The Walking Dead: Chupacabra

SPOILERS BEYOND: This week’s episode of “The Walking Dead,” Chupacabra, is one of my favorites because it lets us really explore Daryl, one of my favorite characters.  He is ever determined to find Sophia out in the woods and continues to search for her on his own.  Unfortunately, he accidentally falls into a ravine where he is stabbed by one of his own arrows and must fight oncoming zombies and his own blood loss in order to survive.  During all this, he is motivated by visions of his brother Merle.  I underscored these visions with droning beds of hurdy gurdy and harmonium, as detailed in this week’s video blog:

These sequences with Daryl were a challenge because they needed to be both dream-like and yet also suspenseful.  So, I had to choose my instrumentation carefully.  In addition to the bed of ambient instrumentation, I also used low percussion to create a primal, tribal heartbeat:

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The drums you’re hearing are a combination of bass drum and floor toms played with soft mallets.  This is really a sound that would generally be more at home in a score like “Battlestar Galactica.”  But, I really wanted to underline that this episode is about “Daryl vs. Nature” and “Daryl vs. Himself.”  The story isn’t really about the zombie threat.  The new percussion gives this episode a tribal feel that’s very energizing.

Speaking of energy, Chupacabra also gave me several opportunities for big action cues.  After the first dream sequence with Merle, Daryl awakens to find a zombie already chewing on his boots.  A terrifying struggle ensues, ending with Daryl pulling the arrow from his own gut in order to load the crossbow to take out a second zombie.  The score here immediately jumps from the dreamy ambient hurdy and harmoniums to a blistering action beat:

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Here, the more typical instrumentation of “The Walking Dead” kicks into full force.  Drum kit and electric bass provide the foundation, while celli, violas, scraped autoharps and dulcimers chug away at the rhythm.  You can also hear the signature “zombie banjo” wailing away above the entire texture.

But, my favorite cue in this episode is definitely the one underscoring the montage of Daryl preparing to climb out of the ravine.  He kind of goes “Apocalypse Now” here, making a necklace of zombie ears and gutting a squirrel and chowing down.  He’s a little unhinged, but definitely a badass.  So, his music needed to be badass as well.

I started the sequence lightly, with just the ambient instruments and the tribal percussion.  But, as it goes on, I added acoustic guitars and a very bluesy dobro played with a slide.  This sound pops out of the texture immediately and makes the perfect representation of Daryl and the challenge he faces.

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The dobro plays a simple riff that I might as well call the “Daryl Theme:”

I’m generally a little hesitant to name themes after characters when I’m talking about “The Walking Dead.”  That’s because writing character themes goes against my initial philosophy when I set out to score this show.  There really weren’t any character themes in Season One to speak of.  But this season, I’ve been finding places for them (in the blog for Cherokee Rose, I discussed the evolution of the Shane Theme).  I always try to tread lightly on this series and only write the musical material that is absolutely necessary.  But, there will be a few more themes that sneak into the score before long.

After Daryl overcomes both the external forces of nature and the internal voices mocking him, his troubles are over.  Well, at least they would have been if he didn’t get mistaken for a walker coming out of the woods and approaching the farm house!  In the episode’s most tense sequence, Andrea takes aim at him, thinking she’s defending the group.  Here, the tribal drums return, combined with the chugging strings reminiscent of the show’s Main Title.  The exotic percussion and electric guitars enter gradually and build the tension:

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The final scene of Chupacabra involves Maggie and Glen, and is one of the most surprising reveals of the season.  This scene will have major implications for the rest of the season and lead to some of the most exciting music I’ve written yet.  Stay tuned!

In other news, I’d like to give a shout out to the folks at IO9 who ran a little piece yesterday on my “Prelude to War for Accordion Orchestra” video.  (Check it out here!)  And I’d also like to thank everyone who turned out at THE SHOW MUST GO ON: A TRIBUTE TO FREDDIE MERCURY last Wednesday night.  It was an astonishing evening that I’ll never forget.  For those of you who couldn’t make it, I’m hoping to write a blog entry with some goodies in the next few weeks for you to enjoy.  But, honestly, words fail to describe what that concert meant to me and the rest of the musicians on stage.  I was thrilled that so many people came out to share the experience with us.

-Bear