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


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Oh my God!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Obviously, Richard doesn’t know Carol!

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

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

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

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


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

Well, how to put this?

I got bored.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Few Thoughts on …. The Walking Dead 7.2 “The Well” (dir by Greg Nicotero)


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Hmmm…

Well, what did everyone think of the 2nd episode of the 7th season of The Walking Dead?  After all the violence and darkness of the premiere, The Well felt like a different beast altogether.  In fact, there were times when I had a hard time believing that I was watching the same series, the tone of The Well was so entirely different from the previous episode.

Essentially, we got to find out what Carol and Morgan were doing while Abraham and Glenn were being killed by Negan.  They were discovering yet another settlement of survivors.  This settlement, known as The Kingdom, was ruled over by King Ezekiel and his pet tiger, Shiva.

Judging from twitter, it would appear that over a thousand people fell in love with King Ezekiel last night.  (Even more fell in love with Shiva.)  And I don’t blame them.  As played by Khary Payton, Ezekiel was a breath of fresh — if possibly insane — air.  He was exactly what the world of The Walking Dead needs.  He’s a leader who sincerely cares about his people but, unlike Negan, he’s not a sociopath.  At the same time, he’s also not totally ineffectual and, after what we saw with Rick last week, that was a welcome development.

When he was first introduced, Ezekiel seemed like a comical, buffoonish character.  After all, he frequently spoke like a bad Shakespearean actor.  He was given to broad pronouncements.  He sat on a throne.  He carried a sword, called himself a king, and often seemed like he was auditioning for a Renaissance Faire.  But as the episode progressed, we started to see that Ezekiel was far more intelligent than he first appeared.  As he told Carol, he knew he and his followers were living in a fantasy world but that fantasy was far more preferable than dwelling on the state of the world.  Over the course of an hour, Ezekiel went from being a joke to being a symbol of hope.

It was interesting to compare Ezekiel and his fantasy world to both Negan and Rick.  Though neither one of them would ever admit it, both Negan and Rick have also built up a fantasy world for themselves.  In Negan’s fantasy, his own sadism is justified by the state of the world.  Negan has created a world where being a sociopath is a heroic act.  Meanwhile, Rick continues to cling to the fantasy that, somehow, things can still go back to being the way that they were before the dead rose.  It’s no coincidence that, after seeing both Glenn and Abraham die, Rick immediately started to fantasize about a future where Glenn and Abraham were still alive and everyone was sitting down for a happy picnic.  In the end, Ezekiel is set apart by the fact that, of all the leaders, he is the only one willing to admit that he’s living in a fantasy.

As of right now, if I had to pledge allegiance to anyone in The Walking Dead, I would pledge it to King Ezekiel.  And it appears that Carol is about to do the same thing.  Either that or Carol’s going to decide to kill him just because she can.  It’s difficult to predict with Carol.

(Sidenote: While the episode was stolen by Khary Payton, Melissa McBride also contributed some of her strongest work yet.  Her amazement upon being initially confronted with Ezekiel’s Kingdom was brilliantly conveyed.)

Last week, a lot of people told me that, after spending an hour watching Negan torture Rick and kill Glenn and Abraham, they were done with The Walking Dead.  I’ll be curious to know if any of them watched last night’s episode and whether it changed their mind.  Much like Carol, the show must now make a choice.  Will its future resemble the first episode of the season or will it resemble The Well?

Now, I have to admit that, at times, I found The Well to be a little bit slow.  I liked it but I didn’t love it, at least not the way that some reviewers loved it.  (Over on the A.V. Club, both the reviewer and several of the commenters are practically rapturous in their praise.)  As fascinating as I found Ezekiel to be, I have to admit that I spent a bit of the episode wishing that I was discovering what was going on with Rick, Maggie, and all the rest.  On twitter, I compared it to how, whenever I wanted to know what was going on with Sawyer on Lost, it would be Hurley episode instead.

But, for the most part, I think The Well worked.  The Kingdom seems like a nice place to live but we probably shouldn’t get too comfortable with it.  Anytime Rick or Carol shows up at a new settlement, that means that death and destruction will soon follow.

We’ll just have to enjoy our time with Shiva while we can!

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