TV Review: The Walking Dead 8.9 “Honor” (dir by Greg Nicotero)

So, has everyone seen the latest episode of The Walking Dead?  If not, why are you reading this review?  I ask because, on another site that I write for, I’ve got two people bitching at me for revealing too many spoilers about the shows that I review and, as a result, I felt the need to post an apology to those people.  As far as apologies go, it was fairly passive-aggressive and I’d hate to have to be that insincere on this site.  So, in other words, if you haven’t watched the latest episode of The Walking Dead, don’t read this review.  Thanks!

(Okay, I think I’ve rambled on long enough that anyone who didn’t want spoilers should have left by now.)

On Sunday night, the eighth season of AMC’s The Walking Dead resumed and oh my God, I have got such mixed feelings about what I just watched.  Before I go any further, allow me to share something that I tweeted back in April of 2017:

In other words, I can’t say that I’m shocked that Carl’s dead.  In fact, to a certain extent, I kind of respect the show for following through as opposed to coming up with some last-minute contrivance to allow Carl to live.  At the same time, I do think that the death of Carl has robbed the show of some potentially intriguing future storylines.  In the comic, Carl is still alive and he’s even bonded a bit with Negan.  During Season 7, the show seemed to be laying the foundation for that storyline but apparently, Negan’s going to have to bond with some other kid now.  Maybe Henry.  Maybe Judith.

I guess the main thing that bothers me about Carl’s death is that I really do feel that it was mostly due to the fact that the show’s pace has slowed down to such an extent that Chandler Riggs was getting too old to play the role. The Walking Dead has been on the air for 8 seasons but how many years have actually passed in the show?  It’s hard to say but really, it doesn’t seem like Carl should be any older than 14 or maybe 15.  Meanwhile, Chandler Riggs is closing in on 19.  It’s hard not to feel that the show’s producers decided to kill Carl off rather than maybe just wrap up a few storylines and have season 9 open with a “Four years after the defeat of the Saviors” title card.

Myself, I’ve frequently gotten annoyed with Carl as a character, even though I’ve always appreciated Chandler Riggs’s performance.  That said, Carl was one of the few characters left on the show with room to grow.  Rick is never going to change.  If Negan does become the friendly gardener that we saw in Carl’s fantasy, it’s going to have more to do with expedience than anything else.  Carl, though, was still discovering who he was and what he believed.  The majority of the characters have spent the last three or four seasons in a rut.  By virtue of being young, Carl was one of the few characters who actually had a chance of breaking out of that rut.

I mean, to be absolutely honest, I always assumed that the show would end with Carl shooting Rick before he could reanimate.  If you go all the way back to season 1, that’s the ending that the show has appeared to be logically building up to.  Now, I guess Judith will have to do it.

As for the episode itself … again, my feelings were mixed.  This episode was determined to wring every last drop of emotion out of Carl’s passing.  When it worked, it was largely due to the performances of Riggs, Danai Gurira, and the always underrated Andrew Lincoln.  At the same time, there was a part of me that started to resent just how much the show dragged out Carl’s death.  I know that AMC likes to do “super-sized” episodes of The Walking Death but, in this case, I think this episode would have been more effective if it had just been an hour.  Yes, that single gunshot was heart-rendering but, up until I heard it, there was a part of me that feared the show was planning to drag Carl’s death out over the entire rest of the season.

While Carl was dying, Carol, Morgan, and a few other people went off to rescue Ezekiel.  Gavin, who was always one of the most obnoxious of the Saviors, is now dead and yay for that.  Morgan has apparently decided that he’s okay with killing people again.  Morgan also apparently now has Jason Voorhees-style super strength.

It wasn’t a bad episode, though it certainly didn’t carry the power that it would have carried if it had happened during the fourth or fifth season.  On the one hand, I’ve always appreciated the fact that anyone can die on The Walking Dead.  On the other hand, characters die so frequently (and then pop up on the Talking Dead to say goodbye) that it’s now easy to get cynical about the whole thing.

