Review: Fear the Walking Dead S1E02 “So Close, Yet So Far”


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“I’m about to step into a world of shit. You know that, right?” — Nick Clark

[some spoilers]

Is watching a zombie apocalypse unfold during it’s early days something that fans of the original series, The Walking Dead, want to actually watch happen? That was probably the least important question asked by AMC producers when they were brainstorming about how to take advantage of the pop-culture phenomena they had in their hands with The Walking Dead. This was a show that consistently beat every show it went up against and even manages to surpass some Sunday Night Football games in viewership.

The show enjoys viewership ratings of every type of metric one can think of that only the biggest network shows today can pull. Yet, the question remained of whether a second series exploring the world that Robert Kirkman created in his Image Comics title of the same name would have a similar reaction from fans. If the numbers brought in by the pilot episode of Fear the Walking Dead would be of any indication then the answer was a resounding yes.

The pilot episode of this new series introduced viewers to a cast of characters that wouldn’t look out of place from any family drama on network tv, cable or even the big-screen. It’s a world focused on the densely-packed Los Angeles area with all it’s different neighborhoods from glitzy and glamorous Hollywood and Beverly Hills to it’s surrounding middle-class areas like East L.A. and Venice Beach. One could substitute any major American city as location and we’ll still be able to relate to the opening narrative beats of an apocalypse descending on an unprepared populace.

Witnessing a zombie apocalypse in it’s early stages has it’s drawbacks and for some fans it’s the lack of the very zombie mayhem which made the original series so “must-see” that has become this companion series’ own weak point. Yet, there’s a logic and reason to the lack of zombies. It is the early days and the lack of zombies doesn’t mean the show lacks in tension and dread-building moments.

As Madison Clark’s drug-addict son succinctly says during the second episode, and could mean for the rest of the cast in the show, they’re all about to step into a world of shit.

“So Close, Yet So Far” jumps into literally right after both Madison Clark and Travis Manawa sees the truth in Nick’s words about what he witnessed in the drug den during the pilot episode. Their disbelief still governs some of their rash decisions (like splitting up to find other family members), but it also gives them a leg up on some of their neighbors and most everyone of the Greater Los Angeles area. Outside of Travis and Madison we’re given glimpses of others like Tobias (Madison’s paranoid but well-informed student), a next door neighbor looking to stock up and flee the city right up to a cop on-duty stocking up on water supplies. The city and the surrounding seem oblivious to the hell about to land on everyone, but that primordial part of everyone’s brain the says something is wrong seem to be working more efficiently for some.

The episode finds both Madison and Travis and their respective families split up when it looks like the zombie apocalypse is finally hitting it’s stride. Police actions turn into riots as civilian bystanders witness cops shooting (many, many times) and killing who look like innocent homeless people. As an audience we know better and it’s that knowing the rules of the game while those in the series are still so uneducated to the changes in this world of theirs which gives Fear the Walking Dead a fresher look at Robert Kirkman’s world.

This advance knowledge of this new world’s rules make for both a exhilarating and frustrating show. We wait for when the rest of the cast catch up in how to deal with the zombie apocalypse, but we also worry that some characters may not get the time spent during this shortened first season to survive. Rick Grimes was the lone babe in the woods in The Walking Dead. His family, best friend and the other survivors he has met with since he awoke from his coma already knew the basics on how to survive in this post-apocalyptic world. Madison, Travis, Nick, Alicia and the rest do not have the luxury of knowing what’s happening. They’ve seen examples of what’s coming, but they’re still dealing with it as if it’s your typical natural disaster. That everything will sort itself out in the end.

Tobias, our on-screen oracle, knows better and in just two episodes have become the audience’s proxy for a series cast full of babes in the woods. His very insular nature of spending way too much time on-line has given him an insight to this current calamity that everyone else around him seem oblivious and/or not extremely worried about. Whether Tobias survives the season has been left up in the air and with 4 episodes left in this inaugural season there’s not much time to dwell on who will live or who will die.

As we saw with Madison stopping Alicia from running out of the house to help a neighbor being attacked by another neighbor (the same one Travis saw earlier that day planning to get out of the city but already sick and infected) zombified, some have begun to worry about just protecting those closest to them and leaving the rest to fend for themselves.

Fear the Walking Dead has navigated a narrative that could get frustratingly old and stale with some great character work from it’s cast. Yes, even the annoying way the teenage children of the two leads have been written. The series has chosen to focus on the lives of your typical American family of the 21st century and that includes the annoyances and warts of parents and children.

Will fans continue to tune in without the zombies showing up more often? That will depend on whether show’s writers slows things down just as the apocalypse is hitting or just press the pedal to the floor and ride the zombie apocalypse wave and hope it lands with a bang instead of a whimper.

Notes

  • Tonight’s episode was written by Marco Ramirez and directed by Adam Davidson.
  • The episode’s cold opening of the high school principal walking the grounds of an empty high school made for an eerie sequence.
  • While it seems like instances of zombie attacks have been concentrated in the more densely populated city area of LA, we still saw some signs of it hitting the outer areas like East LA. Alicia’s boyfriend Matt being one on the way to turning.
  • Interesting way for the writers to incorporate the current climate of distrust the public have with law enforcement into the series with civilians protesting then rioting over cops shooting what they think were innocent people. Audiences know better and we see how this civil disturbance look like it’s adding to the chaos that helps the zombie apocalypse take a foothold in the city.
  • Always nice to see Ruben Blades on-screen.

Season 1

Review: The Walking Dead S5E16 “Conquer”


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“Simply put, there is a vast ocean of shit that you people don’t know shit about.” — Sgt. Abraham Ford

[spoilers within]

The Walking Dead has been derided as badly-written (early seasons definitely had it’s story issues) with recycled themes and subplots with characters that barely rise above one-dimensional. Only the most ardent fan would take those criticisms of the show and dismiss them outright. The series has had it’s many flaws and the three mentioned have been ones earned through the show’s first three seasons of revolving door showrunners.

