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Monthly Archives: November 2016
So often, the average Walking Dead episode is a mixed bag — a collection of scenes where half of them excite and the other half result in eyerolls. But what keeps so many still watching is the way that the show can put together a few extraordinary sequences — ones focused on character, or a tense interrogation, or even the usual zombie-killing action — that remind us why we started following the series in the first place. There are four sequences in “Go Getters” that show the potential of The Walking Dead, the things that keep us coming back, in an episode centered on how we honor, vindicate, and above all remember the dead.
I enjoyed the season premiere of The Walking Dead better than most. I understand the complaints that it was too bleak, too cruel, and too hopeless, but to my mind, it made sense to embrace those elements in order to establish Negan, both a character and as a threat. There have been so many ineffectual villains on this show, so many antagonists who seemed like mere speed bumps along the way toward Rick and company’s inevitable victory. TWD needed to make a big introduction to convince the audience that Negan and The Saviors were something different, something dangerous and more serious.
I also didn’t mind the hopelessness of that opening episode. Sure, it’s difficult to watch our heroes being broken, to see characters we know and love brutalized while the bad guys take great joy in the effort. But shows like The Walking Dead need stakes. In order for the good guys’ eventual triumph to feel earned and meaningful, the series has to make its main antagonist not only someone whose defeat doesn’t seem preordained, but also someone who’s actually worth beating. The suffering at this point of the arc will, with any luck, pay off down the line when the protagonists strike their blow against Negan and his goons.
The only problem is that the premiere already felt like a lot. It gave us a lot of blood and guts, a lot of horrible acts, and a lot of Negan preening and chewing scenery. That worked as an opening salvo for the character and as the culmination of the build his debut, which had been bubbling up since the midpoint of Season 6. But it was a great deal to take in all at once. The viewer can only stand so much of that level of cruelty and velvet-trimmed venom before it starts to overwhelm.
I’m often struck by the technical and structural audacity of The Walking Dead. It’s frequently a gorgeous show, with visuals that grab you even when the frame isn’t filled with zombies. But it’s also a show that can be quite adept at communicating its ideas and themes with visuals alone, albeit one that is maddeningly inconsistent about when it feels like doing so. To that point, “The Cell” centers on the experiences of two characters, Dwight and Daryl, and opens with a pair of montages with next-to-no dialogue, but which nevertheless tell us everything we need to know about who these characters are and what their situation is.
In between Seasons 6 and 7 of The Walking Dead, I finally found the time to watch Deadwood, the acclaimed, short-lived HBO series that helped usher in the current era of prestige television that The Walking Dead has been trying desperately to be a part of. And though Deadwood is a longstanding critical darling while The Walking Dead has been a perpetual whipping boy in the critical community, the most recent seasons of TWD have focused on the same question that consumed Deadwood for its three-season run — specifically, what does it take to make a society?
That’s an oversimplification of both shows, but to my mind, Deadwood was first and foremost about what it means to build a civilization: the myths we perpetuate, the wheels we grease, and the dirt and blood we try to scrub off the floor or otherwise hide in the process. From the onset of the Alexandria arc, The Walking Dead has been interrogating the same idea. Whether it’s Deanna’s vision for Alexandria as the start of a sustainable bit of rebuilding, or Gregory running the Hilltop as his own little fiefdom, or Negan extracting his pounds of flesh with The Saviors, The Walking Dead has been interested in what type of system, what sort of leaders and visions for the future, will prevail. All of these people, like Deadwood’s Al Swearingen, are trying to fashion a society in the midst of something approaching a state of nature, and this era of the show seems as poised as any to dig into the ways that these differing perspectives clash and conflict.