While Twitch is a big thing nowadays and has been for some time and i have more history as being someone who’s watching others play instead of playing myself (at least in my youth when people still hung out to play games together), i haven’t found much joy in watching others play games. There really is only one exception: Rocket League.
So yesterday here i was, watching Rocket League’s watchamacallit championships instead of the olympics- and it made me think. Back when i was a kid, athletes were more or less “normal people” excelling at some type of sports. Their training routines were “normal”, as was their behaviour. This might, of course, be a simple case of rose-tinted glasses, but one thing that’s bothering me with professional sports nowadays is that it seems to be cranked up to eleven. Everything needs to be perfect. Remember those muddy soccer/football games? Today, there are roofs over the stadium, maybe even electrical, to provide the players with dry grass, cut to the perfect length. They even go out on the field before the match and “test” the grass. In the european championship, the teams even went out the night before and decided whether to give water to the grass again or not (it was a thing in one of germany’s matches- the more technical germans wanting to water the grass to be better suited to quick play, the other team declining).
And then money comes into play, as well. European Championship, World Cup, Champions League and soon the european nation’s league in football are all hyped up events where the executives ideally want us to go out to public viewing areas and shower their sponsors with money. Instead of giving local businesses the opportunity to profit from such events, they send them out of the area so they can’t “steal” money from official sponsors. When i read the news about how non-sponsors are prohibited to use certain hashtags on Twitter, i rolled my eyes. While it must have been true for some time now, i feel they’re sucking the fun out of these events for everyone- the athletes just as well as the viewers.
It was interesting to watch the Rocket League stuff. Sure, the players are sponsored or part of professional eSports teams and i’m sure there’s a lot of “professionalism” going on behind the scenes, but it still felt much more down-to-earth than pro-sports do. I still enjoy professional sports, but it was that lighter tone that stood out to me yesterday; it didn’t feel like they were blowing the thing up to more than it was and watching these matches was actually fun- although matches i watched were very one-sided affairs.
It used to be the case that i had much time- i could watch tv series, read books and play games. That’s about 15 years ago, though, and especially with the birth of our son, me-time is a rare good. As i start to write this, it’s 9 p.m., so i have two, maybe three hours left to spend as i want. Now, playing games is still doing ok, watching tv series is, as well. What has been swallowed, somehow, is time to read. You see, i mainly read in bed, choosing to go to bed early (around 8 pm), start to read and see where it takes me. If the book in question entertained me, i might have read up until 12 a.m. or later.
As our son is still co-sleeping in our bed, that doesn’t work anymore. I do, however, still consume books when i go to bed- because i listen to audiobooks now. Sure, sometimes i still do read, but it’s a much slower progress as it used to be. It’s even slower than the audiobook-listening, even though i usually fall asleep within 5 or 10 minutes of listening. However, i still get to enjoy great stories. Here’s what i’m listening to or reading at the moment.
After our short stay in Bad Reichenhall, we moved on to Vienna, Austria, a drive of about 3/3.5 hours. While Austria is beautiful, the drive didn’t hold too many highlights in terms of landscape. There was the Mondsee we drove past, and it seems to be a beautiful area, but when we left the alps behind us, Austria became very similar to Germany, so i was used to the look.
Two things stood out nonetheless- first, the best pull-in i’ve seen for years. It was a Landzeit and had more of a country-restaurant and laid-back style that i’ve found very inviting. Spending an hour there was easy and pleasant, whereas the most pull-ins we stop at in Germany invite only to get going again as quickly as possible. The second one was when we approached Vienna and saw nothing but woods. It must have been the Vienna Woods and on the road, there had been a couple of times when no house or field was in sight- only wood.
Entering Vienna, i immediately made a connection to Munich in my mind. No high skyscrapers in sight, the buildings are actually quite flat there. From a driver’s perspective, for a big city it was also quite relaxing to drive in. We reached our hotel without difficulty, taking in sights like the Schönbrunn Palace on our way. Arriving at the hotel, though, i couldn’t find the garage where we could park our car for the week. A helpful concierge had to show it to us and another couple that arrived roughly at the same time.
