Tuesday, February 28, 2017

The Walking Dead Review: ‘Hostiles and Calamities’

(Photo Credit: AMC)
The Walking Dead
Season 7, Episode 11
By Garrett Yoshitomi

This week, The Walking Dead veers away from the main March to War storyline, in favor of the more self-contained, Eugene-centric episode, “Hostiles and Calamities.” “Hostiles and Calamities” takes place during the events of the previous two episodes, and focuses on The Saviors’ kidnapping of Eugene, as well as the fallout from Daryl’s escape. Typically, The Walking Dead suffers greatly when it jumps back and forth between its main storyline and supporting “filler” episodes. Most shows with a large ensemble cast (think Game of Thrones) incorporate multiple storylines into one episode, in order to maintain its pacing.

The Walking Dead has mostly had to avoid this due to budgetary constraints, giving us stretches of episodes like the first half of season seven, where the week to week focus shifted from Carol and Morgan at The Kingdom, to Daryl and The Saviors, all the way to an episode dedicated entirely to Tara- considered by many to be the worst hour The Walking Dead has produced, yet. With that being said, the first two episodes of season 7B have included multiple storylines, and it’s probably no coincidence that both rate higher on Rotten Tomatoes than every 7A episode, save for “The Well.” With “Hostile and Calamities” representing a return to filler, it’s only natural to assume that its quality is less than stellar. But, this is a surprisingly solid episode, anchored almost entirely by the unexpectedly compelling Eugene.
(Photo Credit: AMC)
Eugene is pretty easily the show’s most interesting supporting character, which is just as much of a testament to Eugene, as it is an indictment of the pu pu platter side cast we’ve been forced to endure for the past several seasons. Eugene made his mullet-y debut way back in season four as the precious cargo of Abraham and Rosita. The two were escorting Eugene en route to Washington D.C., under the impression that he was a high-ranking government scientist capable of reversing the effects of the zombie apocalypse. For some fans, Eugene’s storyline actually took The Walking Dead somewhere worth exploring- a chance for our ragtag group of heroes to finally find a cure and save the world (as all good protagonists do). Alas, this hope was fleeting, as Eugene was eventually exposed for lying about his job, and the possibility for a cure, as a cowardly ploy for self-preservation.

Since this relatively major storyline, Eugene has been relegated to little more than the show’s resident coward, whose feebleness serves as little more than an episodic plot device. Sure, he’s flirted with bravery from time to time, most notably in the season six finale, but it’s always fleeting and usually disappointing. For once, it’s nice to see Eugene get a significant chunk of plot thrown his way, and this episode does a good job of making his current storyline feel organic, unlike say, Rosita who’s suddenly been thrust into her current “burn The Saviors to the ground” arc, after multiple seasons of very little character development.

If there’s anything this episode shows, it’s that Eugene is indeed a survivor. While he lacks (and probably will always lack) the more obviously useful skill set of a Rick or Daryl, he can be just as adaptable, maybe even more so, especially when forced to navigate the social hierarchy of an unknown group. Eugene knows he's not punching or shooting his way out of a situation anytime soon; so instead, he stays in his lane, and relies on carefully crafted deception, as well as his non-threatening appearance, to get by. Only time will tell how Eugene’s stay at The Sanctuary ends, but it’s hard to imagine he’ll be able to dupe The Saviors for long. Negan’s a lot of things, but a fool isn’t one of them- Eugene’s playing with fire, and it’s only a matter of time until he gets burned.

(Photo Credit: AMC)
Even with all of the tragic character development he’s received this season, it’s really, really difficult to like Dwight. Most fans (including myself) still haven’t forgiven him for stealing Daryl’s crossbow and motorcycle, and he certainly didn’t win himself any points with the way he treated Daryl during his stay at The Sanctuary. I think it can definitely be valuable for a show to explore the complexities of its antagonists, and Dwight’s relationship with Negan is certainly just that, complex. I enjoyed learning the details of Dwight’s off-screen reunion with The Saviors, following his first encounter with Daryl in the middle of season six, and I found the dissolution of his marriage to be an interesting contrast to the love and relationship were used to seeing develop between members of Rick’s group. Overall, taking a deeper look into the motivations of a key member of The Saviors is not the worst use of screen time, but I do wonder if this time might be better spent on developing Negan, a major character who we still know surprisingly little about (other than the fact that he can lean really, really far back when he talks).

“Hostiles and Calamities” continues the fairly strong start we’ve had for season 7B. None of the first three episodes have been incredibly flashy, save for the highway scene from the mid-season premiere, and that’s okay. Cool special effects will always be important for a show like The Walking Dead, but it’s the characters that matter most; and so far, season 7B has been fairly consistent with delivering strong, character-driven episodes. Next week looks to be a closer return to the main storyline, with Rick and Michonne going on a run, while Rosita starts her own search for guns. It stills falls more on the filler side of things, but given the way this week’s episode is handled, I’m cautiously optimistic that the good times will continue to roll for The Walking Dead.

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