Shane Ryan and Josh Jackson review The Walking Dead each week in a series of letters.
First, a scene I wanted to see tonight:
King Ezekiel: My advisor wishes me to let the Kingdom join with Alexandria, strip the Saviors of all power and titles, and force those who don’t die to serve the realm in permanent exile. And Rick Grimes…has begged vengeance for the deaths perpetrated against his friends.
Rick flashes a small smile.
King Ezekiel: But they have the soft hearts of women! So long as I am your king, treason shall never go unpunished. Fat sidekick…bring me their heads!
And with that, welcome back, readers, to the second half of the seventh season of The Walking Dead, cable television’s most popular show! When we last left our gang, they had finally reached the conclusion that fighting with the possibility of death is preferable to being bled to certain death. It took eight long episodes, featuring a weird man with a leather jacket who enunciates in an odd pattern, has a weird smile, and engages in 15-minute monologues where he sort of leans back on his haunches at unpredictable times, but they got there. The abomination that was the season six finale continued into the lesser abomination of season seven’s first half, but it was all abominable. The one little twiglet of hope through the disappointment and the monotony was that things might start to pick up when the GODDAMN REVOLUTION STARTED! AWOOOO!
I am happy to say, Josh, that they are off to a pretty okay start!
Before we get there, though, I’d like to address the elephant in the room, which is that over the last three months, The Walking Dead has been exposed not as a work of fiction, but as a documentary from the future. Probably the near future. How they managed this is beyond me, but—correct me if I’m wrong here, Josh—I think our wisest move is to resist the temptation to make the obvious comparisons to our current political climate, or to point out that the influx of zombie and other apocalyptic works of art may have actually been a pretty damn accurate harbinger of things to come in a world where we’ve lost our capacity to imagine the future as anything but bleak. Let’s not go down that road! Let us retire all such talk here and now…unless you want to keep it going, in which case, hey, open the floodgates.
Getting back to the show, I was pleased with a few things. The action set piece on the highway was one of their best—thrilling, visceral, kinda funny, and ultimately triumphant. We got to see King Ezekiel again, along with two of my favorite peripheral characters in Richard (the angry guy from The Kingdom) and Simon (Negan’s henchman, who is infinitely better than Negan himself). I also want to know more about the horseman with the sword who shouted “who dares trod upon our land!” or whatever. It’s one thing for King Ezekiel to use his theater background to be all medieval, but it’s even funnier when his subordinates do it.
On top of all that, I really didn’t get bored very often, and if there were another episode to watch right now, by golly I’d watch it. I hope all the setup to the eventual battle is as brisk and exciting as this.
Elsewhere, some things never change. Carol’s story still makes absolutely no sense (“uhhh, I live in the woods now because this season I’m a reluctant ‘80s action star who just wants to be left alone”), and when she inevitably pulls her latest 180 four weeks from now, it will still make no sense. I really don’t give a shit about Gabriel. Gregory remains the world’s most annoying middle manager—he’s Dilbert’s pointy-haired boss, but with even less charm. Morgan is still a badass character hidden inside the brain of a dude who sucks. Jesus is still a cool character hidden inside the body of a dude who can’t act. And I would like to deliver an emphatic “no thank you” to the Sasha-Rosita feud, unless it gets resolved with dynamite.
Also, hey, did Aaron get a new boyfriend? Where did that guy come from? Was he the same one from the beginning, and we just haven’t seen him in a while? You can’t just drop a new boyfriend for Aaron with no explanation, writers!
Two final thoughts before I kick it your way:
1. King Ezekiel is making bad decisions. It’s one thing to refuse to fight the Saviors…that’s kinda dumb because eventually they’ll grind you to dust anyway, but at least he thinks he’s protecting his people. It’s another to refuse to fight the Saviors and then harbor Daryl, which is bound to be found out, and which would have the same exact effect of invoking their wrath.
2. If I were those women, I’d be pissed off that Rick was laughing at me, presumably just because we don’t have many dudes. These are real weapons, motherfucker! We broke the apocalypse army glass ceiling, so show some damn respect!
How did you feel? Were you not entertained?
Welcome back to The Walking Dead round-up. Season 7 may not have gotten off to a great start, but I’ll attribute 75% of that to having to watch a neutered Rick Grimes trying to appease the Saviors when we all knew things would eventually boil over—whether we read the comics or not. The Walking Dead suffers most when it drags out the misery of its protagonists, and the events of the midseason finale ensured that Rick would no longer just keep his head down and play nice.
Tonight we saw the beginnings of an anti-Negan resistance forming, first with the nameless extras from the Hilltop, then with Richard from the Kingdom and finally with that group of mostly female ninjas at the end. The smile that crept onto Rick’s face when he saw an angry armed mob surround all the people he cares about was a fantastic and much-needed moment for his character arc. He’s desperate and crazy and confident enough that the existence of a new non-Savior group is good news, even if he’s now their captive.
