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 7.14 “The Other Side”


Tonight’s episode of The Walking Dead was the type of episode that drives me crazy.  It was an episode where hardly anything happened and what did happen played out very slowly.  In fact, I eventually ended up getting so bored that I started trying to imagine how The Walking Dead could ever come up with an episode slower than “The Other Side.”

After giving it some thought, I decided the only way it could happen would be if Terrence Malick agreed to be a guest director during season 8.  As I sat waiting for something to happen in the episode that I was actually watching, I found myself imagining what the Malick-directed episode would be like.

I envisioned Rick standing alone in a vibrantly green field.  The grass is high and the blowing wind creates gentle waves of nature.  Rick looks up to the incredibly blue sky and sees one extremely white cloud floating over.  Rick looks down at the ground.  An egg hatches.  A bird is born.  Rick stares at the bird.  The bird stares at him.  They both flash back to prehistory.  A sabre tooth tiger eats a caveman who looks suspiciously like Norman Reedus.  Rick blinks.  Rick’s back in the field.  Christian Bale walks by, dressed up like a 1930s Oklahoma dust bowl farmer.  He looks at Rick.  Rick stares back.  Christian Bale walks on.

On the soundtrack, we hear Ben Kinglsey’s voice.  “What is this nature of man that refuses to accept that death begins with life and life ends with death?  Will the grass blow for an eternity?”

Rick looks off in the distance.  Walkers are approaching.

On the soundtrack, we hear Jessica Chastain’s voice: “I will wait you at the other end of the river, where the two waters meet in life and diverge in death.”

“Shane, Glenn, and old Dale Horvath,” Rick mutters, “Always you are at war within me.”

The walkers calmly walk by Rick.  Rick notices that a man in animal skins is with the walkers and yet, the man is not eaten because he has returned to a more innocent and primitive state….

And so on and so forth.

Anyway, as for what actually did happen during tonight’s episode of The Walking Dead, I guess this was a pretty good example of why I should be careful what I ask for.  For weeks, I’ve been defending Rosita and saying that people should let her attack the Sanctuary.  Well, tonight, she and Sasha finally made it to the Sanctuary and that attack did not go quite as planned.  First off, Eugene refused to go back to Alexandria with them.  (A better name for the Sanctuary would be Stockholm because Eugene’s got a huge case of Stockholm Syndrome, am I right or am I right?  Thank you, I’ll be here all night.)  Then Sasha announced that Rosita needed to go back to Alexandria and ran into the Sanctuary to create a diversion.  With Sasha undoubtedly getting shot up by Negan’s goons, Rosita ran off but then stopped when she saw someone in the shadows.  I’m assuming it was Daryl.

(By the way, I know we’re all supposed to get mad at Rosita for potentially messing up Rick’s plans but seriously, can you blame her?  Rick only has one plan: Do nothing until that’s no longer an option, sacrifice half of your people on a suicide mission, and make sure Carl survives to lose another eye.)

This all happened in the final ten minutes of the episode and it was pretty good and exciting.  But to get to that point, we had to sit through a seemingly endless slog of scenes that mostly felt like filler.  The Saviors showed up at Alexandria and, once again, we had to watch Simon bully Gregory while everyone else stood around and shook their head in disgust.  Because Negan set his last doctor on fire, he decided to take Alexandria’s doctor.

“OH MY GOD!” the audience was supposed to shout, “Maggie’s pregnant and Alexandria has lost their only doctor!”

(Maggie’s been pregnant for a while now and she’s still not showing.  Trying to figure out how much time has actually passed in The Walking Dead is almost as much fun as trying to figure out how long they were actually on the island on Lost.)

And yes, Negan arbitrarily taking someone else’s doctor because he stupidly killed his own does reinforce the fact that Negan is a jackass and something needs to be done about him.  But seriously, it all played out so slowly.  And it’s not like Gregory was going to refuse to hand over the doctor or anything.  Other than Daryl almost coming out of hiding to attack someone, nothing unexpected or particularly interesting happened during all of that.  It was all just more Savior bully bullshit.

When we weren’t in Alexandria, we spent an eternity watching Rosita raise and lower a rifle.  At one point, I was scared that the whole rest of this season would just be Rosita raising the rifle, looking through the scope, and then lowering it.

