TV Review: The Walking Dead 7.16 “The First Day Of The Rest Of Your Life” (dir by Greg Nicotero)


(SPOILERS, OF COURSE)

I will be the first admit that I’ve been very critical of season 7 of The Walking Dead.  I’ve spent weeks complaining about the pace of the story and episodes that didn’t seem to go anywhere.  I have been very open about my frustration with the one-dimensional villainy of Negan and my feeling that Rick Grimes is an incredibly overrated hero.  I don’t take any of that back.

But you know what?

The seventh season finale of The Walking Dead was pretty damn good.  Don’t get me wrong.  It wasn’t great.  There were still pacing problems.  There was still way too much time spent on Negan chuckling before launching into one of his marathon monologues.  I would have preferred that, instead of ending with Negan announcing, “We are going to war!,” that the episode had ended with the war already over and Negan vanquished.

But, even with all that in mind, The First Day Of The Rest Of Your Life was a well-executed finale and it went a long way towards making up for some season seven’s weaker moments.

At first, it didn’t seem like that would be the case.  When the show started with Sasha in what appeared to be a cell, I will admit to rolling my eyes a little.  “Please, God, no more cell monologues,” I thought as Negan popped into her cell and proceeded to give a monologue.  Now that I know that Sasha was in the process of committing suicide, her scenes with Abraham and Maggie are undeniably poignant.  But, at the time that I was first watching them, I have to admit that my first thought was that Abraham was getting more dialogue now that he was dead than he ever did while he was alive.  When Abraham said that Maggie was carrying the future in her, I thought to myself, “She’s been carrying the future for two years.  Is that baby ever going to be born?”

And, when Dwight told Rick that he had a plan and Rick asked to hear it, the only thing that kept me from throwing a shoe at the TV was that I wasn’t wearing any.  “Rick doesn’t have a plan!?” I snapped, “All this time and he hasn’t come up with a plan!?  No wonder Carl’s always looking for a new father figure!”

And then, finally, when the Scavengers revealed that they had been working with the Saviors all the time, I chalked it up to another case of Rick not being the strategic genius that everyone always seems to assume that he is.  As Rick stood there with guns pointed at him, I mentally prepared myself for the task of having to sit through yet another Negan monologue.

At the time, I didn’t realize how skillfully The Walking Dead was toying with me and my expectations.  In retrospect, I can see how perfectly the show played me.  Of course, I would be frustrated with Rick.  And, of course, I would be dreading the idea of another Negan speech.  And, just when I was on the verge of giving up, the show gave us…

ZOMBIE SASHA!

The moment that Zombie Sasha burst out of that coffin is destined to be remembered as the 2nd greatest moment in the history of season 7.  This was the only time that I can think of that anyone on the show made a deliberate decision to use zombiefication to turn themselves into a weapon.  I’m going to assume that Eugene secretly slipped her some poison before she got in the coffin.  It was too bad that Sasha had to die but, if you have to die, die with style.  At least this is one death that Rick wasn’t indirectly responsible for.  The blame for this one can be put on Rosita.

You may have noticed that Zombie Sasha was my choice for the 2nd greatest moment of season 7.  What was the first?

RESCUE SHIVA!

After the disruption of Zombie Sasha, the Saviors thought they had regained control of the situation.  Carl and Rick were on their knees.  Negan was starting another monologue.  I was starting to get frustrated again.  And suddenly, out of nowhere, a tiger pounced!  Ezekiel and the Kingdom showed up and basically kicked a lot of Savior ass.  Negan fled.  He may have extended his middle finger as he drove out of there but there’s no way to deny that the bully finally get his ass kicked.  After all that has happened over the course of this season, it was nice to see Negan not only twice fail to complete a monologue but also get his ass kicked by a bunch of Renaissance Faire actors.  It was pure chaos and it was beautiful.

As for the rest of the show, Rick somehow quickly recovered from being shot in the stomach and Michonne survived getting beaten half-to-death.  Carl still has his one good eye and Father Gabriel showed up long enough to let us know that he’s still alive.

The Saviors lost a battle and, when Season 8 begins in October, it’s going to be time for war.

I’ll be watching.

Will you?

