The Walking Dead: Cherokee Rose

SPOILERS BEYOND: A significant subplot in Cherokee Rose involves our heroes discovering a zombie floating in a well and fishing it out.  This was my only chance for intense action scoring this episode, so I wrote a heart-pounding percussion piece featuring Jonathan Ortega on exotic stringed percussion instruments, as featured in this week’s video blog:

The autoharps, psaltery and hammered dulcimer have been a part of the fabric of “The Walking Dead” score from the very beginning.  My philosophy with this series was to find instruments used in traditional bluegrass, folk and country music and distort or manipulate them until they are unrecognizable and create a unique musical signature for this world.

While these instruments excel at creating driving percussive rhythms, there was relatively little action scoring in this episode.  Cherokee Rose is more reserved when compared to the pandemonium of previous episodes of “The Walking Dead,” giving us a chance to know the characters better and see the tolls recent events have taken on them.  Thusly, most of my creative energy was spent dealing with character issues.

The most fascinating character at this point in the series is Shane.  We learned at the end of last week that he chose to murder Otis in order to save Carl, making a judgment call that puts his morality into question.  And while anyone could understand his motivations at that dire moment, he is nevertheless racked with guilt.  In the episode’s teaser, he’s asked by Otis’ widow to give a eulogy to Otis (while wearing the man’s oversized clothes, a nice touch I thought).

Here, Shane drifts back into his horrific memories of that night, so I brought the same dark, ambient musical textures back to haunt him. Though everyone around Shane is oblivious to his inner conflict at this moment, the audience knows what is in his mind.  To underline this idea, the score roils with dissonant textures and deep, swelling clusters:

[audio:|titles=Shane’s Eulogy]

This texture is almost identical to the one heard at the end of Save the Last One, with the addition of a new melody played on the acoustic guitar (which I will address in a moment).  You can hear wailing hurdy gurdy, electric banjo, scraped autoharps and tremolo strings beneath an ambient electric guitar cluster.  These various instruments blend into a single, terrifying cluster that takes us back to the fateful night when Otis died.

These chords come back to haunt us yet again when Shane speaks with Andrea, telling her how he’s able to kill.  Andrea thinks he’s talking about the act of self-preservation, but we know he’s actually referring to murdering Otis.  So, the music underlines this idea by bringing that eerie cluster back again:

[audio:|titles=Shane’s Philosophy]

I always interpreted this scene as Shane’s way of making peace with his decision to kill Otis.  He’s forlorn, but doesn’t seem lost in confusion like he was in the teaser.  The act of instructing Andrea gives him the emotional fortitude to deal with his own baggage.  The score reflects this.  I dialed back on the deep, heavy clusters and allowed the acoustic guitars to offer a brief statement of what I can now call the “Shane Theme:”

This figure was first heard in the second season premiere, when Shane tells Lori he’s leaving the group and again in the Bloodletting teaser flashback, as he watches Carl learn that Rick had been shot.  I tend to use this simple theme for the moments when Shane is experiencing emotional strain, but suggesting that he’s on the right path.

By putting this gentle “Shane Theme” melody against the “Shane Guilt” ambient clusters I am setting these two musical personalities against each other, just as they are waging war within his character.  Which one will win out?  Which theme do you expect to hear more of in the future?

Cherokee Rose is not all roiling internal conflict however.  This episode gives us a truly exceptional sequence in which Maggie and Glen get together.  This is a charmingly real moment — funny and seductive.  For the score, we decided that there was no point in holding back.  I went ahead and wrote them a beautiful little fleeting love theme.  It is a cue unlike anything else in the entire score, but it works so well, because it highlights what a welcome relief this embrace is for both the characters onscreen and the audience.  I really love these characters and was happy to see something finally work out for somebody.

In the episode’s closing scenes, Lori comforts Rick as he puts his sheriff badges away, perhaps for the final time.  The score here is warm and melodic, a simple backdrop of string orchestra and solo piano suggesting that their tumultuous marriage is finally beginning to heal.  At the end of the episode she walks into a field by herself.  At first, the score suggests she is in imminent physical danger.  This was an intentional misdirect.  Because, of course, we learn that her threat is not external, but internal.  As she learns that her situation is as bad as she had feared, the score shifts from danger and suspense to sadness and empathy, with arpeggiated acoustic guitars and deep swelling chords from the violas and celli:

[audio:|titles=Pregnancy Test]

Next week’s episode is one of my favorites of the season, as it focuses on my favorite character, and allowed me to write yet another character theme!  Check back in a week for more.

And, on an unrelated note, fans in Los Angeles should be sure to check out an incredible performance I’m taking part in on Wednesday night.  I’m co-producing and performing in “The Show Must Go On: A Tribute to Freddie Mercury.”  

Working with Brendon Small (Adult Swim’s Metalocalypse / Dethklok) and Brendan McCreary (Young Beautiful in a Hurry), we’ve assembled some of the most amazing musicians in Los Angeles to play a benefit concert for AIDS PROJECT LOS ANGELES.  It’s a night of the music of Queen slamming at you hard, and will be one of the most epic concerts I’ve ever done.  Here’s a sneak peek at our first rehearsal:

The Roxy Theatre, Los Angeles
All Ages / $35

For ticket sales and more information, check out the official site:

Hope to see some of you there!





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