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The Walking Dead Review: "Heads Up"

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<i>The Walking Dead</i> Review: "Heads Up"

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

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Shane,

There are people out there who simply watch The Walking Dead. They don’t stay up late to watch a talk show about The Walking Dead. They don’t comb the internet for theories about The Walking Dead. They don’t even read our weekly reviews of The Walking Dead, Shane. Normally I wouldn’t envy these people—I mean, they’ve been missing out on our insightful analysis and witty banter (is it banter if it’s in the form of an email?). But they were the only ones for whom the first scene of “Heads Up” came as a complete shock.

Last we saw, Glenn was flat on his back surrounded by a horde of zombies, watching someone’s [not his!] guts get pulled out by a bunch of zombies. We thought he was dead! But 30 minutes into our mourning, we got a message from showrunner Scott Gimple explaining why Glenn didn’t show up in the “In Memorium” segment of Talking Dead. And then ET photos from a future episode showed a new actor filming scenes with Steven Yuen. The only explanation could be that those were Nicholas’ guts getting chewed on, and Glenn made a miraculous escape, pulling himself underneath the dumpster.

Guess what, Shane? Glenn made a miraculous escape, pulling himself underneath the dumpster! He’s alive!

To be fair, his escape felt more feasible than I’d guessed. The walkers were busy chowing down on viscera, and he was able to kill the ones that were following him under there, effectively blocking off the access. But I was mostly glad that this whole question is now behind us. What was supposed to be a huge surprise became something that we’ve been impatiently waiting for. Glenn lives, and he’s teamed up with Enid.

And father-to-be Glenn got to practice being an exasperated, lecturing parent. Not a lot of chemistry between these two, but somehow he manages to finally connect with the surly teen. If they’re done arguing the merits of actually living vs. “just surviving somehow” they could make an engaging team of heroes, luring the zombies away from Alexandria and saving the day Carol-style.

Meanwhile back at the ranch, Carol is about to discover Morgan’s new pet, Spencer tries to go rogue, Rick tries to deny his feelings of responsibility for the remaining Alexandrians, and Ron plots putting a bullet in the back of Carl’s head (WTF?). But none of that will matter much shortly. Rick has spent all his time shoring up the walls when it was actually the watch tower that needed structural support. The zombie horde will soon be inside their haven for what’s sure to be an exciting finale.

So, Shane, were you able to just be happy that Glenn was alive or did you feel cheated? Were you able to enjoy the rest of what I thought was a reasonably solid episode setting up a spectacular-looking finale? There were lots of little moments tonight—Carol and Sam, Rick and some random guy (Bruce? Kent? Tobin?), Michonne and Deanna’s map, Ron stealing bullets. Did anything stand out to you? And who the hell inflated those first balloons they found and left them by the side of the road? They didn’t seem too curious about newly filled helium balloons in the zombie apocalypse. In short, what did you think of “Heads Up”?

—Josh

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Josh,

Obviously, I’m going to address the really big news up front:

WE WERE SO CLOSE TO CARL DYING! SO CLOSE, JOSH! WHYYY?!! WHY DID HE LIVE?!!

Okay. Cooling down now. Did anything else happen?

Oh right, Glenn. Yeah, I guess it was a little anticlimactic after all the vague proclamations from AMC to see that the Internet guessed it in about 12 seconds back in 1983, or whenever it was that that episode aired. That being said, I agree with you that AMC pulled it off pretty well logistically.

And that, in my opinion, is the last thing they pulled off well all episode, at least until the tower fell. We’re going to have to have a major disagreement here, I’m afraid. To me, this wasn’t quite the disaster of two weeks ago, but it was damn close.

