The Walking Dead 7.16 – The First Day…

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So here we have it, the finale, titled “The First Day Of The Rest Of Your Life.” We’ve been waiting since the season opener for an episode centered around Rick, and I guess this is what we have to contend with. Last week ended with Dwight (played by Austin Amelio) visiting the Alexandria camp with a truce offering and a willingness to help take down Negan – but this story-line doesn’t really go anywhere here, not to anybody’s surprise. There’s always room for next season.

I guess.

Oh. And a betrayal by the garbage-pickers? Shocking.

<rolls eyes>

“We’re going to war.”
That’s all that really happened in this episode. Sasha died (we’d been expecting it) and Eugene is a coward (which we already knew). And we all knew that there wouldn’t be a conclusion to the ‘Alexandria Versus The Saviors’ plot in an hour-long episode. So we get to see an angry Negan, more tactical maneuvers, plotting, and intrigue in the next exhausting season.

I think I’m about done.
This is getting stupid.

Great finale. Huzzah…

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Wrong Eye, Carl – The Walking Dead

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Ever shot a gun before? No? Well let me speak an obvious truth – you need to be able to look down the sights in order to hit your target. In this week’s episode of The Walking Dead, titled ‘Something They Need,’ we see a wee-little mistake, as Carl Grimes looks down the barrel with his dominant (right) eye, which doesn’t actually exist – he lost his eye after a rogue bullet glanced his face while the group was attempting to navigate through a horde of walkers in season six.

In a show celebrated for its attention to detail, this is one little example of where they dropped the ball. It’s not an indictment – it seems to me that the stance of the various characters in the scene was designed for the director of photography, for visual composition. It might not look realistic if a naturally right-eyed and right-handed actor had to pantomime or pretend at being newly handicapped, but these are the details that hardcore fans notice.

I would also reference how insanely accurate Shane was, in season two, firing his sidearm at a swinging log while trying to train Andrea – rest her soul – how to shoot. He hit his moving target, with a 9mm handgun – a moving target, at distance – every single time. A well-trained officer might be able to achieve this, but it feels unrealistic how quickly he turns from admonishing her timidity, then draws his weapon, and effortlessly & with no time to aim, hits his target –  all in a fraction of a second.

Few people are that accurate with a handgun.
Just sayin’.

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The Walking Dead 7.15 – Something They Need

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The Walking Dead is all about setting things up, generating tension, and looking forward to future episodes – to a fault. This isn’t more obvious than in the penultimate episode to their seasons. The chess pieces are set up, the dramatic tension is well-established, and the next-to-last episode is intended to leave audiences gripping their armrests and wondering what’s going to happen next. What we’ve learned about The Walking Dead, season after season, is that the “big reveal” probably isn’t going to happen during the season finale; the show-runners and AMC prefer to string audiences along, and the “big reveal” is left for season openers, not season closers. It’s so thoroughly unsatisfying and emotionally manipulative, I cannot believe it. This might be the reason why the show’s ratings have been flagging in a seriously significant way.

It can be exhausting, always waiting for a pay-off that rarely, if ever, arrives.

We already knew that Eugene’s poison pill was going to come back – because…plot – although I suppose few of us could have predicted that Sasha would be foolish enough to rush the gates, lock Rosita out, and run in for a suicide mission against Negan’s army. There will be a reveal, and Sasha will die, but it isn’t likely that the loss is going to affect audiences like the loss of Glenn & Abraham; in that situation (season seven’s opening episode), The Walking Dead really raised a high bar for shocking audiences, and I don’t think they’re going to be able to achieve that ever again.

Something I do find compelling, at least a little bit, is that Rick and his crew of Alexandrians rolled into Oceanside and took all of their weapons, leaving them somewhat defenseless. This paints Rick and his cohort with a brush that isn’t dissimilar to Negan – taking what they need, leaving innocent people vulnerable, and not really giving much of a damn. If the Alexandrians aren’t successful in their mission against The Saviors, there’s still this vulnerable colony, who haven’t actively hurt anyone, left completely exposed.