There was the show’s original creator, Frank Darabont, who injected a cinematic quality to a tv show that could easily have gone campy (Z Nation), but whose need to control every aspect of the show made him lose the support of the very studio that helped him get the show up and running. It didn’t help that his first half of season 2 where the group searched endlessly for Sophia almost sunk the show.

With Darabont given his walking papers the show turned to series writer and producer Glen Mazzara to right the ship after a listless first half of season 2. Things definitely turned for the better with Mazzara in charge and for the first half of season 3 it looked like Mazzara might have finally figured out what sort of show The Walking Dead should be. In the end, he too ran out of steam as season 3 limped into an underwhelming season finale.

Scott M. Gimple took the reins and things for the show has been improving at a steady rate since season 4 and finally culminates in a season 5 finale that was both full of suspense, action and melodrama in equal amounts that has been the mark of his current tenure as series showrunner. If the show has an award for series MVP it should be handed gladly over to Scott M. Gimple.

“Conquer” starts with a cold opening that already signals that great things are afoot for the rest of the season finale’s extended 90-minutes. We find Morgan asleep (quite peacefully) inside a derelict car in the middle of the woods. We see him wake up and go about what’s probably a daily ritual for him when his breakfast gets interrupted by a stranger who happens to be sporting a “W” mark on his forehead (with dirt instead of carved into). He’s the first person we meet who seems to be affiliated with the very Wolves this second half of the season has been working up as the next Big Bad to threaten Rick and his people. It’s a sequence that gives us a clue as to the sort of bad guys these “Wolves” are going to be for Rick and Company. With some fancy staff fighting and a zen quality to his actions, Morgan more than holds off the two “Wolves” looking to steal his gear and add them to their collection of “W” marked zombies.

The rest of the episode takes on three different storylines involving Rick, Father Gabriel and Glenn.

With Glenn we see him follow Nicholas seen climbing over the walls of Alexandria. While not the most smart thing he has done of late, Glenn has a right to be suspicious of Nicholas who has done nothing but get people (both his own and Rick’s) killed while pumping himself out to be a strong protector when Glenn and the audience know that he’s far from it. It’s a sort of chase sequence as Glenn and Nicholas end up going at it mano-y-mano with Nicholas starting it off with a failed ambush that only wounds Glenn, but does hurt him enough that at times during the episode there was a great chance it was going to be him that would be the significant death to mark the season finale.

The writers (Scott M. Gimple and Seth Hoffman) don’t do the obvious and kill Glenn off, but does make him teeter on the brink of doing what many in the audience hope would happen and that was kill Nicholas once he finally had him beaten down. Instead, Glenn shows that despite his extended time out in the savage wilds outside the walls of Alexandria, he still has some compassion (misguided it might well turn out to be) and the need to see justice done. While Glenn might not have died in this finale his growing role as the voice of reason and compassion in a group that’s become fractured emotionally and mentally means his days on the series could very well be numbered.

Father Gabriel was the more frustrating segment of tonight’s finale. His time with the group has found him to be both naively stupid of the new world around him and mentally unstable because of what he had to do to survive. Yet, we find him talking a walk outside the walls in a bright, clean white shirt like he has cleansed himself prior to make sure he dies with a clean conscience. Instead, the instance a zombie was about to do what he seems to want he finally decides to want to live. But then does another 180 degrees and decides to leave the compound’s gate unsecured knowing it means zombies will definitely wander in.

The writers don’t seem to know what to do with Father Gabriel. From the moment he was introduced they seem to be flailing in the dark with so many ideas on how to treat an unstable man whose faith has been shattered by this new world where the dead don’t remain dead and those who survive must turn to their darker instincts (him included). One moment he’s trying to poison the minds of Deanna about Rick and his people while not confessing to the dark deeds he has done. Next he’s trying to atone for those very sins only to turn around and do something that would add more sins to his ledger.

It’s a shame that Father Gabriel has become such an albatross this season for the show since Seth Gilliam is such a great actor (as his time on HBO’s The Wire has shown). There’s still a glimmer of hope for the fallen priest as we saw when Maggie arrives just in time to keep Sasha from killing Father Gabriel. Will Maggie’s own Hershel-like act of mercy be enough to finally turn Father Gabriel towards something more concrete (whether as a good guy or a bad guy) would have to wait for season 6 this coming October.

We finally come to Rick who is in a sort of timeout after his total breakdown in the previous episode. He finally understands that he might have gone a bit Shane-like and overboard with his behavior, but he also still believes that Alexandria’s best chance of surviving beyond the luck they’ve had before their arrival was for them to stay and takeover. Whether they take over by the examples of their words and deeds or through force if the Alexandrians try to kick them out would depend on the very people who don’t seem to understand what’s truly at stake.

Rick gets a sort of visit from all the differing voices within his group. There’s Glenn and Michonne who wonder if Rick never wanted for their stay in Alexandria to work. Then there’s Carol and, to a certain extent Abraham, who has seen enough of how Alexandria operates to know that these people are like children who have had the luxury of never having been confronted with a no-win situation to wake them up from their fantasy of trying to rebuild civilization. It’s the sort of angel and devil on the shoulder bit that could’ve gone terribly cheesy, but ended up being natural and poignant to the episode’s narrative. A narrative that showed how both Rick and Deanna have been both wrong and right in their stances of how Alexandria should be led.

It would take a death to someone Deanna holds dear for her to finally understand what Rick and his people have bee trying to tell her and the rest of the Alexandrians. Abraham (who has become the show’s go-to-guy for memorable one-liners) said it best himself during the night meeting to decide Rick’s fate. In the only way Abraham knows how he says, “Simply put, there is a vast ocean of shit that you people don’t know shit about.”

In the end, Abraham was correct in that the Alexandrians just do not understand the world they’re living in. They might have the strong walls (not so strong that people can’t climb over them) to keep the zombies out. They have power and running water and some luxuries of the life long past dead. Yet, they’re naive and delusional to think that they won’t have to get their hands dirty to keep their way of life going. These people need people like Rick Grimes and his band of survivors. They might not be the best examples of how society and civilization was before the zombie apocalypse fell on everyone, but they were the ones who best adapted to it and still kept a semblance of their humanity in some way.

