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.

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

The Walking Dead Season 8, Episode 4 Review: ‘Some Guy’

(Photo Credit: AMC)
The Walking Dead 
Season 8, Episode 4 

The first three episodes of season eight of The Walking Dead were unique in that they each split their focus between multiple settings and character groups, juggling screen time that most episodes of The Walking Dead reserve for a single storyline. And, while this week's "Some Guy" reverts back to the singular storyline style of episode that we're used to, I would like to step back, and praise the beginning of season eight for its attempt to break up its episodes into more varied and interesting chunks. These first three episodes felt a lot closer to what you might see in Game of Thrones, which has to jump back and forth between a library's worth of major and minor characters each week, and ultimately leads to a much more cohesive show, overall. 

Usually, The Walking Dearelies too heavily on episodes structured around a character or two, in one setting. These episodes are (mostly) entertaining enough on their own, but make the show feel slow when strung together one after another. Instead of the plot moving forward with each episode, it moves laterally, as each week is spent exploring a completely different storyline, rather than continuing the one we watched the previous week. This is how we get a stretch of episodes in season seven, where we end up waiting a month to finally see Maggie again, after Glenn's death in the season premiere. 
(Photo Credit: AMC)
However, despite this week's return to the one storyline episode, I actually really enjoyed "Some Guy," and think it's probably the best episode of the season, so far. (Which, I'll admit, isn't saying a whole lot). For me, it all starts and ends with King Ezekiel, who, in the aftermath of the vicious Savior attack at the end of last week's episode, is finally confronted with his first significant lossand his own limitations as leader of the Kingdom. Whether or not you think his character is too over the top, even for a show about the zombie apocalypse, King Ezekiel has made for some entertaining television, and at the very least, is a nice change of pace from the ho-hum moroseness that tends to plague the rest of The Walking Dead's main cast. 

In a show dominated by intense, albeit, capable leadership, Ezekiel sticks out like a sheep in wolf's clothing. The "King Ezekiel" act he puts on for his followers, might be effective in inspiring confidence amongst a large group of people desperate for a hero, but it does little to mask Ezekiel's naivety about just how lethal the post-apocalyptic world can be. For the longest time, Ezekiel was unwilling to see the painfully obvious danger that came from the Kingdom's one-sided working relationship with the SaviorsAnd, in last week's episode, his well-meaning, though, incredibly misguided "we will not lose one of our ranks" speech, made it clear just how limited his experience, with life or death situations, actually is. This week, Carol confirms as much when she outright asks Ezekiel if he's ever had to fight someone. His answer? Not really. 

But, I think that's what makes Ezekiel so compelling. He's not the same kind of apocalyptic-hardened leader aa Negan, Rick, or even a Maggie. Pet tiger notwithstanding, Ezekiel's a fairly regular guy, with a pretty good set of intentionsand a relatable lack of experience when it comes to murdering people. The crises of confidence he faces this episode, isn't really something that we've seen a whole lot of. He's not in anguish over the loss of a close companion, or in conflict with a new-found desire for impractical pacifism. Ezekiel is simply a man, who gets way in over his head, and ends up caught in the kind of false sense of security that comes from playing a couple steps ahead of your opponent. But, as he quickly learns, no advantage, especially over the Saviors, ever lasts long. 
(Photo Credit: AMC)
Despite his bravado, there's something legitimately genuine about King Ezekiel and the love and compassion he shows for his people. We get a small sense of this from the flashbacks in this episode, but the majority of his character building took place way back in the second episode of season seven- over a year ago from Sunday night's episode. Of course, Ezekiel's absence from the entire middle chunk of season seven is a direct consequence of the singular-character episode structure that dominated almost all of last season. Rather than bits and pieces of Ezekiel character development sprinkled throughout the entire season, he received one dedicated episode at the very beginning, before disappearing completely for the next several weeks. 

The unique dynamic between Ezekiel and his subjects should have been built up over the entire course of last year; specifically, the almost paradoxical amount of unwavering loyalty the Kingdom shows to a man whose leadership claim to fame is working in the tiger exhibit of a zoo. It would have made it that much more crushing to see the Kingdom's soldiers get wiped out, knowing that the irrational level of trust they placed in a leader with questionable qualifications, is what led to their untimely demise. Instead, we get all of this character development shoehorned into a two-minute flashback of Ezekiel giving a galvanizing speech to his people- a speech that admittedly sounds pretty badass, but ultimately does little to make us care about the men and women who are about to lay down their lives for their king. 
(Photo Credit: AMC)
And, what's really disappointing is that there’s so much potential for great character development and world building, within The Walking DeadGranted, a lot of this is missing from the show because it was never there to begin with in the comic books, but there's no reason an adaptation has to be a beat-for-beat recreation of a property, and every season, the writers seem to squander creative opportunity after creative opportunity in favor of the same two or three dramatic chords. If there's one thing that season eight has going for it so far, though, it's the action. Throughout the first four episodes, the different action sequences have been pretty entertaining, and all fairly unique compared to what we've usually come to expect from The Walking Dead. "Some Guy," in particular has a pretty well-done car chase scene, and some great Carol moments that remind us just how dangerous this Suzy Homemaker can be.

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