The hotel is nice, but expensive- but so are almost all of the hotels in Vienna and i think this falls into the affordable category. We chose it because it was close to the hotel my wife had her business meetings in while not being the same. Both were just across the street from the Stadtpark, a very nice location to stay in, especially if you’re traveling with kids and/or plan eating outside. Now, we booked a room with a balcony, but we chose the “budget version”, so i expected the balcony to be of the smaller kind shown in pictures around the web. Nobody told us, but i think we were upgraded, because our room was on the top floor and nothing prepared us for the the view in the direction of the Stadtpark, which was absolutely stunning.
Of course, Vienna is culturally rich city- after all, it was the seat of one of the most important kingdoms in…well, some time before 1933 (i wasn’t really a good student and most of what i remember from history concerns the years 1933-1945). There are so many places to visit that i guess even if you took a week you wouldn’t see it all. In this, Vienna is actually more similar to Paris, where i could confidently state that you’d need two weeks to see the important stuff (after all, you can take two days just for the Louvre).
The first thing we did after appreciating the view from our room was to go and see the St. Stephens cathedral as it was in walking distance from our hotel. Our son was very happy to see the carriages there and wanted to take a ride. We thought it would be a nice treat for him after he did so well on our road trip so far- we are lucky that he doesn’t really mind to drive for 3 or 4 hours, although we took breaks every 2-3 hours, of course. The only time he gave us trouble was on our way back home from Vienna, but that took 12 hours so it was to be expected. It also gave us the opportunity to see parts of Vienna in a comfortable way. Needless to say, our son loved it and smiled all the way.
In the evening, we went to see the Prater. We were visiting the amusement park, which is kind of like a funfair with a couple of fun rides for children of all ages as well as adults. The Prater is actually quite a big area the size of 6km² (2.3 square miles), but after the long drive we wanted to give our son some action- he loved it, wanted to take a ride wherever it was something he could ride on. I was surprised at how big the amusement park part was- in my hometown, we have an annual funfair that’s the event of town where everyone who lives and lived there returns for in addition to “tourists” from the region. Although more crowded, that thing is dwarfed by what the Prater offers on a daily basis- the Prater’s bigger and more fun.
We also had our first barbecue plate for dinner. We weren’t very hungry, but the plate appealed to us. Needless to say, we couldn’t eat it all- our son was getting tired and we weren’t very hungry to begin with. Wiener Schnitzel, by the way, i found to be good but not so special- i’ve eaten it in a similar quality in germany. We were actually looking for something i rememberred from travelling through Austria in the 80’s: Backhendl (sorry, no english entry), but all we saw was a salad variant.
Anyway, we had to take a lot of food back with us into the hotel. Just when we turned a corner to our hotel, i saw two homeless men squatting in a house entrance. Almost entering our hotel, a thought came to my mind and i asked my wife whether we actually had any need for the food we took with us- i mean, Wiener Schnitzel don’t make for a great breakfast and we wanted to go out and continue exploring anyway. She thought about it and said: “probably not, why?” – “we could give it to the homeless people over there” – “hm, yes. But won’t they be offended?” – “Good point, i don’t know. But my guess is they’re past that”. In the end, i went there and cautiously offered the meat- they took it. I’m writing this here because it was one of my personal highlights of being in Vienna. I know, it’s not much and it won’t save the world, but it felt good. In my opinion, if you’re well off, it suits you to remember that you are. And make no mistake, all of us here playing MMOs, reading or writing about them are in a happy place. Sure, we have our problems as well, but if you’ve got money and time to spend on games, you’re one of the lucky people.
Our second day took us to the Naschmarkt first and Schönbrunn Palace for the rest of the day. The Naschmarkt is a row of market stalls selling foods of all kinds. It’s an interesting place, for sure, but i have to say that the “food streets” in China are more interesting to me- of course, their food is both more exotic and more varied. Still, it is an interesting place to go and eat out.
