The Walking Dead 8.01 – Mercy

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When a show reaches a seventh, an eighth, a ninth season, we often begin to notice some changes in the pacing of the story and in the quality of the writing. Truth be told, it’s usually around the fifth season that things start to smell a little funny. This is typically because the show creator, the writers’ room, and the show runners may not, at the very beginning, expected the show to have lasted for so long; the stories become more outlandish and improbable, themes start to repeat themselves, and what may have once been an incendiary and addictive plot begins to wear thin.

This has happened countless times before. When a show proves to be a consistent draw for audiences and ad revenue is consistently high, a show like Dexter or Lost will be renewed for additional seasons again and again, kept on life support until audiences grow weary, until viewership declines and the show dies the death of a million weeping pinhole wounds.

One antidote to this kind of ‘viewer fatigue’ has been the revitalization of serialized story-telling and television show anthologies like True Detective, American Horror Story, and Fargo, where each season is itself a self-contained story. A story can’t grow old and tiresome if the story only lasts for one season.

The real question for our purposes today is this: Is The Walking Dead beginning to overstay its welcome?

Almost all signs point to “absolutely not.” There have been some misfires along the way, but The Walking Dead seems to have maintained it’s momentum. The most common complaint, stretching all the way back to season two, is about the so-called ‘filler episodes.’ This is a legitimate complaint. The pace of the show slows down, audiences suffer emotionally manipulative cliffhangers, and a tremendous amount of time is spent halting the progress of the story. This has certainly been problematic, but it hasn’t made the story measurably less engaging.

In some regards, these ‘filler-episodes’ have been used to exquisite effect, allowing the writers time to explore the emotional depth and complexity of certain characters. Take, as an example, the season six episode “He’s Not Here,” a flashback episode that reveals Morgan’s journey from the edge of madness and back, after a chance encounter with a lone survivor in the woods. This stand-alone episode, with an extended run time of 62 minutes, was undeniably strong and served to temporarily slow the pace of the show.

One of the main reasons The Walking Dead hasn’t lost its luster is because the story isn’t being improvised season-to-season or episode-to-episode like so many other television shows. Like True Blood and Game of Thrones, The Walking Dead is based on material that existed before plans were ever made to adapt it for television. The narrative connective-tissue is already in place; there is already a tried and true blue-print in place before each episode is scripted and before principle photography begins. In fact, some of the more recent problems with The Walking Dead are directly related to story elements that don’t exist in the graphic novels – like the “heapsters” that live in the landfill. The reason it doesn’t feel like these characters have a place in The Walking Dead is specifically because they didn’t originally exist in the source material.

This is one of the main reasons Fear the Walking Dead has struggled to really get on its feet.

All of that being said, season eight starts things off with a bang, a radical shift from the season seven premier. Where one season ago the group was fragmented, weak, and kneeling in the dirt, we now see unification, strength, and resolve. After the despair at the onset of season seven, this is an interesting way to get things rolling. Shifting back and forth with a bearded Rick in an idyllic suburban home, to Rick standing over the graves of Abraham and Glenn, to Rick delivering a rousing speech before mountain an attack against The Saviors, to Rick with battle-weary red eyes speaking of ‘mercy’ (where the episode gets its title), there is still a pattern of emotional manipulation that most fans will find familiar.

We don’t have a clear idea, with these shifting timelines, precisely what’s going on. We don’t know if ‘old Rick and the cane’ are a fantasy or if they’re a vision of things to come. We don’t know if he’s reflecting on his fallen comrades before the assault on the saviors or reflecting about these events sometime thereafter.

The things this episode does, without digging too deep into the plot, is sets the pace for the ‘All Out War’ narrative from the comic books. It starts things out with a bang, with the unified communities organizing a take-down of Negan and his Saviors. We’re still met with the grinning psychopathic confidence of Negan, and it’s difficult to tell how intense the struggle is going to be. But these are fun questions to ask ourselves – questions that will certainly have people tuning in to see what happens next.

One prediction I do have is that the red-eyed Rick with the glint of light dancing on his face will be seen again in the season finale. I believe that this is the moment when the battle with The Saviors is won. When Rick whispers “my mercy prevails over my wrath,” I am confident that the mercy he speaks of will be a mercy he bestows upon Negan. This episode went to great lengths to remind us that Rick has promised to kill Negan personally. My prediction is that Rick won’t kill Negan – that Negan will find a new home in the cinder-block jail Morgan began building back in season six.

Mark my words, reader. Let’s see if I’m right.

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June 18, 2017 – DJ Joshua Pocalypse

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I can’t even tell you what happened to Joshua Pocalypse, friends. I met him five years ago when he was making music before an event at a local club. He was – and likely still is – a musician. He’s a DJ with a supremely keen ear. And, from what I recall, he paid his bills working for his father’s business at a coffee roasting company.

Can’t seem to pin him down on social media, although I know he was on Facebook at one point or another in the past. Nevertheless, today’s image is one of a DJ, performing for a club slowly filling up with people. There was an intensity to him that I found very magnetic. I like to think that the images here speak for themselves.

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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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