TV Review: The Walking Dead 7.15 “Something They Need” (dir by Michael Slovis)


Hi there!  Before I get around to saying what little I have to say about tonight’s episode of The Walking Dead, I want to share something with you.

Next week is the season finale and, naturally, it’s an extended episode.  I have two fears.

  1. I fear that next week’s episode will be 70 minutes of Rick and Dwight sitting in a cell and discussing right and wrong.
  2. I also fear that the episode will end with Rick standing on a hill, looking back at all of his followers, and announcing, “And now — we attack!”  This will immediately be followed by the end credits and Talking Dead.  See you once Season 8 starts!

If either of those happen, this will be my response:

I have such mixed feelings about the pace of The Walking Dead.  On the one hand, I appreciate that it’s a show that literally takes place after the end of the world.  Civilization is over and sometimes, that is best represented by stillness.  There’s no need for anyone to hurry because there’s really nowhere to go.  There are no more jobs.  There are no more movies.  There are no more clubs.  There are no more schools.  There’s nothing.  The only thing that matters in the world of The Walking Dead is survival and, often times, it’s necessary to move slowly and with caution to survive.

On the other hand, this season has been so slow!  It feels as if it has taken Rick longer to organize this attack than it took for Lafayette to sail across the ocean and track down Gen. Washington.  Yes, I appreciate why the pace is deliberate but there’s really only so many times that you can watch the same scene play out over and over again.

Tonight was a perfect example.  It featured three storylines, all of which were way too dragged out.  Tonight was basically 30 minutes worth of story stretched out to a full hour.

In Alexandria, Gregory again showed himself incapable of … well, just about anything.  Nobody has any respect for Gregory.  Maggie had to save him from a walker.  Gregory’s either going to get killed by Negan or he’s going to get bitten by a walker.  I think he actually had the potential to be an interesting character (and Xander Berkeley is certainly a good actor) but Gregory is so obviously doomed that it’s hard to really care about him one way or the other.

In Sanctuary, Sasha is somehow not dead.  Instead, she’s in that same little cell that Daryl was in.  Negan was apparently impressed by her suicidal attack.  Why that would impress Negan, I’m not sure.  Anyway, Negan killed a savior who was on the verge of raping Sasha.  That’s a good thing, though you have to wonder if Negan set the whole thing up just so he’d have an excuse to play the hero.  He wants to bring Sasha over to his side.  Again, I’m not sure why.  Mostly, I assume that Sasha’s alive so that she can be used as a hostage if Rick ever actually gets around to launching this attack that he’s been going on about.

(In many ways, Sasha being alive epitomizes this season’s greatest flaw.  She’s not alive because there’s any real logic behind her somehow not being dead.  Instead, she’s alive so she can be used as a plot device later on.  Keeping Sasha alive comes at the price of whatever consistency had previously been established as far as Negan’s character is concerned.)

And finally, Tara told Rick about Oceanside so Rick and his people went down there and took all their guns.  The scenes of Rick bullying the Oceansiders were mixed in with scenes of Negan trying to bring Sasha over to the Saviors.  I got the feeling we were supposed to compare the contrasting leadership styles of Rick, Negan, and Gregory.  Gregory is inneffectual.  Rick will do what needs to be done but only when he doesn’t have any other choice.  Negan just talks too much.

At the end of the episode, Rosita returned from Sanctuary.  Accompanying her was … DWIGHT!  So, Dwight was the man she saw in the shadows.  Rick pointed a gun at him and told him to get on his knees.  Apparently, next week’s episode will feature Rick talking to Dwight in a cell.  I just hope they don’t spend too much time talking.

Anyway, as you can probably tell, this episode was way too slow for me.  But, at least Rick does seem to be inching closer to finally launching that attack.

HURRY UP, RICK!

Maggie and Gregory do …. something.

TV Review: The Walking Dead 7.10 “My New Best Friends” (dir by Jeffrey F. January)


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Oh my God!

Is it possible that we’ve actually had two good episodes of The Walking Dead in a row!?

Indeed it is.  In fact, I would say that tonight’s episode of The Walking Dead was the high point of the season so far.  I don’t know if the show’s production team has been listening to the complaints that many fans had during the first half of the season but, with both this episode and last week’s, it’s hard not to feel that the show is trying to correct some earlier mistakes.

