Shane Ryan and Josh Jackson review The Walking Dead each week in a series of letters.
It’s great to finally have resolution on Glenn’s fate.
What? You missed that scene?
So it looks like we’ll have to wait a while longer to find out whether Glenn’s name belongs on that memorial wall or if he managed the most improbable escape in the short history of the zombie apocalypse. But we do know that Maggie is pregnant, and that Judith may soon have a little playmate. That could be the answer to showrunner Scott Gimple’s mysterious statement that “in some way, we will see Glenn, some version of Glenn or parts of Glenn again.” That may just mean that we’ll one day see Glenn’s offspring, but more likely we’ll see some twist the Glenn story in the mid-season finale. The definitive answer doesn’t appear to be on the way next week, when we see the adventures of Daryl, Abraham and Sasha.
We also didn’t get to see how Rick made it out of the RV and all the way back to Alexandria. Things looked pretty dire with walkers surrounding his vehicle two weeks ago, but no zombie horde is big enough to take on Rick Grimes. Not only did he manage to run the gauntlet and beat them back home, he got the full support of Alexandria’s leaders and a kiss from Jessie for his troubles.
If the world is going to end, might as well make the best of it. And if it’s not, even more reason to get busy living.
There were quite a few threads in this episode, as we checked in with the various longtime residents, but I’ll just mention one before kicking it your way. Deanna has been in a fugue state since the loss of her husband, unlike the strength she showed following the death of her son Aiden. Just as she begins to snap out of it—helped on by the memory of what Reg managed to do with the building of the walls and her surviving son Spencer’s speech to keep the community from raiding the stores—Spencer has to go and ruin everything by getting drunk, stealing food and blaming everything on his poor mom. And he was supposed to be the good son.
But like Jessie and, now, Ron, Deanna is now ready to fight back. The safe zone is now divided between those who want to give up (like Betsy and Spencer) and those finally accepting the reality of their situation and trying to make the best of it. Pretty soon one of those groups is going to be dead.
So what did you think of Maggie’s aborted mission to find and rescue Glenn? Of Carl’s slap-fight with Ron? Of Jessie’s post-Betsy-killing monologue? Or of the two budding romances? And, of course, of this decision to drag out the “Is he?/Isn’t he?” question of Glenn’s apparent death? So many storylines going on here at once without much really getting resolved.
Happy Glenn Day to you too!
Josh, sometimes The Walking Dead can get on such a great run of episodes that we almost forget why we don’t place it on the same tier of television as the greats. Then we get an episode like this, and they remind us.
I mean, what a dud. I can’t emphasize how much I disliked this episode, and it wasn’t just because we never learned Glenn’s fate. This was just a classic spinning wheels episode all around, where nothing happened and we spent wayyyyy too much time with the most boring characters in the show. Just to increase your misery, Josh, let’s hit the rewind button and revisit a series of four scenes just around the halfway point.
Scene 1: Deana and Spencer
Spencer has stolen food and gotten drunk, Deana is mad, Spencer blames her for everything, and there’s a whole lot of angry staring.
Scene 2: Carl and the other kid
I don’t even remember what happens here, other than a lot of bad acting and the worst fight choreography in television history.
Scene 3: Tara and the new doctor
The doctor wants to read War and Peace and feels sorry for herself, and Tara has some boring dialogue of her own.
Scene 4: Jessie stabs a zombie and gives a speech
The Walking Dead is at its absolute worst when people are giving speeches, and this particular speech, which amounted to a rehash of the “things are different now!” speech we’ve heard a thousand times before, may have been the worst ever.
That is just an awful stretch of scenes, and while I sort of get the smaller point of each scene, and the larger point of “hey, please care about these new characters since we’re probably not going to kill them off,” I just found it agonizing. None of the characters represented were compelling, with the exception of Deana, and even she is starting to get on my nerves with her journey of stilted recoveries. I don’t think I’m exaggerating to say it might have been the worst stretch of scenes in the show’s history.
