benevolent deity’s divine plan? except in terms of Old Testament harshness. ‘Faith Without Works Is Dead’ it says. Hershel had pithily mused, ‘Christ promised a resurrection of the dead, I just thought he had something a little different in mind.’ Although taken in and protected by Rick’s group, Gabriel first denounces them as evil to Deanna Monroe. Then, in a distraught suicidal state, he leaves the gates ajar sufficient for Walkers to get in, vindicating Rick’s viewpoint. It’s a dangerous world outside.

‘I know this sounds insane’ says Rick, ‘but this is an insane world.’ Opening season six – sixteen parts, 11 October 2015 to 3 April 2016, with a stylishly monochrome episode in which they attempt to lure a vast herd of Walkers penned in a quarry, away from Alexandria. But while they’re gone a ruthless scavenging group who call themselves Wolves and engrave ‘W’ on foreheads, raid Alexandria, taking lives and smashing complacency. Then, to a soundtrack of “Tiptoe Through The Tulips” – an early Nick Lucas, not the Tiny Tim version, a falling clock-tower breaches the security wall, and Walkers inundate the town. The people find common cause in reclaiming Alexandria together. Deanna accepts Rick’s point of view – even though she dies defending the community, but Rick also comes around to accepting her vision of a possible more-hopeful future. Carl has lost one eye, but reads comic-books as Boston’s “More Than A Feeling” plays on the soundtrack.

At Alexandria’s gate it says ‘Mercy For The Lost. Vengeance For The Plunderer’. There’s “Who’s The Boss” on TV, and Jam’s “A Town Called Malice” plays. Rick and Michonne become an item. Finding solace in each other. For her, emerging from her defensive shell to admit the vulnerability of caring. But there are symptoms and premonitions of what is to come. In an almost comic episode (‘The Next World’) they encounter Paul ‘Jesus’ Rovia (Tom Payne), stealing a truckload of store-forage from each other, until the truck itself ends up in the lake. ‘Your world is about to get a whole lot bigger’ Jesus warns them. And it does. A darker, more brutal turn. Unrelentingly grim.

As Season Seven opens they confront the expanded geography of Negan’s New World Order. The Governor was a powerful adversary. But he had human motivations. Negan (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) simply takes advantage of the social collapse to establish his own medieval fiefdom enforced by terror, demanding tithes from scattered survivor communities. The Saviours live a good life in their fortified Sanctuary – built on ‘punishment’ and tribute from their vassal states. All ‘property now belongs to Negan.’ The iron by the smelting fire in the credit-sequence takes on sinister significance, when it’s used as a torture-implement. Negan is genuinely vile. Everything good burned out of him, all that’s left is what he could always have been. A swaggering bully who feeds on the fear he inspires, brandishing his brain-biting ‘Lucille’, his barbed-wire baseball bat (‘Lucille’, named for Negan’s dead wife, was also the name of BB King’s guitar!). ‘I like killing people’ brags Negan, ‘we kill the right people in the wrongest way possible.’ The visceral fear is tangible as Rick is forced to grovel, while Glenn and Abraham are brutally battered to death. Then Daryl is left naked in the cell and fed dog-food. Playing the Collapsible Heart Club “Easy Street” over and over, until Roy Orbison’s “Crying” brings him to tears.

Within the expanded federation, first there’s the nearby Hilltop Community, administered by the vacillating Gregg (Xander Berkeley). Rick’s group become a Seven Samurai, pledged to save Hilltop from the Saviours, launching a pre-emptive attack on their stronghold beneath its big radio dishes. But it soon becomes apparent that the Satellite Station is just an outpost. Their massacre only invites lethal retaliation. ‘Confrontation has never been something we’ve had trouble with’ grits Rick with stubborn determination.

Eugene meets Lucille
Then it’s Morgan and Carol who first encounter the Kingdom, benignly ruled by dreadlocked King Ezekiel (Khary Payton) – a former actor/zoo-keeper, with his prowling tiger Shira. The people need a charismatic leader, so he operates on a ‘fake it ‘til you make it’ principle, and becomes a charismatic leader. A warmly amused, poetically articulate and hugely likeable addition to the regular cast of characters. As persuasively eloquent, in his own way, as Rick is. He quotes from Martin Luther King’s ‘Free at last’ speech, but is initially wary of pacting with Rick’s alliance, fearing the inevitable carnage that will follow. The Kingdom functions on a ‘Drink From The Well, Replenish The Well’ co-operative basis, and has a choir that sings Bob Dylan’s “Don’t Think Twice It’s Alright”. They are nevertheless subject to Negan. And eventually come to Alexandria’s aid at the last moment. ‘Move forward’ says Ezekiel, ‘as we move the very world forward.’ 

While Tara Chambler (Alanna Masterson) stumbles upon the hidden Oceanside community, all of its males exterminated by the Saviours. On returning to the Safe-Zone Tara breaks her pledge to keep its secret so that Rick’s group can raid and replenish their arsenal from Oceanside’s weaponry. Tara, in the series second Gay tryst, is in a lesbian relationship with Denise Cloyd (Merritt Wever), the well-meaning Alexandria medic who is shot and killed by Dwight. Then, when Rosita attempts to shoot Negan, her bullet impacts Lucille instead, and Dwight kills Olivia (Ann Mahoney) in random retaliation. While Sasha listens to Donny Hathaway on her iPod in the coffin Negan has placed her within.

