Z Nation: The Collector – George R.R. Martin, Homages and Humor (Review)

Z Nation - Season 2

Z Nation this week in The Collector is a brilliant mixture of homages and humor, in other words like many other episodes of the second season although this one has George R.R. Martin. This one, however, stands above the rest in terms of total weirdness and Anastasia Baranova gets the two best lines in the whole episode.

At the start of The Collector, Murphy is in the back of the car the group commandeered in the last episode. With an inexplicable cowboy hat on his head, Murphy is laying down and Doc attempts to get Murphy to help  forage for food. Murphy can see his friend’s brain pulsating through his skull. As he starts to rise, Murphy wakes up…

The two go into the forest to find food and Roberta Warren honks the horn for them to return. After Doc warns Murphy not to eat the bark of the skinny trees, (“How does Ewell Gibbons do it?”) he heads to the car but Murphy is drawn to a brain suspended over the forest floor. Reaching for the dangling organ, he falls into a trap.

With his previous record of escape attempts the group believe that Murphy has taken off again, not realizing that he has been captured by The Collector (Tom Beyer). As they begin their search, Addy grumbles about the situation:

“I’m gonna be really pissed if my last words are ‘Murphy where are you?'”

Murphy, in the meantime, is being examined by The Collector and is doomed to become one of his “interactive” exhibits. The madman is setting up a Z museum, which already has one “celebrity zombie” in George R.R Martin, complete with two zombie assistants. Zombie George has a pen strapped to his hand so he can still sign book copies.

*Sidenote: This episode has a number of references to other films and one other television show (Z Nation has referenced this AMC TV show before) The Walking Dead. When explaining to Murphy how he was “there” when things went down at a Comic Con and the “Game of Thrones” author was turned into a zombie, The Collector says “some dirty guy with a crossbow tried to help George escape…got eaten.” Clearly a nod to Daryl Dixon, aka Norman Reedus from TWD.*

The Collector’s exhibits include the zombie animals, a Phyto zombie and a blaster zombie. Perhaps the best  bit of the episode are the homage moments. Beyer’s character refers to Murphy as “bright eyes” a clear nod to Planet of the Apes after catching Murphy with a animal control wire, just as they do in the original film. Later, when The Collector is forcing Murphy to bite 10K, he shocks him and Murphy says, “I’m working here.” Another reference to the Midnight Cowboy, “I’m walkin’ here…”

As the group go house to house searching for the missing Murphy, Addy and Doc have a brilliantly comic exchange. Going up to the next  house the pair pause in front of the door. Doc says:

“On three…One, Tw…”

(Addy kicks open the door and a zombie rushes out attacking Doc)

Doc: (under the zombie that Addy has mercy-d with her bat) “I said on three!”

Addy: (Exasperated) If we do a three count at every house we’re gonna be here all day.”

Z Nation - Season 2
Z Nation’s answer to Talking Dead…

This is a busy episode, Dan Merchant has thrown a lot of business in this one. The “talkshow” where The Collector questions Murphy is another wink to The Walking Dead referencing the AMC’s “after” show talking heads series, “The Talking Dead” (Z Nation’s version is called “Dead Live”). Beyer’s character wears what appear to be a “kendo outfit” that looks not to dissimilar to the outfit worn by Tom Cruise in The Last Samurai. 

Stepping away from all the homages evident in this episode there is also a splendid sense of irony at play. Murphy and 10K have had a huge falling out since the young man killed Cassandra. As the group finish their door to door search for Murphy they end up in town and it is 10K who stumbles across Murphy and his comic con obsessed captor.

Apart from the heavy irony in the episode, it appears that Roberta Warren (Kellita Smith) is getting attached to, or at least a lot more compassionate toward,   Murphy when she promises him that she will not leave him alone when they get to California.


In the last two episodes, Warren has been in the periphery of scenes with little to do. Is this a forewarning that the leader may become zombie fodder in the near future? Addy, on the other hand,  has been pretty prevalent, in this episode she is the most vocal and active. It is Addy who  finds the “breadcrumbs” left by 10K.  Roberta’s compassion toward Murphy may be a sign of bad things to come.

With the inclusion of Vasquez, Warren has had to assert her authority a number of times. The group as a whole have become quite close, although no one is as close as Doc and 10K.  Murphy is slowly becoming, it seems, more zombie as the show moves on.  His preoccupation with brains and his enthusiastic, if forced, repast of the organ is not a good sign.

Z Nation is a series that vacillates between the absurd to the sublime, sometimes in the same episode and The Collector is one such case.  From the comic con collector’s film posters (that gave a chronological time scale of the zombie film) to his clear focus on the monetary aspect of “after the apocalypse” The Collector was obviously a steady patron of the comic con world.

