TV Review: The Walking Dead 8.6 “The King, The Widow, and Rick” (dir by John Polson)


Oh, the world of The Walking Dead.  The more things change, the more they stay the same.

This season started with everyone finally standing up to the Saviors.  For once, Rick and his allies had Negan on the run and, regardless of what you think about season 8 overall, it was certainly satisfying to see the Saviors starting to get a little desperate.  Personally, I don’t think it was necessary to devote five episodes to just one battle but the Saviors are such a loathsome group of people that it’s definitely enjoyable to watch them get their asses kicked.

However, even with Rick and his allies declaring full out war, I knew that the action would eventually have to be interrupted by an episode of mourning.  Every season of The Walking Dead has at least one episode where everyone looks depressed and either thinks about a lost loved one or obsesses on whether or not there’s room for kindness and compassion in a post-apocalyptic world.  When the series started, the mourning episodes were a part of what set The Walking Dead apart from other shows.  (Remember when kindly old Dale Horvath was gruesomely attacked by a zombie?)  But, eight seasons in, it’s become a bit predictable.  Any episode where something big happens is going to be followed by an episode where not much happens at all.

“The King, The Widow, and Rick” is a mourning episode.  Everyone has returned from attacking the Saviors and now, with no bullets flying and several minor characters dead (and SHIVA!  I’m still sad about that…), it’s time to sit around and reflect.  This time, a bit more happened during the reflecting than has happened in previous mourning episodes.  Even if this episode still felt like it stretched things out a bit too much, it wasn’t quite as slow as some of the episodes that aired during season 7.

This episode opened like a Ken Burns documentary, with everyone reading letters about the war against the Saviors.  It ended with Rick naked and locked up in a shipping container and I was definitely okay with that.  Don’t get me wrong about this.  I do like Rick but occasionally, there is an arrogance to him that just strikes me the wrong way.  He’s a lot like Lost‘s Jack Shepherd.  He gives a good speech.  He is trying to do the right thing, even if he sometimes resents having to be the leader.  But Rick is always so sure of his ability to sway everyone over to his side that it was somewhat satisfying to see the Trash People respond to his latest speech by shrugging their shoulders and then locking him up.  I’m not sure why Rick felt the need to, once again, go over to the garbage dump.  The attack on the Saviors was a success without the help of the Trash People.  My theory is that Rick just can’t accept that not everyone wants to be a part of his alliance.

Meanwhile, at Hilltop, we had another one of those patented Walking Dead debates about whether or not people can survive the end of the world without losing their humanity.  Jesus was going out of his way to treat the Savior prisoners humanely.  Gregory said the prisoners should be executed.  Maggie responded by tossing Gregory in with the prisoners and then saying she would keep them alive so that they could be used for prisoner exchanges in the future.  Jesus said he was happy with her decision and … you know what?  I like Tom Payne’s performance as the character but I feel like an idiot whenever I call that guy Jesus.  Yes, he has a beard.  Yes, he’s kind.  BUT HIS NAME IS PAUL!  The whole “They call you Jesus” thing is so heavy-handed and kinda stupid.  Last night, one of the saviors said, “Well, Jesus, I’m no angel,” and I’m glad I didn’t have anything nearby to throw at the TV when he said it.

Anyway, I could have done without all the debate about how to treat the prisoners.  We all know that they’re going to end up dead, regardless.  The only prisoner that Negan might exchange would be Father Gabriel and, honestly, is getting Gabriel back worth the trouble?  Maggie should have just listened to Gregory.

Ezekiel was depressed, as well he should be.  SHIVA’S DEAD, DAMMIT!  Carol told him to stop feeling sorry for himself and to lead his people.  The best part of Ezekiel’s subplot was that Jerry was still standing guard, even though Ezekiel told him to go home.

Carl is apparently not dead.  Or, at least, he’s not dead, yet.  Instead, he ran off and spent some time hanging out with Siddiq, the man who Rick previously chased away.  They killed some walkers and bonded over shared pain.

