2019-08-03

Fear the Walking Dead, and the San Antonio Split

"The Walking Dead" undoubtedly is one of the best and most successful TV series of the 2000s so far. But while the writers of the series episodes relied on an increasingly larger scope and more intense and shattering atmosphere, it spawned a little brother that quietly grew into something original: "Fear the Walking Dead" is originally set before the events in "The Walking Dead", has taken huge leaps forward on the timeline - and in quality. 

"Fear the Walking Dead" has evolved from a sometimes near-incoherent edit of "The Walking Dead" alikes, to a blend of post-apocalyptic zombie action epic and at least hints at a self-reflexive satire. As such it embraces the audience's oversaturation with zombie movies, and is closer to the original George-A.-Romero-esque, social- and self-aware idea of stumbling E.C. comic ghouls than most other zombie movie productions.

One scene from "Fear the Walking Dead" season 5, episode 3, in particular stands out with it's insane, hair-raising, ridiculously impossible sniper shot called the "San Antonio split". In this scene, the absurdity is taken to the max. Where George A. Romero's might've put in some reasonably realistic, yet funny scene with slipping and tumbling undead, the "San Antonio split" goes all the way into escapism, heroism, and comic territory.

But before we talk about it in more detail, let's watch it first.

Here's the scene:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JX5iX4xEJV8

Now, how (un)realistic is this "San Antonio split"? First of all there's the shooter and his skills. Well, the character of John Dorie is portrayed as a well accomplished marksman throughout his appearance in the show, so we probably can agree on his ability to hit the bull's eye at least every once in a while - why not now. There might be wind, and other factors involved, but he has a lot of experience, and luck is on his side. Then there's the target: an axe, to be hit precisely on it's blade, held upright on it's lower end by Dwight, who's not only being attacked by a corpse, but lying on the ground, with that very corpse on top of him, about to be eaten alive. Wow. This is gonna be a hell of a shot. But the magic doesn't stop there: he hits the axe's blade so perfectly, that on the horizontal plane the trajectory of each of the two projectiles from the split bullet hits each walker approaching to the left and right side of Dwight. And he even hits the axe's curved blade at the vertically perfect point, so that the projectiles hit the walker's heads! As we can see in the scene, the two walkers aren't equally tall - Dwight is not only able to hold the axe steadily enough and get the horizontal angle perfectly right, he's also capable of tilting the axe according to the walkers' difference in height! Phew! This shot is one for the history books, that's for sure. Dwight, John - hats off.

You might have come to the conclusion about half way through this little analysis: yes, this is a highly unrealistic scene - in fact it's utterly absurd.

And this is where it's beauty is. Yes, it is outrageous. Yes, it is stupid. It may, or may not, be funny. But most of all, it elevates the experience to another level. For a moment we're taken out of the seriousness of survival, we're reminded we're watching a fictional story, and we smile in disbelief of the writer's presumptuousness. Our hero has ascended to god-like levels, which of course can't be true. It's our mother's fairytale and sleeping song, the maximum distance from the harsh, grim everyday post-apocalyptic world. This scene sets a dynamic counterpoint to what preceded it, and what might follow. Luck is on our side, but can we rely on it? We'd better not. Because when we fall, we fall deep. We've seen the light - what comes after will be dark.

The "San Antonio split" was an excellent set up for the events that follow, and continues the semi-comic, satirical tone "Fear the Walking Dead" has taken on over the course of the series. Let's hope the writers don't overload the series with scenes like this one. When used regularly and predictably, it turns the series into pure comic, neutralizing the effect - but when used sparingly such scenes give relief, and create great dramatic impact.

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What's your opinion?
Did you like the "San Antonio split"?
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