As for Schönbrunn Palace, if you’d like to see it all, reserve a whole day- or maybe don’t, if you don’t have kids. Unfortunately queues to get tickets were quite long and while you could theoretically buy tickets online and on vending machines, both didn’t work when we were there. Aside from seeing the interiors of the palace, there is a huge garden attached to the castle as well as a zoo and a couple of mazes to explore. We were able to buy tickets, take a walk through the garden, visit the playground and go through one of the mazes before taking our tour through the palace.
In the next couple of days my wife had her business stuff going on and my son and i could plan the days in a more relaxing manner- we basically went to the playgrounds in the Stadtpark, but we also took a trip to an aqua zoo to see sharks and other sea-creatures. We also went into a chinese restaurant where they served authentic chinese dishes- that became the most expensive meal i had with my son because i couldn’t resist some of the food that was on offer.
In the end, i think Vienna is one of the more beautiful “big cities” i visited- it’s clean and relatively quiet, although there are lots of tourists, of course. Us being close to the Stadtgarten made our stay quite relaxing because playgrounds and a place where we could move freely with our son were near. The food you can eat in Vienna is very good and varied, although i’d suggest to do some research before visiting any place- it would be a pity if you were to choose a mediocre restaurant of some kind, not knowing that the best in town is just around the corner.
Last week, we were on vacation. To be more accurate, our son and i were on vacation. My wife had some business to do in Vienna, Austria. We chose to take this opportunity to transform the trip into our summer vacation- as we’re going to move in the end of june/early july, this was the best opportunity to do so. So we appended a couple of days before and after the business stuff to spend some quality time in Vienna.
When the long weekend began on thursday, may, 28th, we decided to add another two days before the stay in Vienna to take a bit of a detour and see the mountains/german alps in the south of germany. It also had the advantage of giving us extra time for the 800 km/500 miles long road trip by splitting it in two drives with one being around 600 km / 370 miles and the second one coming in at 320 km / 200 miles. As we would see on our way back, this was a very good idea indeed, as making an 8 hour drive with a three-year-old is kind of stressful for the child.
After looking for hotels, we found something in Bad Reichenhall, in the district of “Berchtesgadener Land“. Somehow, just like the names of the surrounding towns (Berchtesgaden, Bischofswiesen), i knew the name but couldn’t put my finger on why that was. When we arrived in town and saw the sculpture of a big salt shaker, it dawned on me- we always buy table salt from that town.
But we weren’t there for salt- we were there for great views, clean air, a bit of calm and the Königssee. It turned out that we chose just the right place for that- and not simply because of the area, but also because of the bed&breakfast we stayed in. I found it to be so enjoyable that i’m going to drop a name- we stayed at the Leitnerhof in Bad Reichenhall. Not only is it quite affordable for this area, coming in at about 35€ per person and night, but it’s also a family business, and it shows. Frau Leitner, who’s running the show there, is a very kind person, always friendly and she prepares a breakfast that is quite something. Nowadays, if you take breakfast, you’ll usually be treated to a buffet- not so here. The host prepares everything- when you enter the room, you’ll have a table set for you, with a few buns, bread and stuff to put on it. When she knows what you drink, there’ll also be coffee/tea and possibly boiled eggs. When i saw the table, my first thought was if it was possible to ask for more bread (there were two buns and a slice of bread for each person, but i can be quite hungry in the morning if the breakfast is good), but little did i know. With our coffee, there came the fruit salad and the boiled eggs. After a while, there came cake. In the end, i asked the host if it was possible to take the rest with us for the day (after all, she would have had to throw it away, which is a waste).
The other guests were mainly regulars. They knew the host and were conversing with her in a very personal manner. Atmosphere-wise, going into the breakfast room was actually like coming down into the family kitchen- everybody was friendly, talking to our son, sometimes keeping him busy when we still weren’t finished with our breakfast while he was already running around. The atmosphere became even more familiar when i saw that the host’s family was indeed breaking their fast in the kitchen next to the guest’s room. You could simply go in, wish a good morning and talk a bit. All this is so, so very rare in these day and age where everyone is out to maximize his or her own gain that just thinking about it now is just…heartwarming. So, i can recommend the Leitnerhof in Bad Reichenhall.