While the Scavengers – what Negan calls ‘garbage people’ are led by former-artist Jadis (Pollyanns McIntosh) whose clipped manner of speech seems evidence of further social devolution. To gain their confidence, Rick must face an armoured Walker in their vast auto-graveyard arena. They bind their new alliance when Alexandria supplies the Junkyard Angels with weapons, although in the eventual confrontation with the Saviours they imperil the insurrection by promptly flipping sides and aiding Negan.

Eugene finds a replacement ‘Abraham’ – bizarrely, by accepting Negan’s protection. Taken initially as a hostage his inventiveness soon establishes his value, and with his own survival at a premium, he opts to accept the benefits of the Sanctuary. While the loyalty of Negan’s compromised lieutenant, Dwight (Austin Amelio) – facially disfigured by a Negan punishment-ordeal, depends on the wellbeing of his wife Sherry (Christine Evangelista) who is now one of Negan’s harem of ‘wives’. When she escapes, his allegiances become more fluid.

By season’s end, all the loose plot-strands are drawing into focus, and the fight-back begins, despite the Junk-yard people’s betrayal, a last-minute intervention by the Kingdom and Hilltop joins with Alexandria to repulse the Saviours. Ezekiel promises that victory, and freedom will follow ‘as sure as the day defeats the night.’ Episode 1 of Season 8 is dedicated ‘In Memory Of George A Romero’, the man who had resurrected the zombie-movie in its modern form, who had died 16 July 2017. And a ‘Mad Max’ convoy of vehicles armoured with corrugated metal-sheets draws the mass Walker-herd in at Negan’s stockade, while other groups strike at Saviour outposts.

There are casualties. Ezekiel defends what he terms their ‘bastion of life in the land of the dead’ by leading his group against ‘a powerful force of bloodthirsty rogues and unrepentant cutthroats bent on nothing short of our pitiless destruction.’ Yet, ambushed and mown down, the king’s slaughtered army begin to reanimate and turn on him. ‘You got ‘em killed, and they’re still following you’ mock the Saviours. Even Shira is devoured by Walkers, and Ezekial retreats to the Kingdom tormented by a loss of confidence.

Has ‘The Walking Dead’ become yet darker and nastier? Or ‘The shit’s getting shittier’ as Saviour Gavin phrases it. Wasn’t the campaign against Woodbury equally gut-wrenchingly visceral? But now it has become a relentless no-mercy shooting war. The personal vendetta between Rick and the Governor was vicious, but the one with Negan seems blunter. Negan trades the Governor’s cultured finesse for a more gratuitous brutality. Maybe a TV-series needs to ratchet up the thrill-factor in order to maintain its initial shock-factor? To keep the viewers on edge? Movie Horror went through its own long evolution in a rising crescendo from the monochrome Universal Films of the Bela Lugosi era through the technicolour shockers of Hammer’s Christopher Lee… until digital technology enables the explicit grotesquery of the ‘Saw’ franchise, with exploding bodies, amputations, beheadings and unravelling gut visualised onscreen. Heir to this ongoing process, ‘The Walking Dead’ has always balanced its gratuitous nastiness with its strongly human core. In this way, alongside ‘Breaking Bad’ and ‘Game Of Thrones’, it delivers in the multi-platform media, thriving across channels, formats and devices.

There are still lighter touches at the zombie funfair, with a zombie in the cash-booth. Rick has always been conflicted by the urgent needs for survival against his more humanitarian instincts. There are loop-backs here in his disagreement with Carl over lone straggler Siddiq (Avi Nash), and his confrontation with Daryl over breaking the Sanctuary siege. In another moment of distraught anguish, Rick finds ‘Grace Be God’ tattooed around the nipple of a man he’s just killed. Then finds baby ‘Gracie’ in her cot. While, caught in another moral dilemma, Jesus keeps Saviour prisoners caged at Hilltop, although Maggie ‘The Widow’ doubts its wisdom, and Gregg wheedles.

Saviours convene a crisis confab meeting, with the Sanctuary besieged by the surrounding Walker herd, and Negan missing – presumed dead. He’s holed up in a caravan with Priest Gabriel. They escape only by using the guise Glenn had showed Rick in long-ago Atlanta, of draping themselves in entrails. Eugene’s plan to ‘pied-piper’ the encircling Walkers away with Sasha’s iPod fixed to a radio-controlled model-plane is beaten first by Dwight, ‘the Saviours are finished. Negan is finished. This place, what it’s been, that’s all over,’ then by Daryl’s truck rammed through the Sanctuary doors enabling the Walkers access. But this inadvertently supplies plentiful corpses to allow another of Eugene’s brain-waves. Negan escapes by erecting a ‘Walkers Wall’ to create a clear escape passage through. Then he counter-attacks. Using Walker-infected weaponry against Hillside. Maggie is the Lady With The Lamp in the impromptu hospital, as the wounded begin to turn. Yet ‘alive or dead, or somewhere between,’ increasingly disaffected right-hand man Simon begins to believe that ‘they don’t scare’.

