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The Walking Dead Review: "East"

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<i>The Walking Dead</i> Review: "East"

Shane Ryan and Josh Jackson review   The Walking Dead each week in a series of letters.

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Josh,

As you could probably tell from last week, I came into this episode with a sense of annoyance. Carol didn’t want to kill anymore, so instead of staying inside the walls of Alexandria, where she’d have her best chance to live a life of nonviolence, she decided to flee for the brutality and chaos of the outside, where she was essentially guaranteed to have to kill somebody. And, of course, she did, in one of those classic unrealistic Walking Dead scenes where one person murders five because the rest of them never question why she’s weirdly dangling a rosary from one sleeve without showing her hand. This was slightly less unbelievable than Walter White’s “machine gun popping out of a car trunk” ridiculousness, but it was still pretty bad.

I also knew she would get everyone else in trouble, because of course they would all come after her, and of course some would get captured. I can live with convenient plot twists in order to push the action forward, but I can’t live with nonsensical ones, and Carol’s stupid choice was already telegraphed last week. As I’ve said before, I think the writers consider her their utility infielder—she can do whatever they want, regardless of whether it has any narrative coherence or fits in with how her character has behaved in the past.

So, that all happened. Nevertheless, I thought “East” did pretty well in spite of these constraints. I hesitate a little to say that, since we had to listen to more of Morgan’s philosophical babbling, and entertain the notion that because the crazy wolf had a brief flash of humanity, it somehow made it smart and/or wise to trust your enemies and let them go after they try to kill you. Daryl’s adventures with Dwight—who has apparently recovered from Eugene’s genital biting attack—prove that point. If you let bad people go, they will continue to be bad the vas majority of the time, and you will live to regret it.

But the action was still compelling. Even if I’m annoyed at Morgan’s theories, watching he and Rick together is always fun, and it makes me wish they hadn’t chosen such an extreme worldview for him. There are only so many times he can preach his strange brand of nonviolence—he’s become a one-note character—and the natural consequence is that the show has barely used him since his return. But the combination of Lennie James and Andrew Lincoln is a potent one, and their scene in the field, behind the barn, was beautifully shot to produce a sense of melancholy.

(Also, serious T-Dog alert for Morgan after his heartfelt speech, right??)

The main theme of this episode, though, was that when people go rogue, it hurts the entire group. It started with Carol, moved on to Daryl—couldn’t he have just told someone where he was going?—and culminated with a hostage situation and a mysterious gunshot that we’re meant to believe took down the man for whose preservation you and I beg weekly. But now Dwight, who may or may not be part of Negan’s “saviors,” has Daryl, Glenn, Michonne, and Rosita, and it’s all because of very basic, very stupid decisions. Remind me how this group has survived so long?

And next week, the moment we’ve all been waiting for: Negan. I did some Googling and found out he’s being played by an actor named Jeffrey Dean Morgan who seems to have been chosen primarily because of how much he resembles Javier Bardem. (Seriously, look.) In the preview clips for next week, we only see him with his back turned, holding a baseball bat wrapped in barbed wire, talking about a deal. It’s a pretty easy guess that the “deal” is for the return of the prisoners, and that it won’t quite go as planned.

Early in the episode, Rick told Michonne that the world is theirs for the taking, but I think I’m with Glenn—the world is bigger than any of them quite understand.

What do you think, Josh? Did the actual content of “East” redeem the ungainly premise? Are you pumped for the season finale? And finally, who do you think will win the game of thrones? (Oops, I’m jumping the gun.)

—Shane

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Shane,

It may be a little overgenerous, but I chose to go into this episode forgiving the writers of stretching the realms of believability for Carol’s motives. Whatever possessed her to leave has her just wanting to be left alone, but at least her newfound pacifism hasn’t reached Morgan levels. She’s known abuse and she’s not going to let anyone capture her. Once again, the bad guys underestimate our heroine and pay dearly for it.

As for the idea that you can hide a machine gun up your sleeve with your finger on the trigger? I’m not exactly sure how that works.

But this episode was only about Carol for a single scene. There were great moments with Rick and Morgan, and Rick and Abraham, and Glenn and Michonne. Even with things about to go completely sideways, the show took the time to examine things like Abraham’s fear of getting close to someone when he could lose her any day or Glenn’s simultaneous thankfulness and concern for his fellow Alexandrians. If anything, “East” packed too many characters into a single episode, but next week’s 90-minute finale should offer more breathing space for the big showdown.

And yes, Negan is finally coming next week. We saw his barbed-wire-covered baseball bat (lovingly named “Lucille”) in the previews for Season 6’s closer. I’m familiar with Jeffrey Dean Morgan from his turn as the main investigator in The Good Wife. He’s an exceedingly charismatic alpha male and a perfect casting for the part. With a voice like Sam Elliott and a stare that would melt butter, he’s not a guy you want to mess with.

Dwight, on the other hand, is a guy I desperately want to mess with, Shane. Did he really just shoot Daryl? He promises us that our favorite fighting good ‘ol boy is going to be okay, but I want Daryl to not only survive but get some revenge on D’s scrawny ass. Things look bad and they’re likely about to get worse.