I mean…where to begin? Right away, we had Glenn asking Enid about his wife, and she chose that point to run away. I’m going to struggle to explain why moments like these make me so angry, because I don’t know if there’s a totally logical reason, but holy shit, do these moments ever make me angry! WHO DOES THAT?! WHO RUNS AWAY RIGHT WHEN A DUDE WANTS TO KNOW ABOUT HIS POSSIBLY DEAD WIFE?! Even if you’re a miserable sulky teen, you don’t exit at that moment. It’s one of those frustrating writer’s tricks where they have two conflicting goals: First, they need to have Glenn ask about Maggie, obviously. Second, they want Glenn to be in suspense about Maggie. Solution? Have weird Enid run away, and then somehow even when they reunite, either Glenn never asks about her again, or we never see that moment. That’s just bad bad bad bad writing, to me, and it turned me off to this episode in a big way.

What else? Dr. Oatmeal’s back, for some reason, and the only good thing about seeing her character is that we’ve got a new nickname to use. Doesn’t oatmeal seem like the perfect food for her to be making? Just the kind of a boring snack for a boring character. Hey, Walking Dead writers: NOBODY WANTS YOUR OATMEAL.

Am I being kind of a jerk now? Should I just keep ranting?

I’m going to pretend that you said “yes.” The rest of this episode was just weird collections of randomness. The philosophical position Morgan is trying to adopt is just so stupid it makes me want to tear my hair out. Can you refuse to kill bad people without having blood on your hands? Super easy answer: Nope! Not at all, as was shown right away when the dudes you let walk almost killed Rick! There’s your anecdotal evidence, even though we didn’t need it, since it’s pretty damn intuitive that if you fail to kill someone who then kills someone else, you have not avoided killing. You have simply set yourself up as the middle man instead of doing it directly, and changed the outcome from “someone bad dies” to “someone good dies.” THAT’S NOT ETHICALLY DEFENSIBLE, EVEN IF SOME WEIRDO WITH A STICK CURED YOUR INSANITY. I’M SCREAMING NOW, JOSH. I’M ACTUALLY SCREAMING THESE WORDS OUT LOUD AS I WRITE.

This is what happens when we try to get deep on this show. It ain’t exactly Simone de Beauvoir. (Had to google “moral ambiguity philosopher” for that reference, btw—I’m the worst.)

And Spencer doing a rope crawl? Made absolutely no sense, but I always enjoy watching Deanna’s kids in action. They’re such delightful idiots! I wish they weren’t all dead/going to die! I feel like Spencer’s next plan will be leaping over the wall in an old phone booth and hoping he can waddle his way inside the glass to freedom.

(Sidebar: I think Glenn was the one who set the balloons up in the first place, to answer your question. He knew there was helium and extra balloons in the tall grass, and Maggie seemed to get right away that the balloons meant Glenn.)

Going back to the top, I’ve never sympathized with a character as much as I sympathize with Ron. When Carl was making his weird/annoying interjections during Rick’s gun lesson, and Ron kept giving him dirty looks, I actually thought, ‘man, wouldn’t it be something if Ron killed Carl?’ Then I felt slightly bad about rooting for someone’s death, and then I stopped feeling bad because it’s a TV show.

Instead, he got saved by the tower. Here’s where I’ll come back to your side—no show bounces back from a bad episode better than TWD, and I agree that the mid-season finale is going to kick ass. We already know we’ll some zombie horde fightin’, and hopefully we get some Daryl resolution too.

Okay, I’ll kick it back to you with two questions. First off, have I swayed you to my side at all on this email, or are you doubling down on solid episode status? Second, it occurred to me while watching that although Carol is super useful in a fight, she’d be one hell of an annoying, busybody neighbor in the real world. Who would be your top five neighbors from the Walking Dead in a normal, non-zombie-infested civilization? Bottom five?

—Shane

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Shane,

With these short half-seasons that need half-season finales, I expect half-season penultimate episodes are usually about the build-up and I still think this was a pretty good build-up episode. Not an outstanding build-up episode, but an enjoyable and effective one. Maggie allowing herself to hope but also bracing herself for a life without knowing whatever happened to Glenn. Michonne allowing herself to dream of the life she might build in Alexandria. Tara (and everyone, really) slowly getting through to Rick that his loyalties need to include these new allies, no matter how boring most of them might be. And some crazy scenarios that are ready to play out now that all hell is breaking loose: Ron with a gun, Morgan with a prisoner, Carol with the knowledge of Morgan’s prisoner, Maggie with a lot to live for.

