Shane Ryan and Josh Jackson review The Walking Dead each week in a series of letters.
We’ll talk about that ending in a second, but first, some big news: I’ve contacted a few of my sources—deeply embedded Walking Dead double agents—and managed to procure a stunning piece of information. Here on Paste, I’m proud to leak the first few lines from the show’s next episode, scheduled to air on Feb. 14:
Jessie: “Sam, honey…remember how we said no talking during this part where we walk through the zombies? I’m going to have to insist, sweetheart.”
Jessie: Sam, honey—
Gunshot as Carl shoots Sam, second gunshot as Ron shoots Carl, third gunshot as Rick shoots Ron, and then Morgan shows up and cries.
Looks interesting. Now, back to last night….
That was something, huh?! Between Deanna and Jessie, it’s hard to say who raised the most screwed-up sons, but Ron and Sam certainly made a great case for themselves in “Start to Finish,” last night’s mid-season finale. First it was Ron, not content to let the Anderson family’s asshole gene die with his father, attempting to kill Carl in the midst of a vaguely nihilistic fugue. Of course, since he’s a male offspring in Alexandria, he failed completely and only managed to set off a chain of events that put everyone else in danger. Worst of all, Josh, he made me like Carl for a second. That is UN-FOR-GIV-ABLE. You know my long-held position on wanting Carl to die—at this point, it defines me as a person—and by evoking sympathy for him, Ron has rocked the foundations of my identity.
But, hoo boy, let’s talk about Sam, because Sam makes Ron look like Wally Cleaver. Sam has been seriously screwed up since Carol gave him that creepy speech about cookies, and Sam has psychological issues that are really far above my pay grade. They also seem above the pay grade of the show’s writers, who typically give us mental health issues that are either outlandishly evil or easily overcome. You’re either preserving severed heads in a tank, or you’re mildly depressed because someone you know died. But Sam is a whole new ballgame, Josh. He’s terrified and delusional and agoraphobic and now, perhaps, in some weird dissociative state that’s going to get them all killed. In the parlance of our times, Sam is a real handful.
It seems weird that I’ve just spent three paragraphs talking about Ron and Sam, but the fact is, they were the stars of the show last night. Which is another way of saying that we got cliff-hung in a pretty bad way. No Daryl, no Abraham and Sasha, barely any Glenn or Enid, precious little Maggie, and a whole lot of Deanna, Carl, Sam, Ron, and Dr. Oatmeal. It wasn’t a bad episode, per se, but it wasn’t the rocking finale that I think you and I both expected. It failed to succeed for reasons we’ve seen repeated over and over again this year—the writers are dead set on selling us these Alexandria characters, but they’ve done a poor job of fleshing them out or making them interesting in any way. Speaking for myself, I ain’t buying.
I have to get this off my chest, too—I am so fed up with Morgan. I stand by last week’s statement that his stupid philosophical stance on not killing bad people is idiotic and shallow, and will lead to good people dying unnecessarily. We saw it play out that way this week with Carol, who stands on the opposite end of the spectrum—she needs only the hint of an excuse to start a’killin. She went too far back at the prison, but this Wolf dude? Open and shut case. Instead, we had to suffer through more tedious monologues about the preciousness of all life, and then Morgan and Carol managed to knock each other out. At that point, I was rooting for the Wolf to kill everyone just to make a point, but for some reason he only took Dr. Oatmeal as a hostage. If he ends up being redeemed somehow in a forced attempt to justify Morgan’s bullshit, I will puke, Josh. I will puke everywhere, and then cover myself in that puke so I can walk unrecognized among the show’s writers. (Man, that got weird.)
My other big problem is that we managed to make it a full hour with no resolution. I know there was inner drama happening, but if you summarized the big plot points, you’d have the following:
1. Everyone escapes inside a building, but Deanna dies.
2. A couple people leave the buildings, but we don’t know what happens next.
That’s all we got, and I would have liked a little more. Looking back at this half-season, I think we can say the same about a few episodes—enough, anyway, that season six has been what I’d call a mild disappointment. After the first two episodes, which were fairly riveting, this season was defined by an annoying cliffhanger that everyone guessed immediately but got dragged out forever (Glenn), half a good episode (Daryl), an interesting flashback episode that led to one of the most frustrating recurring themes of the whole season (Morgan), and a couple episodes that were real stinkers (including ep. 5, which was probably one of the worst of the entire series). The eight episodes have lacked the coherence of previous installments, and I think they have some ground to make up in the second half.
So, Josh, over to you—you’re usually more positive than I am when it comes to the so-so episodes, and I’m curious to see if the pattern holds. Are there redeeming qualities to the mid-season finale that I missed?
