The Walking Dead Gets Half as Much after Going “Twice as Far” in a Weaker Episode


How can an episode where so much happens seem so dull? “Twice as Far” features a firefight, a significant casualty, a big decision from a major character, and a reckoning between two people who’ve had unfinished business for a long time now. This is all major stuff. So why did the episode feel so thoroughly lifeless?

In fairness, “Twice as Far” aimed for a certain feeling of routine in the proceedings. It opens with a repeated sequence of supply inventory, guard shifts, and the daily rhythms of Alexandria in order to establish the semi-normalcy that the town has settled into after the most recent bit of excitement. The Walking Dead has thrived on this type of “calm after the storm” vibe in episodes like “The Next World”, but here it felt ponderous and contrived.

Perhaps it’s because the episode’s focus quickly shifts to a pair of expeditions that lack much subtlety or logic. Each features a babe in the woods who possesses certain skills that make them helpful to the collective as a whole, but which leave them far less equipped to handle the combat realities of the zombie apocalypse. And each is contrasted with more capable, hardened warriors, who scoff at their less-adept counterparts as they venture beyond the walls and safety of Alexandria.

The Abraham-Eugene pairing was the weaker of these two storylines, despite the fact that it had more history and subtext to draw upon from the outset. There’s genuine bad blood between Abraham and Eugene that the show has only glancingly addressed. Though it seems like they made amends in the Season 5 finale, there’s fruitful thematic territory in a story of their rebuilding an uneasy trust after the ups and downs of their prior adventures. And yet here, when the episode seems to be attempting to explore that territory, the character-based side of it is shallow, and the way in which their conflict is dramatized and resolved is implausible and frankly a little dumb.

 

Though it's nice to see that Viserys Targaryen is keeping busy.

 

Admittedly, Abraham and Eugene are not necessarily the type of individuals who’d sit around and talk about their feelings, but that’s part of what makes their dialogue feel so strange and miscalibrated in the episode. Both Abraham and Eugene have a certain lyricism in their speech patterns, which, when juxtaposed with the more naturalistic style of most of the rest of the cast, can be a nice contrast to the sorts of grand, stilted speeches that the show’s dialogue often defaults to (as seen in Denise’s last hurrah here). But put Abraham and Eugene in a conversation together, and in some ways it feels like we’re watching a different show entirely; the unnaturalness of their speech stands out and makes the intended emotional content behind their exchanges seem phony and overly mannered.

Eugene uses his distinctive speech to wax rhapsodic about his changing, about trimming his distinctive mullet and reaching “level two” in terms of self-reliance and combat-readiness. The born warrior Abraham is naturally skeptical, even more so when Eugene says that Abraham’s services are no longer required. It’s a reasonable enough conflict, but it plays out like a fight on a middle school playground. After a failed run-in with a walker and the aforementioned exchange, Abraham walks off, leaving Eugene to his own devices. That choice could make some sense if the episode did a better job of conveying the lingering ill-feelings between the pair as a motivation for Abraham. But here, it seems like cruelty from him, even if the big action scene later in the episode suggests that he was, at a minimum, still keeping tabs on Eugene as he made his way back to the compound.

“Twice as Far” draws a parallel between Eugene and Denise here, and Denise’s half of the episode with Daryl and Rosita is a little more successful, if for no other reason than, at least initially, it’s a little more subtle in conveying what’s going through Denise’s mind as she steps outside her comfort zone. There have been several moments this season where Denise has shrunk from the moment, unable to help in the way she wanted or needed to, because she couldn’t handle the horror around her. The idea of her trying to push past that, to leave the gates and go on a mission (with two of the more capable fighters in the group there to look after her as she attempts to take off her training wheels) works at a basic character motivation level.

 

I'm not 100% sure, but I believe this is what the kids refer to as "side-eye."

 

It also works as a comparison point for Daryl, who is in no mood to take anyone else’s advice or help other people after his various run-ins with The Saviors. As the show established in “The Next World”, Daryl is in the same place that Rick was at the beginning of the season — mistrusting outsiders and leaning hard on his old lone wolf tendencies, if not his own miniature “Ricktatorship.” The scenes of him ignoring Denise’s tips about the truck’s transmission or Rosita’s suggestion for the shortest path to the apothecary point to a version of Daryl who’s colder and less apt to make allowances for the people who don’t see things his way or serve his interests. But that early prickliness is contrasted with his later attempt to boost Denise’s spirits after she blanched at a horrific scene inside the pharmacy, and his willingness to follow the train tracks with Rosita. It suggests there’s a part of Daryl that cares about people, that makes him a reasonable person even when he doesn’t want to be, and he cannot shut that part of himself off.

