Tuesday, November 28, 2017

The Walking Dead Season 8, Episode 6 Review: ‘The King, the Widow, and Rick’

(Photo Credit: AMC)
The Walking Dead 
Season 8, Episode 6 

After a slight uptick in ratings for episode four, last week’s “Big Scary U” backslid, as The Walking Dead experienced its lowest ratings since 2011As weird as it might sound, though, I’ve actually been enjoying this season, and I think a lot of it has to do with all of the multi-character episodes we’ve been getting. Yes, it’s glaring that, despite the show’s effort to incorporate more characters into a single episode, Negan and Father Gabriel were still effectively abandoned for several weeks. But, even last week’s Negan-centric episode briefly ventured outside of the Sanctuary to touch base with Rick and Daryl. And overall, the pace for a majority of this season, has been enjoyably quick, and this is especially true for “The King, the Widow, and Rick.” 

At this point in season seven, there were a lot of single-storyline focused episodes that all led up to, and somehow needed to tie together before, the midseason finale. Predictably, that didn’t happen, and the 7A finale came and went without any sense of a real pay-off, due mostly to the inconsistent build-up. But, I don’t think that’s going to be the case this year. Instead of jumping around from character to character each week, almost every episode of season eight has spent time developing and blending multiple storylines. Maybe the first two episodes of the season were overly convoluted, but at least they laid the groundwork for several plot points that would end up receiving consistent screen time throughout the rest of the season. Because of this, I’m okay putting up with a couple of subpar, confusing episodes. The homestretch of 8A has focus. It has a clear end game that will be affected and molded by several different storylines, and that creates actual stakes worth following during these next couple of weeks. 

(Photo Credit: AMC)
Because this multi-storyline episode structure forces the show to burn through plot at a quicker pace, some unique character pairings are necessarily being pushed to the forefront, in order to round out the gaps in the narrative. At first glance, these pairings don’t exactly scream, ‘compelling, but they’re a welcome change to the same few cast combinations that we’ve seen over and over again for the past several years. For instance, while it’s always fun to see Rick and Daryl in action togetherthis week quietly rolls out team Daryl and Tara- the two survivors who are hell-bent on getting revenge against the Saviors, even if it means abandoning Rick’s carefully tinkered planIn a sense, we’ve already seen this dynamic play out. Last season, Rosita and Sasha went off book, and tried to take matters into their own hands by going on a two-woman mission to assassinate Negan. The Daryl and Tara situation feels slightly different because they’re merely taking advantage of the Sanctuary’s precarious walker situation- a direct result of following Rick’s plan to begin with, rather than going entirely off script on their own. 

However, I’m willing to overlook these noticeable similarities because a) Daryl is a much more interesting character than Rosita and Sasha (individually or together), and b) it feels like Daryl and Tara’s plan has a lot more legitimacy to it, compared to Rosita and Sasha’s half-baked scheme to stroll on up to the Sanctuary, and shoot Negan…somehow. Speaking of, by the end of this episode, Rosita, in a duo of her own with Michonne, join Daryl and Tara on their quest for revenge. Again, the repetitiveness of last season is apparent, but there is some intriguing character development potential here. I feel like Michonne, as a more “senior” member of the gang, should be able to help Rosita stay more level-headed, as opposed to Sasha, who more or less enabled Rosita’s blind vengeance-fueled rage. A big problem I had with Rosita last season, was how unrealistically stupid her entire plan was. A more reined in Rosita, with a more believable game plan, could be fun to watch. 

(Photo Credit: AMC)
I’m also looking forward to seeing what Tara can do in a more prominent role. For most of her time on the show, Tara has existed on the periphery- providing cover fire from some set, safe distance away, while the main characters proceed with the heavy lifting. The one moment she did get at center stage was in her solo episode, "Swear," widely considered the worst episode in the history of The Walking Dead. Luckily, Tara is far from this storyline’s focal point, but because of her insistence on wiping out the Saviors, and her proximity to Daryl in the forthcoming episodes, it seems pretty likely that she’ll get her fair share of action coming- a solid test for a character who’s consistently struggled to find her role, within the show. 

With the incorporation of more storylines per episode, we also get a little screen time thrown Carl's way, as we pick up his gas station stranger subplot from the season premiere. If you'll remember, Rick chased Siddiq off with a few over the head warning shots, while Carl later left some rations at the spot where they had initially met. When Carl runs into Siddiq again, this episode, he makes another, this time, successful attempt at engaging with him, in a touching scene that clearly differentiates Carl from Rick, and further helps to establish him as his own character, rather than just an extension of his dad. The "three questions" make a return, in a nice callback to, what feels like, the yester-years of The Walking Dead; and overall, I'm intrigued by where this Carl-Siddiq storyline is heading. It is frustrating to see Carl and Siddiq struggle with walkers, on their way back to Alexandria, for no other reason than that the plot demanded it, and some of the dialogue the two share is, as the kids are saying these days, quite cringe. But, just like I'm all for new character pairings, I'm also in favor of completely new characters, in general, and I think the introduction of Siddiq could spice up the backend of these next couple of episodes before the midseason finale.

