Shane Ryan and Josh Jackson review The Walking Dead each week in a series of letters.
I’m going to try something new today, and I swear it’s not because I’m being lazy. I’m just generally puzzled by this episode, and rather than spend 900 words arguing with television writers who will never read this (just kidding, all writers are vain and TV writers definitely read every single review they can find online), I just want to keep this simple. Here are two premises, followed by two opinions.
PREMISE ONE: In order to make a viewer care about a crazy assassination mission, that mission has to make some kind of sense.
OPINION ONE: Other than “Sasha and Rosita hate Negan,” this doesn’t make any sense at all. At best, they kill him at a time when their own people aren’t quite prepared to deal with the repercussions, which guarantees that the retaliation will include many more Glenn/Abraham head-bashing atrocities to shut any idea of rebellion down. At worst, they try to kill Negan, fail, and—again—Negan beats some brains in to make sure there’s no act two. The whole plan is weirdly selfish and nonsensical.
PREMISE TWO: In order to be invested in a suicide run, a viewer must think there is no other option, and also that, under the circumstances, it’s a wise tactical move.
OPINION TWO: Uh, what the hell is happening here? All I saw was that they discovered a sweet sniper’s nest, and the minute they couldn’t get a clean shot at Negan, they were like, “well, that’s it, he’ll never come outside again.” Was waiting for like one hour not an option? How did that sequence of events lead to, “the only chance now is to attack a fortified compound!” And why did Sasha think the best plan once they got there was just to sprint inside firing at will? Does she really think that’s going to lead to Negan’s death?
I don’t know, Josh. I want to be invested here. I really do. But the plotting of this show is so agonizingly stupid, almost every single week, that I can’t even begin to suspend my disbelief. They’re trying to seize on these cliches, like “character B commits selfless act to sacrifice herself for character A, who is pissed but can’t do anything,” but doing NONE of the leg work.
Traditionally, you’re a little more even-handed in your treatment of the show, so I’ll turn to you here. What was redeeming that I missed because I was too caught up in the bad plot?
The great film critic Roger Ebert had a name for what you just described: the idiot plot. It’s a term first used by science fiction writer James Blish in 1956, referring to any story “in which not merely the principals, but everybody in the whole society has to be a grade-A idiot, or the story couldn’t happen.”
High-powered rifle? Check. Perfect tower with line-of-site to the front entrance of the Sanctuary, where Negan frequents? Check. So of course Sasha and Rosita decide it’d be better to storm the castle.
To be fair, there was an announcement that they’d be doing sweeps of nearby buildings to collect more walkers. But our would-be heroes could have easily gone home and tried another day. Sasha breaking into the Sanctuary on her own is a terrible idea. But doing it with Rosita would have been nearly as suicidal.
But you asked me for moments that might redeem the lazy writing. I’ll start with the fact that TV’s most popular action/horror/thriller just gave us an episode where the two main characters were women: one black and one Latina. While neither has been developed in particularly satisfying ways, Rosita’s quiet competence and Sasha’s resilience have had their moments to shine.
Of course, that just makes their current idiocy more frustrating. There was no reason to think either of them are morons before this episode—they’ve both survived this long on their wits and resourcefulness. But here we are.
This was also one of the more languid, patient episodes of the show. There wasn’t a ton of dialogue. That can sometimes mean dull, but it can also serve to make moments like Daryl’s hesitant apology to Maggie resonate. I’d be happy for more scenes between those two.
And finally, it was great to see Eugene have to face his own disloyalty as he was none too happy to see Rosita and Sasha. It looked like he’d settled into being Negan, and this was just too much for him.
But those were just asides in an episode about Rosita and Sasha reconciling, something I was happy to see but that was kind of ruined by their uncharacteristic stupidity.
But dumb plotting aside, was there anything you enjoyed about tonight? I still find myself looking forward to watching episodes, mostly because at this point, these feel like old friends I’m checking in with. Idiot plots have appeared more frequently lately. Does that completely ruin it for you or is that just part of the nature of the show at this point?
At this point, I should be totally reconciled to the Idiot Plot and enjoy it like you do, to watch characters that have given me some good moments in the past and take the whole thing for what it’s worth. My failure to do so is definitely a personal shortcoming, a mix of obstinacy and the dumb expectation that, almost literally out of nowhere, the quality will return. The fact that this is a total impossibility doesn’t sway me, and each time we get an episode like last night’s, I’m hit with a renewed round of bitterness. It doesn’t help this morning that my favorite college basketball team lost last night, disinclining me to be generous to anything at all in the world.
However, in addition to all the valid redemptive points you mentioned, I’ll add another—I really like watching Simon, especially when he’s owning Gregory. I still say Simon should be Negan, and even though he’s definitely gong to die in the next two eps, it looks like Gregory is going to go running to him at some point, and I hope Simon leers at him for a while and then merks him once and for all.
Even if we’re never treated to that outcome, we’ll still always have last night’s funniest/darkest line, following Simon’s monologue about his facial expressions: “We don’t need two doctors.”
Misgivings aside, I will get over this and enjoy the war with Negan we get to see over the final two episodes. Speaking of that, I want to get to something you said either last week or the week before in your final email—hopefully I’m not putting words in your mouth, but am I right that you predict Negan will live to see season 8? When I first read that, I thought, “oh God, that would be atrocious.” But the more I think about it, the more I realize you’re probably right. I think it would be the smarter move to resolve the war, especially considering how much shit they took last year for the infamous cliffhanger, but the smarter move isn’t always the path this show chooses.
So I want to put the two questions directly to you. A, what’s the argument for keeping Negan around, and B, even if the there’s a better argument for ending this in the next two weeks, why will TWD cliffhang us anyway?
Over and out,
Shane, Shane, Shane. I don’t know how to tell you this, but the Negan arc might not even be halfway over. He’s the biggest, baddest, most iconic struggle in all of the comics. You don’t just establish an antagonist and then immediately take him out. That’d be like killing off Joffrey in Season One. It’d be shocking if Negan died this quickly and kind of a shame.
I know you don’t like Jeffrey Dean Morgan’s over-the-top monologuing portrayal. But he is a comic-book villain. We’ve now got a loose alliance of disparate groups ready to take on a well-armed madman. But there’s plenty of story left to tell. There may be a battle to end the season, but the wars always take longer than anyone expected.
Please don’t die, Daryl Dixon.