Those scenes are the strongest part of the episode. “Twice as Far” conveys Denise’s internal struggle inside the apothecary well. And while talking about one’s childhood is frequently a clunky way add depth to a character, Daryl’s line that it sounds like he and Denise “had the same brother” is both sweet and telling in its way. There’s a common ground between these two individuals who otherwise seem to have led very different lives up to this point. And it makes Denise’s rationale for wanting Daryl to come with her on the supply run more specific and interesting.

But then there’s a contrived zombie-killing scene for Denise meant to be contrasted with the earlier one with Eugene. And then Denise gives one of the most painfully didactic speeches, in a show not lacking for them, about strength and bravery and how Daryl and Rosita have each of the qualities but make things harder on themselves by being alone. And then she takes an arrow through the eye. And then there’s a standoff with The Saviors. And then Eugene somehow earns Abraham’s respect by biting the penis of the ringleader (who was, not coincidentally, the impetus for Daryl’s change in perspective). And then Carol tells Daryl that he was right, and she ends her five-minute romance with Tobin to wander off somewhere else. And I am left wondering how the hell we got from Point A to Point B here.

 

Steve Martin is going to be pissed.

 

Because this is all pretty rough. Abraham allowing Eugene to struggle with a zombie is already a stretch, but at least Abraham has a history that suggests he can be a hothead who’s apt to let Eugene twist in the wind for a while and see firsthand how difficult it is to do what he does. But Daryl and Rosita’s decision to simply stand back and watch Denise tussle with a biter simply because she calls them off is one of those weak plot contrivances where the show’s intended message supersedes any plot or character logic.

And if we didn’t get it there, the episode then lets Denise make that point out loud, in no uncertain terms, in a way that betrays any subtlety or subtext in her emotional journey. As in last week’s episode, “Twice as Far” has characters vocalizing the main theme of an episode even when it had already done a decent, if not exactly spectacular job of conveying those messages in much more artful ways. As The Robot Devil of Futurama once said, you can’t just have your character announce how they’re feeling; that makes me angry.

A mildly exciting firefight ensues. Daryl gets his bow back. Eugene becomes the groin-chomping champion of the Eastern seaboard and inexplicably redeems himself in Abraham’s eyes by distracting The Saviors long enough for Abraham to get the drop on them. Daryl reverts to his, “I should have killed you” mentality, and he and Carol bury Denise. It’s a rush of disjointed, somewhat incoherent, and thoroughly unsatisfying moments.

In the episode’s final sequence, “Twice as Far” returns to the same images of routine that it opened with, making the changes along the way more noticeable, while Carol reads her farewell letter in voiceover. The last scene of this sequence, featuring Morgan (and a great-as-always understated performance from Lennie James) reacting to Carol’s absence is a strong one, heightened by the sound of her empty porch swing straining in the wind. The concept of his pacifist philosophy having a quiet but significant impact on Carol has been one of the best parts of this season.

 

There's no melancholy like porch swing melancholy.

 

And yet Carol’s conclusion, that loving people in this world means having to kill for them, something she can’t handle anymore, and the result being that she must leave, is a somewhat strange direction for those thoughts to take her. And the episode doesn’t provide enough connective tissue to have that decision make sense. I don’t like to play “what if” games when it comes to alternate story ideas, but Carol abandoning Alexandria feels out of character for her, regardless of whatever emotional turmoil she’s going through that would cause her to count rosaries and smoke. It just doesn’t seem like the natural decision from the woman we’ve come to know over the past six seasons, even when she’s struggling and hurting.

So what are we left with? A closer friendship and mutual respect between Abraham and Eugene that doesn’t feel especially well-earned or well-motivated. Another character whom the show takes time to develop and deepen over the course of a season only for her to bite the dust immediately afterwards. A belligerent Daryl who’s likely to double down on his isolationism. A reeling Rosita who seems poised to take Denise’s advice to heart and move forward with Spencer after that odd little sermon. A Sasha-Abraham relationship that’s been confusing from the start. And a Carol-less Alexandria, with Morgan there to pick up the pieces. Few of these are great destinations to begin with, but as the episode itself conveyed, the road to get there was more than a bit rocky. That makes “Twice as Far” feel like a disappointment, and it leaves the series in a worse place than it was when the episode began.


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