For instance, there was no Negan in this episode.  Now, don’t get me wrong.  Negan can be an intimidating bad guy.  But, like many great villains, Negan is at his most effective when he’s off screen.  The big mistake that the Walking Dead made during the first half of season 7 was going for an all-Negan, all-the-time format.  With each appearance, Negan became just a little bit more cartoonish and, as a result, he became less and less intimidating.

However, though this episode largely dealt with people trying to figure out what to do about the Saviors, Negan was still kept in the shadows.  As a result, Negan’s becoming a threat again.

Tonight’s episode followed two storylines, which is a definite improvement over the plodding pace of the first half of the season.  Both storylines were equally interesting, though I think everyone’s heart was invested in Daryl and Carol.

So, let’s get Rick out of the way.  Last week, I assumed that Rick had come across the Oceanside community but it turns out that I was wrong.  (And that’s not a bad thing because the Oceanside community kinda sucked.)  Instead, this is a community of people who live in a junkyard.  In many ways, they’re just as ritualized and borderline ludicrous as Ezekiel’s Kingdom.  The only question is whether or not the Junkyarders, like Ezekiel, realize how silly their little community is.  Are all of their rituals designed as an escape from grim reality or are they all just crazy?

The Junkyard is run by Jadis (Pollyanna McIntosh), who seems to have a permanent smirk and who speaks like an evil Queen in an Italian Hercules film.  But, and this is largely due to McIntosh’s performance and her chemistry with Andrew Lincoln, Jadis is still likable.  When she and Rick finally formed their alliance, I was happy because Jadis looks like she’s going to be a valuable ally in the inevitable battle with the Saviors.  Seriously, who doesn’t want to see Jadis kick Negan’s ass?

Of course, before Rick could talk to Jadis, he had to defeat an armor-covered walker that the Junkyard crew appeared to be using as a gladiator.  That was exciting and it’s nice to see that The Walking Dead is trying to think up new things to do with their undead.

But, ultimately, this show was all about Carol and Daryl.  Daryl has been hiding out at the Kingdom.  When Richard told Daryl that he had an idea for how they could convince Ezekiel to go to war with the Saviors, Daryl was all ears until he discovered that Richard’s plan involved leading the Saviors to Carol.  “She’s going to die anyway!”  Richard exclaimed.

Obviously, Richard doesn’t know Carol!

After giving Richard the beat down that he deserved for underestimating Carol, Daryl went to Carol’s cabin and seriously, their time together was everything.  For once, we got a moment of joy in this relentlessly grim series.

I always love the scenes between Carol and Daryl.  I love the way that both Daryl and Carol drop their guard when they’re together.  At its best, The Walking Dead has always centered around the question of how people can keep their humanity, even in the worst of circumstances.  Tonight, Carol and Daryl provided that humanity.

This was a good episode, one that reminded me why I watch this show in the first place.  Let’s hope that the rest of season 7 is just as good!

TV Review: The Walking Dead 7.9 “Rock in the Road” (dir by Greg Nicotero)


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Well, The Walking Dead is back and again, I am going to try to watch and review each episode for the Shattered Lens.  You may remember that I attempted to do this during the first half of season 7.  I reviewed the first five episodes of the new season and then…

Well, how to put this?

I got bored.

Seriously, I tried to make excuses for the glacial pace of season 7.  I kept telling myself that it was actually a brilliant narrative decision.  I defended the controversial first episode and I’ll continue to do so.  I enjoyed the second episode, largely because of the tiger.  But, after that, I started to get bored.  Each episode introduced us to a new community of boring people.  Each episode featured a lot of conversation but little action.  And what little action there was regularly interrupted by Negan popping up and screaming for half an hour.  As much as I like character development and conversation, this is a show about the end of the world.  There’s only so much time that I can spend watching Rick look depressed.

And so, after five episodes, I gave up on the first half of season 7.  It was just too slow and the show was spending so much time on what a badass Negan supposedly was that the zombies had become an afterthought.  Did season 7 really need a special 90 minute episode of Negan acting like a dick?  I still watched the show but mentally, I checked out.  And, judging by how the ratings cratered between the 1st episode (8.7 million viewers) and the 8th episode (5 million viewers), I was not alone in being dissatisfied.

