TV Review: The Walking Dead 8.3 “Monsters” (dir by Greg Nicotero)


Before watching tonight’s episode of The Walking Dead, I was starting to worry that I might be impossible to please.

I spent all last season complaining that The Walking Dead was too talky and slow-paced.  Then last week’s episode was pretty much nonstop action and I ended up getting bored out of my mind, largely because I didn’t feel like I had any sort of emotional stake in any of the characters.  When tonight’s episode started, I was literally wondering if perhaps I’m destined to never be truly satisfied with anything that happens on The Walking Dead.

When the episode started with the attack still going on and Morales and Rick still talking, I was a little bit concerned.  I was really worried that the entire episode was just going to be the two of them discussing what constitutes morality during the zombie apocalypse.  I honestly didn’t remember much about who Morales was so I have to admit that I wasn’t terribly affected by his tales of woe and death.  Morales explained that he lost everyone.  Rick mentioned that he had lost a lot of people that he cared about.  (Rick didn’t mention that most of them died as the result of Rick being a terrible strategist but no mater.)  I was really starting to get concerned that the conversation was never going to end but then Daryl showed up and killed Morales.  Thank you, Daryl.  From now on, whenever a minor character threatens to hijack an episode, Daryl kills them.  That’s the new rule.

The episode definitely picked up after the death of Morales.  In fact, thing got so much better after Morales died that I almost felt as if, by killing Morales, the show’s producers, writers, and directors were specifically telling us, “Don’t worry.  We learned our lesson last season.  We’re not going to let random characters wander in and take over the show this season.”

As for the rest of the episode, I know that many would probably say that the fight between Morgan and Jesus was a highlight and I’ll agree that it was a very well-done sequence.  (It helped that it was combined with scenes of Rick and Daryl fighting their own battle, for once giving us a chance to understand where all of these characters are in relation to each other.)  The scenes with Aaron and Eric were definitely the episode’s emotional high point and the sight of Eric wandering around as a walker served as nice reminder that, before it all became about Negan and Alexandria, The Walking Dead a show about … well, the walking dead.

For me, though, the best part of tonight’s episode was Gregory showing up at Alexandria and begging to be allowed to come back in.  Maggie, of course, immediately noticed that Gregory was driving Father Gabriel’s car.  Gregory lied and said that he had just found the car.  (Of course, we all know that he deserted Gabriel, leaving him with Negan.)  When Maggie said that Kal had told them that Gregory went to see Negan, Gregory announced that Kal couldn’t be trusted.

Suddenly, Kal leaned over the side of the wall.

Gregory looked up at him.  “Kal,” he sad.

Kal gave Gregory the finger.

Now, it may be a case of me being easily amused but that one hand gesture made the entire night for me.  It was so simple and yet so appropriate that it was pure genius.  If Gregory had been caught telling lies about Rick, Rick would have launched into a speech about why no one is allowed to lie in this new world.  If Gregory had been caught telling lies about Negan, we would have had to spend three episodes listening to Negan’s lecture.  Gregory got caught telling lies about Kal and Kal responded quickly, silently, and efficiently.  Everyone on The Walking Dead should try to be more like Kal.

Anyway, Maggie did let Gregory back into the compound.  Rick probably would have shot Gregory in the head.  Maggie does things differently.

Speaking of which, at the end of the show, Rick promised a savior that he would be allowed to escape if he would just tell Rick and Daryl where they could find a case of guns.  The savior told them and Daryl promptly shot him in the head.  I can’t say that I blame Daryl.  That’s just the way things work in the heartless world of The Walking Dead.

Anyway, despite a shaky start, this episode turned out pretty well.  It was certainly a huge improvement on the previous two episodes of this season.

Allow me to end this review with a question and prediction.

First, the question: “Where’s Carl?”

A prediction: The first half of season 8 will end with a zombiefied Carl walking towards Rick.  I know that would be a major departure from the comic book but, honestly, it makes sense.  On the show, only two or three years have passed since Rick woke up from that coma.  In the real world, it’s been nearly 8 years and Chandler Riggs isn’t getting any younger.

We’ll see what happens!

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