I thought there were a lot of redeeming qualities of last night’s show. I laughed out loud at the very first scene, where we find young Sam drawing a picture of Carol’s terrifying monologue from last season—a boy tied to a tree surrounded by zombies. I’m starting to think the cookies weren’t worth it. Sure, Sam is a real handful, but between Carol’s threats, his father’s abusiveness and subsequent death, and the fact that he walked in on his mother and his father’s killer smearing zombie guts all over themselves, it’d be less believable if he wasn’t crying out for his mom during their escape. Kind of makes me appreciate Carl, though that’s probably asking a lot of you.
We lost Deanna tonight, but she went down like a badass, using her bullets on the walkers instead of taking the easy way out. And she was a flowing font of wisdom before she went, helping Rick to finally accept the Alexandrians as his responsibility and helping Michonne complete her journey from stoic loner to community leader. Her kids may be a mess, but Deanna showed the qualities that had kept her people alive and at peace this long.
The Carol vs. Morgan fight was fantastic. My fear for both of them was real. But it wasn’t Carol who knocked Morgan out; it was the Wolf. And here was my only big problem with the episode: everything that happened after the fight. I was afraid for them because there was no reason for the Wolf not to just kill everyone. Just like there was no reason for Tara and Rosita to give a psychopath like that their guns. If you have a gun trained on the head of someone holding a knife to a hostage’s throat, don’t you just shoot him in the face? I’m no expert in either physics or biology, but if you pull the trigger, wouldn’t the bullet scramble his brains before he could do any real damage? Once you give him the guns, there’s no reason for him to not just kill everyone in the room—the very reason he attacked Alexandria in the first place. Instead he inexplicably leaves them all unharmed and takes a hostage out into the zombie carnage. If self-preservation was his motivation, he’s safer in that house than outside. But he’s never felt like a real character. He’s been presented as a one-dimensional monster intent on killing people, but when he gets the chance, he just flees.
And now we have Maggie trapped on a platform in plain view of Glenn. She sees Glenn’s balloons and Glenn sees her, and if the show really wanted to break our hearts, that’s as close as they’ll get to a reunion. They wouldn’t do that to us, though, Shane, would they? The show’s success is in doing enough to its characters that we worry about these things. Tara and Rosita summed it up perfectly when Tara said that they had to earn something as good as Alexandria and Rosita wondering that they hadn’t already paid the price. These characters are constantly put to the test, and that’s a big part of what’s endeared them to us. No matter how poorly or well the Alexandrians have been fleshed out as characters, we won’t care about them until they’ve gone through some of the hell that Rick and the gang have endured.
But enough about the mid-season finale. I’m much more excited about the two-minute prologue that aired during Into the Badlands. Sure it’s a cheap marketing ploy to get us to watch kung-fu (which is working on me, by the way). But in case you missed it, the last word uttered is “Negan.” Negan! If Morgan’s Wolf is the most one-dimensional villain we’ve seen, Negan has the potential to make The Governor look like the hipster douchebag cannibal from Terminus whose name I already forget. Negan is a way better character in the comics than The Governor, who was 1000% improved by the TV show, thanks to David Morrissey and some tremendous writing. We haven’t met his character yet, but we know he’ll be played by Jeffrey Dean Morgan, who’s been fantastic on The Good Wife. And, more importantly, we know his people just captured Daryl, Abraham and Sasha. If I give the mid-season finale a B, the prologue gets an A++ and has me anxiously awaiting February.
So we definitely had a different opinion of this episode, and even this half season. But with the threat of Negan looming, does your disappointment extend to worry about the next half? Do you think the show has lost something or do you just think it got distracted by all the new faces?
First things first, I’m shocked and disappointed that you forgot the name of Gareth, aka Emo Hipster Douchebag. What’s next—forgetting Dr. Oatmeal?
On a serious note, I had the same thought about giving up the guns to the Wolf. He’s a known psychopath who has been brainwashed into murdering his enemies on sight, and you don’t take a clear shot? You’re totally right in that he wouldn’t even have time to react. I mean, realistically, even losing Dr. Oatmeal is better than giving this guy a firearm. They’re all very lucky to be alive. Another thing that made me laugh is that he only took one gun, meaning Rosita or Tara could have grabbed the other and chased him when he left the building. But that would have made too much sense, so they just stared mournfully after him.
Another thing I have to bring up, along those same lines. The Walking Dead ignores this as much as possible, but I think it’s important enough to put in all-caps: THE FACT THAT YOU CAN DISGUISE YOURSELF AMONG THE DEAD IS A HUGE GAME-CHANGER, AND IT’S CRAZY THAT THIS TACTIC ISN’T EMPLOYED MORE OFTEN.
