Shane Ryan and Josh Jackson review The Walking Dead each week in a series of letters.
Tonight’s episode, “Something They Need,” returns to Oceanside. That means Tara once again takes a central role. And while Alanna Masterson hasn’t been the greatest actress to grace the zombie apocalypse, I can appreciate the everywoman-ness of our bumbling hero. It was a low-stakes encounter with an easily overcome village full of mostly unarmed women. The bright spots were some barnacle-laden zombies and a brief cameo by my favorite kid in all of The Walking Dead, “Shit Yeah” Rachel, kicking a walker in the groin before stabbing it in the head.
Sonequa Martin-Green, on the other hand, did a great job. I love the way she responded when Negan’s asked if Rick had put her up to the assassination attempt: “Rick? Your bitch? No.” Even ol’ Negan toned things down a bit tonight in the whispered dialogue in the cell.
I think there’s no doubt about where Eugene stands. His cowardice is just a matter-of-fact part of his persona, engrained in his DNA just as surely as those hair follicles swoop back from his forehead to the back of his collar. With Josh McDermitt’s resigned submission, I think his character has never been more interesting as this season.
And then there was Maggie unintentionally emasculating Gregory. I did enjoy Gregory’s posturing when the walker appears only to chicken out and eventually needing saving from Maggie. His kind of cowardice is worse than Eugene’s.
But the bulk of the story was just off the beach with Nice Cindy and Mean Grandma. It was a bloodless heist and an unsurprising one. The biggest development was the addition of folks like Gabriel and Eric, who are usually content to stay within the walls of Alexandria.
My guess is that wasn’t enough to win you back over this week. But tell me, how’d you feel about this episode?
First, I want to note that in my day (six weeks ago), the women of Oceanside had an amazingly advanced early-warning system, and anybody who got close was found out and apprehended before they could get too close—a necessary and impressive precaution, considering the trauma of their previous experience with the Saviors. It’s a shame to see them fall on such hard times, where a person can sneak into the leader’s house in broad daylight, and her friends can set up elaborate explosives in the woods about 25 feet from the village center. I mean, thank God it’s possible, for the plot and all, but I frankly expected more.
Now that I’ve got that sarcasm out of the way, I actually have to say I enjoyed the Oceanside scenes most of all in this episode, and it also beat pretty much everything I can remember from the last three episodes. The reason is simple—something happened. It seems like every week I get caught up in bitching about the bad plot and the bad dialogue, but I’ve probably been remiss in failing to address the really unforgivable the primary sin of season seven: Things are happening too slowly. This isn’t a show that functions well at a snail’s pace—it’s no Mad Men—and in place of the final battle that literally even a child knows is coming, they’ve given us these false moments of progress that are actually just boring diversions.
The examples are endless: The dumb drama of what the hell Carol is doing, Morgan’s endless wavering on matters of elementary school philosophy, Richard’s poor planning and his bizarre death wish, the hesitations of King Ezekiel, the weird garbage dump people who forgot language and who I’m convinced had live there long before the first zombie came into existence, Eugene’s return to cowardice, and the profoundly idiotic suicide mission undertaken by Rosita and Sasha. And I know I’m forgetting a lot—there was some bullshit with Carl and Negan, and brief forays into the boring lives of Gregory and Jesus and whoever, and so much more. And all of it, every single time, meant to extend the road between the present and the eventual war with the Saviors.
Frankly, for me, it’s been a miserable TV viewing experience. I want to qualify that by saying this is nothing like true misery—it’s still just a TV show that only takes up 45 minutes of my life each week—but the qualified misery comes from the fact that its ineffectiveness is so obvious and so simple, and it recurs with dulling regularity. We’ve talked about this before…almost every time I write these emails, it becomes a question of “how do I say the same thing as last week, but differently?”
Bottom line: When you stop caring about most of the characters, as I have, all that’s left is action. And the Oceanside raid was not just action, but action that made sense. They needed guns to fight the Saviors, Oceanside had guns, and voila, they had to attack. The plotting of it was bad, the execution was a little strange, but it was still fun because it stuck to the rules of what makes TWD good, on those rare occasions when it actually is.
Clearly, though, I am burned out on this show, and have lost the connection to what I used to enjoy. Writing these emails is the only fun part about it, but I still long for Game of Thrones and more fertile subject matter. So my question for you is what difference you’ve noticed in how you feel about the show, now vs. the early seasons, and how your own connection has been maintained, faded, or been otherwise affected. I wish I could still relate to this show, but almost no matter what happens in the season finale next week, I think the connection has been severed for good. What about you?
You’ve hit on the two biggest frustrations with this season: the gaping holes in the logic of characters’ actions (let’s leave all our weapons in the armory and patrol with knives) and the glacial plotting for a genre show. You bring up Game of Thrones, and one big difference between the shows is the number of episodes. The Walking Dead has grown from six to 13 to 16, while Game of Thrones has remained at 10. We have Walking Dead producers talking about keeping the show going for 20 seasons, and that’s a whole lot of stories to tell. With 10-episode seasons, I think we might have been left with a tighter series with less filler. Of course, that might have just exacerbated the plot shortcuts.
But I do care about these characters. “Something They Need” was the 98th episode—my 98th encounter with Rick’s gang, and that sheer amount of time watching them struggle against the evils of their fellow humans intensifies my concern for Rick Grimes, for Maggie and her baby, even for newer arrivals like Sasha. So I’m likely in this for the long haul, even if they fail to recapture the magic of those early seasons.
For now, let’s just hope the season finale compares to any of those first five breathless endings and not the manipulative cliff-hanger of Season 6. I’ll leave it with you to kill someone off next week. Who’s gonna die?
The obvious answer to your question is Sasha, because Sonequa Martin-Green recently booked some sweet, sweet Star Trek action, and will be coming to a CBS screen near you very soon. She’s the lead, too, which means there’s no time for double-dipping. This is probably the safest bet in TWD history—Sasha is toast.
However, unless the writers are too pissed at her for leaving, I think she’s going to go down heroically. Ditto for Dwight, my other pick for a main-ish character dying next week. Rick is obviously not going to shoot him as he seems poised to do in the final moments of “Something They Need,” but I think Dwight will sacrifice himself out of renewed love for his wife, and I think he may even be the one to kill Negan…if, that is, we get rid of Negan at all. I know you’ve said it’s not going to happen, but I’m curious whether the writers reverse course dramatically to make up for the much-reviled cliffhanger at the end of last season. Nothing would shock me.
Beyond that, it’s hard to imagine any principal characters dying. Maggie, Rick, and Daryl are all safe, and Carl seems too far removed from the action to suddenly get got. My only other guess is Eugene, and I get the feeling that he actually does have a secret plan up his sleeve to avenge Abraham, and this is a long, involved cowardice act that everybody is buying. I think there’s some heroism left there, and it may be fatal.
Oh, and finally, Gregory is almost certainly dying. Hopefully at the hands of a zombie he’s too scared to fight.
The finale awaits! Until then, please don’t die, Daryl Dixon.