Descend on innocents, take what doesn’t belong to you because you feel you need it more, and leave. Is that Rick, or is that Negan? Interesting moral conundrum.

Fatigue is setting in for audiences with a show that doesn’t seem to have any end-game. There’s no narrative satisfaction when it feels like a show is doing is best to keep on going, indefinitely. Audiences want a beginning, a middle, and an end. This isn’t an open-world massive multi-player online game. This is a story. And with no end in sight, we’re getting fed-up, and the proof is in the ratings.

Negan won’t die next week. Sasha will. The conflict with the saviors will, at the very least, be drawn out over the entire next season. The Walking Dead is starting to feel like Dexter. Remember Dexter? It was a hot property for a good long while, until FX kept stringing audiences along, kept repeating the same tired formula each season, and the once-promising show is barely even memorable after it’s miserable and ham-fisted conclusion.

I hope I’m wrong, but I think history is repeating itself.

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The Walking Dead 7.14 – The Other Side

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Two blank slates – Rosita and Jesus – were finally given some back-story. It would take some mental gymnastics to justify why these two characters were neglected for so long, given how central they are to much of this season’s story, but it’s pleasing that we finally have some additional context for them. At this point in The Walking Dead, it isn’t unusual for random outbursts of character development – without warning or lead-up – so it’s easy to assume that these two are going to play a major role in the ‘All Out War’ story-line of season eight.

It will be a breath of fresh air to see Rosita doing something other than being angry at everything and uncooperative because…feelings. Her pouty face and clenched teeth aren’t enough. It looks like the writers are getting ready to give her a lot more to do, and it will be a welcome change of pace. This entire season, she has been a two-dimensional, boring bundle of “I hate life.” It’ll be nice to see her behave like a woman with cunning and agency, rather than a pissed-off teenager.

With regards to Jesus, backstory is nice – in this instance, however, it’s not entirely necessary. I think that the show has established, pretty clearly, that he’s something of a loner, who probably didn’t get along with a lot of people in the world before the fall. Background and motivation is always welcome – and it was touching for him to have a low-key coming-out moment – but audiences already know that he’s something of a loner, and his sexuality is immaterial. Not a tremendous amount of depth or insight, but the character is definitely becoming more three-dimensional and relatable – hopefully this doesn’t mean he’s about to be axed.

(I doubt it does)

Truthfully, not a whole lot happened during this episode, despite tense moments for Maggie & Daryl hiding in the cellar, political power-plays at The Hilltop, and Rosita & Sasha deciding it’d be a great idea to try and single-handedly assassinate Negan. This episode was about little moments, between Daryl and Maggie, Sasha and Rosita. It’s a reinforcement of Eugene’s cowardice, and it buttresses our understanding of how shaky the politics of The Hilltop are. If you think that Sasha is going to make it out alive, I’ll go ahead and leave you with this:

Actress Sonequa Martin-Green, who plays Sasha, has signed a contract and will be a recurring cast member in the next Star Trek television series. No wonder her behavior at the end of this episode seemed so painfully shoe-horned. Gee-willickers, I wonder what’s going to happen…

Sigh…

And, dollars to donuts, the crossbow-wielding silhouette isn’t Daryl. That’s Dwight. Guaranteed. And he’s willing to join the Alexandrians in their upcoming conflict with Negan. I’d place a very stiff bet on it.

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The Walking Dead 7.13 – Bury Me Here

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If you haven’t watched the most recent episode of The Walking Dead, I’d advise you to stop reading. As we approach the final episodes of the season, we are definitely in ‘spoiler’ territory.

You’ve been warned.

As I’ve mentioned in previous analyses, it always seemed to me that Benjamin’s character was doomed – doomed right from the beginning. The writers were excessive in their attempt to make his character the most tragic, sympathetic, hopeful, and kind character in the show, especially for a tertiary character. At the top of the episode, I actually wrote in my ledger “this is the episode where he dies.” What was the clue that did it for me? Not only have we established that his father died in battle, that he is the caregiver for his younger brother, and that he has taken up the bo-staff under Morgan’s tutelage, but now we learn that there’s a girl in his life, too.