Z Nation - Season 2
Murphy attacks “Last Samurai” aka The Collector

Priceless moments like the muscle memory of Martin who will, apparently go through the motions of signing books throughout eternity and Murphy’s clothes, laid out after his hot shower, that looked like a sort of  “Final Fantasy” cosplay  outfit made this a brilliant and entertaining episode.

There was also the whole “press a button make Murphy scream” schtick that just never got old…

The series airs Fridays on SyFy and just improves with each new episode. Z Nation has also just won the coolest series ever award by having George R.R. Martin guest star as his own zombie.  Tune in and see what happens to the Murphy gang next…And keep an eye on that knife of Warren’s. Is it getting bigger with each episode? Answers down below, or on a postcard…


Atari: Game Over (2014) Urban Myth Deconstructed

ET found in Atari: Game Over
Zak Penn, who has written a slew of superhero films and directed two films of his own before this one, was the motivator and creative impetus behind and in front of Atari: Game Over. Penn decides to follow and deconstruct the facts that made up the urban myth of the ET video game killing off not just a major game company but an industry.

For those of a certain age, the name Atari has special meaning. The first company to really break the boundaries of home entertainment and to bring video games into the front rooms of the world. What Penn’s documentary does is go back to the story of Atari, the company’s meteoric climb and then its sudden end. The film may follow the Alamogordo trail where, in the world of gaming myth, a million ET Atari games are said to be under tons of dirt at the town landfill. The rumor has been that these unsold “unplayable” video game cartridges were buried there way back in 1983 just as the game company was going under.

The journey that Penn takes the viewer on is one of discovery, if the audience is young enough, or a trip down memory lane if the audience are over a certain age. The idea that one single game was so bad that it crushed a company and “destroyed” the video game industry is laughable yet still believable when considering the gaming community and its increased tendency to rip apart games, old ones and new ones appearing on the market.

Atari: Game Over follows the pioneers who developed “coin op” games to be played on the old Zenith or Motorola or (fill in brand name here) televisions in millions of home across the world. It also recounts the birth of game engineer as “rock star.” Speaking to the guy who made the ET game in just five weeks Howard Scott Warshaw; who was and is a legend in the industry, the film lets the gamer into the early world of games development and the free wheeling atmosphere that ruled behind those closed creative doors.

Despite the “backstory” where the filmmaker talks to the people who were part of the action “back in the day,” like a gaming version of Halt and Catch Fire but without Lee Pace and all the smugness that show suffers from, the film is really about all those millions of Atari ET game cartridges shoved into the ground in the town closest to where the nuclear bomb was first tested.

The filmmakers talk to Joe Lewandowski, who maintained for years that the games were indeed buried there and even worked out their exact location. Cameras were present for the actual “dig” and although the work was disrupted by a sand storm blowing in from White Sands Park the cartridges were found. Ernest Cline, the guy who wrote Ready Player One and Fanboys, participates in the film as well.

*sidenote* Cline stops by Santa Fe and borrows the DeLorean from Back to the Future from Game of Thrones author George R.R. Martin…How cool is that? (Sorry, fanboy geeky moment over.)

Not everyone will enjoy this documentary or even understand the necessity of Zak Penn’s decision to make it. As one who lived in Alamogordo, from 1980 to 1982 and played on an Atari 2600 for the first time at Holloman, AFB (the USAF base outside the town) during that two years, this film was a delightful surprise.

In the film, the enormous amount of gamers who arrived at the small town to see if there really were millions of ET game cartridges under that landfill looked eerily familiar to the scores of press and public (and vendors) who lined the roads back when the Space Shuttle was diverted to Alamogordo back in 1982. It is amazing that all this occurred back in 2014 and was missed by at least one older gamer who only discovered the documentary recently.

This film is a brilliant look at a part of history that became a part of urban myth. What really destroyed Atari? Perhaps Warshaw’s pronouncement of hubris or a glutted market or the winds of change combined to not only bring the company down, but also put the dampers on ET. Regardless of just why the Steven Spielberg endorsed video game became a part of myth and whether or not it had anything to do with the demise of a company and industry, the documentary is entertaining and informative.

Keep an eye out for the Raiders of the Lost Ark reference that Penn sets up toward the end of the film. Atari: Game Over is a 5 star film; a fun eye opening look at the early video games industry and the unmasking of an games urban myth. This Showtime documentary is available on Hulu as part of its new add-on, gamers head on over if you have not already.

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