And, of course, Rosita used a rocket launcher to blow up a savior.  That made me cheer.  Maybe Maggie should step down and let Rosita lead the Hilltop Colony.  There certainly wouldn’t be any debate about what to do with prisoners then!  However, for now, Rosita, Michonne, Daryl, and Tara are just doing their own thing.  Rick probably wouldn’t approve but Rick’s in a shipping container right now.

Anyway, this wasn’t a bad episode.  It may have been a mourning episode but at least it wasn’t just Rick sitting around in a catatonic state while Negan circled around him, giving a speech.  That’s the important thing.

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TV Review: The Walking Dead 8.4 “Some Guy” (dir by Dan Liu)


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My heart is broken.

It’s funny.  If Ezekiel had been the one to die, I don’t think it would have upset me as much.  If Carol had died, I would have been sad but tears would not have sprung to my eyes.  Rick?  Hey, Rick should have died a long time ago.  I wouldn’t have gotten upset.  I would have said, “That’s life.  No one’s safe.”

Instead, Shiva died and now my heart is broken.

What’s funny is that TSL co-founder and editor-in-chief Arleigh Sandoc warned me that Shiva was probably not going to survive.  Based on what he had seen in the comic, he told me exactly what was going to happen to her.  So, I can’t say that I was totally surprised.  Even if Arleigh hadn’t warned me, I remember the walkers eating that horse during the first season.  I know that animals aren’t safe in the world of The Walking Dead.

Still, it broke my heart.

Maybe it’s because I’m a cat person.  Maybe it’s because Shiva died protecting her master, which is not exactly typical cat behavior.  Ezekiel was at his weakest when Shiva sacrificed her life for him.  And now that Shiva’s gone, Ezekiel is going to have to learn how to be a leader without her help.  Before she died, he was shouting that he wasn’t a king.  He shouted that he was just some guy who found a cat.  The cat’s gone.  Can Ezekiel prove that he deserves to be known as “your majesty?”

If not, maybe Jerry can step up and lead The Kingdom.  Tonight, I was really impressed with Jerry and the actor who plays him, Cooper Andrews.  They both did a great job.  I know some people would say that Ezekiel should give the keys of the kingdom to Carol but I wouldn’t suggest that.  Carol’s a badass but I still get the feeling that she’s just a day or two from snapping and killing everyone she sees.

As for the rest of tonight’s episode … who cares?  Shiva’s dead…

Okay, okay, I know.  I’m a semi-professional blogger!  I need to get through this post and mourn later.  Okay, just a few observations:

Does everyone just have an unlimited supply of bullets all of the sudden?  One of the few things that I liked about the previous season is that the show did try to realistically deal with the fact that there aren’t many supplies in the post-apocalyptic world.  But this season, everyone just seems to be shooting guns for the Hell of it.  I’m not an expert on firearms but I do know that bullets aren’t like knives or arrows. They can only be used once.

So, I guess Rick is suddenly an action hero!  I’m not complaining.  A Rick who can suddenly jump into a speeding jeep is still preferable to a mopey, indecisive Rick who can’t bring himself to fight back.

Let’s give it up for Khary Payton, who did a great job tonight!  Ezekiel is a character who I’ve sometimes found to be annoying but Payton did a great job.  I think one reason why it was so unsettling to see Ezekiel acting so desperate was because The Kingdom has always provided the grim world of The Walking Dead with a little bit of fantasy.  It’s always served as an escape from all the terrible things going on in the rest of the world.  It’s very existence is a tribute to the power and importance of imagination.  Seeing the fantasy shattered was not easy and that’s something Payton wonderfully captured in his performance.

This season’s flashback structure actually paid off tonight.  I’m occasionally skeptical of shows that do the whole nonlinear timeline thing because I often feel that it’s just a gimmick, as opposed to really necessary storytelling device.  But tonight, seeing the contrast between the confident Ezekiel and the nearly defeated Ezekiel was undeniably powerful.

