Spoilers — although I’m sure you’ve already seen the episode by now. It’s been a crazy week, but better late than never, right?
This episode was a disappointment. It tried to push some more character development and advance interpersonal relationships but ended up feeling disjointed, rushed, and a little confusing, leaving me with the overall reaction of “Wait, what? Oh. OK, I guess.”
I complained a couple of weeks ago about how long it was taking to get everybody back to Alexandria and regroup, but now that (some) of our protagonists are finally back and dealing with things on the home front, it felt rushed. Remember the last time we saw Rick, when he was about to be surrounded by the hoard of zombies, injured, panicking, and stuck in the RV that wouldn’t start? How did Rick escape from that awesome, frightening cliffhanger? He just…ran really fast, I guess? Outrunning the zombies is not what I take issue with — speed and agility are not the walkers’ strong suits, and it’s often frustrating that the characters can’t seem to outrun them more often. It’s the fact that we don’t actually see his escape that made the jump feel like a letdown after all the setup we got before. The show did a great job of getting me emotionally invested in Rick’s plight at the end of “Thank You” that transporting him immediately back to Alexandria’s gates and forcing me to fill in the details of his escape on my own was a bit jarring. Wait, Rick’s back now? Oh. OK, I guess. (And it seems we’ve lost another RV…bye, memories of Breaking Bad…)
The other frustrating element of this week’s episode was the fact that the writers seem to think the best catalyst for character development is excessive monologuing (because, you know, making lofty, impromptu speeches about the human condition is how people normally relate their thoughts and feelings to each other). First there was the requisite Rick Speech at the beginning — “The wall’s gonna hold together. Can you?” (Sigh.) Followed by Spencer’s speech at the pantry — “Doing this will start us down a road where nothing matters,” which is a better line, but the whole scene still feels a bit heavy-handed. At this point, I sarcastically asked out loud, “Anybody else want to make a speech?”
And then Jessie gets up on the porch and makes a speech.
After putting down a woman-turned-walker who’d killed herself in her home (by barely stabbing her in the eye? Would that even work?), Jessie takes her turn at making a speech to the distressed Alexandrian bystanders about how “this is what life looks like now.” Her fight-or-die message is all fine and good, but at this point in the show it feels tired and cliche; we know that this is necessary. Of course, a big element of the Alexandrian story arc has been how the people there are so painfully unaware of what the world is really like post-apocalypse and what’s now required to survive in that world. Even so, having Jessie (or anyone) make another speech at everyone about it cheapens that message more than anything. I’m a little torn. On the one hand, it feels like the show is trying to quickly get all of the remaining Alexandrians on board with Rick ’n Them as soon as possible so we can have some conflict that’s not dumb Alexandrians vs. Rick, which we’re all tired of, so I appreciate that. On the other hand, though, it feels like they’re trying to cover more narrative ground than is really doable in a single episode by completely jumping over some plot points (Rick’s escape, aftermath of the Wolf attack) and filling in the gaps with monologues.
I’m just going to leave that lady’s body in the doorway. You guys can take care of it, right? Great, thanks.
It’s not the monologue itself that’s inherently bad or boring; some of my favorite bits of character development in The Walking Dead have come as the result of well-written monologues. Think back with me to season three, episode six, “Hounded.” It’s right after Lori died and Carl had to shoot her so she wouldn’t turn. Daryl and Carl are sweeping the lower levels of the prison for walkers. Noticing Carl’s despondency, Daryl tries to empathize with the boy’s loss by telling him about how his own mother died when he was kid, in a house fire she inadvertently started thanks to her habit of smoking in bed. The scene is only about three minutes long (and it’s all shot in one take, which I have to mention just because I always appreciate the pace and choreography of single-take scenes), but it accomplishes a lot.
“I was playing out with the kids in the neighborhood,” Daryl’s story starts. “I could do that with Merle gone.” Boom: in two short sentences, we’ve got a lot of information. Daryl’s home life was chaotic and his family relationships were strained at best, hinted at by the fact that his brother simply wasn’t around for large spans of time. This turned out to be partially a good thing, though, because without his brother’s oppressive presence looming over him, Daryl was free to be more himself, to go out and play with the neighbor kids, to have some taste of a normal childhood. The entire scene is touching in a way that’s not saccharine or cliche; it’s poignant, telling, and peels back character layers in a way that feels natural rather than forced. We don’t learn about Daryl because he stands up and makes a speech about what’s going through his head. He’s motivated to share these personal details by his desire to help another character, and we learn some things about him along the way. That’s good writing. That’s a monologue that does its job well. (And I just spent two paragraphs talking about a three-year-old scene. Can you tell I was less than enthralled by this episode?)
Contrast this with speech upon speech upon speech as characters act noble and make grand, vague statements about the general state of the world that, six seasons into the zombie apocalypse, feel trite and uninspired. Maybe this is part of the challenge of having more characters to account for onscreen, however peripheral they are. There simply isn’t time to let things develop in a way that feels more organic, to give everyone time to react to things and struggle with things and come to meaningful conclusions about them. No, we have to try and quickly cover that ground with a bunch of broad-stroke speeches so we can move the main plot forward.
Let’s see…what else happened this week? Oh yeah: MAGGIE’S PREGNANT! (Called it.) The scene in which she tearfully confides in Aaron is one of the better ones in the episode; simple, honest, sad. Tara and Denise are an item, which felt a little out of the blue, but OK. Carl and Ron fight over a girl, because teenagers in suburbia have nothing better to do, even in the zombie apocalypse. Rick kisses Jessie, which is also fine, they’re clearly attracted to each other, but it does seem a little weird given that in the timeline of the show, Rick shot her husband in the face not even a week prior. I mean, I know he was a dangerous, abusive man, but Jessie’s had a traumatic couple of weeks, to say the least.
Enid is nowhere to be seen, adding to the overall intrigue of her character, which is working for me; I’m still interested to know what her deal is. More importantly, Carol is also absent, which is pretty strange considering the fact that she basically singlehandedly thwarted the Wolf attack just a couple of hours earlier. Rick doesn’t want to check in with her? None of the Alexandrians have any questions or concerns to voice, such as “Oh, Carol, we thought you were just a sweet little housewife but you’re actually a ninja assassin, what’s that about?” I guess they had the same reaction to that as I did to this episode overall: wait, what? Oh, OK, I guess.
- “Where were you, Bruce?” Come on, Spencer, it’s not Bruce’s fault. The writers just invented him this week.
- Another review I read mentioned this, and I think it’s a super valid point: if Aaron knows about this underground tunnel system that can potentially get them beyond the walker hoard, why is he not using it to try and get outside and help draw the walkers away?
- Ron with a gun is not going to end well. He’s definitely going to get someone killed.