So, season 5 ended with not just Rick using a brand of reasoning and a recent example of how things could easily go from good to bad to make his point, but with Daryl and Aaron bringing Morgan back to Alexandria for a reunion between the first two characters we met on this show. Last time we saw Rick and Morgan together was in season 3’s “Clear” and Morgan was definitely not in his right mind while Rick was still holding onto his pre-apocalypse principles. with their latest reunion it looks like things have reversed with Rick looking more and more like the Morgan of “Clear” while Morgan has recovered from his crisis of conscience to come out the other side clear of mind.

We already know that there will be a season 6 and a season after that (AMC knows a goldmine when they see it and this show is literally printing them cash). The questions left unanswered by tonight’s finale looks to be the driving force for the next season. The Wolves now have an idea that Alexandria exists (from the knapsack full of pictures Aaron dropped at the canned food warehouse depot) and will probably try to visit them soon. Then there’s the question of how will Glenn finally expose Nicholas’ cowardice and duplicity to the Alexandrians and whether Nicholas will remain a problem for Glenn moving forward. The biggest question remains on whether these Wolves will involve Negan of the comics in some capacity or just the tip of a bigger danger.

The season closes with a very appropriate scene before fading to black. A car in the canned food depot marked in stark white spray paint with the words: “Wolves Not Far.”

Notes

  • Tonight’s season finale was directed by series exec. producer Greg Nicotero and written by showrunner Scott M. Gimple and series writer Seth Hoffman.
  • The Wolves seem to be a new group made just for the show. They don’t seem to correspond to any past group that the comic book has had Rick encounter and/or fight against.
  • The trailers trap full of zombies with the “W” marks on their foreheads was reminiscent of a similar scene and trap from Resident Evil: Extinction.
  • Aaron had his own moment during the escape out of the car that was straight out of the original Dawn of the Dead. machetezombie
  • Kill of the season has to be when Daryl took the chain, whipped it around his head to take the top of the heads of three zombies with precision. that’s kill of the week stuff that even Zombieland would be proud of.
  • When Father Gabriel fails to secure the main gate and then his subsequent behavior and confession to Maggie at the chapel was also reminiscent of a character from a George A. Romero zombie film: Day of The Dead. When Pvt. Salazar decides to commit suicide by letting in zombies into the secured compound.
  • Lennie James was trained to use a walking/fighting stick by the original Donatello from the first Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.
  • The scene at the meeting where Pete accidentally kills Reg and the aftermath was straight out of the comic book frame for frame.
  • Talking Dead guests tonight are Morgan, Carol and Daryl (Lennie James, Melissa McBride and Norman Reedus) from The Walking Dead.

Season 5

Review: The Walking Dead S5E15 “Try”


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“It’s their world, we’re just living in it.” — Enid

[spoilers within]

Tonight’s episode of The Walking Dead marks the penultimate one for the show’s fifth season. It has been a season that’s seen the series remain on a consistent high. It still had some episodes which fell a bit flat, but overall season 5 has been the show’s best and delivered on showrunner Scott M. Gimple’s promise to keep the story moving forward.

The episode begins with a cold opening that shows the aftermath of the deadly supply run to the solar factory warehouse in the previous episode. We have to stories being told. There’s Glenn still haunted by having to witness Noah’s death by zombies very up close and personal. We see him tell Rick about how he and the others made a mistake and how it led to the deaths of Aidan and Noah. He feels responsible and hopes that it doesn’t ruin their chance in making the Alexandria experiment work. He still believes in the concept that is the ASZ (Alexandria Safe-Zone) and even Noah’s death doesn’t budge him from that belief. Rick, on the other hand, only sees danger and trouble when it comes to the ineptitude of the Alexandrians. His fears and doubts about whether the Alexandrians can pull their weight when it comes to keeping everyone safe has been confirmed.

Deanna, on the other hand, hears a different tale from Nicholas. It’s a tale of how it was he who tried to save Aidan and not leave him behind. It was Glenn who distracted and caused the death of Aidan and whose bloodthirsty attitude got Noah killed. Nicholas spoke about how he would never leave Aidan, his friend, behind and even included newcomer Tara as someone he tried to save. There’s some hints that Deanna has a sense that Nicholas wasn’t telling her the truth of what happened, but we don’t get to hear her voice out these doubts.

“Try” is a very appropriate title for tonight’s episode. We see several characters attempt to try and find a way to make the combination of Rick’s people and the Alexandrians co-exists together peacefully. Glenn, despite what some of these Alexandrians have done, still believes that they need to make Alexandria work. It’s their last chance to go beyond just existing and surviving but actually living life. He’s become the show’s moral compass (hopefully not a death sentence) now that Hershel and Tyreese are gone. Yet, unlike the previous moral compasses in the show, Glenn does understand that sometimes pragmatism must rule the day above all else. He just believes that Alexandria needs a chance to survive the growing pains of their group’s arrival.

Another of Rick’s people trying to make it work is Michonne. She’s had her time in exile in the wilds of this new and dangerous world. Her survival to this point has been in part due to those solitary months on her own with only herself to keep safe. Yet, she has also found out that being alone was a detriment to her psyche’s well-being and finding Rick and his people was what ultimately saved her not just from the zombies but from her own self-destructive ways.

She sees what’s happening with Sasha. A friend and fellow survivor deep in the midst of PTSD who has lost so much in such a short period of time that she hasn’t had the chance to take in and accept those losses let alone mourn them. Michonne understands what Sasha is going through but also realizes that they need her for what’s to come. Michonne wants to make Alexandria work and instability brought on by Sasha’s death wish and Rick’s inability to trust the Alexandrians will only make that prospect harder to achieve.

It is no surprise that the episode ends with Michonne taking control of a situation brought on by Rick’s blunt force behavior in trying to convince the Alexandrians that the way they were doing things were not going to work going forward. Michonne’s belief in the Alexandrians’ survival skills might mirror Rick’s own thoughts on the matter, but where Rick wants a confrontation to be the catalyst of change she seems more than willing to lead by example.

