Josh Jackson and Jim Vorel review each week’s episode of The Walking Dead in a series of letters
Good lord, now that was certainly a gory Walking Dead return to form, now wasn’t it? “Some Guy” delivered all of the stupid fun I’ve been wanting (and not quite able to enjoy) from The Walking Dead so far in season 8, and did it with the season’s most wrenchingly emotional character portrait to boot. This is by far the most invested I’ve felt in any single Walking Dead character in recent memory.
We’re talking of course about King Ezekiel, the majestically dreadlocked ruler of The Kingdom. Tonight we watched his band of merry men be brutally ambushed after believing themselves to have successfully cleared a Savior outpost, cut down by the .50 caliber machineguns that Rick, Daryl and Aaron’s crew had been attempting to locate in the last few episodes. Covered in the blood and entrails of his own men, Ezekiel crawls to freedom as his soldiers begin to reanimate and shamble after him, in what is one of the grosser and more genuinely unsettling sequences we’ve seen in the show lately. The thought of losing “not one” is shown to be as hopelessly deluded as we all knew it to be, but it’s more than that—Ezekiel’s entire facade comes crashing down as he realizes just how badly his miscalculation has cost all the people who trusted him. As he reminds the audience, he made a choice to become a symbolic hero for the sake of rallying people together … a responsibility that he now seems to be rejecting, deeming himself no longer worthy of it. He’s no longer a king, no longer a tiger owner (RIP, poor Shiva) and no longer healthy in body or mind.
Of course, it wasn’t all perfect. The show’s plot armor problems can hardly be more clear when a large group of Kingdom residents gets ambushed and only Ezekiel, Carol and Jerry are left standing. Oh, the survivors just happen to be the characters we’ve spent time with for a few seasons? WHO COULD HAVE PREDICTED IT?
I also can’t help but be frustrated by the nonsensical nature of the show’s insistence upon doubling down on strange plotlines, the one of note here being the necessity of acquiring these .50 cal machineguns. BOTH sides go out of their way to imply that these few heavy machineguns are somehow necessary in order to clear the zombie horde surrounding The Sanctuary, but really … what kind of sense does that make? Is the seemingly endless supply of assault rifles and ammunition possessed by The Saviors somehow not adequate for this task? Hell, you can’t even accurately target zombies with a .50 cal machinegun. You have to hit these things in the head! These are literally the last type of weapon you need for the job—the only efficient way to use them is against human beings, which is why they worked so well against Big Zeke’s unfortunate soldiers. These guns are simply Hitchcockian MacGuffins to keep the larger plot humming along.
But despite all that, “Some Guy” is still clearly the best episode of season 8 so far, if only for the sheer quality of its action and the intensity of its focus upon a few key characters and themes. That clarity was much more effective to me than the scattershot nature of episodes 1 and 2, keeping the audience’s attention focused on a thrilling scenario unfolding in what is more or less real time. I haven’t been as excited during a Walking Dead sequence in quite a while as I was when Ezekiel and Jerry were facing down that incoming wave of zombies, weary and ready to go down fighting. It was like The Walking Dead equivalent of Helm’s Deep in The Two Towers.
Some questions for you, Josh:
— Is it safe to call the Jeffrey Dahmer-esque Savior who captured Ezekiel the single creepiest random dude in this show’s long history? Seriously, where do you dredge up this guy? Is this just how the creators of the show remove any possibility of empathizing with The Saviors, if they’re all meant to look like serial killers? FYI, according to Robert Kirkman, that guy’s name is “Gunther.” Creephood confirmed.
— Do you prefer it, as I do, when this series focuses on a single group of characters during an episode rather than jumping around to multiple, simultaneous plotlines?
— How does Ezekiel pick up the pieces after this disaster? How does he cope with the loss of Shiva, but more importantly his loss of confidence in his ability to lead? It’s going to be a long, rough, dark night of the soul that follows. Will he be able to quit being “some guy” and ever be a true leader again?
I think a good part of what made this episode more enjoyable than the others this season was the commitment to one location. The jumbled fight scenes of the season premiere left me scratching my head, but “Some Guy” allowed us to delve deeply into one story line, and for the most part, one character.
It also definitely helps that the character is King Ezekiel, and that we see beyond the facade, where we’d gotten glimpses last season. For all his theatricality, Ezekiel isn’t nearly as battle scarred as Rick’s gang. He’s been mostly a peacetime king, not a battlefield general, and though he’s decided to be a hero for his people, war has a way of not cooperating.
As soon as he makes promises of not losing a single soldier, we knew his people were in for a slaughter, and that’s what we got at the end of last week. If there’s a downside to spending a whole episode on one story line, it’s that the flashbacks to the king getting ready for this battle didn’t offer us much new other than his conversation Carol. I could do without any more pre-game pep talks during this particular war.
But the action was taut (and thankfully mostly coherent) tonight. Carol continues to be a believable badass with a gun in her hands, though I’m not sure why she didn’t attack when all five bad guys were in her sights and still loading the guns. She waited until they’d split up and two were facing her with machine guns in hands. A minor quibble, but also an all-too-common one lately.
But Jerry’s battle axe (RIP) ripping Gunther in two? Daryl popping out from behind Rick’s car to put a bullet in Mr. Heavy Artillery? Carol dropping four Saviors from her hiding spot in the drop ceiling? These are the kinds of action moments we want in The Walking Dead to go along with good storytelling. This episode at least gave us one of those.