Contrary to Negan’s instructions – that ‘people are a resource’, Simon (Steven Ogg) massacres the Junk-Yard people. When the bodies turn Jadis is forced to pitch them through the waste-shredder, with minced-Walker emerging on the conveyor belt. She emerges to capture Negan in retaliation, and locks him in the same container she’d used to imprison Rick. Carl dies from an infected bite as Alexandria burns around them. To Negan he was Rick’s ‘little one-eyed pride and joy,’ the central moral core and motivation of his life. While – in the struggle for the Kingdom, in a clear metaphor for Carl’s own brutalisation, Saviour lieutenant Gavin (Jayson Warner Smith) is stabbed through the throat and killed by Henry (Macsen Lintz), vengeful younger brother of deceased Benjamin, and tutored in martial arts by Morgan. The image continues to accuse Morgan, much as the phantom-Lori continued to haunt Rick. With first Lori and now Carl gone, Rick’s family loyalties centre around Michonne and Judith, although he acknowledges she’s not his child, but Shane’s.

After the show’s initial ratings-busting debut, sustained through the Prison story-arc, viewing figures tended to hit a plateau, or even decline, with accusations that the plotline had lost its forward thrust and was drifting. The intervention of Negan provokes a new interest-spike, energised by the introduction of strong characters, from King Ezekial and Jesus to Negan’s devious sidekicks Simon and Dwight. It’s an unrelenting nightmare of the dead and the dying, haunted by the deceased, both perambulating, and psychological. ‘Winning just means we get tomorrow’ reasons Carol. Tears of loss. Tears of remorse. Blood and entrails. The human pulse forced back on its rawest essentials of struggle and survival. ‘Karma’s a bitch, right?’ And, it must be admitted – despite Siddiq claiming ‘all I’ve done is things I’ve never done,’ there’s a certain predictable repetition in Rick being captured and trussed up by one set of bad guys after another, rather than them just killing him outright, then there’s dialogue and eventual escape, often involving the bloody chaos of a Walker breakthrough.

Yet episode sixteen of series eight brings a kind of closure. In spite of Negan’s intention of inflicting ‘death by a thousand cuts to the ass-holes.’ Despite Simon’s plots and Gregg’s intrigues. Negan reasserts his alpha-male status in raw-knuckle combat, killing Simon with his bare hands and chaining his zombie-self to the perimeter, then uses Dwight’s duplicity against Hilltop by feeding them misleading plans. Yet in the final battle, Oceanside intervenes at Hilltop, Eugene has built deliberate flaws into the bullets he’s manufactured for the Saviours – following Gabriel’s example, so that Rick’s AK47 and his rabble of ‘pricks, dicks and hicks’ win through. And as with Rick’s dramatically-staged confrontation with Shane, and his intensely personal vendetta against the Governor, Rick and Negan come into hand-to-hand struggle for a blazing Lucille surrounded in stark relief by burning Walkers. Then again, after the Saviours defeat, pleading for Carl’s hope for reconciliation, Negan pauses long enough for Rick to slash his throat with a glass-shard.

The New World Begins. Despite his repeatedly vowed intention of killing Negan, Rick stays his hand. ‘Negan’s alive, but his way of doing things is over.’ The vision of a federation of communities mutually supporting each other, triumphs over the Saviours robber-baron rule of fear because it is an evolution. A better way for all. ‘I forgot who I was’ Rick tells the memory of Carl, ‘you made me remember. You showed me the new world.’ Rather than moving on from one illusory sanctuary to the next, Rick’s group have put down roots, fought to create a community, watering it with their sweat and blood. Post-apocalypse has a long tradition. As in previous such dramas the humanitarian instinct triumphs over disaster, and over the more barbarous impulses that bedevil their efforts, to plant the seeds of a better future. Like the original pioneer colonies that embed and expand to form the United States, these beleaguered communities, including the reformed Saviours, will grow and spread to reclaim what has been lost. Albeit with new funeral rituals. Just as ‘The Day Of The Triffids’ ends with the Isle of Wight community. Or ‘Earth Abides’ finds Isherwood Williams as patriarch of a resurgent San Francisco Bay tribe.

Of course, we all know it’s not exactly going to be quite like that. Morgan recruits ‘Annie’ Jadis to Alexandria, but there are leaked details of season nine to come, and probably more seasons beyond that. While Daryl releases a broken and penitent Dwight to seek lost wife Sherry, he’s also plotting with Maggie to exact a more extreme vengeance against Negan than mere imprisonment. There are threads to be picked up. In a neat marketing synergy the comicbook series, with regular catch-up anthology editions, continue springing further potential plotlines, not only in the specialist comic stores but on the shelves of ‘Waterstones’ and what’s left of ‘WH Smiths’. Although undead, the ‘Walking Dead’ is still very much vigorously alive. Yet this is a convenient point to hop off the ‘Walking Dead’ carousel. At least for the moment.