Right?!?!? I mean, since Michonne discovered it way back when, why isn’t everyone always wearing zombie guts when they go outside? I get that it’s pretty unpalatable, but I can think of so many deaths that would have been prevented, or near-deaths that would have been so much less dramatic. Look at Glenn and Nicholas—just kill one zombie, pull him up to the dumpster, cover yourself with blood, and GTFO, right? I try not to spend too much time getting frustrated at weird plot points, but I think it’s funny that the writers invented themselves a get-out-of-jail free card, and then had their characters conveniently forget that it existed. All these scenes are rushing back to me—Rick fleeing the zombie horde after he escaped from the RV, for one. Just blood up, man! It’s sort of like watching a bird try to escape from an attacking squirrel, and only when he gets in a real pinch does he go, “Oh yeah, I can fly.”
All I’m saying is that if I lived in zombie-land, I’d be bathing in guts every morning. Or maybe trying like crazy to invent a gut-smelling spray, and testing it on prisoners until it works.
Now, about that prologue—I honestly did not see it until you wrote about it, but I just watched, and it looks great. No idea who Negan is, but I’ll take your word that he’s going to bring the goods. If he’s anywhere near as solid as David Morrissey, he’ll be a great addition.
Thinking about that, I’m starting to see that you’re right—a big part of the reason I don’t really like anyone from Alexandria is that they’re stuck in a state of arrested development, at least as far as the apocalypse is concerned. We’ve spent a lot of time in a lot of seasons with some really grizzled, seasoned, experienced people. Some have been good, some have been evil, but most of them have been badass. Alexandria is the opposite of badass, and all the people sort of blend into one homogenous blob of softness. (I did kinda like dreadlocks dude, though—didn’t he make it back to Alexandria? I haven’t seen him in a while.) There’s literally not one character from Alexandria that I want to see next season, and even though Abraham/Eugene/Rosita are a little better, I have to say that none of them lived up to the best of the original gang. When you think of the characters that are really essential, all of them except Michonne and the Governor were there from the beginning, and the Governor’s dead.
Hopefully this new bunch, savvy and evil, will break that streak of boring new characters. The truth might be that the show has gone as far as it can with the current format, which consistently works liked this: Rick and his gang pick up a new crew, the new crew dies one by one, sometimes one of the original gang dies, a new villain emerges, they defeat the new villain, and so on and so forth. Maybe it’s time for them to be assimilated into a new group, with (gasp!) a new leader. We’ll see.
I’ll send it your way with a question—we’re halfway through, so where would you put Season Six on the season rankings totem pole so far?
I think everyone in the zombie apocalypse is going to buy your zombie spray. You’ll be able to trade it for all the pudding in the land.
Also, before I get to ranking the seasons, can we take a moment to recognize that even baby Judith knows to keep quiet when you’re walking through the zombie horde. Rick is starting to look like Father of the Year compared to the Andersons—or really anyone in Alexandria.
As for ranking the seasons, I think I’d have to go with…
6. Season Six – It started strong and I loved the Morgan episode, but it’s going to take some excitement from the second half to move it out of the basement. Best new character: leader of Negan’s bike gang during the prologue.
5. Season Five – In terms of human antagonists, the people of Terminus and the hospital cops are two of the least interesting groups our survivors have faced, plus Father Gabriel. There were some really good episodes—Carol blowing up Terminus, Abraham’s flashback, the return of Morgan—but it didn’t quite live up to earlier seasons. Best new character: Aaron.
4. Season Two – There was some important character development on the farm, but not much else that remains memorable until “Pretty Much Dead Already,” when Sophia walks out of that barn. Best new characters: Maggie/Michonne.
3. Season Four – David Morrissey owned this season in episodes like “Live Bait,” but there was plenty more to love once he was finally vanquished, including Daryl’s time with the claimers, Carol and Tyreese with the kids, and the group’s arrival in Terminus. Best new character: Joe.
2. Season One – I could watch that pilot episode over and over. In just six episodes, the we had the hospital scene, Rick riding through the streets of Atlanta on his horse, Merle sawing off his hand, the walkers attacking the group’s camp and the adventures at the CDC. Best new characters: Rick/Daryl/Carol
1. Season Three – All the excitement of Season One, but with characters that we’d come to care about deeply thanks to the personal drama of Season Two. The claustrophobia of the the prison. Michonne becoming part of the group. The return of Lennie James in “Clear.” And the introduction of The Governor vs. Rick. This is the pinnacle of The Walking Dead so far. Best new character: The Governor.
But Negan is coming, Shane. All is well.
Please don’t die, Daryl Dixon.
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