In fact, it may be too early to say whether The Walking Dead handled Carl’s death the right way.  It depends on how this all plays out.  Will the show use Carl’s death as an excuse to go off in an unexpected direction or will we promptly get back to Negan chuckling and Rick giving speeches?  I’m actually looking forward to next week, just because I’m interested in seeing which Rick we’re going to get.  Are we going to get the crazy Rick who appeared after Lori died or are we going to get the catatonic Rick who showed up after Negan executed Abraham and Glenn?  Or maybe it’ll be the return of the Stoic Rick who shot zombie Sophia because he knew he had no other choice.  Which Rick will it be?

We’ll find out next week … hopefully.


“Black Panther” : Hail To The King

Let’s be honest — as was the case with last year’s Wonder Woman (in fact probably to an even greater degree), Black Panther was a cultural phenomenon before it was even released, and in future it will be examined as such. As something more than a movie. As something that resonated within, and reverberated throughout, the zeitgeist. Its trajectory in that regard is largely unwritten to this point, but can be predicted with a fair amount of certainty : near-universal praise will come first, followed by the inevitable backlash, followed by an almost apologetic, “ya know, maybe we were too hard on this thing that we loved at first” sort of acceptance. If we could just skip all that, and take it as a given, it would save us all a lot of time and effort — but it’s on the way, so tune in or out of all that as you see fit. My concerns here are considerably more prosaic : to talk about the movie as what it began “life” as, to wit — “just” a movie.

For what it’s worth (which may not be much), I’m tempted to agree, to an extent, with those who are pointing out that simply seeing this flick is in no way an act of “resistance” in and of itself : after all, if the fact that the first thing that runs in theaters before the film starts is a commercial for Lexus cars featuring Chadwick Boseman in full Panther gear isn’t enough to clue you in to the reality that, at the end of the day, this is much more about profits than it is about politics, then the product placement within the film itself should do the job — and at the end of the day, one of the largest corporations in the world, founded by noted racist Walt Disney, is still the one making all the money off it. If, then, shelling out ten or fifteen bucks to watch Black Panther is an inherently defiant or dissident act (and I’m not saying it is), then it’s a highly commodified and co-opted one.

All that being said, when a film is released out into the world, particularly a film with as much fanfare attached to it as this one, there are gonna be ripples that emanate out from it — and among the millions of kids, in particular, who watch this flick, the seeds of an interest in African culture are sure to be sown, and the more they follow the metaphorical stalks that grow and flower from those seeds, the more they’ll discover things like historical resistance to colonialism, exploitation, capitalism, and the like. So while Black Panther may not be a radical (or even a particularly political) work in and of itself, it may inspire some radicalism in the future — one can only hope, at any rate.

But that’s pure speculation at this point, so let’s talk about what we know for certain.

One thing anyone who follows this site, or my work anywhere else, absolutely knows is that I’m no fan of Marvel Studios product in general. Unlike, apparently, most people, I find the overwhelming majority of Marvel flicks to be hopelessly redundant, formulaic, lowest-common denominator fare directed in a flat and lifeless “house style” with no particular visual flair, no particularly standout performances, no particular vision to do anything but get audiences keyed up for the next one. They exist as a self-perpetuating celluloid organism, one with no distinct personality but a lot of business sense and promotional muscle. This has been going on for so long, and with so much box office success, that I went into flick essentially expecting more of the same — sure, I knew it had a predominantly-black cast, and was set in Africa (albeit in a fictitious country), but that doesn’t mean that director Ryan Coogler was going to break the mold in any appreciable way. Hell, it doesn’t even mean that he would be allowed to do so. Happily, my pessimism was turned on its ear almost from word the word “go” here.

Black Panther looks different, feels different, because it is different. Coogler and co-screenwriter Joe Robert Cole certainly capture the dynamism, the energy, the Afro-futurism that has been a part of King T’Challa’s backstory since Jack Kirby created the character and his world (nope, we don’t lay any credit at Stan Lee’s feet around these parts, but I’m not getting into the “whys and wherefores” of that right now because, shit, I don’t have all night), but advance it all considerably, absorbing the extra layers added onto the mythos by the likes of Don McGrregor, Billy Graham, Christopher Priest, Reginald Hudlin, and Ta-Nehisi Coates over the years, and coming out with something uniquely suited to cinema and very much of the “now.” There’s a hard-driving and kinetic sense of energy to this film that the so-called “MCU” has been missing since it inception, and if you’re among the small number of those who agree with my assessment that most of these flicks play out more like two-hour TV episodes than proper movies, you can relax : this is as bold, brash, and big as it gets. This is blockbuster fare not only in name, but in execution, with visual effects that amaze, sets that inspire awe, cinematography that commands attention, action that sizzles, a script that charges forward, and music that slicks that trajectory along. This is arresting cinema that doesn’t even give you the option to leave your seat.

