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Tag Archives: Zombies
The Walking Dead is a frustrating show for a multitude of reasons, not the least of which is that even in an episode like this — one filled to the brim with dull speechifying, blatant wheel-spinning, and lame parables — there’s one or two moments of brilliance that make it hard to just give up on this ever-mercurial series. Even when the show is stalling for time, serving up weak dialogue, or leaning into its weakest tendencies, it sprinkles in a couple of great bits that manage to rise above the rest of the flotsam.
This week, it’s the zombie cheese slicer and Rick’s smile, two dissimilar but connected moments that demonstrate what The Walking Dead is capable of when it’s not tripping over its own bad lines and plot contrivances. Such faults are out in full force in “Rock in the Road,” an episode that sees Rick and the gang at The Hilltop and The Kingdom in an effort to rally forces sufficient to take on The Saviors. The forging of that coalition is inevitable, and the arguments over whether to unite and fight or cling to the status quo have already been turned over by dozens of people dozens of times, which leaves “Rock” with only the thrilling walker-slaying sequence and a brief but clever way to convey Rick’s state of mind to recommend it.
I’m not sure I could tell you much about Tara prior to this episode. I knew that she came to the main group via The Governor. I remembered that she was among those who met up with Abraham, Rosita, and Eugene after the prison fell. I recalled that she was dating Denise. But otherwise, like so many of the show’s secondary characters, I’m hard pressed to think of any way in which she’s been fleshed out enough for her to really register for me.
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.
Most people know the bible story of when God tested Abraham. It’s one of those biblical references that just filters through the popular consciousness, even if you haven’t cracked open Genesis anytime lately. The Good Lord tells Abraham, his devoted servant, to prove his devotion by offering his son, Isaac, as a sacrifice. Abraham follows this command, building an altar, binding his son to it, and raising his knife in the air, ready to perform the grisly deed. But God stops Abraham at the last minute, explaining to him that this was all simply a test of his devotion and then providing a ram to be sacrificed instead.
I can remember hearing this story in Sunday school and how the rabbi would milk this moment a bit. Keeping second graders enthralled with bible stories isn’t necessarily easy work, but he knew how to draw out the details of the story, embellish a little at the margins, and hold the tension of moments like that one. Even if you’d heard the rabbi tell this story half-a-dozen times before, he made you believe that maybe this time it would be too late, that Abraham would act and all would be lost. He knew, in short, how to build the suspense.
One of the interesting things about The Walking Dead under showrunner Scott Gimple’s influence is that it has, more or less, eschewed the traditional narrative structure for a season of television. The storyline of the prison and The Governor seemed to be building to a finale at the end of Season 3, but then it didn’t really end until several episodes into Season 4. Afterward, the show embarked on its Wandering in the Wilderness/Terminus storyline that stretched from roughly the midpoint of Season 4 until the beginning of the Alexandria storyline in Season 5. Then that plotline, about our heroes discovering a new community and gradually integrating into it, reached its natural conclusion with this year’s mid-season premiere, where the Rick’s group and the town came together to defeat the zombies at the gates as a whole. Only then, did the current arc begin in earnest.
Which is to say that as Season 6 draws to a close, we’re not at either the end or the beginning of the Negan storyline; we’re in the middle. That’s admittedly a little strange. It’s a departure from the annual Big Bad structure that Buffy the Vampire Slayer established and many other shows adopted. And it’s even distinct from the trend started by The Wire and The Sopranos, where the real fireworks happen in the penultimate episode of a season, with the finale reserved for aftermath and reflection.
“East” is about cycles, about chain reactions, and the way that decisions big and small come back to us in one form or another. Morgan says it himself — it’s all a circle. But whether that circle is good or bad, whether you get out of it what you put into it, remains to be seen in the world of The Walking Dead.
To Morgan’s mind, that reciprocity or karma or whatever you want to call it, can be a force for good. He decides to spare The Wolf, and to Morgan, that decision not only leads to The Wolf deciding to help to save Denise (which allowed her to save Carl), but it also led to Morgan’s philosophy trickling down to Carol, making Alexandria’s most hardened warrior so uncomfortable with the act of killing that she leaves the community so that she need not risk having to hurt anyone else.
And yet Daryl faces the mirror image of that series of events and sees a very different result. He chooses to spare Dwight, and to Daryl, that makes him responsible both for Denise’s death at Dwight’s hands, and also for the message that it sent to Carol, who had to help him bury yet another innocent person in these harsh environs, and possibly served as the final straw that drove his dear friend away. Both men made the same kind of choice, but interpret the consequences of those choices very differently.
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.
One of the best parts of Carol’s arc on The Walking Dead is that it’s largely been underplayed. Melissa McBride is such a talented actress that the show can dispense with its often lumpy dialogue and simply let her performance convey the meaning in the moment, whether it’s a sullen look after the events of “JSS” or a harsh tone in her voice when she tells Rick that Maggie shouldn’t be out on the raid in “Not Tomorrow Yet”. This season in particular, The Walking Dead has done well to let the idea that Carol is feeling the weight of her actions and gradually pivoting away from her more ruthless persona, bubble under the surface. That’s made the scenes where those ideas are brought to the fore or dramatized in a more prominent fashion, stand out as effective and earned.
But “The Same Boat” basically turns that subtlety on its ear. It’s a bleak bottle episode that spends most of its time keeping Carol locked in a single room while trotting out an odd version of This Is Your Life!
There has been a great deal of death on The Walking Dead over the years. We’ve seen characters take out hordes of zombies, roving marauders, and even their own as a necessary if-bloody kindness when circumstances require it. But very very rarely has the series shown our heroes as the aggressors in a life-or-death situation.
That’s what made “Not Tomorrow Yet” so interesting and so novel, especially for a series already in its sixth season. Many episodes of the show have examined the morality of killing — when it’s justified, when it’s morally dubious, and how those standards change in the ashes of the world. But it’s never shown “the good guys” engaging in what amounts to a preemptive strike before.
It is, in a word, troubling, even when on paper it makes sense. It’s uncomfortable, even when the audience, by dint of affection and perspective, is on the side of the people doing the killing. It’s meant to be. The Walking Dead has paid lip service to the moral gray areas that emerge when having to decide whether to take a life in something approaching a state of nature, but rarely has it confronted these ideas as directly as it does here.