One thing that’s really nice when visiting the country-side is that you don’t have to pay as much attention for your toddler- cars are there, of course, but they aren’t frequent. And at our B&B, everybody was driving very carefully, so we didn’t have to follow our son in 3-5m distance all the time, which is very relaxing. If it was for me, i would have simply stayed there for the two days, taking a walk here and there and enjoying the view from our balcony or the garden below. But it isn’t, and my wife sure loves her schedule. Since we only had one complete day, we chose to go and see the Königssee, judging by photos a very beautiful lake in the area. Also, it is quite famous, especially with the chinese/asian tourists. I can tell you the last time i heard people speaking so much chinese was in China. The Königssee was beautiful, but crowded.
In the end, we spent about one-and-a-half days in the area and while it was full of tourists, the area around our B&B was very calm- it was only when we went to see the Königssee, driving through the more famous towns that we saw some crowds. As for the landscape- i’d call it breathtaking- by the way, none of the photos are edited in any way. I always loved the mountains…at least looking at them and i do love the food and beer of southern germany as well as the people there. So these two days were very nice indeed. I didn’t want to leave, but we had to go to Vienna, after all.
Hangzhou is probably the biggest city you’ve never heard of. Wikipedia lists the population in the urban area at 7 million, but it’s dwarfed by the close Shanghai with its 24 million. Whenever i’m asked where my wife is from, i’ll say she’s coming from the Shanghai area. As you might imagine, the people living there don’t like that very much- Hangzhou is very different to Shanghai, much more “chinese”, i’d say. That title picture is breakfast, by the way.
When i go out with our son, there’s a difference between these two cities: in Hangzhou, many people will stop and take a look at him because he’s the child of a foreigner and a chinese woman- they want to look at him, get a sense in regards to his resembling more like his father or his mother. In Hangzhou, when i go into a supermarket and spit out some of my hard-learned-and-yet-so-basic chinese, they’ll commend me on my good chinese. With those few sentences i have, they’ll even sometimes assume i can really speak mandarin chinese and talk normally to me.
In Shanghai, no one cares.
So nobody knows about Hangzhou, despite Marco Polo calling it paradise on earth when he visited and it actually being quite big and, for its size, quite beautiful. This might change, however, come september, when the G-20 summit takes place there. The G-20 summit cast its shadow on our visit to the city, as well.
Construction sites. Or, to be more accurate, Hangzhou was simply one big construction site while we were there. Now, it’s China, there’s always some suburb as big as big german cities simply growing out of the soil, to accomodate all these people coming into town. While i have to wonder how a “normal” chinese person can afford housing prices ranging from 13000 to 33000 Yuan (2000 to 5000$) per square meter (or 186 to 465$ per square foot), there’s always some “little place” built- or tens of them, in fact.
But this year, construction topped all of that- whenever we went outside, there were buildings under construction / renovation by the street. Sometimes there would be scaffoldings as far as you could see along a road and many roads themselves were being re-constructed. From hearsay, i was told Hangzhou is spending 7 billion Yuan (~1.1billion $) to beautify the city for the G-20. I’m totally convinced that, when we go there next year, the whole city will look different than this year.
There are downsides, however. See, there’s this really nice apartement hotel very close to the homes of my wife’s grandparents. We stayed there in 2014, i think, and it was all good- to reach both of these families, we’d have to walk for either 5 or 10 minutes. Unfortunately, when we arrived there, the receptionist told us we couldn’t stay- and this after a 45-minute-drive, 12 hour flight and 5 hour transit from the plane to that apartement hotel. Why? Because foreigners weren’t allowed to stay there. We didn’t know why and we didn’t find out exactly why, but we guessed that probably, there have been some “standards” set for hotels who want to take in foreigners in the wake of the G-20 summit. It is something i can believe, as the housing standard varies a lot in that city. But the last time we were there, i couldn’t find anything wrong with the apartement. And of course, i was upset. At least we aren’t real tourists, so we could have found a place to sleep, but it was still annoying to find another apartement after 24 hours of travel with a three-year-old kid. In the end, we found something in a different area.