But, in the break between the end of the first half of season 7 and tonight’s return, I’ve had time to recover.  Today, as I debated whether to actually watch the new episode of The Walking Dead, I considered that this show has hit rough spots in the past.  It’s never been a perfect show.  I wasn’t a huge fan of season 1 and, in later seasons,  I thought they spent way too much time at Herschel’s farm.  But, in the past, when The Walking Dead has needed to deliver, that’s exactly what it’s done.  In short, I decided to give The Walking Dead a second chance.

And, having just watched tonight’s episode, I’m glad that I did.  Rock in the Road was a good episode.  In fact, it may have been the best episode since The Well.  There were still flaws, of course.  As any true Walking Dead fan knows, this show has always been uneven.  The Walking Dead is a gloriously imperfect show but, at its best, it’s the type of show that can almost make those flaws seem admirable.  It’s easy to get frustrated with The Walking Dead‘s leisurely pace and rambling narrative.  But, ultimately, that leisurely pace has also led to some of The Walking Dead‘s most resonant moments.

Much like every other episode so far in season 7, Rock in the Road told its story slowly but, at the same time, it at least had a destination in mind.  Rick has finally snapped out of his self-pity and is now trying to build an alliance to fight Negan and the Saviors.  As this episode showed, it won’t necessarily be easy.  But, at least Rick is actually trying to do something!

There are several reasons why Rock in the Road was a noticeable improvement over the first half of the season.  Here’s a few:

  1. Action Rick is more fun than Shellshocked Rick.  As an actor, Andrew Lincoln is far more compelling when he’s standing up for himself than when he’s being grimly morose.  To be honest, I’ve never been sold on Rick as a leader.  When I watched him trying to build up his anti-Negan alliance, I found myself wondering if people were aware that Rick doesn’t exactly have a great track record as far as keeping people alive is concerned.  But, in the end, it didn’t matter.  Action Rick is fun, even if you know all of his plans are doomed to go terribly wrong.
  2. This episode actually had a few moments of humor.  The first half of season 7 was way too grim.  Just because the world is ending, that doesn’t mean people are going to stop being snarky.
  3. Ezekiel!  The first community that Rick and his group visited was the Kingdom so they got to meet King Ezekiel and Shiva.  Ezekiel and the Kingdom were the highlight of the first half of season 7 and it looks like that might be true for the second half as well.  I loved the entire sequence at the Kingdom, everything from Ezekiel’s promise to have an answer by “the morrow” to the wonderful moment when Jesus realized that he had forgotten everyone’s names.
  4. No Negan!  Well, that’s not quite true.  We heard Negan’s voice but, for the first time in a long time, we had an episode where the entire narrative didn’t have to stop just so Negan could launch another one of his insane gym coach monologues.  Like most great villains, Negan works best in small doses.
  5. That final scene!  I’m going to guess from the lack of men and children that those were Oceansiders who were surrounding Rick.  Rick’s smile provided a wonderful final shot for this episode.  When he flashed that smile, I realized that the old Rick was finally back.

I was really happy with Rock in the Road.  In fact, I’m happy enough to actually watch next week as well.  Hopefully, this episode will be the start of season 7’s redemption.

A Few Thoughts on …. The Walking Dead 7.5 “Go Getters” (dir by Darnell Martin)


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So far, season 7 of The Walking Dead has been pretty inconsistent.

Often times, I have felt like a lone voice in the wilderness, vainly defending the season premiere and continuing to hope that, at some point, Jeffrey Dean Morgan’s portrayal of Negan is going to become something more than a one-dimensional caricature.

Like a lot of people, I kind of enjoyed the second episode but, in retrospect, that was mostly because of the weirdness of King Ezekiel and the majesty of Shiva.  The episode itself was extremely slow and featured one of those overly sentimental musical montages, the type of thing that never holds up particularly well on repeat viewing.

The Cell … oh, I tried to enjoy The Cell but basically, it was just an hour of Daryl not speaking and Negan doing his Negan thing.

And then there was last week’s episode, which appears to be going down in the history books as the consensus pick for the worst episode of The Walking Dead ever.

