Tuesday, March 13, 2018

The Walking Dead Season 8, Episode 11 Review: ‘Dead or Alive Or’

(Photo Credit: AMC)

The Walking Dead
Season 8, Episode 11

It’s been about three months since we last saw Father Gabriel during the midseason finale. And, while it’s hard to jump back into his current situation after such a long layoff, Gabriel’s storyline in “Dead or Alive Or” is relatively self-contained, and still enjoyable, even if you don’t remember exactly what it is he’s doing, why he looks like he’s dying, or who the random guy he’s travelling with is. To answer these questions: Gabriel has just escaped from the Sanctuary, and is en route to the Hilltop. He looks like he’s dying because…well, he is. If you’ll remember, back in the fifth episode of the season, Gabriel and Negan covered themselves in walker guts, in order to sneak past the herd surrounding the Sanctuary. The next time we see Gabriel, he appears deathly ill, and we’re meant to believe that it’s because of the intimate contact he made with the contaminated walker insides.

And that random guy he’s travelling with? Why, that’s no ordinary random guy! No, it’s a Walking Dead minor character, random guy- with a first name, a last name, and even a few lines of a generic backstory! This man is none other than Harlon Carson, kidnapped doctor for the Saviors, and Walking Dead plot device. His only real purpose on this show, along with his brother, who was also a doctor, (No, seriously. There are two Carson brothers on this show, and they’re both doctors.) is to play the role of resident physician, there to nurse people back to health, whenever the plot calls for it. However, in his swan song episode, Dr. Carson gets to provide a new function-  the catalyst for Father Gabriel’s upcoming crisis of faith.
(Photo Credit: AMC)
Arguably the character, other than Carol, who’s evolved the most since their introduction, Gabriel stands out amongst a cast of jaded, pragmatic survivors because of his continued devotion t0 God. And, even though Gabriel spent a good portion of seasons five and six as a sniveling, self-righteous detractor of the group’s necessary, though grisly, survival methods; he’s since turned into a willing and capable fighter, and a trusted member of the group. Gabriel’s faith is played up quite a bit in this episode- more than it has been in a while. It’s charming at first but gets old once everything that can break his way, does. But, Gabriel and Dr. Carson’s good fortune is eventually spoiled by the Saviors, and it will be interesting to see how Gabriel responds. It’s clear that his faith is shaken, as his insistence on following certain “signs” is ultimately what leads to Dr. Carson’s death. At the very least, he’s in a prime spot for redemption, though, as he’s currently smack dab in the middle of the Savior’s bullet manufacturing operation. The potential Gabriel-Eugene character pairing is intriguing, as well, as they are both two formerly useless characters, who can be quite influential, given the right circumstances.

It’s easy to hate on Tara because of how extreme, and unreasonable, her mistrust of Dwight is. If she were to actually kill Dwight that would be one thing, but to constantly talk about it, and then do nothing, comes across as whiny and hollow, which doesn’t help her character in the likeability department- something that she’s sorely lacking. Besides, Dwight seems earnest in his allegiance to the group, or at the very least, in his hatred for Negan. He seems like a good bet to stay safe for now, no matter how much Tara waves her gun in his face. So, what’s the point of having Tara raise a huge fuss about Dwight, if the writers aren’t going to ultimately allow her to act on these feelings?
(Photo Credit: AMC)
Simply put, Tara’s role, in this episode, is to serve as a foil to Daryl and Rosita. She provides resistance and a sense of dramatic tension, when it comes to their decision to keep Dwight in the fold. We’ve seen this kind of storytelling mechanic in The Walking Dead before, mainly whenever a character abruptly speaks out against killing, after never having had an issue with it before. However, even if it’s a common practice, it’s never fun watching a character act somewhat irrationally and argue with other characters, who they could just as easily agree with, just for the sake of having them argue with someone.

With all that said, I really didn’t mind Tara that much, this week. Yes, I do think her attitude towards Dwight is over the top, but at least she’s getting some kind of story arc thrown her way this season. Believe it or not, with so much recent character turnover, Tara is now one of the longest recurring characters in The Walking Dead. Only Rick, Carol, Daryl, Maggie, and Michonne were introduced before her. (Technically, Morgan should be included on that list, but he was only around for an episode each in season one and three, before disappearing until three sporadic appearances in season five.) However, despite this longevity, it really doesn’t feel like Tara’s…done much in the four years since she’s been on the show. Clearly giving her more exposure, in the form of her solo episode, “Swear,” back in season seven, did her character development no good. But, maybe this new arc, in which she transforms from staunchly anti-Dwight, to someone willing to work with the former Savior lieutenant, will give Tara’s character the kind of complexity that will allow her to play a bigger role in the storylines to come.
(Photo Credit: AMC)
If there’s one major thing that I took away from this episode, it’s that I really miss the days when our protagonists were all together in one, solid group. I’m talking about back in season five, when the Rick Grimes crew was on the run from Terminus, and had to travel constantly, with only their wits and some meager supplies. I’m not going to be entirely revisionist by saying that season five was any better than the current season. There were some major problems with season five, including the god-awful Beth-hospital arc. But, I think what season five did really well was build a genuine sense of friendship within the group- a feeling that these characters would truly do anything for each other.

And, while there hasn’t been anything recently to really negate that feeling- it’s still pretty obvious that these characters care about each other- we only really see it in pairs or small groups. When we finally get a reunion with a significant portion of the cast, like we do this week at the Hilltop, the interactions between these longtime travel companions doesn’t feel like the surrogate family it used to, and that’s unfortunate because as their world has expanded, and the stakes have been raised, we should always be able to contextualize these dangers within the very real relationships and feelings shared between these characters.

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