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

The Walking Dead Review Season 8, Episode 5: ‘The Big Scary U’

(Photo Credit: AMC)
The Walking Dead
Season 8, Episode 5

The first three episodes of The Walking Dead’s new season did something that we’ve rarely seen during the show’s eight-year run. Each of these episodes jumped around between different characters and settings, rather than dedicate themselves entirely to a singular storyline. And, while these episodes weren’t perfect, they certainly felt more dynamic compared to past seasons. Each week, we got a good feel for what was going on with Rick and Daryl; Jesus, Tara, and Morgan; and Carol and Ezekiel. Their plots didn’t move forward as quickly as they would have if they were allotted a full hour of screen time, but the important thing is that we got to enjoy all of these characters in bits and pieces, for three straight weeks, as their storylines gradually inched forward.

However, despite this recent incorporation of multi-storyline episodes, there was one dangling loose end that had been entirely forgotten for almost a month. What happened to Negan? If you’ll remember, the season premiere ended with Negan and Father Gabriel (sans his shitting pants) trapped in an RV, surrounded by walkers. The next three episodes then went on to completely ignore this relatively major cliffhanger, leading into this week’s ‘The Big Scary U,’ which picks things up as if no time has passed, at all. At this point, you pretty much just have to accept that this is the kind of show The Walking Dead is. For whatever reason, whether it be budgetary or creative, the writers just can't figure out a way to explore some of its characters, without abandoning the rest, for weeks at a time.

(Photo Credit: AMC)
At the very least, ‘The Big Scary U’ is a good episode, and makes the wait to find out what happens, between Negan and Gabriel, almost worth it. We’ve got about a season and a half worth of data, and I think it’s pretty safe to say that The Walking Dead is a much better show when Negan is onscreen. And, it’s not just the contagious charisma that Jeffrey Dean Morgan brings to the character. Negan is unique- the lone #RedMachete in a show full of pocket knives. When it seems like every other week, another main character is hemming and hawing over what to do, and how comfortable they are doing it, Negan slices through decisions like a hot knife through butter. It’s this calm, yet unsettling, sense of confidence Negan exudes that almost gets us siding with this leather jacket-wearing megalomaniac, when he talks about his twisted, tyrannical new world order.

Was it really Rick who got Glenn and Abraham killed, while Negan merely killed them? (I guess Rick’s group did attack the Saviors first.) Are people really just resources? (It sounds harsh, but maybe in an even harsher world like the zombie apocalypse, a more practical, utilitarian approach needs to be adopted for the sake of survival.) These are all thoughts that briefly ran through my head, as Negan and Gabriel bantered. And, although, these thoughts disappeared as quickly as they arrived (No, Negan, the one bashing people’s brains in with a baseball bat, in order to instill fear and obedience, is obviously the asshole; and, people are a resource, but they’re also, you know, people.), Negan, and his world view, definitely challenged my thinking more than any "This World is Ours" speech that Rick’s ever given.

(Photo Credit: Image Comics)
In addition to these insights into Negan’s psyche, we also get a few hints about his pre-outbreak life sprinkled throughout this episode. This background information is taken directly from “Here’s Negan,” a standalone volume of The Walking Dead that explores Negan’s life leading up to, and during the early days of, the zombie apocalypse. It would have been quite enjoyable to see Negan’s backstory fleshed out through actual flashbacks. The Walking Dead, in general, shies away from using flashbacks, but I think Negan is one of the few characters who has an interesting enough origin to warrant an exception to this trend.

The exclusive focus this episode puts on the Sanctuary means that we also get a behind the scenes look at the Saviors. Specifically, Negan’s “small council” plays a prominent role, and features a handful of high-ranking Saviors, most of whom we’re already familiar with. Simon, Dwight, Gavin, newcomer Regina, and even Eugene round out the ranks of Negan’s inner circle; and it’s fun to see this group attempt to navigate their current predicament, without Negan. Somewhat surprisingly, they all manage to do a pretty good job of listening to each other’s ideas, considering the pros and cons of each plan. What’s more impressive, probably, is the fact that they manage to do all of this while only threatening Eugene’s life once. Speaking of Eugene, he’s inadvertently thrust into quite the pickle when Gavin (correctly) deduces that the attack on the Sanctuary would have required at least one Savior on the inside helping out Rick. Now, we know that Eugene’s not the mole, Eugene knows he’s not the mole, but to everybody else, he’s a pretty likely suspect. This cat and mouse game should serve as an entertaining subplot, and will function nicely in giving more screen time to Eugene, a character that usually manages to make the most of whatever screen time he’s given.

(Photo Credit: AMC)

Five episodes into season eight, and it’s finally starting to become clear what Rick’s plan is. The elaborate ploy to lead a massive herd of walkers straight into the heart of the Sanctuary wasn’t meant to wipe the Saviors completely off the map, but rather to keep them confined to the Sanctuary, and to cut-off all supply lines and outside help, in the hopes of potentially negotiating a more peaceful surrender. Rick seems to have regained some of that compassion that’s often waivered throughout the more recent seasons. He seems to genuinely care about the Savior workers, who pledge allegiance to Negan out of fear, rather than a real sense of loyalty. This stroke of kindness is already starting to cause strife within the group, and it’s incredibly likely that more characters, like Daryl, will try to protest in some way. The real question is, how will fans feel? Will they throw themselves behind Daryl and his quest for vengeance? (Probably) Or, will they see the value in Rick’s plan of trying to “save” as many of the Saviors’ working class, as possible. Only time, (but hopefully not too much time), will tell.

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