On the other side of things are Rick and Deanna looking to be at loggerheads about what’s truly best of Alexandria. It’s easy to take Rick’s side that the way Deanna and the rest of the Alexandrians have been doing things were just not going to cut it in this new world. It’s a world that Rick and his people have experienced first-hand and lost people along the way, but in the end have survived all it has thrown at them. Deanna, on the other hand, still believes in the rule of law and order, civilization over anarchy. She doesn’t believe in killing those who could be a danger to the ASZ (like Peter who also happens to be the lone physician and surgeon), but instead would rather exile them out into the wilds.

It’s a way of doing things that Rick sees as another way of putting the ASZ in danger. Deanna doesn’t think so and this clashing of philosophies on how things should be done looks to be one that’s heading into a confrontation that puts everyone in danger. Neither side seem willing to try and compromise and find a way to make the two groups con-exist. No attempt to allow the Alexandrians to learn from what Rick and his people could teach them to be better survivors. No attempt from Rick and those who believe him to adjust to this new life. A life that they see as a danger in itself. They see Alexandria’s walls as something that could make them soft and distract them from surviving.

So, we have the extended season finale next week and the question of whether Rick is too far gone to stay in Alexandria will be one of the questions that need answering. Will the group have to suffer through another loss of one of their own for the Alexandrians to finally realize that their survival before Rick and his people arrived have been through blind luck not through the civilizing rule of Deanna? Will Rick and the others just leave Alexandria or will the group finally splinter-off from those wanting to try and make it work and those unable to?

Then there are those zombies with the “W” cut into their foreheads looking to crash the party.

Notes

  • Tonight’s episode of The Walking Dead, “Try”, was directed by Michael E. Satrazemis and written by series veteran Angela Kang.
  • “Keep walking” has become Rick’s version of Carol’s “look at the flowers”. Pete should’ve been sprinting away the moment Rick uttered those wordsa at him with those Rick dead-eyes.
  • Nine Inch Nails’ “Somewhat Damaged” plays during the episodes cold opening and was a nice reminder that both groupsm Rick’s and the Alexandrians, have been damaged in some fashion since the start of the zombie apocalypse.
  • Still wondering how Nicholas knew about the Glock Rick hid in the blender out in the woods (Nicholas was in the ASZ when Rick and the group arrived). Is there someone outside the walls that told Nicholas of the hidden pistol?
  • Talking Dead guests tonight are Yvette Nicole Brown (Community), series executive producer Gale Anne Hurd and Chandler Riggs (Carl Grimes of The Walking Dead)

Season 5

 

Review: The Walking Dead S5E14 “Spend”


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“We know what we’re doing. It’s why you wanted us here.” — Maggie Greene

[spoilers within]

Tonight’s episode of The Walking Dead was shaping up to be a sort of throwaway one. The series seems to have several of these each year. They’re episode that seem to just rehash past themes and ideas to help table set the season finale. Some of them have been good stand-alone ones while other have been some of the series’ low points. One couldn’t fault the writers to come up with another one. It’s become an almost ritual for the show to have low points in the series before peaking once again for the last two episodes of the season.

“Spend” wasn’t a throwaway episode and definitely not one of this season’s low points.

Let’s just start things by saying that tonight’s episode was directed by Jennifer Lynch (daughter of filmmaker David Lynch) and her fine touch with the darker aspects of show’s genre roots showed. It was definitely one of the darker episodes of the series to date. Right from the cold opening of the episode as we watch Father Gabriel having a moment of crisis as he steps into the chapel once again we get a feeling that this episode will not be happy one for everyone.

We get three particular storylines throughout the episode which at times made for some jarring scene changes. The main one focused on Glenn taking Tara, Eugene, Noah, Aiden and Nicholas on a supply run to help fix the ASZ’s (Alexandria Safe Zone) power grid of solar panels. One could be forgiven for thinking that the episode was going to be a ho-hum one as we get some major time with Eugene who wasn’t very happy being dragged along on this supply run outside of the ASZ’s walls. He admits more than once and of his own free will that he’s a coward through and through. Yet, by episode’s end we Eugene go through a harrowing crucible to find the courage that allowed him to survive this long. His own intellect and logic were major factors in him always picking the right group to stick with for the best chance of survival, but when he needed to finally step up and be more combat-inclined he passed with flying colors.

This was in contrast to what we’re starting to see with the Alexandrians as a whole. While not all cowardly, the people who have been living within the relatively safe confines of the ASZ’s walls have shown that they’re willing to abandon friends to the zombies if it meant saving their own life. We see this happen several times with tonight’s episode and in a couple of them we see the devastating result of the Alexandrians’ modus operandi.

This doesn’t sit well with Glenn who has grown from being the quiet, scout we met in the first season to a leader who still exhibits a sense of compassion in addition to the brutal, cold logic needed to survive in this zombie apocalypse. He sees the weak core underneath the smiling and civilized facade of the Alexandrians, but he also understand that in order for him, Maggie and the rest of his group to have a life beyond just mere day-to-day survival he needed to make sure that the ASZ and it’s people learned how to do things the right way.

Despite the violent altercation that he and Aiden (Deanna’s son) had just a couple episodes back, the two seem to be working towards a compromise in how things were to be done. But this being The Walking Dead, the prospect of Aiden learning from Glenn or any of the newcomers to the ASZ was cut short as his inexperience with the world outside of the ASZ’s walls led to his gruesome death (a situation brought on by Aiden’s own stupidity as he accidentally shot a grenade). A death that Glenn and Noah tried to prevent but just ran out of time.

The same thing happens just minutes later as we see Glenn, Noah and Nicholas (who left Aiden to die and as he admitted did to others as well in the past) finding themselves trapped in separate sections of a revolving door with zombies in the other side waiting for the inevitable. I’m one could see where this was heading with Nicholas abandoning the Glenn and Noah to save his own skin…again. Noah would end up drawing the short straw in tonight’s episode. A straw that saw him die even more horribly than Aiden and with Glenn just a few feet away witnessing the whole gory tableau.

