Tuesday, March 27, 2018

The Walking Dead Season 8, Episode 13 Review: ‘Do Not Send Us Astray’

(Photo Credit: AMC)

The Walking Dead
Season 8, Episode 13

For the past several weeks, The Walking Dead has been building up to a pivotal face-off between the Saviors and the Hilltop. Season eight, episode thirteen, “Do Not Send Us Astray” delivers on this build-up, as it features the Simon-led Saviors finally launching their counterattack against Maggie and the rest of the Hilltop. “Do Not Send Us Astray” is first and foremost, an action-centric episode, delivering some of the best action of the season, so far. However, this episode also provides strong narrative value, advancing crucial plot points by tying them in with the natural course of its main action sequence, the battle between the Saviors and the Hilltop. Granted, some of these plot points do end up feeling contrived; but overall, the consequences of this conflict end up advancing the story in an organic and satisfying way.
(Photo Credit: AMC)
The highlight of "Do Not Send Us Astray" is undoubtedly the opening battle between the Hilltop and the Saviors. Despite my fears from last week that we might be subjected to several scenes of Maggie and Simon grandstanding before any of the real fighting begins, this episode throws us right into the action, pretty much from the get go. What follows is an enjoyable combination of sequences that are consistently compelling and easy to follow. We get a nice, mini Game of Thrones-esque longshot sequence with Rick mowing down a wave of Saviors. And, the terrible lighting and visibility issues that plagued the night action scenes in the midseason finale, are noticeably absent. In a way, it's almost more fun to root for our heroes when they're defending their own turf, rather than when they're the ones playing the role of aggressor, like during their assault on the Sanctuary at the beginning of the season. Either way, these action scenes are a thrill to watch, and despite things initially looking favorable for the Hilltop, the Saviors manage to get in their licks, and are able to come across as competent and menacing villains.

The Saviors owe a big part of their comeback to their successful implementation of biological warfare. Two episodes ago, Negan announced to his troops that they’d be using weapons dipped in walker guts to terrorize the Hilltop. And, while it seemed like his main goal was psychological intimidation, the Saviors ended up taking out a decent chuck of the Hilltop’s forces, when the Hilltop’s fighters were wounded by contaminated Savior weaponry, and then later reanimated as walkers. The Saviors’ weaponization of walker innards is one of the major plot points that this episode needs to revisit, and it does so by smoothly integrating it into the fallout of the larger, initial battle sequence.
(Photo Credit: AMC)
At no point during the battle are we repeatedly hit over the head with the fact that the Saviors are wounding people with tainted weapons. There are no instances of the Saviors making heavy handed references to the gnarly state of their arrows and knives, nor is there anyone from Rick’s group who supernaturally susses out the hidden danger they are facing. Nope, instead, events and actions unfold as they naturally would- the fighting wages on, and it’s only later that this twist is fully revealed. It isn’t the most surprising moment ever, but less than careful viewers can still come away shocked, mirroring the state of fright that the sleeping Hilltop-ians find themselves in. There are legitimate criticisms to be made regarding the “realism” of this sequence, but I am willing to overlook them because a) it’s a fictional show about zombies, and b) the scenes we get do a very solid job of making walkers seem dangerous again, something that’s been missing from The Walking Dead for a long time.

Another plot point that “Do Not Send Us Astray” needs to touch on is the issue of Dwight’s current allegiance. After turning against the Saviors in the midseason finale, Dwight finds himself (reluctantly) right back with his former crew, alongside Simon during the Hilltop fight. Just like the contaminated weapons subplot, Dwight’s storyline is organically folded into the battle, resulting in an entertaining scene between Simon and Dwight, and Daryl and Tara. Some may be disappointed with how quickly and resolutely Tara seems to have changed her mind on Dwight. And, I’ll admit, it is incredibly lazy writing for her to so completely shift her opinion in such a short amount of time. However, if having Tara in Dwight’s corner makes Daryl oppose him, then I’m all for it. This season is much more interesting if Daryl is the one who mistrusts Dwight, rather than the “just kind of there” Tara.
(Photo Credit: AMC)

As successful as this episode is at sewing together different plot points into its main action sequence, it does come up short in one hard to overlook way. It’s been no secret that at the end of season eight, Morgan will be departing The Walking Dead to join its spin-off series, Fear the Walking Dead. With the end of the season just three weeks away, Morgan’s arc needs to start moving fast if the show is going to give him a satisfying send-off. This week’s episode gives Morgan a new storyline to venture down, but it revolves primarily around Henry, the latest in The Walking Dead’s long-line of useless, insufferable, kind of creepy, children. There’s really no defense for the absurdity of the Henry subplot, other than that the writers need something for Morgan to do. However, we’ve already seen Morgan deal with the loss of a son, both biological and surrogate, and while I appreciate the symmetry to his overall character arc, I can’t help but wish we could see him do something different before leaving the show forever.

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