Tuesday, November 1, 2016

(TV) The Walking Dead: The Walking Dead 'The Well' Review

(Photo Credit: AMC)

The Walking Dead
Season 7, Episode 2

After the craziness that was last week’s season premiere, The Walking Dead offers to cleanse the palate with season seven, episode two, “The Well.” I’m usually not a fan of episodes completely ignoring the events of the immediately preceding episode- especially when said events are incredibly crucial plot-wise. However, last week was so emotionally draining that an hour of The Walking Dead, with zero acknowledgment of the Glenn-less world we now live in, is a welcome luxury I’m sure we won’t be able to afford much longer. From a scheduling standpoint, it makes sense to catch up on Carol and Morgan, rather than dive into the aftermath of Negan and Lucille. It keeps their side of the story relevant, while also preventing them from going forgotten amongst the show’s more casual fans. In doing so, “The Well” picks up where the season six finale’s other dangling cliffhanger left off- namely, what happens to Carol and Morgan, and who are those guys in the catcher’s gear?

(Photo Credit: AMC)

I was never big on the writers’ decision to pair Carol and Morgan together for much of last season. I understand the need to showcase their conflicting moral values- Morgan won’t kill, Carol only kills. But, the “fit” never felt natural, and the tension forced. The obvious choice for Morgan’s foil was very clearly Rick. Rick and Morgan’s relationship goes back to the literal beginning, and their reunion was long teased throughout season five. A half-season centered around these two long-lost companions, and their clashing ideologies, could have been quite compelling. Instead, Rick peeled off in his own narrative direction to set up Negan and the Saviors; leaving us with a frustratingly stubborn Morgan, and a Carol who only half-heartedly challenged him.

Last season, Carol underwent a strangely laid arc, going from a one woman stabbing crew, to a guilt ridden wreck with an unsettling death wish. It was a sudden change of heart for one of the show’s seemingly more hardened characters, making it even harder to accept, as her transformation took place over the span of just two episodes. (Although, to be fair there was a significant time lapse between them.) It also didn’t help that her new found moral compass turned her into the polar opposite of the person she had been for the previous two and a half years. Maybe next time, ease into it a little bit when you’re fundamentally altering a character? Carol spends most of this episode doing typical Carol things. She dons her “Suzy Homemaker” persona to feign unsuspecting Kingdom-ers, and appropriates anything useful, and dangerous, without hesitation.

(Photo Credit: AMC)

None of this would be worth mentioning, though, if not for the fact that two days ago (show time) Carol was practically begging a revenge-bent Savior to put her out of her misery. And as much as I love badass Carol, the writers need to pick a direction, and decide if Carol wants to live or not. Personally, I’m not exactly sure where Carol goes from here. Usually characters who decide they’re done with all the senseless violence, aren’t long for this world (R.I.P. Tyreese). But in Carol’s case, I kind of doubt the writers will bring her back from so close to death, only to turn around, and immediately kill her off. (Although, last week’s episode certainly spits in the face of this theory). For now, Carol serves as a useful character, with ties to all of the major players, and is one of the few non-Rick survivors with a fleshed out backstory. For a show that just wrote off two solidly established cast members, that matters.

A slightly less solidly established character is Morgan, who also features heavily this week. Other than his flashback solo episode, “Here’s Not Here,” I was fairly mixed on Morgan’s role in season six. He was just kind of “there” for most of the season, cryptically warning everyone that “all life is precious,” but with precious little to show for it. His unwavering pacifism could have been a much needed break from The Group’s “shoot first, ask questions never” policy- if the writers had given us the slightest of inklings that he might actually be right. Alas, it appears that Morgan will actually get to do something in season seven, rather than just exist on the periphery. His mentorship role with one of The Kingdom’s younger, less capable soldiers knights, fits his arc quite well, and has the potential to more deeply explore a character who, despite appearing regularly last season, remains quite enigmatic.

(Photo Credit: AMC)
Undoubtedly, the highlight of this week’s episode is the debut of The Kingdom. Over the years, we’ve seen a lot of different makeshift communities. Some have giant walls, others have homicidal cannibals; but so far, none have had the strikingly medieval feel of The Kingdom. From the “knights” clad in catcher’s gear, to the sounds of trotting horses, The Kingdom is unique in both name and image. Comic readers have waited patiently for The Kingdom and its leader, King Ezekiel, to finally appear on the small screen. And, while I was slightly skeptical towards how the show would handle King Zeke and his CGI-heavy companion, I’m happy to report that the early returns are quite promising.

It’s been a while since The Walking Dead has introduced a truly memorable new character (you’d probably have to go all the way back to Abraham’s debut in season four, for the most recent instance). Two episodes in, though, and season seven has already given us two, in Negan and King Ezekiel. Right from jump street, Ezekiel dominates the first scene he’s in- an admittedly easy task when you’re sitting next to a tiger. But take away Shiva, and he remains a dominating presence, thanks largely to the dynamic performance of Khary Payton. Ezekiel’s late night meeting with Carol speaks volumes to Payton’s talent, as he’s able to command the scene with his mesmerizing voice, both in and out of “character.” What’s more impressive is how subtly Payton overshadows Melissa McBride. McBride, an outstanding actor in her own right, says very few words during this scene- a fact that you don’t even realize until its already over. Payton is just that captivating.

(Photo Credit: AMC)

This episode, along with the season premiere, have succeeded in bringing some long overdue world building to The Walking Dead universe. For the longest time, Team Grimes has existed in their own little bubble- so confident and tested, handling any outside threat with relative ease and minimal loss. With the introduction of Negan, The Saviors, and The Kingdom, we finally get some perspective, and hints at where the series goes from here. Admittedly, King Ezekiel and his pet tiger, and by extension the entire existence of The Kingdom, requires a higher suspension of disbelief than we’ve had to accept in recent seasons. Which is weird, considering this is a show about zombies. However, the premise has gotten undeniably stale, to a degree, and the new characters we’ve encountered could go a long way in fixing this. It’s been no cake walk, but so far, season seven is turning out to be just the shakeup that The Walking Dead needs.

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