So, with all that in mind, I am going to cautiously state that I think that the latest installment, Go Getters, was a definite improvement over the last few episodes.  It was hardly a classic.  It certainly wasn’t The Walking Dead at its absolute best.  But, at the very least, it held my attention for 60 minutes, it seemed to actually move the story forward (as opposed to just being a stagnant portrayal of doom and gloom), and it left me looking forward to seeing what would happen next week.  Coming nearly halfway through an uneven season, Go Getters provided just a little bit of hope for the show’s future, telling us,  “The Walking Dead‘s not dead and growling in Herschel’s barn just yet!”

Of course, it helped that Go Getters was centered on Maggie, the only one of the main characters who has not left me pissed off or disappointed this season.  Following the deaths of Glenn and Abraham, Maggie and Sasha are hiding out at Hilltop Colony.  Gregory wants to kick them out, Jesus wants to protect them.  Eventually, the Saviors show up and we get to know Simon (Steven Ogg, investing the role with such menace that it’s hard not to wonder how different the season would be if he had been cast as Negan), who is one of Negan’s liuetenants.  Simon collects his tribute, humiliates Gregory, and leaves.  Meanwhile, Carl and Enid show up at Hilltop, having run away from Alexandria.  One-eyed Carl has decided to take revenge on Negan and who can blame him?  At this point, he has to know that his red-eyed, sniveling, neutered father isn’t going to do anything…

(Which brings up an interesting issue: we’re supposed to look down on Gregory for being so weak and subservient to the Saviors but really, he didn’t do anything different from what Rick did last week.  We’re supposed to give Rick a pass but not Gregory, which doesn’t seem quite right.  Gregory may be an ass but, as we should all know by now, nice guys don’t survive the apocalypse.)

So far, each episode this season has featured a different community being harassed by Negan.  I’m assuming that these communities are eventually going to come together to take out the Saviors.  If that’s the case, I can understand and even respect the deliberate build-up.  At the same time, this season is moving so slowly (and has been so repetitive) that it’s hard not to get frustrated when you’re watching on a weekly schedule.  One gets the feeling that Season 7 will be better when binge-watched but, for now, I find myself wishing the show would pick up the pace.

But, with all that in mind, I liked Go Getters.  I love the fact that Maggie refuses to surrender.  Despite all of the terrible things that have happened to her and the people that she loved, Maggie has not given up.  She hasn’t turned into a weak shell, like Rick or Daryl.  Nor has she retreated to a world of fantasy, like Carol.  Instead, Maggie lives, Maggie fights, and Maggie endures.  Glenn may be dead but Maggie the Cat is alive.

GO MAGGIE!

A Few Thoughts On The Walking Dead 7.1 “The Day Will Come When You Won’t Be” (dir by Greg Nicotero)


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Well, we can all breathe again.

Tonight saw the premiere of the seventh season of The Walking Dead.  All this summer, we’ve been wondering who Negan would end up killing with Lucille, his barbed wire-covered bat.  Glenn seemed to be the obvious candidate, particularly since he had already miraculously (and, some would say, implausibly) escaped certain death on the show and he was also Negan’s victim in the comic.

However, none of us wanted it to be Glenn.  Ever since the show began, Glenn has been one of the most popular characters.  In many ways, he served as a stand-in for the audience.  Sure, everyone loves Darryl and Michonne but Glenn …. well, there was just something special about Glenn.  Whereas both Darryl and Michonne were born warriors and Rick Grimes was a former police officer who had been trained to think quickly in a crisis, Glenn was just a pizza delivery boy.  He was the guy who, by all logic, should not have survived the first week of the zombie apocalypse.  And yet, he did survive.  For sic seasons, we watched as Glenn grew and developed as a character.  When he “married” Maggie, it was more than just a plot twist.  It was proof that, even in the worst of circumstances, love could survive.

So, a lot of us told ourselves that there was no way that Glenn would die.  We told ourselves that Glenn was too popular of a character.  We mentioned all the other times that the show had led us to believe it was going to follow the plot of the comics just to suddenly go in a totally opposite direction.

Myself, I believe that Negan would kill Abraham.  Abraham seemed like the obvious choice, popular enough that his death would mean something but, at the same time, not so popular that the show would risk losing any viewers by killing him.

I was so confident in my prediction that I ever decided to make it official:

And I was right.

But I was also very wrong.