Everywhere you looked in this episode, even beyond that historic cold streak, it was speeches, speeches, speeches. Rick giving a speech about the wall, Aaron giving a speech about Rick, Spencer giving a speech about food, Jessie giving a speech about zombies, Maggie giving a speech about Glenn after a useless trip into the sewer, and probably five more that I’m forgetting. The minute Rick escaped inside the walls, this episode turned real, real dull.
Then, of course, there was the kiss. It should have been an interesting moment, and from what I’ve seen around the Internet so far, it has generated some reaction in the form of generic praise from the left and generic anger from the right. For me, it had absolutely no impact, because I don’t care one iota about either character. I didn’t care when the doctor was whining on the floor, I didn’t care when she apparently read the part of her medical text that said “clean out the infected area” (the “hot damn” and the increasing and decreasing beeps from the machine were hilariously bad touches), I didn’t care when Jessie’s speech inspired her, and I didn’t care about the kiss. More than anything, that final gambit felt like a desperate Hail Mary from the writers after realizing the lifeless script they had wrought. Maggie being pregnant gave me a similar vibe.
Here’s the bottom line, and we’ve said it before: When The Walking Dead forgets what it does best and tries to “tell” and not “show,” we see the weakness of the writing laid bare, and the drama becomes agonizing. When the world’s morality is represented in action and difficult decisions, it can be really compelling, borderline-great TV. We’ve seen a lot of that recently, and it keeps this show on the must-watch list. But last night we saw the worst tendencies come out, and the frustration we felt at not learning Glenn’s fate was augmented by the meaningless stories playing out on screen.
I have some more strong opinions about the decision to delay the Glenn resolution, but I think I’ve made my feelings abundantly clear for now, so I’ll kick it your way with a couple questions. Did I miss something redeeming in this hour? And how high is your annoyance on the Glenn stall tactics?
One of things that has been great about this season of The Walking Dead has been how deep they’ve gone with some of the characters, most notably Morgan last week. Last night was the opposite, where they tried to develop 10 characters at once, leaving a shallow and unsatisfying mess. There were three BIG moments last night (two kisses and a birth announcement) plus some skeletal walkers we hadn’t seen before, and I’m sure that combination on paper gave the writers a sense of security that this wasn’t just a wheel-spinning episode. But I think you nailed the problem with the abundance of speeches. At times, this felt more like a presidential debate than the great Walking Dead episodes that preceded it.
And because it tried to develop five story lines simultaneously, only one of them quite landed. Let’s take a look at each, from least to most interesting:
Carl and Ron: They don’t like each other, and jealousy over Enid seems to be at the core. But rather than actually want to help rescue Enid, Ron is up to something else. My best guess is that to get back at Carl for hanging out with Enid and wanting to save her life, he’s going to try to become “the good son” to Rick. But with two short scenes, whatever he’s trying to do is far from clear. Or compelling.
Denise and Tara: I’m happy for both of them that they found a budding romance among all the danger. But there wasn’t really a hint of flirtation before that. It was the kiss we weren’t even rooting for, and that felt a little wasted. It’s no surprise most of the chatter is political rather than about the characters.
Rick and Jessie: Another out-of-the-blue kiss. Again, it was a kiss we weren’t particularly rooting for. Maybe we need a sitcom veteran on the writing staff to help build the tension? The Walking Dead is not a love story, but it does try to be a human story, and there are ways to make the romantic threads more interesting.
Deanna and Spencer: So Spencer is just as worthless as Aiden. Where did Reg and Deanna go so wrong? And didn’t anyone tell Deanna you gotta go for the head? To be fair, I like Deanna’s character a lot and I thought her journey was one of the more interesting ones in this episode. But she’s a born leader, and if she doesn’t snap out of this funk soon, I’m going to stop caring.
