Shane Ryan and Josh Jackson review The Walking Dead each week in a series of letters.
When a minor Walking Dead character gets more screen time and becomes both more likable and more capable, he or she needs to be on their guard. In “Twice as Far,” there were two characters who fit that description, Eugene and Denise. Unfortunately for Dr. Denise “Oatmeal” Cloyd, her evolution and newfound courage led to her dramatic and shocking death.
Merritt Wever’s character was in the middle of an inspirational speech when she got a bolt in the back of her head all the way through her eye socket. Before that, she’d gone on her first mission beyond the walls of Alexandria, shared knowledge of driving a stick shift, found a bounty of medicine, killed a walker solo, found Tara a can of Orange Crush and vomited up her breakfast (OATMEAL!). Her final act was to put her psychiatry degree to use, trying to inspire Daryl and Rosita even as she self-diagnosed.
But in the end, she got T-Dog’d. We’ll miss you Dr. Oatmeal.
More fortunate this episode was Eugene, who got a wonderful (and colorfully quotable) scene in the metal shop with Abraham before telling his one-time protector that he no longer needs to be protected. Eugene is no longer the useless fraud we first met. Between the sorghum and the bullets, he’s really thinking strategically for Alexandria. He picked a lock “easy, peasy,” and he’s trying his damnedest to be a fighter. He also displayed some more genuine out-of-the-box thinking by biting Dwight’s dick. Wait…what?
Eugene’s attack on Dwight was one of those ridiculous and unexpected scenes that makes the show so fun—silly but memorable. He formally called dibs—DIBS—on killing that metal-headed walker, so I really thought he was selling out Abraham to the Saviors. But—for the same reason that I thought Denise was vulnerable—I was worried that his unorthodox attack was going to be his final act.
The episode brought the impending war with Negan one step closer, especially with Carol pulling her stupid, stupid stunt there at the end. The pace of this season hasn’t slowed at all. But what did you think of Dr. Cloyd’s last oatmeal? And Eugene grabbing life by the teeth? And Carol’s unceremonious exit from Alexandria?
I’ve never laughed harder at The Walking Dead than when Abraham dropped this gem:
“I apologize for questioning your skills. You know how to bite a dick, Eugene. I mean that with the utmost of respect.”
I’m laughing again just-retyping those sentences. Do you mind if I dedicate the next 3,000 words to dissecting them? Yes? FINE, JOSH. FINE.
Beyond that line, we had another really weird episode. And before we get to Dr. Oatmeal and Eugene, may I just say that I feel vindicated last week for saying that there is absolutely NO consistency to Carol’s character? Here we are again, needing something to happen so that Alexandria comes into conflict with Negan, and what do the writers do? “Um, let’s have Carol go into self-imposed exile.” COME ON CAROL!! What do you think is going to happen when you just up and leave with a melodramatic note? Of course people are going to come after you. Particularly Daryl, who looks at you like the mother he always wanted. I feel like I’m starting to get angry at Carol, when I really should be mad at the puppetmasters. I mean, the justification was incredibly stupid: “I can’t kill for you, so I have to leave.”
Hmmm…or, just thinking out loud here, you could stay and not kill? Just do weird stick tai chi with Morgan and go hippie, if you have to. Make cookies and creep out little kids. How does abandoning the town make any sense at all? We’re supposed to believe this is a legit reaction to being held hostage for a couple hours, and was triggered somehow by Daryl getting Dr. Oatmeal killed because he didn’t kill Dwight earlier, which pretty much just validates Carol’s entire philosophy about killing anyone that shows the slightest sign of menace, even if that menace is a nagging cough?
None of it makes sense. Dr. Oatmeal leaving the compound after she’d just refused to do so earlier this season makes no sense. THIS IS WHY YOU DON’T BRING YOUR ONLY DOCTOR INTO THE WILDERNESS AND LET HER FIGHT CAR ZOMBIES. And yeah, you’re absolutely right, we were in full T-Dog Effect Hyper-Mode with her the entire episode. But especially with that long speech about how Daryl should believe in himself, or something. As she continued and the words began to be even less coherent, you just knew she was a goner. Finishing the speech with an arrow through her head, though? Nice touch.
(Side note: Maybe the arrow pierced her brain, but if not, they really should have let her become a zombie. That’s one awesome zombie!)
I don’t know what else to say about her. I guess she died doing what she loved: Eating, and then vomiting, oatmeal.
The best scene, of course, was Eugene biting Dwight’s penis. Bar none. The gunfight was solid, and it showed that this group, Daryl in particular, is at its most dangerous when they are completely unarmed, out-manned, and with no hope of winning a conflict. When you have Daryl in your sights, totally helpless, with six of your closest friends nearby ready to have your back, that’s when you’re totally screwed.
But Abraham is right—Eugene needs to understand his place. The mere fact of his willingness to stop being a total coward won’t automatically grant him survival skills, but he’s a hugely valuable piece of the puzzle if he can actually manufacture bullets. Provided that it’s a more concrete plan than that whole DC thing that almost made Abraham kill him.
That’s the theme of this episode, I think. Eugene needs to know his role, Dr. Oatmeal should have stayed in her lane, and Carol needs to flitting about wildly from impulse to impulse. Overall, my take on this episode is that I enjoyed it, but also thought it wasn’t very good. It was like last week, but a little less compelling, and definitely not up to the standard of the rest of this half season.