Final nail in the coffin. There’s nothing more that could be added to the pile a saccharine sweetness that is Benjamin. Time for the firing squad.

Predictability aside – and I could spent the rest of this review on that topic – this is one of the best episodes of the season, from the framework construction in the episode’s editing (it’s refreshing to have an opening ask more questions than it answers, and I kept wondering what the deal was with one single melon) right down to the acting. Lennie James, who plays Morgan, was the stand-out performance; just about every episode that focuses on Morgan’s character has been pretty phenomenal. After the death of Benjamin, after Morgan left Carol’s cottage, the audience knew that Morgan was a broken man – again. When the show takes the time to build complex, layered, and motivated characters, we wind up with exceptional writing and acting – Carol and Daryl would be another fine example.

The episode isn’t explicit, but my suspicion – as it has been for weeks – is that the death of Benjamin will be the trigger that motivates The Kingdom to take up arms against The Saviors. Now that Morgan has explained to Carol exactly what The Saviors have done, and how many of her friends and loved ones have died at the hands of Negan, I imagine that she’s going to become Ezekiel’s general in the fight to come. Her character has been neutered for far too long, and we all know what she’s capable of.

Unlike some characters (Daryl, Rosita, or Sasha, to name a few) Carol isn’t impulsive. It was a striking moment when she learned the dreadful news and didn’t immediately grab her gun and storm out into the forest half-cocked. Sadness washed over her, but she remained calm as she absorbed the news. This is incredibly effective story-telling, the scene pregnant with tension. I can only guess that she will meet with Ezekiel and help formulate an attack plan. It’s this kind of character development that we like to see. Contrast it with Rosita’s pouty face and gnashing teeth, and you’ll know what I mean.

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The Walking Dead 7.12 – Say Yes

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The last several episodes, in my humble opinion, have been misfires. This is pretty apparent if you’ve read through my previous write-ups. It isn’t as though fans aren’t aware of the abundance of “filler episodes” in the show, and it isn’t as though any of us are unaware that there can be an effective use for these episodes when it comes to illustrating the growing connections and tensions between the show’s characters. The trend that I’ve noticed is that all of the material invented specifically for the show – rather than material taken directly from the comic books – straight-up isn’t as dynamic, interesting, or well-thought-out. And no, this isn’t “fan boy” territory, as though I personally would want to see on television exactly what I’ve already read in the comics; that’d make watching the show exceedingly boring. I adore that the writers and show-runners are actively trying to make the television show distinct from the comics in several inventive ways in order to maintain interest among pre-existing fans, create suspense, and keep audience members guessing.

The point is this: the “Oceanside” and “Garbage Picker” (as I’ve come to call them) communities have absolutely no personality to speak of, no heart or soul, and no reasonable explanation as to how they even exist. They deserve little, if any, sympathy from the show’s established communities, or from the audience. How does Oceanside surveil their town? And why haven’t they migrated to territory further away from Negan’s clutches, where they’re less likely to be discovered by scavengers under Negan’s employ? And no men, you say? At some point, this community is going to realize that the trauma delivered by The Saviors won’t be enough to quell a woman’s need for sexual intimacy – at least not indefinitely. And what of the Garbage Pickers? Surviving after making a home in the most unsanitary place they could find, a landfill, despite a massive shortage of medical professionals, medical supplies, not to mention clean food and water? In a landscape filled with rusted nails, rotting food, pack rats, and flies? Yeah – that makes perfect sense. And how are we to honestly believe that they’ve forgotten how to speak English less than two years after the collapse of civilization? No linguist is going to accept that any new form of distinct English dialect would surface from a semi-isolated community in such a painfully short period of time.