Maggie and Aaron: The most redeeming thread of the episode featured a real moment of import. Aaron was a great partner for Maggie—wracked by the guilt of leading the walkers back to Alexandria, Aaron was willing to risk it all to help Maggie. Maggie is desperate to go find Glenn, but realizes the impracticality of trying to go save him. It’s the right move, yet she refuses to completely give up on Glenn, removing his name from the wall. It’s by far the best sequence, including a truly frightening pair of zombies stuck in the sewers. And presents a whole new level of drama for Maggie as she’s got a baby on the way to protect.
My frustration level with the delayed resolution of Glenn’s survival has everything to do with the fact that the only reason it’s a question is that the producers told us it was after “JSS.” If they’d left us with Glenn and Nicholas stranded on top of that dumpster, I’d be willing to wait. But because the producers showed us what absolutely looked like Glenn’s death and then told us—via a statement—”Hey, Glenn might not still be alive,” the whole business feels more like a stunt than a part of the story. So my patience mostly has to do with just wanting to get past it, one way or the other, rather than the enjoyable anticipation of a cliff-hanger.
Three episodes left, Shane. What do you want to see wrapped up before we take a mid-season break? I assume it has more to do with zombie hordes, Wolves and missing compatriots than it does romance and family tensions back in Alexandria. Or are you just dying to see young Sam finally, bravely descend the stairs to eat his cookies?
Sam and his cookies. Between his mother and Carol, that kid is going to have some weird issues with sugary treats when he gets older. It’s like Walt Jr. and cereal, but way, way more unsettling.
I think you analyzed the two-person dynamics perfectly, and great call on Deana’s sons—how did two people with so much integrity raise such shitheads? This makes me scared of fatherhood, Josh, because I’m already starting from a place of less integrity than either of those two. What chance do I have?!
Thank God for Maggie and Aaron in this episode, because as you pointed out, they’re at least interesting characters. The aborted sewer journey notwithstanding, it was fun watching them figure things out, and this pairing, at least, is a good idea—they have good chemistry, and both are fun to watch. Like Sasha and Abraham, I think they’ll be fun to watch as we move forward.
Three questions related to this duo:
1. I couldn’t help thinking “don’t bother!” when Aaron started to erase Nicholas’ name. “Nope, that one’s definitely dead!” Does this make me a terrible person?
2. Kind of a dick move to write their names on the wall in the first place, right? “Oh, it’s been four hours? Get out the paint.”
3. Who is Maggie most likely to couple with if Glenn is really dead? A lot of the original gang are taken (or are Father Gabriel), most of the Alexandria guys are way too weak for her, and Daryl is a lone wolf. I’ll tell you what, Josh: If I’m Ron, I’m forgetting the “good son” revenge plot and starting to realize I might have an outside shot at Maggie in a couple years. Time to play the long con, Ron. And you better get started now, because you know that weirdo Carl has a plan up his sleeve too.
You mentioned the sewer zombies, and I want to say quickly that I think they rank very high in the “novelty” zombie category. For comparison, you’ve got Michonne’s armless walkers, the Governor’s daughter, the gas mask walker, the Governor’s heads, the waterlogged zombie in Hershel’s well, fire zombies, the zombies that come up from the mud, and the headless zombie from the pilot. I’m putting the sewer zombies third in those rankings, behind the preserved heads and the mud zombies.
Lastly, I agree on the Glenn issue—at this point, if he’s actually dead, it’s going to be the dumbest delay ever. Why leave any ambiguity if he’s a goner? It wouldn’t be a good cliffhanger, and you’re right, the anticipation is more of the “when is this going to end?” variety. It’s a meaningless stall tactic unless he’s alive, and even if he is, it’s annoying to have to wait this long—I could take it for one week since we had the fun Morgan episode, but when they give us crappy filler like last night, patience wears really, really thin.
We’ll definitely see some resolution there before the mid-season finale, but what comes next? Will we get a showdown with the Wolves, who are good at inventing complex traps but bad at forming coherent battle plans? Or will both sides muster forces and prepare for war, leaving us hanging yet again? My guess is the former—I can’t imagine the Wolves alone sustaining the entire second half of the season, and I think we’ll at least see the hint of a new threat before the break.
Until then, please don’t die, Rick and Daryl.