But what of the acting, you ask? It ranges from good to great, and thankfully the great includes the key players : Chadwick Boseman is regal yet human, fallible, relatable in the film’s central role: Forest Whitaker embodies aged wisdom tinged with regret as high priest Zuri; Michael B. Jordan is the first truly formidable villain, crucially one with a compelling backstory and some entirely valid philosophical viewpoints, as Killmonger; Martin Freeman not only reprises, but considerably expands, his already-extant “MCU” role of CIA agent Everett K. Ross with heart, humor, and brains; Sterling K. Brown makes the most of limited but significant screen time as T’Challa’s late uncle, N’Jobu; Andy Serkis — as a human this time! — chews up the screen with dangerous charm as Ulysses Klaue (or “Klaw,” as the comics would have it). These guys are all tops, really. And yet —

It is the women that carry this film. Whether we’re talking about Lupita Nyong’o as T’Challa’s love interest Nakia, a determined, fiercely independent, and soulful force that isn’t just her partner’s “equal,” but his conscience; Danai Gurira as General Okoye, head warrioress of the Dora Milaje, who embodies martial discipline and loyalty with the controlled fury of a hurricane ready to strike at any moment; Angela Basset as Queen Mother Ramonda, a living embodiment of grace, stature, and tradition; or Letitia Wright as younger sister Shuri, part “Q” to T’Challa’s “Bond,” part grounding and humanizing influence, part Moon Girl-style intellectual prodigy — as in life, it is the women that both make this movie’s men what they are, while also being complete and fully-realized in and of themselves. African history is far less patriarchal than is commonly believed, and in Wakanda that proud matriarchal lineage is exemplified, modernized, magnified — and honored.

Most films reflect the moment. Others define the moment. Black Panther goes one further by creating the moment. It’s as near to flawless as big-budget blockbusters get and eschews the too-common-flaw that movies made on this scale have of dumbing things down to appeal to the masses. Coogler and company instead trust those same masses to be intelligent enough to meet them on their level, and to respond to being talked “up,” rather than “down,” to. By believing that the world was not just ready, but eager, for something that goes far beyond mere spectacle — something that challenges the intellect while speaking to the heart — they have woken what could very well be a sleeping giant.

Now, let’s just keep our fingers crossed they’ve spurred that giant to do something more than simply go out and buy luxury cars.

Playing Catch-Up With Four Biopics From 2017: All Eyez On Me, Maudie, A Quiet Passion, and Victoria and Abdul

Continuing with my efforts to get caught up on the major films that I saw in 2017, here are my reviews of four biopics!  Two of them are very good.  One of them is so-so.  And the other one … well, let’s just get to it…

All Eyez on Me (dir by Benny Boon)

All Eyez On Me is a movie that I think a lot of people had high hopes for.  It was a biopic about Tupac Shakur, who died over 20 years ago but remains one of the most influential artists of all time.  Starring Demetrius Shipp, Jr. (who, if nothing else, bore a strong physical resemblance to Tupac), All Eyez on Me followed Shakur from his youth as the son of activist Afeni Shakur (Danai Gurira), through his early stardom, his political awakening, his time in prison, his eventual association with Suge Knight (Dominic L. Santana), and his still unsolved murder in Las Vegas.  Along the way all of the expected people pop up.  Kat Graham plays Jada Pinkett and tells Tupac that he’s wasting his talent.  Someone who looks nothing like Dr. Dre is introduced as being Dr. Dre.  Another actor wanders through a scene and says his name is Snoop Dogg.  The film last 2 hours and 20 minutes, with some scenes feeling oddly rushed while other drag on interminably.