And yes, Carol would be the worst neighbors in a civilized world. Except for these five:

5. Gabriel – Self-righteous pastor who secretly values his own life above all others? No thank you.
4. Nicholas – Catch him mixing the recycling in with the trash and you might find your dog missing.
3. The Governor – Everybody loves “Brian.” So charming and funny. So weird about all those hunting accidents.
2. Merle – The only thing worse than a racist, backwoods redneck…
1. Ed/Pete – ...is a wife-beater.

The best five neighbors would be:
5. Aaron
4. Tyreese
3. Glenn
2. Maggie
1. Michonne

So our heroes are now in deep trouble. Who do you think is best poised to save them? Glenn and Enid? Abraham and Sasha? Daryl without his crossbow? Or is it up to the Alexandrians, like Ron with a gun and Eugene with a machete, to save themselves? And who of the newcomers who arrived with Rick are most expendable. Glenn is alive, so the cosmic balance says someone else has to die.

—Josh

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Josh,

Great point about the cosmic balance. There was one point early on last night where I thought they were going to pull the ultimate rug from under our feet, and kill Glenn just after he’d escaped. That would have been insane, and kind of funny, and maybe they’ll still do it. But my guess is that too many people like him, and ditto for Maggie (can’t kill the pregnant woman), Michonne, Rick, and Daryl. Who does that leave as expendables? Carol, for one—I can easily see her going. Ditto for Morgan, ditto for Tara, ditto for Rosita, who especially needs to die if the writers want to clear room for this budding Abraham-Sasha romance. Tara and Rosita especially worry me, because they each got a good amount of screen time, which is something that ends to happen for minor characters just before they go. However, Tara has this new thing going with Dr. Oatmeal, so that’s a point in her favor. What does Rosita have now? She’s basically been written into isolation, and the more I think about it, the more I’ll be shocked if she’s still alive this time next week. They’ll do some quasi-emotional thing about how she taught the others to use a machete, and then she’ll be gonezo.

As for the Alexandrians, they’re like the hydra—kill one, and two more pop up. So we can expect to see a lot of them die. They’ve only taken the time to develop a few of them beyond broad strokes, and those may survive. Random-guy-named-Bruce/Kent/Tobin will make it, I think, along with Jessie and both of her weirdo sons. I hate to say this, but it seems like we’ve committed to Dr. Oatmeal, too. Beyond that? CARNAGE, Josh. I even think Deanna might go in a blaze of glory, now that she’s passed on the city plans to Michonne. I just hope Spencer survives so we can see more of his wacky hijinx. I’ve got it from a good source in the writers’ room that he has a big plan to start a civilization of tree people who eventually mate with birds and create an avian-human hybrid species that soars above the zombies and dive-peck their heads until the earth is saved.

I’m also wondering what the hell is going to happen with this wolf Morgan is hiding away. I half hope that Carol just kills him, but I get the bad feeling he’s going to get loose in the chaos, and possibly kill Morgan. That would be just heavy-handed enough for this show, right?

Now, who’s going to save everyone? Glenn will be the first outsider to see what’s happening, and hopefully Sasha, Abraham, and Daryl aren’t far behind. But what can they really do? Unless they can turn the horde around and lead them away, Alexandria’s toast. I was almost wondering if the town might serve as a kind of zombie pen—get everyone over the walls, and let them all stream in, then seal them in from behind. I don’t know what would happen next, though, beyond a really slow killing process. Maybe Spencer has an idea? Involving setting dogs on fire and letting them run amok?

Either way, I’m psyched. We can disagree on the quality of this week, but we both know next week is going to be a f’ing blast. Please don’t die, Daryl, Rick, or Michonne, or Glenn, or Abraham, or everyone else that we like,

—Shane

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