Speaking of nearly defeated Ezekiel, what about that Savior asshole who was holding him prisoner?  Oh my God, that guy had to be the most annoying bad guy ever!  I was so happy when Jerry split him in two.

Tonight’s episode was not bad.  It was exciting.  The pace didn’t drag.  And it made me cry.

Shiva, R.I.P.

TV Review: The Walking Dead 7.13 “Bury Me Here” (dir by Alrick Riley)


“We have to get ready.  We have to fight.”

“We do … BUT NOT TODAY.”

Oh, for fuck’s sake!  Will somebody please fight the goddamn saviors so that the damn show can move on to something other than tense stand-offs and rambling monologues from Negan’s goons!?

*sigh*

Okay, that’s out of my system.  Let’s talk about the latest episode of The Walking Dead.

Judging from some of the response that I’m seeing online, a lot of people are proclaiming Bury Me Here to be one of the best episodes of season 7.  I really can’t agree, though I will say that those who are saying that Lennie James was “Emmy-worthy” tonight are not incorrect.  James had some great moments and it was nice to be reminded that Morgan is actually one of the more interesting characters on The Walking Dead.

For that matter, there was a lot of good acting on display tonight.  Not just Lennie James but also Karl Makinen, who made you sympathize with Richard even if you couldn’t exactly blame Morgan for beating him to death at the end of the episode.  The title’s episode came from Richard’s request and, by the end of the show, you did feel that Richard had earned the right to pick his own burial site.

(A lot of fans turned on Richard when, a few episodes ago, he suggested sacrificing Carol in order to bring Ezekiel in Rick’s war with the Saviors.  Well, Richard shouldn’t have suggested that and yes, he did make some mistakes tonight.  But goddammit, at least Richard was doing something other than growing melons.)

You know who else did a good job tonight?  Logan Miller.  He did a good job, even when the show’s script when out of its way to sabotage him.  Has anyone ever been as obviously doomed as Miller’s Benjamin?  From the minute Benjamin showed up tonight, we know he was dead.  He offered to help out Carol.  He looked up to Morgan.  He had naive hope for the future.  He had a girlfriend.  He gave Morgan an uglyass painting for his uglyass room.  Benjamin was so doomed and yet, Logan Miller brought at least a little bit of poignancy to his character’s obvious fate.

But, with all that in mind, tonight’s episode still moved way too slowly for me.  It felt like a throwback to the first half of the season, before the show’s writers apparently realized how boring it was to have to sit through a new Savior monologue every week.  There were hints of the show that we all want The Walking Dead to be.  Even Morgan’s murder of Richard was a return to the unflinching yet plot-appropriate brutality that brought The Walking Dead its initial success.  There were good moments but there were plenty of slow moments too.

Of course, that’s the way it’s almost always been with The Walking Dead.  At the show’s best, the good moments are so good that they cause you to forget about the slow moments.  At its worse, the slow moments are so slow that you give up on watching before the episode reaches the good moments.  And then you have episodes like the one that aired tonight, where the good moments are good on their own and the slow moments are slow on their own and the whole thing never quite comes together.  Tonight’s episode was a good thirty minutes stretched out to an average hour.

One final note — and I realize that I’ve said this a million times in the past and I’m probably say it a million times in the future — the Saviors are so fucking boring!  Yes, I know that they’re bullies and they are properly hissable villains.  You never feel anything but good when you see a savior die.  But the show continues to act as if the Saviors are the most compelling bad guys since Milton inadvertently made Satan the most interesting character in Paradise Lost.  Quite some time ago, I grew bored with various Negan lieutenants popping up, rambling on and on about tributes, and then demanding that everyone hand over their guns.

(That said, I am going to give some special credit to Josh Mikel, who, tonight, made Jared into the most loathsome savior of all.)

So, that’s why I say this: HURRY UP AND GET TO THE WAR!  If Rick and Negan are not in the middle of an official war by the end of the season, I worry about the future of The Walking Dead….

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.