The new apartement hotel was situated in a nice area with lots of different restaurants- from the small ones that serve great breakfast up to multiple japanese restaurants, a market right in front of the door, bus stops close by and actually not that very far at least from one couple of great-grandparents, it was suboptimal, mainly because i couldn’t figure out directions from there (i know the area of that first apartement hotel very well) and there was this huge elevated road/street between us and them. It would also take 15-20 minutes to walk to them and about 25-40 to the other great-grandparent, so we often took the bus or a cab to visit either.
I was able to find a good coffee shop, once again. Coffee, free wi-fi, loneliness (they’re usually not well-visited as they’re also expensive- a cup of coffee coming in at around 8$). Actually, this year i noticed that cheaper coffee shows itself on the street- i was able to get a normal cup of coffee for about 1.50$ – it’s getting easier to have some coffee from year to year- in my first visit, i had to drink iced coffee from bottles, this year, there was never a coffee shortage, because those shops sprout up everywhere.
This year also marked something noteworthy: it was the first time i didn’t feel like a visitor, at all- i felt as if i were “coming home”- well, a second home, but still- it felt like home. Slowly, i know the city, i know how things look in China, i know what to look for when i’m searching something (a recharge cable, for instance). While i still can’t read chinese letters and am still far away from talking, it’s getting better year-over-year, as well.
There’s a lot more , as we visited some nice places in the city, but that tale will have to wait for another time. I’m sorry to say i didn’t make it to Jingci temple this year- but i hadn’t had the drive after seeing it was under construction, as well.
Yesterday we’ve returned from our annual trip to China. This year was good for a lot of reasons: everybody was doing quite ok, nobody was in hospital and we have actually done some interesting things like seeing a “Venice-like” village, visiting a bamboo forest, taking a boat trip on the West Lake, Hangzhou and went to Shanghai for a night. While i’ll do more detailled posts in the coming days/weeks, here is a small picture galery from our visit in china.
On tuesday, we’ll go to Hangzhou, China. It’s the home town of my wife, so it’s a family visit more than a travel occasion. While i am not a big-city-type and it’s quite hard for me to be there in summer because of the temperature and humidity, i’m really looking forward to go.
In germany, we have no family. When my mom died in 2011, that was my family. In China, we have lots and lots of family. My father-in-law has three brothers and his father is 90 and it’s a joy to be around him (he laughs a lot) while my mother-in-law has two sisters and both her parents are also still alive. Then there are my wife’s cousins and their children, friends of the family and so on. If we were to put them all in the same room, it would easily amount to 30 people. We can’t, because her parents also divorced, so it’s basically divided in two parts.
Our chinese family is really easy to be with. Family can be very needy and quite complicated, but i’ve never felt that way in china. I have felt some pressure last year, when we were with a cousin’s family for three weeks and they were trying to be nice and didn’t want me to go out by myself. That lead to three weeks of company for a person like me who needs to be alone to recharge batteries. It was stressful. And also, quite far away. We had to ride the bus for an hour to reach the rest of the family. So this time, we’re back into an appartement hotel, we’ll have privacy and we’ll be very close to large parts of the family.
It’s also great for our son, of course, because he gets to see how family life should be. His grandmother is also doing ok now and isn’t in hospital anymore (she was the last time we were there), so he and she will get to spend some quality time together, which is great.
And our son can hear more chinese and will hopefully begin speaking it, as well. He understands everything, but to him, chinese is “english” and german is “correct”. And maybe, i can improve my chinese at least a little bit.
Now there’s a reason to love China. The food is so diverse and so good that it alone would be reason enough for me to go. I really can’t tell you how good it is. I guess in the US, you are probably lucky enough to have more authentic chinese restaurants, but here in germany, there aren’t many. Authentic, that is. Chinese restaurants, there are a lot. But they serve germanized chinese food.