The following is a transcript, verbatim, of the words spoken by Jadis, the inexplicable leader of the Garbage Pickers, at the time when Rick delivers several dozen new firearms: “Operational? All? Yes, yes. But operational? No. Not enough. Enough to fight your fight. Us. Nearly twice. Need nearly twice. No. Our guns to take. Our deal. Still on.”

Following that ridiculous, truncated word salad is a negotiation between Rick and Jadis regarding how many of the guns Rick can keep in order to protect his people while they search for even more guns. During the negotiation – as a part of the negotiation – Jadis demands Rick give back the wire cat sculpture he took from the dump – the dump! – after his gladiatorial fight with pin-head, to give to Michonne as a gift. How could such a trivial, stupid goddamn thing enter into a serious negotiation about armaments?

Because of these things – and many, man more – these communities haven’t really earned any empathy; audiences aren’t devastatingly concerned about what’s going to happen to them. This is specifically why I think both communities are going to be decimated in the war to come. The introduction of these new communities feels almost like an afterthought. They absolutely reek of the same wooden, unsympathetic personalities that we see in Fear The Walking Dead, the ill-begotten spin-off series. Why do these things – the Garbage Pickers/Oceanside characters and the Fear The Walking Dead characters – feel so similar, you might ask? Once again,  because they aren’t inventions of Robert Kirkman, who created the whole Walking Dead universe. With no solid source material, there are no solid characters.

None of this means there isn’t an awful lot to celebrate about The Walking Dead, and it would be overly cynical of me not to admit that this week’s episode definitely got a lot right.

The series has spent far too many episodes neglecting the impact of Abraham and Glenn’s deaths on Rick’s emotional well-being. In some ways, I suspect that the season premiere – focused predominantly on Negan breaking Rick’s spirit – was intended to do just that. At the same time, I think it would’ve been better to sporadically reinforce how Rick is (or isn’t) managing his emotions in a few little ‘reminder moments’ scattered throughout the season. He is, after all, the main character of the series, and the audience largely sees the world through his eyes. It was a breath of fresh air to finally see him opening up about that sarcastic young pizza delivery boy, Glenn, who saved his life in the very first episode, when he was trapped inside that immobilized combat tank.

This episode made for wonderful character progression for Rick and Michonne. It has been a long time since we’ve been able to feel this kind of sympathy for Rick. He’s typically written in such a way that we almost always know he’s going to survive: outliving his wife, outliving a rival in love (Shane), making it through the governor’s assault, the swine flu, the hacking off of his girlfriend’s arm when Alexandria was overrun by walkers, and persevering when he had to fight that ridiculous pin-head super-walker for the Garbage Pickers earlier this season – and that’s just to name a few. A very few. And it even happens again in this episode, when that love-struck fool tries to shoot a deer in the middle of a walker assault and gets himself trapped by an encroaching wall of the stumbling but savage undead. The saving grace here is that the majority of the episode was executed incredibly well.

We are finally reinvigorated, seduced yet again into wishing for success for Rick and the gang. We want them to overcome the horrors they’ve endured. Episodes of The Walking Dead are always wonderful when they remember to let the audience see the characters smile and enjoy a small victory, despite their bleak surroundings. It’s affecting to have a moment of levity in an episode (or a whole season) mired in struggle and heartache.

How often do we actually see Michonne smile in The Walking Dead? We see her smile just about as often as we ever hear any character actually laugh (unless, of course, it’s a mustache-twirling villain preparing to bash somebody’s brains in). Hearing Rick and Michonne cackling just after falling through the roof is arguably one of my favorite moments of the episode. It was unexpected bliss, rather than an unexpected jump-scare or a tragic and untimely death.

The episode ends with the Garbage Pickers insisting they still need more guns, despite the cache delivered by Rick and Michonne. And, how convenient that we have Tara at the end of the episode – the only one who knows about those well-armed ladies in Oceanside – with something important to confess. How unutterably convenient. Ten bucks says that this plot-line won’t be addressed, at all, in next week’s episode. We’ll have to wait a week or two, if not several months into the future when the next season begins.