We see, in a smaller scale, the same situation happen with Abraham as he joins the construction crew tasked with gathering the supplies to help strengthen and expand the walls of the ASZ. Once again it’s due to the inattention of the groups leader, Tobin, that the Alexandrian’s allow a sizable group of zombies to get close to them. It doesn’t help that Tobin himself ends up shooting the hydraulics on the lifter end of a bulldozer that dumps one of his own people in the middle of an encroaching group of zombies. He and the rest of the Alexandrians decide to haul ass and leave their friend behind, but not Abraham who rushes into the fire, so to speak, to try and make sure they don’t leave one behind.

Unlike Nicholas’ brand of cowardice, Tobin and the rest of the Alexandrians see Abraham’s courage and end up following suit. Tobin himself admits to Deanna and Reg Monroe that if it wasn’t for Abraham not doing things the Alexandrian Way (meaning run and hide when things get tough) then Francine (the one who fell off the dozer lifter) would have surely died. Abraham was the right person and leader to run the construction team and Tobin was man enough to admit to it.

It’s a situation that both Deanna and Reg don’t seem to like hearing. Rick and his people have just recently arrived and already seem to be putting themselves in leadership roles. Rick was one Deanna understood with his law enforcement background, but the fact that both Abraham and Glenn seem to exhibit similar leadership qualities that her own people seem to lack could be the sign that the ASZ might just get a change in how things are run and who runs them.

The third storyline continues the adventures of Rick and Carol as they try to navigate, in their own fashion, this fake Eden they’ve found themselves in. Carol finds herself being followed by Jessie’s youngest son Sam. It didn’t matter that Carol herself threatened Sam with kidnapping and death by zombies, he still kept her secret and only tagging along to have more of the cookies Carol made for him. We find, and Carol, find out in no uncertain way from Sam that his dad might very well be an abusive husband and father. This doesn’t sit well with Carol who has some first-hand experience with a family abuser. It doesn’t take much for her to figure this out. Carol doesn’t hesitate in making sure Rick finds out and her recommendation to Rick on how to deal with Pete shouldn’t surprise people who’ve seen Carol’s growth from battered housewife to all-around badass.

The whole Alexandria Safe Zone arc has been met with some trepidation by fans and critics. It’s another static location like Hershel’s farm and the Prison that led to some very wheel-spinning storytelling. It’s a reaction that’s understandable. Having a regular setting and not keeping the group on the move sometimes led to plotlines that stagnated. When on the move the stories being told in the show seem to have a sense of forward momentum. Even some of the weaker on-the-road stories felt like it had a quicker pace to them. This doesn’t seem to be the case with Alexandria.

The group hasn’t been wasting their time to spend wallowing in the existential problems brought about by the zombie apocalypse. They’ve actually done in their own individual way something to find out more about the ASZ and those who run and been kept safe behind it’s walls. Tonight we find out more of what makes the Alexandrians tick and it’s not a pretty sight. Gabriel might be trying to poison Deanna’s mind when it comes to Rick and the others. He wasn’t wrong when he said that Rick and his people were not good people. They have done some unspeakable things to survive. Yet, Maggie also understands some of Deanna’s own agenda for allowing Rick and his people to join the Alexandrians.

Rick, Glenn, Carol, Abraham, Daryl and others know what they’re doing. They’ve survived out in the wild for almost two years now and even after some devastating losses they still manage to persevere. Sure the group seem to be suffering through a collective form of PTSD, but they still know what it takes to survive and they seem able to do so without having to always fall back on their basest nature to do it.

Will this mean that Rick still doesn’t seem to covet his neighbor’s wife (Rick definitely channeling his inner Shane in the Alexandria story-arc)? Will Sasha ever leave her lookout tower ever and not go on a killing spree? Will Carol hold back from doing what’s necessary when it comes to the Alexandrians (meaning will she kill them all to save the others)?

These were questions that weren’t answered in tonight’s episode, but at least we’ve now been given some reasons why it wouldn’t be so bad if Rick and his people just took over the ASZ and ran things their way. There would certainly be less people dying for stupid reasons and everyone wouldn’t have just predetermined jobs the way Deanna likes things done, but all chipping in to protect with everything they’ve got including their own lives.

There’s a war brewing in the future and whether it’s between the Alexandrians and Rick’s people still needs to be determined. The Wolves are still out there and Noah knew it and wanted to make sure the walls never falls the way his own community walls fell while he was away. It’s a shame and a currency spent that he would never get to see his promise come true.

Notes

  • Tonight’s episode of The Walking Dead, “Spend”, was directed by Jennifer Lynch and written by series veteran Matthew Negrete.
  • Jennifer Lynch’s work as director with tonight’s episode was excellent and here’s to hoping she returns for future episodes for seasons to come.
  • Even in the zombie apocalypse there is still dubstep.
  • Carol seems to have gained herself a lost puppy in Jessie’s youngest son Sam.
  • When did Abraham suddenly become the catchphrase guy. He already gave birth to the catchphrases “dolphin smooth” and “Who’s DEANNA?!”. Tonight we get the best yet when he finds himself surrounded by zombies and all he can do is smile and utter “mother dick”.
  • The death scenes for both Aiden Monroe and Noah were reminiscent of a couple deaths in the end of Day of the Dead: Capt. Rhodes and Pvt. Torrez.
  • Some great work by Greg Nicotero (whose bday was tonight) and his KNB EFX make-up crew with the deaths of Aiden and Noah.
  • Talking Dead guests tonight are Josh McDermitt, Tyler James Williams and Steven Yeun (Eugene, Noah and Glenn of The Walking Dead)

Season 5

Review: The Walking Dead S5E13 “Forget”


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“Because you can tell the good guys from the bad guys.” — Aaron

[spoilers within]

Tonight’s episode of The Walking Dead saw Rick and his people continue to try and assimilate themselves within the safe confines of the Alexandria Safe-Zone. It’s a situation they’ve been hoping to find on their way to Washington, D.C., but also one that seems to have unnerved a good portion of the group when it falls into their lap.