I like almost everything, although sometimes, a little bit of caution is advised to at least ask what kind of meat something is. I’m not very eager to eat cow stomach, chicken feet or something like that, but i’ll try it nonetheless. Still, it’s difficult to share favourites, but one thing you can make almost everywhere are Jiao-Zi.
Food experience is made even greater with the fact that we are able to eat in almost every conceivable way- at home (all parts of the family have a different way of cooking and eating), in small, “normal” restaurants that resemble cantinas more than what we’re used to see as restaurants (they’re great and i often like the food here more than in the more expensive restaurants), even chains or more expensive restaurants up to foreign food (japanese, korean etc.)
I’m not a religious person. However, i feel close to buddhism, albeit in a quite shallow way, as i haven’t made the effort yet to really dive deeper here. Belief is all about world-view, in my opinion. Everyone should follow the faith he or she deems right and, well…believes in. While i know the basic “philosophy” of buddhism and find it strangely close to my own world-view, i haven’t really made a connection to the religious part. In Hangzhou, there are a few buddhist temples, of course, but in the end, Jingci is the one i prefer to visit- and i’m making a point in visiting it each year.
Jingci is more than that, though. It’s positioned right besides the West Lake, a tourist attraction in a city counting 6 million people. The city is loud and alive, in summer it’s hot and humid. There are many, many people in chinese cities and the West Lake area in particular, because the tourists go there. And then, enter Jingci. This temple is not a tourist attraction- there are a few dozen people, but you’ll have plenty of room. It’s peaceful and quiet- to be honest, it’s the most calm place i’ve found in the city yet, with the exception of a particular coffee shop.
Despite me really not being a city person, i do like what they have to offer- all the more in China, because, while the cities in China are not particularly diverse in their architecture, they aren’t the homogenic cities we know; in germany, there are all these chains in the city- you mostly know what kinds of shops there are in a city. While China has, of course, its own chains, i don’t know them very well yet. There’s a supermarket chain i deem “trustworthy” and that’s it. There are more, of course- restaurant chains i don’t recognize and there is McDonald’s and KFC, sometimes Starbucks. They are vastly outnumbered by all the small shops, restaurants, supermarkets. Mom-and-pop shops are still a thing in Hangzhou.
Another reason the city feels so alive is that the people are actually quite positive- you can see they’re expecting their financial and personal situation to improve in the coming years, something that is not as apparent in germany.
Taking a break
No PC, no active work, no MMO gaming for two weeks. Well, “no PC” isn’t entirely correct, of course we’ll take a notebook. But it’s different. In these last years, it have always been trips to China where i am able to take a step back and think about the life i’m living vs. the life i’d like to live. What kind of person am i? How can i change a few things up professionally? For once, there’s not always something to do- and it’s helped by the fact that we’re not alone in looking after our son. Now, we stay with him all the time, but it’s still a great relief knowing that other people have an eye on him while we’re visiting relatives.
So, if you don’t hear anything from me after tomorrow in the coming two weeks, it’s because i’m enjoying my time taking a breather.
I can’t recommend Cixin Liu’s Remembrance of the Earth’s past-series high enough. Now, i do have ties to China (my wife’s chinese) and as such, i’m quite interested in reading chinese novels, wuxia or otherwise, and it saddens me that it is so difficult to buy these things in paper-form. You can read fan-translated versions on the net in droves, but really professional publishings are rare. And if something’s available, it can set you back a ridiculous amount of money (60€ for a book). So i was quite happy when i discovered the first in Cixin Liu’s series, The Three-body problem. It won more than just one award, it was translated and it was available on Audible.
Here’s the blurb:
Set against the backdrop of China’s Cultural Revolution, a secret military project sends signals into space to establish contact with aliens. An alien civilization on the brink of destruction captures the signal and plans to invade Earth. Meanwhile, on Earth, different camps start forming, planning to either welcome the superior beings and help them take over a world seen as corrupt, or to fight against the invasion. The result is a science fiction masterpiece of enormous scope and vision.
