The Walking Dead, especially in its current incarnation, is not exactly a show where you expect sparkling storytelling. Loose ends are common; stories grounded in reality have long since flown out the window; and most of the remaining fans are simply happy if any given episode contains some zombie gore and a few one liners. The bar of what passes for a coherent episode of The Walking Dead has progressively been lowered over the years, but at least when someone dies, it’s usually clear to the viewer what has happened.
I say “usually,” because sometimes the show still manages to surprise you with the depth of its potential incoherence. Tonight’s “Open Your Eyes” was one such occasion, as we said goodbye to the PTSD-wracked, hunky doctor Siddiq (Avi Nash) in what must be the most confusing and easily misinterpreted death scene The Walking Dead has ever committed to the screen. To be clear: Both myself and my fiance watching the program didn’t even think that we’d watched Siddiq’s death at all when it aired live—we didn’t even realize that was what had happened until Chris Hardwick went out of his way to explain the episode’s ending in the opening moments of Talking Dead. In fact, the depth with which he explained this information makes me suspect that Hardwick must have found the way this was executed just as confusing as we did, and thus wanted to get as many viewers on the same page as possible.
Much of the confusion comes down to the direction of Michael Cudlitz, the actor-director who once portrayed good old Abraham on this very program. The episode’s conceptual through-line had revolved heavily around Siddiq and the torments he continues to experience via PTSD effects, as the sole survivor of the massacre that killed characters such as Henry and Enid last season. We see that the quality of his work has been slipping, possibly resulting in the death of more patients. He’s lost in his own head, often hallucinating and literally seeing Whisperers around him (Alpha at a window, this week), even as he enters the occasional fugue state, as we saw at the end of last week’s episode “Bonds.” His perceptions are clearly not to be trusted here. We are told through what we see in this episode: Siddiq isn’t seeing reality clearly.
And so, when he’s approached at the end of the episode with more support from resident comedy relief Dr. Dante (Juan Javier Cardenas), while staring off into the distance and once again having PTSD flashbacks, our concern for the wellbeing of both characters understandably begins to rise. As the scene goes on, Siddiq has what you would charitably call “a crazy look in his eyes.” He sees a vision of Dante as—gasp—one of the Whisperers who initially was involved with abduction and killing of all his friends. His eyes flick to the nearby axe, and we, the audience, think “Oh no Siddiq, don’t go and do something crazy.” Dante, seeing what is going down, leaps at the same time as Siddiq and grabs his friend, restraining him in the only way he can, restricting his airflow until Siddiq is placated and no longer a threat to himself and others. It’s harsh, but it had to be done for both of their safeties.
Clearly, we just watched Dante save Siddiq’s life, and his own. Right?
Nope. As Hardwick helpfully points out, we actually just watched Siddiq be murdered. Dante is in fact somehow a Whisperer double agent; one who has been undermining and gaslighting Siddiq ever since all those heads were put on pikes. Despite the fact that the entire episode was built around the idea that Siddiq was constantly hallucinating and that his senses could not be trusted, his death scene throws away all that ambivalence—everything is exactly as his irrational mind deduced. Dante isn’t restraining his friend—he’s choking his enemy to death for realizing his identity.
Suffice to say, none of this makes a lick of sense, although I will admit that it does at least help somewhat resolve one of last season’s more nonsensical, unexplained plots—the question of how Alpha, a lone disguised woman in Alexandria, was somehow able to abduct a dozen people during the festival and escape with all of them undetected, without tipping off any sentries. Now we know: She had someone on the inside (presumably). But think about some of the other absurdities this situation raises.
— The Whisperers left ONE person alive to be a messenger after their head-spike massacre. They then apparently instructed their inside man to almost exclusively hang around with that one guy, the only person in the entire community who could reasonably be expected to deduce his identity.
— Let’s remember that this is Dante we’re talking about, the guy who spends almost every moment on screen performing the equivalent of bad stand-up comedy and dad jokes. We’re suppose to accept that this guy had previously spent the last 9 years living in the woods with corpse skin on his face? Was he secretly working on his tight five that whole time? Did he perform at Whisperer birthdays?
— If Dante’s job is to somehow get information out to Alpha, how is one of the town’s most visible residents accomplishing this? Moreover, if he was somehow succeeding in getting information to his Whisperer brethren, why would Gamma even need to be seeking basic information from Aaron?
— If Dante is a former member of the Whisperers, that likely means he lived around Lydia for literally years in their former life. She doesn’t recognize him either?
I’ve been left shaking my head at events on The Walking Dead numerous times over the years, but never have I watched a character be murdered without even realizing that this is what I was supposed to be seeing. The irony of “Open Your Eyes” is that director Cudlitz and writer Corey Reed were actually succeeding for the first 98% of runtime in telling a semi-interesting story about mental health and coping with trauma, and established enough of a motif for us to assume that something purely psychological was happening in the episode’s final moments. It’s very Walking Dead indeed to then throw away the motif you worked to build and instead say “Oh, nah, that guy is an evil nutjob in disguise, surprise.” I can’t help but wonder: How many people changed the channel before Talking Dead and won’t even realize next week that Siddiq is now supposed to be dead?
Anyway, congrats to The Walking Dead for finding fresh ways to befuddle its viewership, even after all these years. Even now, nobody does it better.
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