Monday, December 12, 2016

(TV) The Walking Dead Review: ‘Sing Me a Song’

(Photo Credit: AMC)
The Walking Dead
Season 7, Episode 7
By Garrett Yoshitomi

Finally, the kind of episode fans have been waiting for. After weeks of jumping in and out of different narratives, The Walking Dead casts a wide net with Sunday’s ‘Sing Me a Song,’ exploring multiple characters and storylines, all in the span of one episode. It’s a welcome change in format, and certainly not the type of episode we're used to seeing. The Walking Dead typically chooses to dedicate each of its episodes to a singular storyline, which allows for more concentrated narratives, but usually wreaks havoc on the show’s pacing.

Take this season for example. We’re almost halfway through, and it feels like the plot has barely inched forward since that fateful night of the season six finale. Just three of the seven episodes so far (including the premiere), have built on the central Rick vs. Negan conflict, while the other four have been about: Carol and the Kingdom, Daryl and the Sanctuary, Maggie and the Hilltop, and Tara. Yes, world building, character development, and secondary storylines are important. But did we really need an entire sixty minutes dedicated to Tara?

Obviously, episodically divvying up focus is not a decision made of creative ambitions, but one of pragmatism. The fewer episodes Rick is in, the less Andrew Lincoln needs to be on set. The less Andrew Lincoln needs to be on set, the less Andrew Lincoln needs to be paid. But it’s a budgetary choice that has real ramifications on the quality of the show. Don’t get me wrong. I enjoyed the leadership spotlight Maggie got to step into in episode five. And there were even parts of last week’s Tara-palooza that I didn’t find objectively terrible. But, their cohesive impact on the wider Negan plot was just too thin, and the individual merit of each episode too poor, to really justify the amount of screen time they received. It’s no wonder The Walking Dead just hit a four-year ratings low, and is currently experiencing its worst reviewed season in the show's entire seven year run. With all that said, ‘Sing Me a Song’ covers quite a bit of ground, and more than makes up for last week’s lackluster outing, especially with regards to its focal point- Carl’s face-to-face encounter with Negan. 
(Photo Credit: AMC)
When Chandler Riggs poked his head out from inside Negan’s supply truck, comic fans rejoiced knowing that one of Carl’s most iconic comic book storylines would finally be coming to life. In the past, some of Carl’s notable graphic novel accomplishments have been diminished in the show. For instance, in the comics, Carl is the one responsible for killing Shane as a human, not Rick. And, he also kills the comic version of Lizzie, an arc that was given to Carol in the show. With Carl finally getting his chance to shine, Riggs delivers a surprisingly strong performance, going toe to toe with Jeffrey Dean Morgan’s Negan, and capturing both Carl’s bravery and vulnerability- anchoring the episode in one of Carl’s most crucial arcs, yet.

There’s a lot to unpack with Negan this episode, but without delving into too much plot, all I’ll say is this- not only does Jeffrey Dean Morgan capture every last sadistically charismatic drop of Negan’s personality, but he also gives The Walking Dead a villain with a few more layers than we’ve seen in seasons past. Unlike the Governor, who was a one beat evil psychopath, Negan is a little more nuanced. He can be menacing (giving “the iron”), fatherly (with Carl), and even kind of…neighborly? What’s more, he draws out pieces of characters that we’ve previously never seen before- weakness in Rick, strength in Carl, and a whole lot of fierceness in Olivia. That alone makes him a worthwhile character to keep around in my eyes, as we rarely see this kind of complex dynamic between a villain and our protagonists. Usually these relationships never evolve past the basics of “good vs. evil,” but Negan ever so slightly blurs this line, in a way this show desperately needs.
(Photo Credit: AMC)
Unlike past episodes that concentrate their focus on one location or character, ‘Sing Me a Song’ gives us a ton of movement on the periphery, with multiple storylines progressing and merging, in preparation for next week’s midseason finale. Of these storylines, it’s Rosita’s quest for a bullet that seems like it will play the most important role. Which is strange, because I never thought I’d ever put “Rosita” and “most important role” in the same paragraph together, let alone the same sentence. But alas, here we are. Aiding Rosita in her mission (albeit reluctantly) is of course, Eugene. And, though I appreciate the side plot being thrown Eugene’s way, I am a little disappointed that he’s reverting back to hiding behind his overly analytical façade, especially after the development he received in the season six finale.

Also in the mix this week are Spencer and Gabriel. Spencer continues his impressive march up the top of everybody’s least favorite character list, while Gabriel conversely moves down- a trend that’s been continuing since his coming out party during the group’s attack on the Savior outpost. Recently, Spencer’s taken a pretty hard stance against the Ricktatorship, a move that usually doesn’t bode well for those with this point of view. And can you really blame him? His whole family did kind of die shortly after Rick and co. arrived. However, if there’s anyone who may be able to set him straight; it’s Father Gabriel, who suffered his own doubts towards Rick before finally seeing the light.
(Photo Credit: AMC)
Finally, we get some brief sightings of Rick and Aaron on a supply run, and Michonne with a mission of her own. Rick and Aaron is a pairing that I’ve wanted to see since their tumultuous first meeting. Michonne’s storyline, on the other hand, feels a tad bit redundant, but there are worse plotlines to repeat, and it’s easy to see how she’ll tie in with some of the other characters we see this episode. Between these two storylines, we also get some unique walker setups, and it’s impressive that even after seven seasons, the show is still finding creative ways to implement walkers, even though they’re noticeably less frightening in the face of more lethal human threats.

‘Sing Me a Song’ lays out the blueprint for what The Walking Dead could and should become- a quality ensemble drama with strong effects-driven action, and a setting that provides opportunities for unique character interactions and storytelling. However, this is ultimately a lot easier said than done, and it feels like we’ve been tricked by these glimpses of potential, in the past. At some point, you kind of are what you are, and six years and ninety episodes in seems as good a point as any to draw the line. With that said, The Walking Dead still has the creative potential to throw together a pretty compelling midseason finale, and I like where this episode lined up the crucial bits of story we’ll probably see wrap up next week.

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