The main reason why All Eyez On Me fails is that, unlike Straight Outta Compton, All Eyez on Me never figures out how translate Tupac’s legacy into cinematic form.  For instance, when I watched Straight Outta Compton, I probably knew less about NWA than I knew about Tupac Shakur when I watched All Eyez On Me.  But then there was that scene where NWA performed “Fuck That Police” while surrounded by the police and, at that moment, I understood why NWA deserved their own movie.  There’s no comparable scene in All Eyez On Me, which gets so bogged down in going through the usual biopic motions that it never really comes to grips with why Tupac is such an iconic figure.  Combine that with some less than stellar performances and some amazingly awkward dialogue and the end result is a film that is massively disappointing.

Maudie (dir by Aisling Walsh)

Maudie tells the story of Maud Lewis, a Canadian woman who found fame as a painter despite suffering from crippling arthritis.  Working and living in a one-room house with her husband, a fisherman named Everett (Ethan Hawke), Maud Lewis’s paintings of flowers and birds eventually became so popular that one was even purchased by then-Vice President Richard Nixon.

Maudie is a very special movie, largely because of the incredibly moving performance of Sally Hawkins in the role of Maud.  As played by Hawkins, Maud may occasionally be meek but she never surrenders her dream to create something beautiful out the often harsh circumstances of her life.  Hawkins not only captures Maud’s physical struggles but she also captures (and makes compelling) the inner strength of this remarkable artist.  Ethan Hawke also gives a remarkable performance as the gruff Everett.  When you Everett first appears, you hate him.  But, as the film progresses, Hawke starts to show hints of a sensitive soul that’d hiding underneath all of his gruffnes.  In the end, Everett is as saved by Maud’s art as is Maud.

Directed by Aisling Walsh, this is a low-key but all together remarkable and touching film.  If Sally Hawkins wasn’t already certain to get an Oscar nomination for Shape of the Water, she would definitely deserve one for Maudie.

A Quiet Passion (dir by Terrence Davies)

You would be totally justified in assuming that this film, a biopic of poet Emily Dickinson, would have absolutely nothing in common with The Last Jedi.  However, believe it or not, they actually do have something very much in common.  They are both films that, on Rotten Tomatoes, scored high with critics and not so high with audiences.  When last I checked, it had a 93% critical score and a 51% audience score.

Well, you know what?  Who cares?  The idea that you can judge a film’s worth based on an arbitrary number is pure evil, anyway.

Personally, I’m not surprised to hear that audiences struggled with A Quiet Passion.  It’s a very challenging film, one that is more concerned with mood than with traditional narrative.  The film is much like Dickinson herself: dark, uncompromising, sharply funny, and, on the surface, unconcerned with what people might think.  Much as how Dickinson retreated into her Amherst home, the film retreats into Dickinson’s head.  It’s not always the most pleasant place to hide out but, at the same time, it’s so alive with creativity and filled with such a sharp wit that it’s tempting never to leave.

In the role of Emily, Cynthia Nixon gave one of the best performance of the year, bringing Emily to uncompromising life.  Neither the film not Nixon ever make the mistake of sentimentalizing Dickinson.  Her pain is just as real as her genius.  Ultimately, though, both Nixon’s performance and A Quiet Passion stands as a tribute to Emily’s own quiet passion.

Much like Emily Dickinson’s poetry, A Quiet Passion will be appreciated with time.

Victoria & Abdul (dir by Stephen Frears)

If there’s ever been a film that deserves to be known as “generic Oscar bait,” it’s Victoria & Abdul.

Don’t get me wrong.  It’s not a bad movie or anything like that.  Instead, it’s a very respectable film about Queen Victoria (Judi Dench) and her servant, Abdul Karim (Ali Fazal), an Indian Muslim.  While the rest of the royal court is scandalized by Victoria’s close relationship with the foreigner, Karim teaches the Queen about the Koran and encourages her to enjoy life.  The royal court is played by the usual collection of distinguished actors who always appear in movies like this: Simon Callow, Tom Pigott-Smith, and Michael Gambon.  Victoria’s heir is played by Eddie Izzard, which should tell you all you need to know about how the future Edward VII is portrayed.