Cliffhangers aren’t even cliffhangers anymore. Not in The Walking Dead. You won’t tune in next week at the same bat-time, same bat-channel, and learn what happens to our heroes next. No, no. We’re all going to learn something completely unrelated, in one of the other communities, about a whole group of other characters.

In the words of foghorn leghorn: I ga-rohn-teeeee!

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The Walking Dead 7.11 – Hostiles and Calamities

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As mentioned in previous commentaries – and I like to believe that the issue is rather obvious – the cast of The Walking Dead has swollen to an almost unmanageable size. It’s a problem, because the idea of the world expanding, of civilization taking root after the apocalypse, is an intriguing one. It’s a great idea, in fact, and lives well on the page in the printed comic book series. But it appears to be more of a logistical and narrative nightmare to have this expanding world come alive on the screen.

We can probably assume, however, that the “All Out War” section of the story these recent episodes are building towards will cull the herd significantly. My fingers are certainly crossed that we eventually see some of the excess baggage cut loose. The garbage pickers, guaranteed, are going to be bullet-sponges; they are the least interesting, least developed characters, and they offer the least in the way of answers as to how their society functions, how they have survived, and why eighteen-months of story-time (roughly) has been enough time to influence the very structure of their language. Who is this Jadis, and through what mechanism has she achieved a leadership position? Raw physical power, charisma, persuasion, and extortion all seem unlikely – especially that ‘charisma and persuasion’ bit – her verbal communication skills have been reduced to two word, stilted sentence fragments. I predict that these characters will be quick to die.

But we all know who’s going to be sacrificed first though, don’t we? Why of course we do! It’s going to be none other than the young and lovable Benjamin from the Kingdom. Don’t remember him? Well, he’s the young one who has taken up the bo-staff under Morgan’s instruction. He’s baby-faced and sympathetic, trying his gosh-darned best to learn how to defend the kingdom like his father before him, all while taking on the responsibility of raising his younger brother. Morgan even appears to be influencing the young lad, injecting his philosophy of non-aggression. This kid was marked for death from the moment Benjamin’s sob-story character was introduced, and every little moment with him has been specifically designed to make audiences like him, pity him, and quietly root for him, so as to make his unavoidable – I guarantee it, unavoidable! – death a sad and meaningful one.

My guess is that Benjamin’s death is what’s going to change King Ezekiel’s mind about joining in the battle against Negan. I’d put money on it.

That all being said, this episode isn’t about the Kingdom or Hilltop communities at all. With all of the different communities and the bloated cast, all of this season’s episodes have been reduced to focusing on one group at a time, save typically for the cliffhanger-heavy outros. In this episode, we get more details as to how The Sanctuary functions, more specifically focusing on Dwight, who clearly appears to be having a change of heart regarding his position, and Eugene, who has recently been kidnapped and taken under Negan’s wing.

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It isn’t challenging to overlook characters like Eugene. Even dramatic moments – chomping Dwight in the crotch outside Alexandria last season – are easily funneled into humor, and Eugene has mostly been written as the butt of the joke. Despite this, actor Josh McDermitt turned in an exceptional performance. Throughout the episode, we are made to wonder whether he has some kind of secret plan to assist the Alexandrians (or maybe escape), or if he truly has accepted his role as one of Negan’s soldiers, along with all the responsibilities and, more importantly, with the sense of safety and all of the creature comforts. This question isn’t answered by the episode’s end, and I’m doubting we’ll have an answer until the season finale.

Negan’s fate is in the background of the whole episode. We wonder about Eugene’s allegiance, Rick and the Alexandrian’s are hunting for weapons and recruits to storm Negan’s compound, Dwight appears to be having second thoughts about his life with the Saviors, and even Negan’s wives are plotting to have him killed, requesting that Eugene manufacture poisonous pills. And, of course, just like Walter White’s ricin, we have some pretty obvious foreshadowing – lest we forget that we don’t ever see Eugene destroy the pills, even though he didn’t give them to the wives.

I’m guessing they’re going to make an appearance in the near future. Time will tell.

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