It was a fantastic episode except for the fact that the reason for their finding that group makes no sense to me. Maybe I’m being daft, but why would Gabriel steal all the supplies, head to the BOAT and leave behind clues for Rick to follow? Why did Rick think that Gabriel was somehow doing them a favor and that they needed to go help him? This seems like the writers said, “We need Rick and the group to go far away from Alexandria to encounter another group. What can we do to make them leave?” “Let’s have Gabriel steal all the supplies.” “But let’s not make Gabriel the bad guy. Let’s give him a reason for stealing all the supplies.” And then they couldn’t come up with a reason and went ahead anyway. Or maybe I just missed it. Help me out here.
But we got to see King Ezekiel’s tiger and his hype man. And more importantly we got to see bad-ass Rick and bad-ass Michonne rip through a herd of walkers with a steel cable between two cars. I’m not ashamed to say that’s why I look forward to Sunday nights in the fall and spring. So yes, I was entertained.
In answer to you other questions and comments:
Eric has always been Aaron’s boyfriend and has always been played by Jordan Woods-Robinson. He broke his ankle the first time we met him, and we’ve barely seen him since he retired as Alexandria recruiter.
King Ezekial is all wise and just and you take that back. He’ll come around; he just recognizes that now is not yet the time to attack, which is obviously true because they would all get their asses kicked and the Kingdom would be left in ruins.
The Negan-as-Trump/Rick-as-resistance metaphors are too easy. I’ll do my best not to go there, but I can’t make any promises.
So, if you’re like me, the only questions for Season 7 I really, really want the answers to are: When do we get to see the tiger fight? And when it’s The Rock in the Road and Other Folksy Morality Tales My Mama Told Me by Rick Grimes coming out?
You raise a terrific point about Gabriel, and the fact that I never even questioned what the hell he’s doing shows the extent to which I’ve tuned him out. Nor do I really flip out over weird holes in plot logic, because the writers have conditioned me to just accept whatever absurdity they shove down our throats by this point.
So, my theory: Tara, who wasn’t supposed to tell anyone about the Amazons (fine, Oceanside), needed to get it off her chest and told Gabriel in confession. His weird “steal the supplies” and flee BS is because he can’t violate the sacred vow of not ratting out people who confess to you, but he still needed a way to inform Rick about this new group of women who had a shit-ton of guns. This is a classic dumb-as-hell Walking Dead moral dilemma, along the lines of Morgan spending three seasons wondering if it’s okay to stop fighting with a stick. So, Gabriel found a weird solution. He consulted his Bible and decided to high-tail it toward the water so that Rick would have to chase him and the two groups would meet.
Does that make good sense? No. But does it more than no sense? Kinda?
Also, that “boat” clue was super hard to find. There was every chance that Rick never flipped to that page, or took it to mean anything beyond the scribblings of a madman. What can I say? You’ve sent me down a rabbit hole of bad writing, Josh, and there’s no solution here except the obvious one—a team of writers scrambling to find a way to bring everyone together, and being sorta lazy about it.
Also, I bet we’ll get a scene where Tara gets mad at him, and Gabriel agonizes about what he’s done. I do not look forward to that.
OKAY, but back to the positive! Yes, the tiger needs to fight. I think Rick has to kill Negan, when push comes to shove, but I expect the tiger to kill someone major like Simon. And it’s only fitting that a great character like Simon will have an awesome death. Maybe that tiger will find a friend, and the two tigers will hold a steel cable in their mouths and and run on either side of Simon and slice him to death.
For your last email, Josh, I would like you to do a power ranking of the best animals in Walking Dead history. Here are your eight choices: King Ezekiel’s tiger, Hershel’s horse “Nelly,” the deer that gets eaten by a zombie that one time, the dog “Duke” that gets shot by Sasha, the horse “Buttons” that gets killed by walkers when Aaron and Daryl try to catch him, the pig “Violet” Rick raised at the prison that Carl formed a bond with, Michonne’s horse “Flame,” or “Tabitha,” the goat at the cabin where Morgan learns stick yoga.
This is a very important question that required a good deal of Internet research (three minutes), so please justify your answers.
You seem to only give me the option of the named animals. But what about the most iconic horse that carried Rick into downtown Atlanta before becoming walker food? I’ve named him Gutsy. #NeverForget. Or the rats from the prison. Would we have had the same sense of Lizzie’s psychosis without those rats?
But if we’re just talking about named animals, it’s pretty easy:
8. Violet – managed to kill off half the prison, turning Carol into badass murderess Carol and almost killing Glenn.
1 (tie). Shiva
1 (tie). Shiva
Shane Ryan is a staff writer at Paste and author of Slaying the Tiger: A Year Inside the Ropes on the New PGA Tour. Josh Jackson is founder and editor-in-chief of Paste.