As I said, it’s not a bad movie as much as it’s just not a very interesting one.  You know that Abdul and Victoria are going to become close.  You know that the Royal Court is going to be a bunch of snobs.  You know that Victoria is going to get a chance to express anti-colonial sentiments that she must surely never actually possessed.  Indeed, whenever the film tries to make any sort of larger statement, all of the characters suddenly start talking as if they’re from 2017 as opposed to the late 1800s.

This is the second time that Judi Dench has played Victoria.  Previously, she played the Queen in a film called Mrs. Brown, which was about Victoria’s friendship with a Scottish servant.  Apparently, Victoria got along well with servants.



TV Review: The Walking Dead 8.8 “How It’s Gotta Be” (dir by Michael E. Satrazemis)


Right now, I would say that 75% of The Walking Dead fandom is heartbroken.  The end of tonight’s episode has generated some very real angst among some people.

As for me, I’m actually feeling rather proud of myself because I predicted that all this would happen.  I predicted it way back on November 5th and I’ve even got the tweet to prove it.  But, before I go on, I think it might be good to consider the words of a song from 1965.  Here are the Poets with That’s Way It’s Got To Be:

See, it all gets back to what has always been the underlying theme of The Walking Dead.  Nobody is going to get out of this show alive.  It doesn’t matter how good you are.  It doesn’t matter how likable you are.  It doesn’t matter how much the audience loves you.  Everyone on this show is eventually going to die.  The only question is whether someone will be around to keep them from reanimating afterward.  Negan, Rick, Maggie, Carol, Daryl, Michonne, Eugene … none of them are going to get out of this alive.  Death will come for everyone eventually and tonight, it appears that it’s coming for Carl.

As I tweeted on November 5th…

Tonight’s episode featured a lot of Carl.  When Negan and the Saviors showed up at Alexandria and demanded that Rick be given to them, Carl is the one who offered to sacrifice his life so that the rest could live.  (And, of course, we now know why Carl was willing to do that.  He literally had nothing to lose.)  When the Saviors were blowing up Alexandria, we watched as Carl made his way through the flaming wreckage of his former home.  Throughout the show, we got flashbacks of Carl arguing with Rick about Rick’s harsh philosophy.  Tonight, we saw more of Carl then we’ve seen in a while and I spent the whole show assuming that meant that Carl was probably not going to come to a good end…

But still, it’s hard to overstate the emotional impact of seeing Carl there at the end, bitten by a walker and fighting to breathe.  As Chris Hardwick and Khary Payton stated at the start of Talking Dead, Chandler Riggs really did grow up over the past few seasons of The Walking Dead.  It’s always kind of been easy to make jokes at Carl’s expense.  Early on in the show, it always seemed inevitable that he would end up getting lost or picked up the by the wrong people.  Whenever I live tweeted those early seasons of The Walking Dead, I almost always suggested that the ideal solution to almost any problem would be to sacrifice Carl.  But tonight, Chandler Riggs showed why Carl has become a favorite of many fans of this show.  The episode ended with Carl still alive but fading.  Will he die?  I really don’t see how he can’t.  He’s been bitten on his side so it’s not like they can just chop off a limb, like they did with Herschel.  If the show is to have any integrity, Carl has to die and he will be missed.

Up until that final scene with Carl, tonight’s episode could have just as easily been called “Everyone Better Do What Rick Says.”  Darryl took it upon himself to crash that truck into wall of the Sanctuary, which is actually what Rick did not want him to do.  As a result, the Saviors escaped, were able to launch a counter attack, destroy Alexandria, and take over The Kingdom.  Carl, meanwhile, went off on his own, helped out Siddiq, and ended up getting bitten for his trouble.  From now on, everyone better listen to Rick.

Rick got the line of the night when he asked Negan, “Don’t you ever shut the Hell up?”  That’s something that I’ve been wondering for a season and a half now.  Tonight, Negan actually lived up to his fearsome reputation.  As for the other Saviors, Simon made me say, “Oh God, this fucking guy again…” as soon as he got out of that truck and Gavin came across like a teacher trying to control an unruly classroom.  I guess Dwight is officially a part of Rick’s group now.

This was sometimes a hard episode to watch, not because it was bad but because it literally took place in the dark.  All of the action played out at night and the show actually did good job of using the darkness to its advantage.  There was an eerie and horrible beauty to scenes of Alexandria burning to the ground.