Fortunately, this episode ended with some action but it took forever to get there.  There’s only two more episodes left in this season so hopefully, the show will pick up the pace a little.  Because, seriously, if season 7 ends with Rick announcing that it’s finally time to attack as he stares at the Sanctuary in the distance, I’m going to throw a fit.

 

 

TV Review: The Walking Dead 7.11 “Hostiles and Calamities” (dir by Kari Skogland)


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Hi everyone!

I apologize for being late with this review.  Not only did I spend Sunday night watching the Oscars but I’ve also been sick for the past few days.  As a result, I’m running about two days behind when it comes to reviewing stuff.

As for last Sunday’s episode of The Walking Dead

To be honest, before I watched Hostiles and Calamities, I was really concerned.  I knew three things.  I knew that the episode featured a lot of Negan, which was the main problem with the first half of the seventh season.  I knew that the episode would involve the Saviors, who may be properly hissable villains but whose bully-based society had never seemed particularly interesting.  And I knew that the episode centered around Eugene, a character that I have never been particularly fond of.  When we last saw Eugene, he was being taken away from Alexandria by Negan.  And, to be honest, I was perfectly okay with the idea of never seeing Eugene again.

So, imagine my surprise when Hostiles and Calamities actually turned out to be a good episode!

Note that I didn’t say it was a great episode.  It wasn’t.  Negan and Lucille may be intimidating but they’re still not exactly as compelling as the show seems to think they are.  That said, we did get to see a slightly different side to Negan as he half-seduced/half-bullied Eugene over to the dark side.  For once, Negan actually did seem like a character who was worthy of Jeffrey Dean Morgan’s considerable talent.  But still, as a general rule, Negan is a lot like Jacob from Lost.  He’s best used sparingly.

As usual, Josh McDermitt did a good job as Eugene but, since the character is already fairly annoying, it wasn’t a huge shock to hear him declaring, “I am Negan.”  As smart as he may be, Eugene has always been one of the weakest members of Rick’s little group.  For that reason, it made total sense that Eugene would be the one that Negan would decide to “recruit.”  There’s no way that Negan would have been able to brainwash Daryl.  Daryl is too strong for that.  Daryl is willing to die before betraying Rick.  But Eugene’s a self-described coward.  As we all know, most bullies (and that is the perfect description for the Saviors) start off as cowards.

Seeing as how it was centered around the least likable of Rick’s group, I really shouldn’t have liked Hostiles and Calamities but the episode worked for me.  For the first time, the Savior society actually seemed … well, I wouldn’t go quite as far as to call it compelling.  But still, it was interesting to see a new side to life in the Sanctuary.  Our previous exposure to Savior society came through seeing Daryl in a cell and various Negan lieutenants harassing communities.  In this episode, we got to see how things actually worked on a practical level.  Even more importantly, we saw that Negan may be a jerk but he still manages to maintain order in an otherwise chaotic world.  The scary thing about the collapse of society is that it’s usually the Negans who survive and thrive.

It also helped that this episode actually had some moments of humor.  How couldn’t you smile at the sight of trembling Eugene, wandering around the compound with his jar of pickles?   Personally, I sympathized with Negan’s “wives,” having to pretend to be impressed with Eugene’s video game just out of the hope that Eugene would help them poison Negan.  When Eugene announced that he would never poison Negan, it wasn’t only as close as Eugene will ever get to being in control of his situation.  It was also a declaration that Eugene was now a Savior for life.

(I assume that means that Eugene will eventually be devoured by zombies.  That seems to be the punishment for turning your back on Rick.)

As for Dwight and the consequence of his search for Sherry, I felt bad for Dr. Carson.  Carson seemed like a pretty nice guy but, since Dwight needed someone to blame for Daryl and Sherry’s disappearance, Dr. Carson ended up going head first into the fire.  That whole scene made me cringe.  That worked out well for Eugene, who is now the only “doctor” at the compound.  You do have to wonder what will happen if Negan ever finds out that Eugene is a pathological liar.

In the end, Hostiles and Calamities was a pretty good episode of The Walking Dead.  After a potentially calamitous first half, the second half of season 7 is developing nicely.

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.

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.