The Cultural Revolution serves as an introduction and i think it explains why someone would behave in a manner like that woman who gets into contact with the aliens does – she ignores a warning from one friendly alien and sets up humanity for extinction by giving away the existence and position of Earth. There’s another twist here: it will take the aliens 400 years to reach earth, so there is time to react to the threat. Unfortunately, much earlier, so-called “sophons” arrive and limit human research by way of messing things up with experiments like the particle accelerator. So we can make progress in currently available technologies but can’t develop new ones and it’s quite obvious that the aliens are superior and will almost certainly win the war.
It is an interesting and new take on the quite common “aliens invade earth” theme, and even from the point of view of a different- chinese- culture, which is good, because “non-western” views on topics like that tend to be surprising. And this one is- it’s not very heroic- many humans will believe in defeat and think about escape, if they think at all, and there’s even an organization that welcomes human extinction. It’s an interesting mind-game that’s very enjoyable to read/listen to.
One thing of note: i don’t know why, but i’m really having trouble with many english audiobooks. With the exception of Roy Dotrice, who reads the Song of Ice and Fire books, i find it very hard to follow most narrators because they are reading quite flat and emotionless. It took hours before i got used to the narrator here and started to notice differences in voicing different characters or moods. I’d really rather read, but these days, it’s much easier for me to listen to audiobooks instead.
This week, i listened to the second book of the series- The Dark Forest, and i’m glad to see that the author maintains the quality of the first one. The third and final book will release in english this year and i’m really looking forward to the conclusion- so if you like that kind of sci-fi, i really recommend you pick it up.
We’ve finished watching The Walking Dead Season 4, finally, and generally speaking, i’m really glad we picked that up again. While Zombies are quite overdone by now, depictions of the Zombie apocalypse are so much more than just that- traditionally, movies and series of this genre say much more about humanity as their post-apocalyptic setting suggests.
Here might be Spoilers. Also PG-rated, as i’m writing about The Walking Dead (no harsh pictures, though).
To give some perspective, since this might just be the first post i’m writing about something other than MMORPGs, the Zombie adaption i like the most, The Walking Dead notwithstanding, are the 28 days/weeks later movies and i’m still hoping for the third one to arrive at some point. In terms of tv-series, my all-time-favourite has to be The Wire. With those movies, i like their direction, the soundtrack, the color scheme used in each of them. I like the fact that the Infected, in this case, can starve- they’re not Undead. This allows for developement of the story- from the downfall of civilization up to rebuilding it. The Wire, on the other hand, is a (mind you, i’m european and have never been to the US, so i might be wrong) nice picture of how i imagine the US society to be- it involved looks into different areas of life- from the drugdealing, middle-class up to politicians and press. So i like my tv-series/movies to be entertaining, but not devoid of some kind of depth. That’s not to say i won’t watch movies without conceivable depth, but i won’t rate them very high.
The Walking Dead has a lot of potential- here, we can take a look at the downfall of civilization as well as how people cope with it and, maybe, rebuild some of our former glory. Generally speaking, that’s where TWD is failing in my point of view- at least in the first four seasons- there’s no sense of rebuilding. It’s always about finding shelter, meeting other, usually bad, people, shooting each other, losing shelter, finding new. We’re stuck in survival mode- it’s a bit like playing 7 days to die over and over again on different maps. Season 4 is quite the same here, actually- we’ll start in the prison, we meet the Governor (Brian) again, the two groups fight each other, both lose, the prison’s overrun and inhabitable, the survivors of the group go looking for another place. And i don’t believe for a minute that Eugene knows what caused the outbreak and that he’s able to “save the world”- it’s probably just a ploy to get protection.
The strong side, in my opinion, are still the characters and the interaction between them. Honestly, it’s mostly about the interactions, as there isn’t really even one character i particularly like with Michonne coming closest.
