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)


SPOILER ALERT!  DO NOT READ THIS REVIEW UNLESS YOU’VE WATCHED THE LATEST EPISODE OF THE WALKING DEAD!  SERIOUSLY, I’M NOT KIDDING!

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 8.6 “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 8.3 “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!

TV Review: The Walking Dead 8.2 “The Damned” (dir by Rosemary Rodriguez)


I want to make one thing absolutely clear: I tried.

Seriously, I tried to get emotionally involved in this episode but there’s really only so much time that I can spend watching people shoot at each other before I get bored.  It’s kinda funny, to be honest.  I spent all last season complaining about Rick not doing anything.  Then, this episode comes along and it’s basically 45 minutes of Rick and the members of his militia kicking Savior ass.  Rick is finally doing something.  This entire episode was all about Rick doing something.  And I was bored out of my mind.

Basically, this episode followed several different groups as they all launched concurrent attacks on different Savior compounds.  A few minor members of Rick’s militia died but the majority of the victims were Saviors.  For all of their fearsome reputation, it’s pretty obvious that the only really strong savior is Negan.  The rest of them are just bullies and sycophants.  Unless Negan is physically there to tell them what to do, they’re easily defeated.  Over the course of the episode, a few of the dead reanimated and started eating anyone they could get their hands on.  That was good.  The show is called The Walking Dead, afterall.

During the attack, we were allowed a glimpse into some of the group dynamics in this new alliance.  Perhaps the most intriguing scenes were the ones that features Jesus (Tom Payne) and Tara (Alanna Masterson) debating whether or not to execute a man who claimed to just be a civilian.  Tara’s approach was significantly more ruthless than Jesus’s.  Even when Jesus had both the opportunity and the justification to kill a savior, he still decided to merely knock the man out.  Jesus said that Maggie would back him up.  Tara replied that Rick’s got her back.

Meanwhile, King Ezekiel, Carol, and the rest of Team Renaissance Faire wandered through the woods, with Ezekiel going on and on with his faux royal posturing.

As for Rick, he ran into a guy named Morales who is now a part of the Saviors.  Apparently, Rick met Morales in Atlanta.  Considering that there’s only a handful of people still alive in the world of The Walking Dead, it’s actually not too shocking that Morales and Rick would run into each other again.  It’s a small world.  If Rick had run into Shane’s brother or maybe Carl (who we saw running away last week), it would be exciting.  But Morales?  Who cares?

Finally, Morgan apparently now feels that he’s achieved some sort of immortality.  I guess that means that Morgan will eventually turn out of the be this season’s surprise sacrifice.

We’ll see what happens.  Maybe this episode will pay off in the future but for now, it’s just forgettable.

 

 

 

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.

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?