“Forget” is a tough episode to sit through because it highlights both the show’s strength and also one of it’s recurring weaknesses. It’s a well-written episode by series writer Corey Reed with some fine direction from series director David Boyd, but at times the story-arc for certain characters landed with a thud instead of expanding on that character or moving the story forward.

Let’s go with the lowlights before moving onto the highlight of tonight’s episode.

We’ve known that the Alexandria Safe-Zone had time to build itself when the zombie outbreak began. We learn this from Deanna herself during her introduction in last week’s episode. Yet, something about how the writers have done to build-up ASZ (what I shall call Alexandria) as this well-protected haven from Aaron don’t seem to mesh with what they’ve shown on the show, so far. Maybe it’s a slow burn the writers are going for. Maybe we’ll find out how ASZ ultimately survived the lean years since civilization broke down. For now, there’s less a hidden, sinister agenda of how the ASZ has survived this long and more of it’s surprising and lucky they’ve lasted this long.

The next thud would be the story-line for Sasha herself. We see her during the episode’s cold opening unable to sleep in the house Rick had claimed as his. Pictures of it’s previous owners seem to gaze down at her. We later see her venture outside the walls of the ASZ to practice some shooting with those same family portraits as targets. Her behaviors borders on reckless and suicidal. It’s hard to judge the character for this considering she’s lost both her lover and her older brother right after each other. Traumatic experiences will do that to a person, yet when it happens to Sasha it’s hard to sympathize with her. It’s not that she’s a bad person. She just seems to be a badly-written character who doesn’t have her own voice with Bob and Tyreese now gone from the group.

We get description of what sort of character she is from other’s describing her to strangers. Tonight we find out from Maggie that she’s the group’s best shot, but we never really see this skill develop. The rest of the group we find in some way or another how they got to where they are in regards to their skills. With Sasha one day she’s someone who leaned on her older brother for protection then next she’s suddenly the next reincarnation of Annie Oakley.

It’s a weakness in the show’s way of handling such a huge cast of characters. They get rid of characters who were interesting or becoming one, but keeping characters who remain relatively unknowns to the audience. It’s as if the writers can’t find a way to make Sasha become an interesting character without having to repeat themselves in turning her into one (Carol, Maggie and Beth being three who improved over time).

So, while Sasha’s suicidal tendencies could be chalked up to her growing PTSD due to the experiences she has had to deal with recently it’s impact on the story seems to be minimal. It’s not that we as an audience don’t care it’s just that we don’t know Sasha well enough to bother to even care.

That’s not the same when it comes to Rick, Carol and Daryl. These three have begun to form a new sort of triumvirate leadership group. Everyone who has come this far with Rick are survivors in their own right, but it’s these three who have come farthest within the group. They’ve grown from who they’ve were when we first met them. We first met them as the lawman, the housewife and the rebel. They’ve outgrown those initial labels and become complex characters who harbor both positive and negative qualities. They’re not black and white in their behaviors anymore. It’s because of their character growth (most seems to be once Scott M. Gimple took over as headwriter and showrunner) that we’ve come to care what happens to them.

With Carol we see nothing left of the mousy and battered housewife who couldn’t defend herself until pretty much everything had been taken from her. She had gone from victim to survivor in order to never be dependent on others and to protect her new found family. While she has employed a cold logic to how she must survive and protect her people she does seem to be the one in the group who has adjusted best in this new world. She’s able to be the one willing to do the dirty work if it means keeping her group alive another day. Her threat towards Jessie’s young son, Sam, was both hilarious and chilling. Never could we have seen Carol from season 1 through 3 threaten a young boy of death by being zombie bait in order to keep her duplicitous behavior from being outed to the rest of the ASZ community.

There’s Daryl, the rebel loner we first me in season 1, whose lone wolf behavior has become tempered by his realization that he needs Rick and the others to keep himself human and sane. He doesn’t need them as a crutch, but instead sees in them the family he never had growing up and for being the redemption for his past failings. Yes, he still remains sort of an outsider maneuvering his way through the new dynamics that ASZ opened up, but his interaction with Aaron (another one who feels like an outsider despite being a longstanding member of the ASZ community) shows that he’s grown away from his intolerant beginnings in the show and sees in Aaron a kindred spirit. The fact that he’s aired some doubts about their original plan to takeover the ASZ community if they deem it necessary shows that Daryl may still be a badass but he also understands that making something like ASZ work in the end would be to the group’s benefit in the long run.

Then we have Rick. The lawman and father whose personal beliefs and principles have become the fulcrum by which the show has explored varying themes throughout it’s five season on the air. We’ve seen Rick the reluctant leader in the first two season. Finding and protecting his family had been his only concern during those initial seasons, but betrayal and the knowledge that there was no cure for the zombie pandemic unleashed the Ricktatorship which led the group to becoming the hardcore survivalist they’ve become. Yet, even this version of Rick made mistakes that cost him those closest to him. He’s tried to be less a leader and more a provider. We call this Farmer Rick, but we knew it was going to be a temporary reprieve from what we’ve wanted Rick to become and that’s accept his role as leader and take ownership of that role with all the good it brings and all the bad it brings out.

We see Rick take to this role with such a focus that he teeters on the brink of becoming the very thing he despised when he saw the Governor. This Rick is willing to depose those in the ASZ community leadership group if he thought they couldn’t hack it when times got rough. This Rick sees danger everywhere and plans several steps ahead even when we as an audience sees it as a sort of madness creeping to latch onto Rick’s psyche. This Rick seems willing to take what he wants when he wants it even if it means contemplating murder. This is a Rick that seems to be exhibiting the worst qualities of the leaders of three groups who have fallen into the abyss: the Governor, Joe of the Claimers and Gareth of Terminus.

While Rick has learned to become a better leader of the group from having Hershel and Tyreese as his moral compass, they seem to have been pushed to the back of Rick’s mind by the ghosts of the Governor, Joe and Gareth. These three showed Rick that surviving at any cost was the only currency left in this new world. It was all about protecting what was his and that was Carl, Judith and the rest of his group. The people of the ASZ community were strangers to him who he felt were ill-equipped to survive in this new world. He even mentions to Carol and Daryl that this community was lucky to have them as new member because only they could protect them from the bad people beyond the walls. It doesn’t dawn on Rick that he was now acting and behaving in some fashion like those very bad people he warned Deanna about.

