Tuesday, December 12, 2017

The Walking Dead Season 8 Midseason Finale Review: ‘How It’s Gotta Be’

(Photo Credit: AMC)

The Walking Dead
Season 8 Midseason Finale

The first half of season eight of The Walking Dead has been a whirlwind, to say the least. And, although ratings for the show have been down, there were aspects of this season that I genuinely enjoyed. If you’ve been following my reviews, you’ll know how pleased I’ve been with this year’s increased use of multi-storyline episodes. Also, there haven’t been any agonizingly slow filler episodes, as most weeks have featured an engaging, consistent level of action that’s been missing in seasons past. However, right off the bat, season eight was plagued by a massively confusing central plot that left out key details to the orchestrated attack on the Saviors. This resulted in a string of episodes, starting with the premiere, that were basically impossible to follow. The writers stumbled into something of a solution, as the overall plan naturally became more clear as the story progressed. However, this natural progression was not enough to completely save the season, which would have been much better served with a more explicit explanation of Rick’s plan.

Because we never get this explanation, though, a lot of the repercussions we see in this episode, after the plan fails, are hard to contextualize. We’ve inferred that the original plan called for members of Alexandria, the Hilltop, and the Kingdom to arrive at the Sanctuary, at the same time, to induce the Saviors’ surrender. But why are Carol and Jerry the only ones that get there? Why are Maggie and the Hilltop so late to the rendezvous that, not only do the Saviors escape, but they manage to trap the Hilltop convoy in the middle of the road, with a fallen tree, and then sneak up behind them, cornering them with cars of their own. We never even find out how the Saviors escaped the walker-filled Sanctuary, to begin with- a disappointment beyond just the illogical omission of crucial plot points, given that the Savior-centric moments of this season have probably been its main highlights. Overall, “How It’s Gotta Be” mostly serves as a prime example of what happens when earlier unaddressed plot holes finally catch up with you.
(Photo Credit: AMC)
So much of this episode is just such a blur, with too many key moments that are easily missed, either because they happen too quickly, or because they occur in the literal dark. The midseason finale is sloppy, to put it simply. Even with a 90-minute runtime, vital narrative details are left by the wayside in favor of fancy explosions, and yet another stoic face montage. And sure, you could spin this into a positive- mainly that it's better to have more content, than not enough. And, in general, the first half of season 8 has done a good job of avoiding the kind of filler that has consistently hampered The Walking Dead, since its inception. But, a part of me thinks that the writers intentionally withhold important plot information, and try to misdirect viewers, in order to easily build a cheap level of suspense. After the disastrous season six finale, which pretty much wrote the book on this tactic, it’s hard to give the writers any benefit of the doubt. Ultimately, though, all they’re really doing is constructing a contrived, unenjoyable narrative that’s harder to follow than one of Eugene’s mumbling analogies.

This is an episode that fans will be talking about for a while, but not for the reasons that AMC, and showrunner, Scott Gimple, would probably hope for. Rather than giving us a compelling plot woven together with meaningful character development, we get a midseason finale that, in true Walking Dead fashion, forces itself to rely on misdirection and cheap shock value in an attempt to entertain viewers. Shock value was great back when the series was in its infancy- when a stray walker popping out from the shadows, and latching onto some poor soul’s neck region, was legitimately gripping. But, as the Walking Dead has aged, so too have our expectations.
(Photo Credit: AMC)
In this sense, I think it’s fair to say that the events of the midseason finale at least try to shake things up, by providing an opportunity for the show to depart significantly from the comics. The rules have clearly changed regarding the idea that some characters are untouchable, and that’s an effective way for the writers to potentially keep things fresh going forward. Whether you like the ending of this episode or not, we’re probably going to see some real, lasting changes in characters like Rick and Enid. In addition, it’s pretty obvious from the packed to the gills plot of the midseason finale, as well as the constant (though welcome) jumping around between multiple characters and storylines throughout season 8, that The Walking Dead needs to desperately start trimming the fat from its cast, which again, this episode makes progress in achieving.

However, this does not mean that The Walking Dead should turn into a contest of, ‘which character’s going to die a surprising and horrifying death, next?’ (Although, I can’t really blame you if that’s what you already think this show is all about.) Instead, The Walking Dead needs to ignore, or get rid of, the characters who don’t matter, and start doubling down on the characters who do- the ones who made it the most popular show on cable, in the first place. This shift in character focus needs to feel real and dynamic, and not just a reemphasis of the same traits that we’ve already seen time and time, again. We know that Daryl’s downfall has always been his emotionally-charged reactions. But, now it’s time to see some growth out of the series’ consensus fan favorite character. We’ve seen glimpses of these kind of changes with Maggie, and they’ve been great. But, now let’s see more of it.