But you know what?

In the end, all anyone is going to remember about this episode is that final scene with Carl.

That’s the way it’s got to be.

And with that, The Walking Dead is on hiatus.  Season 8 will resume in 2018 and so will our coverage!

TV Review: The Walking Dead 8.7 “Time For After” (dir by Larry Teng)

This review of the latest episode of The Walking Dead is an example of better late than never.  This episode aired nearly a week ago but I’m only now getting around to watching it.  As I sit here watching and typing this review, it is 2 a.m., Saturday morning.  I’ve just returned from attending two Christmas parties.  I was actually thinking about getting some sleep for once, but then I suddenly realized that I still had an episode of The Walking Dead to watch!

That, of course, wouldn’t have happened in the past.  When The Walking Dead first started, there would have been no way that I would have waited a week to watch the latest episode.  That was before the show settled into its current glacial pace.  At this point, it typically takes this show so long to get from point A to point B that viewers like me spend entire episodes asking, “Are we there yet?”

For example, as I sit here typing this, I am watching Daryl, Michonne, Rosita, and Tara debating about whether or not they should attack the Sanctuary or if they should wait for Rick.  (Rick is currently being held prisoner by the trash people.)  Morgan just walked up and said that he’s tired of talking and he just wants to take action.  YES, MORGAN, YES!  For God’s sake, let’s end the debate and just do something!  No, we don’t need to hear about how Michonne “believes in Rick Grimes.”  We don’t need to hear about how everyone felt when they saw Sasha in that box.  We already know all of this because we’ve spent two seasons listening to everyone have this exact same goddamn conversation over and over again!  Just do something!

The episode is now over and, in all fairness to the show, it should be noted that Daryl did finally do something.  He and Tara crashed a truck through a wall of the Sanctuary, allowing a mass of walkers to enter and chow down on a few Saviors and, even more importantly, it forced the Saviors to waste their bullets defending themselves.  However, since Daryl took this action on his own as opposed to waiting for Rick to get out of the trash prison, the show still had to present it as being some sort of mistake.  The show has too much invested in presenting Rick as being a strategic genius to actually acknowledge that anyone else could actually have a good idea.

Watching the walking dead feast on his new Savior buddies was apparently enough to convince Eugene to (once again) declare his loyalty to Negan.  Despite his recent troubles, Negan still seems to be having fun.  Fortunately, the show’s writers seem to have finally figured out that Negan is more effective the less we see of him.  As for Eugene, well — he’s Eugene.  This episode featured peak Eugene.  If Eugene’s overly convoluted syntax occasionally makes you want to rip your hair out, you were probably bald by the end of this episode.  You have to respect Josh McDermitt’s commitment to the role.  Eugene may be annoying but McDermitt plays the Hell out of him.  Eugene’s ultimate loyalties, of course, still remain questionable.  He knows that Dwight betrayed the Saviors but he still hasn’t told Negan.  He showed some sympathy to Father Gabriel (who is apparently dying because he covered himself with intestines a few episodes ago) but he still declared that he was loyal only to himself.

As for Rick, he did eventually get out of the trash prison and convinced Jadis to join him in his fight against Negan.  Jadis was impressed when Rick killed a walker gladiator.  Jadis also wants to sculpt Rick.  How are the trash people not dead yet?

(Apparently, the trash people prefer to be known as Scavangers.  However, I’m going to continue to call them trash people because they annoy da fug out of me.)

Anyway!  This episode ended with Rick and the trash people rolling up on the Sanctuary.  Oh my God!  There’s a hole in the Sanctuary!  There’s no walkers!  Uh-oh, Daryl did something on his own!  Rick’s never going to let that go…

One more episode before The Walking Dead goes on its mid-season hiatus!  Who will die this Sunday?  My prediction: Father Gabriel.  The show’s never really figured out what to do with Gabriel so now seems like a good time to let him go down as a martyr.

We’ll see what happens!

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.

TV Review: The Walking Dead 8.1 “Mercy” (dir by Greg Nicotero)

Before I say anything about the 100 episode and 8th season premiere of The Walking Dead, I want to say thank you to the show’s producers for including a dedication to George Romero at the end of the episode.