It took about 25 minutes for tonight’s episode of The Walking Dead to get around to showing us who Negan killed.  The episode really pulled out the suspense and I have to admit that I was worried they were going to go the entire hour without letting us know for sure.  (I remember Lost used to do that and it would drive me crazy.)  And when we saw Negan beat Abraham to death, I think a lot of people said, “Poor Abraham but at least it wasn’t Glenn…”

And then, a few minutes later, Darryl charged Negan and, after Darryl was subdued, Negan responded by beating Glenn to death.

(As Jeffrey Dean Morgan, who was so chillingly good as Negan, pointed out on The Talking Dead, Glenn would not have died if not for Darryl’s actions.)

It was hard to watch.  You can say that it’s just a TV show and that there are bigger things to worry about than the fate of a fictional character but, at that moment, it felt as if I was watching an old friend die.  For seven years, Glenn has been one of the show’s constants.  He’s been one of the few stable elements of The Walking Dead.  He’s always been there.

And now, he’s not.

While we were all still trying to recover from the deaths of both Glenn and Abraham, Negan was busy breaking Rick.  Rick has always been the leader.  He’s always been the guy who you can count on to ultimately do whatever needed to be done to protect the group.  Rick was the one who stepped up to shoot Sophia when she came out of that barn.  Rick was the one who, no matter how bad things got, everyone felt they could depend on.  In a world where it was often hard to find meaning or morality, Rick has always stood for something more than just ruthless survival.  And yet, last night, we saw a totally defeated Rick.  Not only did Rick watch helplessly as two of his people were brutally murdered but he was also nearly forced to chop off Carl’s hand.

(I know that a lot of viewers — myself included — were expecting Negan to chop off Rick’s hand in the RV.)

As I watched that scene with Rick and Carl, I couldn’t help but think about the biblical tale of Abraham and Isaac, a story that I have always hated.  God ordered Abraham to sacrifice his son and he waited until Abraham raised the knife to say, “Stop, it was just a test of your faith.”  (Abraham is so overjoyed that he never stops to ask, “What type of God would ask me to do something so terrible in the first place?”)  When Negan ordered Rick to chop off Carl’s hand and then stopped him only after he raised the hatchet, it was Negan’s way of saying that, for all intents and purposes, he is God.

Again, it wasn’t easy to watch.  But at least Maggie doesn’t appear to be ready to surrender.  Rick may have been broken.  Darryl may now be a hostage.  But Maggie is going to keep fighting.

Finally, I have to say that, after watching all of this, I am so incredibly thankful for Chris Hardwick and Talking Dead.  When Chris opened the show by promising that we were going to talk through what we had just witnessed, he wasn’t kidding.  Tonight’s episode of Talking Dead felt like a televised group therapy session.  It helped to see Steven Yeun and Michael Cudlitz on that stage with the rest of the cast.  After we just watched, we needed to see them all together.  We needed to see them laughing and joking and crying and hugging.  We needed that catharsis.

Talking Dead served as a reminder that it was just a TV show and nobody had really died.

So, why do so many of us still feel like we just said goodbye to a member of our family?

One final thought:

RIP, Abraham and Glenn

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The Walking Dead Season 6 Trailer


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“Do you have any idea who you’re talking to?” — Rick Grimes

AMC has unveiled it’s official trailer for the 6th season of TV’s most popular show (so popular that it even beats Sunday Night Football on occasion) during it’s San Diego Comic-Con panel at Hall H.

Last we left the Grimes crew saw Rick Grimes get the go-ahead from Alexandria Safe-Zone leader Deanna Monroe to shoot wife-batterer and neck-slashing Pete in his face. It would’ve been quite a satisfying event if not for Rick’s first BFF, Morgan Jones, suddenly appearing out of the shadows to see him do the deed. This is the same Morgan who went from crazy clear to zen clear who thought all life that wasn’t undead was precious.

So, now season 6 is almost upon us fellow fans of the show and it looks like Rick is turning out to be Alexandria’s shogun with Deanna as the figurehead leader.

Will Rick’s Shane-like attitude to leading this expanded group of survivors be a blessing or be the downfall of another safe-haven for the Grimes Gang? There’s still the Wolves out there who now knows where they are. There’s also the looming shadow of the comic book’s Negan and his Saviors possibly making their appearance which could mean just one thing: WAR.

So, grab those ribs and thick-cut steaks and take a big bite and enjoy the trailer.