As for storytelling, no one has had to deal with quite so utter a failure as the King did tonight, not even Rick. He lost almost all his soldiers and his CGIger. He tried to die a hero during their retreat, and when he has to face his followers at the end, you definitely get the sense that he wishes he’d at least succeeded in that. I felt for the Ezekiel, and that’s a win for The Walking Dead these days. I don’t think he recovers from this quickly.
And yes, Gunther was obviously a serial killer before the zombie apocalypse but maybe a little too cartoony to be frightening. I was very glad he didn’t survive the episode. The show already has a wonderful villain that we haven’t seen in way too long. And I’m talking, of course, about Simon.
We’ve spent a lot of time away from The Sanctuary now Jim, mostly in random outposts with random characters. When do you think we can get back to the heart of this fight? Maggie vs. Simon? (And, I guess, the undercard of Rick vs. Negan)? After a whole episode of King Ezekiel, who would you most want to see get his or her own hour of television?
I think it’s obvious who I want to see during an entire hour of television: Eugene and his apocalypse mullet (which he still chooses to maintain, despite being in a place that most definitely has a hair cuttery), engineering quality-of-life improvements in The Sanctuary. Well that, or fighting for his life in The Sanctuary, against both Negan and the horde of zombies outside.
Thankfully, it seems that might be exactly what we’re seeing next. If the “tune in next week” preview is to be believed, then next week’s action will return us to Negan and co., and it sounds like perhaps the big guy has become suspicious that there’s a ratfink in their midst. I have to say, if you’re Dwight, I’m not sure how you deal with this problem. What was his gameplan in terms of eventually defecting to Rick’s side, anyway? In terms of their plan, is Dwight meant to be the one to eventually plunge a knife into Negan’s black heart? Surely he must have assumed that suspicion would eventually fall on him, or on Negan’s captains in general, once the Grimes Coalition began demonstrating impossible knowledge of all the Savior outposts? You’d think he must have some kind of contingency in place for when the shit finally hit the fan, as appears to be happening next week. Perhaps he and Eugene can come to some sort of understanding? I still find it impossible to think that The Walking Dead’s resident mulleted scientist won’t redeem himself sooner rather than later, possibly in an extremely naive attempt on Negan’s life.
I must admit, I was also thrilled to see Carol back in gun-toting murderess mode—it finally felt like a return to her character in season 5, the kind of Carol who managed to more or less rescue the entire group from Terminus singlehandedly. This Carol is inarguably the best Carol, and it warms the cockles of my heart every time that Melissa McBride has an opportunity to lay waste to an entire roomful of guys. It’s incredible that the mousy little woman from the camp in Atlanta, a shrinking woman living in fear of her abusive, drunken husband, somehow has become the show’s most dangerous solo operator. More than any other character from The Walking Dead comics, the Carol of the TV show is much more badass than how she was portrayed in Robert Kirkman’s original story. It makes me not care overmuch when the blocking of an action scene doesn’t particularly make sense—I’m just glad to see the woman in action scenes, rather than living as a hermit in the woods like she was in season 7.
Poor, poor Zeke. You don’t just drag a 500-pound CGIger through the zombie apocalypse forever, you know. I take no joy in pointing out that I totally called this outcome last week, although I honestly expected it to be a hail of bullets the did the big cat in, rather than a swarm of chemically-bleached undead. Both good, though.
Ezekiel’s deathwish was quite palpable tonight, and genuinely affecting. You can only imagine what might be going through that character’s mind during the long walk back to The Kingdom—how do you manage to walk back all that way with a broken leg, by the way? You can see his desire to go down as a martyr, although he knows it won’t atone for all the people whose deaths he indirectly caused. And I think the results of a poll on Talking Dead show just how effective tonight’s episode was in generating sympathy for Ezekiel—only 4% of voters said they blamed him for the death of those Kingdom soldiers. I’m not sure who else one might blame for rushing into an armed confrontation with an enemy who knows you’re coming, but it at least shows that the viewership (the ones who still bother watching Talking Dead) are invested in the character.
It feels like it’s just about time for both sides to take stock of what they’ve won and lost. If Rick calls a war meeting at The Hilltop while Negan and co. are dealing with infighting and Dwight-suspecting, what do you think his next move will be?
I thought the obvious answer was Jerry, but I’ll settle for an hour of Eugene squirming under the bright lamp of Negan’s suspicion.
But back to Ezekiel, we really got to see how much his people loved him as a leader. It was no accident that he alone survived as his soldiers’ instincts had them bull-rushing their leader as soon as they heard gunfire instead of fleeing to safety. Protect the king. Even after he led them into a killing field and they look like their about to be eaten by their undead comrades, Jerry just thanks Zeke for being such a cool guy.
But we’ll see if that sentiment extends to the widows and orphans his tactical failures just created. The Kingdom has virtually no knights remaining, so they’d better hope Rick is about to go on the offensive again. If the Saviors take care of the horde that surrounds them, The Kingdom is in danger of falling.
Team Rick has won most of the battles this season but just lost a third of his force. We don’t have much of an idea what kind of fighting force remains at The Sanctuary, but Sheriff Grimes certainly doesn’t want to lose his advantage. I’d booby trap all roads leading away from Negan’s headquarters or try to get close enough to destroy their vehicles. If he lets the Saviors escape their current predicament, The Kingdom is nearly defenseless unless that’s where the heavy guns are going.
But first Negan is going to have to get his own affairs in order and that could be bad for Eugene or Dwight.
Please don’t die Daryl Dixon.