“Forget” could easily have become one of the best episodes of the season if it concentrated more on this triumvirate of Rick, Carol and Daryl and just jettisoned the Sasha plotline. Yet, despite Sasha’s role in tonight’s episode we still got a strong foundation on what could be the role of the Power Three for the final three episodes of season 5. Will Carol and Daryl follow Rick if he ever goes too far? We have three more episodes left to find out.

Notes

  • Tonight’s episode of The Walking Dead, “Forget”, was directed by David Boyd and written by series writer Corey Reed.
  • Carol had herself some a breaking Bad moment when she confronted Sam, Jessie’s youngest boy, after he saw her taking guns from the armory. Some have said that her “speech” to Sam was reminiscent of Walt’s “I’m the one who knocks” speech.
  • Deanna’s husband is named Reg. In the comics, Douglas (Deanna in the show) has a wife named Reggie. The show also added Aiden as a second son. We met the other son, Spencer, in tonight’s episode.
  • Interesting choice of a song to end the episode on…Spicks and Specks by the Bee Gees.
  • The shippers of Rick and Michonne seem to have gone insane since they’ve gone on a social media rampage against the actor Alexandra Breckinridge who plays Rick’s potential paramour Jessie in the show.
  • Talking Dead guests tonight are Kevin Smith (writer/director), Ross Marquand (Aaron from The Walking Dead) and Alexandra Breckinridge (Jessie from The Walking Dead)


Season 5

Review: The Walking Dead S5E12 “Remember”


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“We’re almost out there too long.” — Glenn Rhee

[spoilers within]

Can a group of people who have survived through the most dangerous situations ever remember to return to some form of normalcy? Can they ever accept such an offer and not feel out of place?

Tonight’s episode of The Walking Dead brings up this question as we finally see the group enter the fortified walls of the Alexandria Community. Rick and his people have been on the road for as long as they’ve found themselves a safe haven to call home since the zombie apocalypse began. They’ve lost many along this journey through attrition, carelessness and betrayal. This is a group that has lived every day in a constant state of war. It’s something that the people of Alexandria seem to be very short in.

There’s an almost comical difference in how Rick’s unwashed, hardened survivors when compared to the people of Alexandria who seem to have been able to weather much of the storm that the apocalypse has rained down upon the world. They’ve been able to have constant running water, electricity and an abundance of food. They also have walls which seem to be designed to maximize protection from both zombies and raiders alike. It’s the gated community for the apocalypse and it’s current inhabitants either put too much faith in what has kept them safe and alive or playing at being badass survivors when we as an audience can see the opposite.

Alexandria is not like Woodbury where just enough of what was past was brought back to keep people happy. It’s not like Terminus which became corrupted once the dangers outside the walls entered. This is a community that seems like paradise and willing to give Rick and his people a chance to fit in and contribute. It’s the hope they’ve been searching for since they left the prison. A place that has a chance to sustain not just everyone physically but mentally and spiritually.

Yet, we also see that Rick and his people still have their guard up despite it all. Like pets who have gone feral, Rick and his people want to accept this hopeful situation as genuine, but also aware that when things look to be too good to be true then it probably is. They search for a hidden agenda in what Alexandria’s leader, former Ohio Senator Deanna Monroe, has for taking them in when she has admitted to Rick herself that his group was the first large group of outsiders they’ve deemed worthy enough to invite in.

Characters like Carol, Daryl and Glenn seem to share Rick’s doubts about this new safe haven in one way or another. With Daryl we see him become even more outward with his belligerence towards the strangers in their midst. There’s nothing hidden about how Daryl feels, but he’s willing to go along with things while Rick and Carol play along. With Glenn he wants this opportunity to finally get off the road and settle down to work, but we can see that he’s already waiting for that hidden agenda to reveal itself as another betrayal.

Outside of Rick it’s Carol who seems to be looking to play the long game with Deanna and her people. We see how Carol begins to act like her former self from all the way back in season 1. Melissa McBride’s performance during tonight’s episode shows why she has become one of the stalwarts in this huge cast. One second she’s the observant, veteran killer looking for the danger she knows is just waiting for them. Then next moment she’s the clumsy, mousy and battered housewife we first saw in season 1 and 2. She understands that this place can be a good place for them, but once again willing to be the one to do the dirty work to protect her new family when the time comes.

Tonight’s episode was all about Rick Grimes and whether he’s able to remember how things were suppose to be for him and his family when they had something good going in their prison community. Since they fled that sanctuary’s destruction Rick has been going through several moments of crisis that just chip away at the Officer Friendly that we first met in season 1. The bigger and more unkempt his beard got the more Rick steeled himself form the dangers that strangers posed for him and his group.

There’s a moment when he’s being interviewed and videotaped by Deanna that showed Rick’s two side at war with each other. The Rick of the road was ready to strike at the possible dangers around him. Unable to sit still and even uncomfortable to be sitting in a nice sofa chair. This is the Rick that has learned what deprivation and constant danger means and lived through everything this new world threw at him. Yet, we also saw the Officer Friendly of those early seasons wanting to accept this offer of hope and renewal. Even the act of shaving off the beard was a powerful symbol of Rick trying to shed some of the mistrust and paranoia he’d acquired since leaving the prison.

The Walking Dead will always have it’s great moments of zombie gore and action. It’s the show’s bread and butter, but when the show’s writers decide it’s time to lay down the seeds for a much longer game the show under current showrunner Scott M. Gimple seem to have gotten better. Not much zombies or action, but the episode still was full of tension as we’ve all come to expect that other shoe to drop and when it does it comes from a surprising source.

Will Rick and his people remember what it was to be able to trust others again? Will Rick be able to get back to that balancing act of being both pragmatic and compassionate when it comes to being leader of his group? Or are Rick and the group too far gone to remember what made them decent people even when the apocalypse landed in their laps.