So, one of my questions for you this week has to do with Rick. He seems to now think that Carol was in the right to kill off the two sick survivors at the prison and burn their bodies. Has Rick gone too far into Carol craziness or does the zombie apocalypse require nothing but ice in your veins? He banished her in the past, but says he’d thank her if she pulled something like that now. What if that contagious body in Alexandria belonged to Michonne? Or Carl? I’m starting to hope that Morgan can reach Rick a little bit, and the two of them can pull each other back to a healthy center.

My other question, since you’re wondering about motives, is why would Daryl react to Carol leaving by going on a solo mission to try to kill Dwight? Looking for Carol, sure. But his revenge plot is almost as ill-advised as Carol’s decision to run from conflict. What’s going on with our core characters?

—Josh

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Josh,

I think that’s partly the point—nobody knows what the hell is going on. It’s like we’re watching a game of chess, and the writers needed the Daryl and Carol pieces to be on a certain space heading into the finale, but realized a little too late that they were nowhere near that space in time. But even though the Daryl and Carol pieces really can’t move eight spaces ahead and two to the side, the writers were like, ehhhh….screw it. And they did it anyway. And as viewers, we feel violated, just as we would watching a chess game where the rules no longer applied. Or, another example: It’s like watching a frustrated soccer player just pick up the ball and throw it in the goal. Yeah, the ball got in the net, but we know intuitively that it’s not right, and it’s definitely not satisfying.

In my mind, that’s called bad writing. They’re not respecting the characters they’ve created, and as such, they’re not respecting the viewers.

That being said, this isn’t exactly new for The Walking Dead, and we don’t love this show for its brilliant character studies. We love this show because there’s violence and zombies and tension and just enough character believability to get us through. It’s very, very good pulp, so we’re willing to excuse lots of cliches and melodramatic monologues and etc. It’s just that we want the tiniest speck of believability to anchor us, and last night they seemed to take that away too.

What it comes down to, for me, is whether we’re actually advancing the plot or just waiting for shit to happen. Earlier this half-season, we saw how good the show could be when it’s plowing full steam ahead. From the fight with the zombie horde to the introduction of Jesus and the Hilltoppers to the attack on the Saviors, we had four episodes of really great television, where something important happened every week. After that? The foot was off the gas. The decision was made that we wouldn’t see Negan until the final episode, but the problem was that we had three in between. So we got Carol bizarrely taking off, the whole saga of Dr. Oatmeal doing stupid things to get herself killed, and the weird little post-script fight at the slaughterhouse—which, admittedly, was the best of the three, but which didn’t advance the plot or even our knowledge of this Negan dude.

Basically, after the successful savior attack, they decided that Negan had to be introduced from a position of strength, and the only way to do that was to have various members of Rick’s crew behave very stupidly. It hinged on Carol, and the slaughterhouse ep served as the flimsy justification, while the last two episodes have shown the illogical fallout. And it hasn’t been great.

HOWEVER—I just looked on Wikipedia, and guess who’s directing the finale? None other than Mr. Greg Nicotero, who also directed “No Way Out” (zombie horde fight) and “Not Tomorrow Yet” (savior attack) this half-season. He’s basically the Martin Scorcese of episode directors, and I think we’re going to have a really, really excellent 90 minutes of television next week.

So, are you ready to forgive and forget? Are you ready to believe with me that Daryl isn’t dead? And finally, a really important question we’ve been ignoring up until this point: Which major character is dying? You just know it’s happening. I feel like Rick, Michonne, and Daryl are basically untouchable, and I don’t think they’d kill off a pregnant woman, so I’m giving Maggie a pass (at least until she has the baby, at which point I can definitely see a tragic Lori-esque death). Carl, too, has endured all the suffering he’s going to endure this half-season. But Glenn, Morgan, Rosita, Abraham, or Sasha?

Look. Out.

—Shane

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Shane,

You’re right—it’s frustrating to see characters act in ways contrary to their own logic that’s been developed over six seasons. We don’t want static characters, but there’s a big gulf between static and someone like Beth who got randomly re-written each season. I don’t want to see that happen to Carol.

But in the end, I still enjoyed this episode. I loved seeing that even when Carol doesn’t want to kill anymore, she’s going to end your ass. I love her character, not for her believability, but because this is a zombie show where the most dangerous fighter is a cookie-baking formerly battered wife and mother. She’s unlike anyone we’ve seen on TV before, and I can put my frustrations aside and just watch her surprise villain after unsuspecting villain.

So, yes, I can forgive and forget and look forward to what promises to be an adrenaline rush of a finale. Daryl has to be alive, but Negan is going to kill someone with that baseball bat. My money is on Morgan. The Morgan/Rick dynamic is an important one right now. I think we’re seeing that Rick has swung too far in the direction of cold-blooded killer. The show has given us a series of characters who’ve tried to reconnect the group to their humanity—Dale, Tyreese, Bob—and they’ve all had some kind of impact on the group before meeting their end. Morgan was there for Rick at the very beginning, and I think he’s going to get through to Rick before some ultimate sacrifice. If not Morgan, then probably Glenn, whose many close calls this season might have just been to lull us into thinking he’s safe.

Whoever it is, I’ll probably never be able to look at Alicia Florrick’s love interest the same way.

Please don’t be dead, Daryl Dixon.
—Josh

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