And while we usually meet other people just to go to war with them, we can also see the application of different strategies of survival- sometimes idealistic, rebuilding and protecting a village- sometimes practical, as in living in a prison. All characters have been through different hardships in their quests of survival, so you can also see different outcomes in how they are influenced by their own actions and their past losses.
So with all that out of the way, we begin Season 4 in the prison, where life seems to be as comfortable as it possibly can be in the Zombie apocalypse. Instead of being fighters, the group is slowly changing over to being farmers and scavengers. I can tell you that by episode 3 or 4, i was very willing to give the prison up- while there was some developement in the prison society, all in all they were still quite the same. I don’t know what i’d expect, but i imagine that a group of people would try and rebuild a “good” society- and sure, farming would be the logical first step in doing this. But Farmer Rick was not convincing.
He seemed like someone who was just waiting to pick up a backpack and a gun again and run off into the woods. Later, when the prison is lost, we’ll see that most of the people in there are remembering their time in the prison quite fondly- but there’s almost no hint of happiness and optimism in these early prison episodes. Then comes the flu, several prison-people get sick, die and return. A team drives about 50 miles to get some antibiotics and save the group. It’s when they’ve returned that we’ll see the Governor attacking the prison.
There are two episodes telling the story of the Governor from Season 3 and what he was up to in the time before the attack on the prison. He loses his will to fight, regains it when he meets a family, protects that family, takes them with him to find a “better place”, takes leadership of that group they meet and decides to take the prison for this new group and his new family, in particular. He calls himself Brian now; i’m not sure if this was his real name, and he’s changed- at least seemingly. I’d probably know if i had watched Season 3 recently, but the last time we watched TWD was when Season 3 was the newest Season. But my impression was that in Season 3, his motivation for doing things is gaining/retaining power and a certain lifestyle- in Season 4, it’s to protect his new “family”. His behaviour doesn’t change much, though, as he kills a few people and goes to war with the prison-people.
The episodes up until this point weren’t groundbreaking, but watchable. The episode showing Brian’s attack on the prison and the resulting chaos/escape is interesting and good. Brian asks Rick’s group to leave the prison until sundown- and he has the upper hand, as he took a tank with him. Rick declines and tries to persuade Brian’s group that there’s no need to fight, they could simply come in and share. Brian, of course, doesn’t like that much, kills Hershel, whom he had abducted earlier, and the shoot-out begins. The tank takes the prison-fences down and there you have it: lots of “Walkers” inside the prison walls.
After their escape, the survivors of Rick’s group are divided into a few smaller groups of, well, 2-4 characters we know. They’re back to survival, to finding shelters for one night instead of homes to rebuild. And of course, there’s promise of more: on railroad tracks, they see signs of a sanctuary- “Terminus”. And of course they’ll all decide to go there- i mean, i’d do the same; it’s the promise of other people, security and maybe even other survivors from the earlier group.
Well, if something sounds too good to be true, it probably isn’t. And there was something feeling off in Terminus when the groups finally arrived there- it seemed too peaceful, too accepting- it was too easy. Rick then recognizes a watch and some clothes from other members of their former group and pulls his gun. The Season ends when we see the people who arrived at Terminus locked in a train wagon.
My first thought when we saw the first people arrive in Terminus was “Cannibals”, and i’m pretty sure that’s the right guess. I mean, it would be kind of funny- “The Walking Dead, now with living people eating people”.
I’ve found quite a few episodes to be utterly boring- to be precise, almost all the way from prison to Terminus. Sure, there were highs and lows and i’m still complaining on quite a high level, as The Walking Dead still is character-driven and quite ok in this regard. But story-wise, i wish we’d move on from the survival-shelter-new home-war-loss-theme we’ve had since the series began. As i said, i don’t really know what i’d expect, but it would be something else, story-wise. And we all know, TWD is in its 6th season now, it will soon end, possibly with Season 8 or 9 (US-tv-series rarely make it into the double-digits). It would be nice to see something different than the same struggle for survival until Rick dies. I’d like to see another theme here, a grander vision for human behaviour in this situation. Well, we’ll see where S5 will take us.