Even in his later years, Romero never quite got his due from either Hollywood or the critical establishment.  He struggled to raise the money to make movies that would stay true to his vision.  The critics who praised him often only did so grudgingly, often acknowledging his influence while still making snide remarks about his films.  Too many critics are still unwilling to give unqualified praise to anything related to the horror genre.  Despite all of that, George Romero is one of the most important and influential filmmakers of all time.  It can be argued that without Romero and his Dead films, modern horror would look very different.  If there’s one thing that we can be sure of, it’s that without Night of the Living Dead, there would be no Walking Dead.

As for tonight’s episode…

Well, it was certainly different from what we had to deal with for the majority of season 7.  I mean, Rick actually did something other than sitting around in a catatonic state.  While Negan was featured in this episode, he was used sparingly.  He didn’t hijack the show, like he did for most of season 7.  We didn’t have to sit through any fifteen minute Negan monologues.  When this episode started with the various groups preparing for war, I figured that — following the usual pace of The Walking Dead — we would have 6 episodes of everyone getting ready, 6 episodes of everyone talking about being ready, and then 1 episode of actual fighting.  Instead, for once, the show got right to it.

Does this mean that the show’s producers actually learned something from the less than positive reaction that some fans and critics had to the sluggish pace of season 7?  We can only hope so.

I was happy to see Rick finally acting like the Rick that we once knew and loved.  Gone was wimpy Rick.  Instead, this Rick went straight to Negan, shouted out some threats, and then launched an attack on the Sanctuary.  All of a sudden, Rick became a badass again and it’s about time!

At the same time, I think it can be argued that the attack was a waste of bullets.  Sure, Rick and his people wanted to make a statement.  They wanted to show the Saviors that they weren’t going to allow themselves to be pushed around anymore.  But, as I watched round after round being fired at the Sanctuary, I remembered all of the times that we were shown Darryl pulling his arrows out of the head of a dead walker.  Why?  Because resources are limited in the world of The Walking Dead and anything wasted — like thousands of bullets — will never be replaced.  Rick and his allies have a lot of guns but what good are they going to be if they run out of bullets?

That said, during the show, I was willing to set aside those concerns.  Negan has been such a hateful and, if we’re going to be honest, annoying character that it was impossible not to feel a visceral thrill at the sight of someone finally fighting back.

As for the rest of tonight’s episode:

  1. Is Carl growing disillusioned with his dad?  To be honest, I’m just surprised that Carl’s still alive.  Someday, Carl is going to have to shoot his father in the head, in order to keep Rick from turning into a walker.  I have a feeling that’ll be the last scene of the last episode of The Walking Dead.
  2. Why is Gregory still alive!?  God, what a dumbfug toadsucker that guy has turned out to be.
  3. So, now, Father Gabriel has been captured by Negan.  I hope this doesn’t mean that we’re going to have to listen to Negan give a lecture on his opinion of organized religion.
  4. Throughout tonight’s episode, we were given scenes of an older and happier Rick.  He was living with Michonne and Judith.  Carl was nowhere to be seen.  There was a lot of talk of an upcoming festival.  Were these legitimate flash forwards or were they just Rick’s fantasy of what life is going to be like if he defeats Negan?  I’m leaning towards thinking they’re Rick’s fantasy.  Rick always thinks that life can somehow get back to being normal and happy.  All he has to do is find Sophia or defeat the Governor or make a new life as a pig farmer or kill Negan. It never works out like Rick thinks that it’s going to.  However, it’s Rick’s refusal to give up his faith that makes him both a compelling and a tragic figure.
  5. Rick was proud of himself after his battle with Negan but, as I watched Rick celebrate, it occurred to me that Rick always ends up thinking that, just because he’s won a battle, he’s won the war.  Again, it just never seems to work out for him.
  6. The Walking Dead is back!  I thought this was a good episode and I’m cautiously optimistic about the rest of the season.

How does everyone else feel?  What do you think?  Is season 8 going to be a return to form for The Walking Dead or are we looking at another season 7?  Regardless of whether you agree with me or not, I’d love to read your thoughts in the comments below.