Is that fair? Also, Josh, where the hell is Negan?
Last week I defended the writers’ treatment of Carol, that she was complicated, not merely contradictory. But I can’t defend their choice to not only turn her into a pacifist, but to have her conclude that that means she must go through life alone and unattached. If Morgan’s moral quandry was ill-advised, putting his friends in danger, Carol’s was just utterly stupid. And selfish. How did she think that was going to go down? Of course Daryl is going after her. Of course she’s endangering Alexandria by leaving with Saviors are all over the place. And it just doesn’t fit with human nature. Self-preservation and the instinct to protect your tribe are enormously strong forces, but two of the dozen or so primary characters on The Walking Dead have become pacifists to an irrational degree—after showing a greater-than-average natural inclination towards violence. It’s a weird choice for the writers to make, but a convenient one to move the plot along, and that’s a temptation I wish they’d learn to resist.
On the other hand, the more pacifist-minded characters—Gabriel, Eugene, Oatmeal—have gradually come to accept a need to fight, and that’s both more believable when people are constantly trying to kill you and more engaging to watch, especially Phase 2 Eugene. Biting Dwight’s junk through his pants also seems far-fetched, but that’s the kind of suspension of disbelief I’ll happily engage in during the course of a massive gun fight. It’s ludicrous, but kind of awesome.
And yes, the Eugene/Abraham dynamic and encounter with Dwight and his D were what made this episode enjoyable, despite Merritt Wever’s significant acting chops. Carol’s story arc has officially gone off the rails, and it’s apparent that they’re going to tease out Negan for as long as possible before setting him up as next season’s Big Bad. At what point does that go from being anxious anticipation to impatient annoyance? I know I’ll be disappointed if we have to wait until the fall to get a real sense of his character.
I’ll leave you with this: Daryl has barely been given anything to do this season accept suck at driving a truck and be a strong and silent witness to Oatmeal’s transition from meek to brave. I’m starting to forget why we’ve loved this character enough to make “please don’t die Daryl Dixon” our standard sign off. Maybe that will change next week as he goes off to rescue Carol, but other than his intriguing friendship with Carol, what other dynamic does Daryl have right now? Who would you most like to see him get to interact with? Care to give me a ranking or do you just want to see more solo adventures of Daryl?
That’s a great point that I hadn’t thought about. And the question it made me ask myself was, what did we love about Daryl so much originally? I still enjoy him, but he’s turned into a sort of grumpy, naysaying caricature of his former self. Then again, he’s always been grumpy and naysaying, but I think at the start there was a sort of vulnerability to him—you knew this guy was a badass who could survive on his own better than anyone else, but he struggled to fit in with a group of people who would probably never, ever socialize with him in any situation other than the zombie apocalypse. That’s what made their acceptance, and his difficult attempts to get past his own defenses, so touching. It’s different than someone like Michonne, who had Daryl’s isolated quality at the start, but could fall back on her middle-to-upper-middle class background to blend in seamlessly with Rick’s group once she was over her snarling phase. Daryl was rougher, but he had a good heart, and we could see that on display even as he struggled to incorporate with the group.
Of course, that can’t last forever. At some point you have to stop playing out the string and understand that Daryl is going to be part of the group. And at that point, how do you continue humanizing him and not pushing him to the periphery? I liked the scene when he attempted to go to the dinner party but just couldn’t hack it—this is the consequence of re-civilization for him. He’s incredibly useful when they still need people like Daryl, which they will for a long time, but when that ends, he knows instinctively that he’ll be re-confined to his previous social strata. That’s the reality of classism in America (and the world), but Daryl has broken through that barrier because of the special circumstances of the entire social order being obliterated by a virus that turns dead people into cannibals.
And you’re right, he has no real dynamic left. Here’s who I’d like to see him interact with:
1. Rick — Nobody brings out the best in Daryl quite like Rick, because Rick is the bridge. He’s a badass and a man’s man, but he has the cachet with normal society to protect Daryl and make him part of the group, while also having his respect.
2. Michonne — Why haven’t we seen more Michonne/Daryl scenes? I could definitely go for a friendship of solo badasses, preferably blossoming in the midst of a huge fight where they turn into whirling dervishes and kill everything in sight.
3. Glenn — Like Rick, he has the depth of understanding to get Daryl, and to bring him out of his shell.
Like you, I came to enjoy Dr. Oatmeal more by the end of her short time on the show, but I think it’s a mistake to have these newer characters serve as the engine of “enlightening” Daryl with motivational speeches just before they die. One of the core qualities of Daryl Dixon is that it takes an awful lot of time to earn his trust, and any epiphanies are going to come from the old guard, not some doctor with a death wish. Sticking Daryl with her and Rosita—a character the writers have never even bothered to develop—is a waste of time, and eventually meaningless. And maybe your other option is right; maybe we need some Daryl solo adventures to get back in touch with the version of the character we loved.
Other than the three above, maybe you could give Daryl a girlfriend? Or have him go completely off his rocker and take a zombie wife? I don’t know. I’m up for anything. And even though we may have lost touch with him to a certain degree, I’ll say it once more for old time’s sake:
Please don’t die, Daryl Dixon.