Notes

  • Tonight’s episode of The Walking Dead, “Remember”, was directed by series producer Greg Nicotero and written by series writer Channing Powell.
  • It looks like Law & Order‘s own Danielle Melnick (Tovah Feldshuh) will be the leader of the Alexandria Community.
  • In the comics the leader of Alexandria was also a senator but was a man named Douglas.
  • Alexandra Breckinride has gone ditched the red locks of her American Horror Story character and gone blonde as Jessie of the Alexandria Community.
  • Deanna’s son Aiden, a former lieutenant in the ROTC (snicker), does not deserve the rifle he was carrying when he took Glenn, Tara and Noah our for a dry run outside the walls of the Alexandria community. I think that SCAR-L should be given to someone who can use it better like Glenn or Carl or Abraham.
  • I do believe that was Scott Ian of Anthrax playing the zombie that Carl killed with the steel pole.
  • Talking Dead guests tonight are Timothy Simons (Veep) and Alanna Masterson (Tara of The Walking Dead) and Denise Huth (series producer)

Season 5

Review: The Walking Dead S5E11 “The Distance”


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“The fight it turns on you. You have to let it go.” — Michonne

[spoilers within]

Just when there’s been a sliver of doubt that the show has lost some steam because of last week’s episode which some have called a throwaway due to little to no action. When people say this it means the show barely has the so-called zombie action it has become known for. A show titled The Walking Dead always goes back to surviving the zombies around Rick and his people. Yet, the show needs to take the sort of breather that last week’s “Them” provided not just the characters but the audience.

Tonight’s episode looks to be the start of a new story-arc that mirrors a similar event in the comic book. The group has a journey where food and water has become scarce. A night trapped in a barn with zombies about to break through and hurricane winds and rain just outside. These people are true survivors. Rick’s leadership (questionable at times) have seen the group through the Governor and Woodbury, a viral outbreak, fall of the prison, Terminus and right up to Gareth and his Hunters. All these events have culled some of the more soft-hearted members of the team and just about left nothing of the group but the hard inner core.

They remain good people trying desperately to hold onto the humanity and compassion, but all the things they’ve gone through has begun to affect them in so many ways. Tonight we see how the burden of leadership and seeing how their trust has been betrayed over and over when it comes to strangers has begun to weigh on Rick. He sees how being on the road has weakened his people as water and food run low, but trust seems to be leaving him when it comes to those he sees as not his people.

Tonight we see Rick’s mistrust of Aaron (introduced as the mysterious “friend” who left the group bottles of water on the road) and his promise of a safe community reach paranoia level. The rest of the group have their own levels of doubt about Aaron, but willing to entertain the prospect of getting off the road and be somewhere safe even if just temporary. Rick doesn’t see it that way. What he sees when he looks at Aaron and listens to his words of safety and community are the same things the Governor and the Terminus radio message had promised in the past. His defense mechanism has become so pervasive in how he deals with the unknown that he’s lost sight of how this world needs pragmatism over anything else if one was to survive.

Michonne and others in the group understand that Aaron’s offer could be a trap and another Terminus, but they’ve become such pragmatists in this hellish new world that before they dismiss the offer as a danger they need to find out more. They see this offer as a way out of the road. A solution to the emotional toll their nomadic life has taken on them. Yet, Rick focuses on seeing this new development as just another trap that he needs to stop before it gets sprung.

The whole episode we see Rick’s mindset get questioned by not just Michonne, but others such as Glenn, Maggie and, to a certain degree, even Daryl knows that they need a viable and safe place to hold up. A barn that is stinking of horseshit would not do. Rick would back off his initial orders to take the fight to these new mysterious “benefactors” but we could see in his eyes and behavior that the others might be willing to give Aaron a sliver of trust but he won’t.

It takes some words of wisdom from Michonne herself who has noticed that Rick has begun to slide into a state of nihilistic behavior. She knows exactly how Rick feels. She herself was were Rick was when she first showed up to save Andrea all the way back in season 3 and when she first meets up with Rick at the prison. Rick has become so focused on his anger at all the people they’ve lost because of the “bad people” they’ve encountered that he doesn’t seem willing to want to trust anyone outside of those he already has. He has begun to let nothing but anger, distrust and paranoia dictate his decisions instead of letting his emotions tempered by pragmatism rule the day.

Will Rick give up the fight and allow himself to return to being the compassionate leader he was when this all began? Or has the Governor, Joe and Gareth worn his principles down to the point that he cannot go back to being that compassionate leader?

This season has been a gauntlet for the group. Rick might not have loss anyone like Carl or Judith, but as their leader every loss weighs on him and distances him from everyone. One could almost wonder if this was how the Governor, Joe and Gareth turned. Were they good people who were suddenly forced to kill and kill more people just stay alive. It will be interesting to see whether Rick joins those three or will he bring himself back from the brink.

The Walking Dead will always have it’s dosage of gore and zombie action. It will have it’s level of soap opera moments. This is a show that has begun to accept the fact that it will not be on the level of Game of Thrones or it’s stable mates like Breaking Bad or Mad Men. It has gradually embraced it’s very pulpiness and horror roots. For some people it’s way too late, but for those who have stuck around and gone the distance with this show then it looks like there’s hope yet both in new stories to come and how it’s writers have finally gotten what it’s all about.

Notes

  • Tonight’s episode of The Walking Dead, “The Distance”, was directed by Larysa Kondracki and written by Seth Hoffman.
  • According to some little details revealed in this episode Aaron has been tracking and observing Rick and the group for over two weeks now.
  • The sequence at night with Rick, Glenn, Michonne and Aaron driving down route 23 and suddenly running into a road full of zombies was one of the highlight’s for the show tonight.
  • Glad to have the Winnie back even though it’s a different one and not Dale’s.
  • Nice throwback to the show’s early days when Glenn showed Abraham that they had nothing to worry about the Winnie’s dead battery since they had an easy spare to use.
  • Talking Dead guests tonight are the series’ own Dania Gurira aka Michonne and film director and writer Paul Feig.

Season 5