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

The Walking Dead Season 8, Episode 7 Review: ‘Time for After’

(Photo Credit: AMC)
The Walking Dead 
Season 8, Episode 7 

Season eight of The Walking Dead started with a loud, confusing bang, as the writers tried to deliver the kind of excitement that’s typically associated with a show’s 100th episode, but failed by making the premiere bizarrely hard to follow, ruining what could have otherwise been a pretty compelling storyline, in the process. With just one week until the midseason finale, I think season 8A’s penultimate episode does a pretty good job of avoiding this same pitfall, by keeping the buildup for next Sunday’s episode relatively simple. A good chunk of “Time for After” feels slow in comparison to some of season eight’s more action-heavy episodes. Most of the screentime is dedicated to character development for Eugene, which isn’t a bad thing by any means, but it does feel like a less vital storyline than Daryl’s plan to attack the Sanctuary, which should have a pretty tangible effect on next week’s midseason finale.

As frustrating as it is to see Eugene turn his back on his friends, I appreciate the complexity this betrayal adds to his character. It’s interesting to see a member of the group defect, especially when he’s aligning himself with the show’s main antagonist. Unsurprisingly, our heroes have obediently thrown themselves behind Rickeven when the odds of usurping Negan seem low. Daryl was captured and taken to the Sanctuary, just like Eugene was, but even after suffering days of constant physical and mental torture, his loyalty to Rick remained. Neighboring communities, who knew everything of Negan’s sadistic and violent ways, but knew nothing of Rick, also blindly put their faith in him. So far, Eugene has been the only protagonist to break rank and choose to join the Saviors, and I think that adds a fresh dynamic to a predictable group of characters.
(Photo Credit: AMC)
And, it’s definitely not as if Eugene is acting totally out of character. He’s always leveraged the utility of his ingenuity into a nice, safe and cozy spot next to a physically strong protector. Cowardly? Yes. But, it’s arguably quite realistic. We haven’t really seen a character jump ship like this since Andrea way back in season three, but unlike Andrea, Eugene is clearly aware of just how wicked and dangerous Negan is- he just doesn’t care enough to risk his own safety and do something about it. Eugene does seem to be guided by some sort of logic, though. The past couple of episodes have built Negan up to be much more of a beloved ruler than we’ve been led to believe.

Up until this season, Negan and the Saviors have been characterized as unequivocally bad. And, not just bad, bad. But, truly sadistic and evil. However, with season eight, we’re starting to see some slight deviations from this. Two weeks ago, we learned that in actuality, Negan is rather beloved by his followers. They, “thanked God” for him, after he returned to the Sanctuary, and without question, believed that he would save them from the encroaching hoard. In turn, we also learned that Negan takes his leadership role quite seriously, and cares about helping his people, and keeping them safe.

(Photo Credit: AMC)
Eugene has quietly been indoctrinated into seeing Negan as this magnanimous ruler, seduced by the mutual respect Negan genuinely seems to share with him. As a member of Rick’s group, Eugene was seen as much more of a burden, and certainly wasn’t valued by Rick or Abraham, in the same way that he is by Negan. But, I do think that the rest of the group, and especially Abe and Rosita, saw Eugene as an actual friend, despite all of their baggage. Which is something you probably can’t say about Negan, with his “people are a resource” mantra.

The bulk of this episode’s action is drawn from Daryl and Tara’s attack on the Sanctuary. Unlike Rick’s plan, (which was never outright explained, and only made sense after piecing together bits of it from several different episodes), Daryl’s plan is simple- ram a giant truck into the Sanctuary, and let the hoard of walkers outside, flood in. It’s a short, but exciting sequence, and I appreciate the increased use of vehicles in this season’s action scenes. What’s even more interesting, though, is the group debate that centers around the validity of this plan.

(Photo Credit: AMC)
The ragtag group of Daryl, Tara, Michonne, and Rosita all seem to be struggling to come to terms with the past choices they've made in dealing with the Saviors. Tara regrets not telling Rick sooner about the Oceanside community and its gun cache, and sees Daryl’s plan as an opportunity to set things right, by taking action now against the Saviors, rather than waiting. Rosita feels the opposite. She went the “shoot first, ask questions later” route last season, and it ended up costing the group Sasha. It’s strange, and quite frankly a little hilarious, to see Rosita acting as the voice of reason. Daryl should know that your plan is probably too reckless if Rosita is being the sensible one.

The one character who seems to be stuck in his old ways, though, is Daryl. Despite his stoic, monosyllabic nature, Daryl has always based his actions ohis emotions, rather than choosing the logical best move that will most benefit the rest of the group. In season six, he left Alexandria, in response to Denise's death, to pursue Dwight, causing Glenn, Michonne, and Rosita to chase after him, which lead to their eventual capture by the Saviors. While kneeling during the lineup scene, in the season seven premiere, Daryl's emotionally-driven punch to Negan, is what triggered the latter to kill Glenn as penance. Once again, when given the choice between calculated, rational inaction (waiting for Rick to arrive at the Sanctuary with reinforcements), Daryl chooses to act emotionally, attacking the Sanctuary out of a thirst for vengeance, and much earlier than Rick's plan originally called for. 


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