*Minor spoilers ahead*
There is no doubting the fact that AMC’s The Walking Dead is a worldwide phenomenon.
Season by season it has built up a loyal, devoted fan base that anticipates each season like it’s a gothic version of Christmas, Halloween and all the best birthdays ever built up into one flesh-craving apocalyptic extravaganza.
I should know – I am one of those fans.
But oddly enough, AMC, which seems happy to sell its highest-rating program into every territory with a decent satellite dish and copious supply of blankets (for hiding behind when the scary bits are on naturally) seems unwilling to lift the geo-block on its promotional activities such as the webisodes that precede each season.
It’s a pity as the webisodes are not simply heralds of the upcoming season; they are extensions of the highly-engaging world that Robert Kirkman created in his ongoing series of highly-imaginative literate comic books and which was initially developed for TV by Frank Darabont.
And the latest series of Greg Nicotero-helmed, Luke Passmore-penned 7-10 minute glimpses into the wider world of The Walking Dead entitled The Oath, are every bit as dramatically rich and narratively compelling as their predecessors Torn Apart and Cold Storage.
Focusing on the last two people left alive after their camp of 20 plus survivors is overrun by a herd of walkers, Paul (Wyatt Russell, Cowboys and Aliens) and Karina (Ashley Bell, The Last Exorcism), The Oath is a helter-skelter Hyundai-enabled (the exact same colour and model that Shane finds on the highway at the start of season 2 making you wonder what happens to Paul down the track) race to find a non-walker infested medical facility
Paul, bleeding like a walker’s next meal (would you like entrails with that?) after cutting himself escaping their undead assailants and close to losing consciousness, needs help and he needs it fast.
This naturally means that Karina, shaken from losing most of her new “family” and convinced she is close to losing Paul too, drives like a woman possessed which is kind of apropos given the hellacious conditions in which they now find themselves.
After one too many infested medical centres, and with hope ebbing almost as fast as the breakdown of civilisation around them, Karina finally finds a medical facility that’s relatively walker-free (bar one that attacks them when they first arrive), and eerily resembles the one in which Rick (Andrew Lincoln) wakes up in The Walking Dead pilot “Days Gone By”.
(That possibly because it is the same one as a particular cafeteria door, spray painted on by a shattered Paul at the end of the webisodes final episode makes all too clear.)
Glory be there is a doctor in the house, who introduces herself as Gale Macones (Ellen Greene, Little Shop of Horrors) and an unconscious Paul is soon attended to and tucked snugly into bed to recover, giving a distressed Karina and the doctor plenty of time to talk.
It’s probably not the sort of conversation an almost suicidal Karina needs right at that point since it’s akin to sitting down for therapy with Dr Kevorkian and a cooler full of barbiturates ampules.
While the doctor makes all the right noises about sticking around at the hospital to fulfil her sacred duty to do no harm, it’s clear almost from the word go that she is more than one drug shipment short of a fully stocked pharmacy, and is pretty much the last person anyone should be seeking solace or advice from.
Not that it’s immediately obvious she’s off with the end of times pixies since Ellen Greene does an exemplary job of suggesting someone dancing on the cliffs of insanity but not yet fully tipped over the edge into gaga-land.
So good is she at sounding reasonable, especially to someone not quite of sound mind like Karina, that she’s able to talk her “patient” into a course of action that would have been unthinkable just days before.
In fact a lot of unthinkable stuff ends up going down in this “sanctuary”, underlining all too graphically the age old maxim of it looks too good to be true, it is.
Given the short amount of storytelling time available, The Oath does a masterful job of fleshing out Paul, Karina and Dr Macones into flawed three-dimensional characters whose actions in the faces of the stresses and strains of the horrific times in which they find themselves make perfect sense.
Setting the story just prior to the events of The Walking Dead season 1, much like Torn Apart before it, is also clever since it gives you added insight into the world beyond the tales of Rick and his ever-changing brood of survivors.
And above all, it’s brilliantly tense and scary, as dark an insight into the frailty and easily twisted boundaries of the human psyche as you could want, and a great way to get everyone ready for season 4 of The Walking Dead which bows on October 13 this year.
* I did manage to find some links to the episodes which may or may not last; in case they don’t, and you’re in North America, you can view them here.