Review (with SPOILERS): You won’t find many episodes of The Walking Dead that nicely encapsulate what the series does well (at times), while also reminding you that it is a deeply flawed dramatic series. It’s a hard episode to review and I found myself liking it less the more I thought about it. So many rewrites…
I can totally see why half my friends loved this episode, but I see a lot of nits to pick…
The Glass Is Half Full: You won’t find many scenes on basic cable more intense and uncomfortable than the opening scene in the abattoir. It first built dread with an agonizingly long build-up: ominous knife sharpening, practice swings with the bat, creepy/cold stainless steel everywhere, lots of cuts to bodies on slabs… It’s all kinda preposterous! I mean, that knife was probably sharp already, right? But, it gives time to ponder the threat to Rick & Co. and to contemplate the mechanics of everything– why the bat? Why are they kneeling? How’s this slaughtering going to happen? Long pauses are uncomfortable.
And then they start executing the no-name guys and – ugh – the SOUNDS! The smack of the bat on a head and the rush of air coming from the severed windpipes. Yeesh! They really put a lot of effort into making sure that we were uncomfortable as hell. And then they killed FOUR no-name guys when we kinda got it after just one. It was awful. But it was also really effective. Rick & Co. wanted to leave that room, and so did the everyone else watching this scene. Tthe creators really committed to that scene, and they were able to invoke a universal feeling of discomfort with their audience. The bar for causing discomfort just keeps going up.
The zombie scenes were a total romp. The herds rumble along, eating the no-names and getting vanquished by the heroes and we are entertained. It’s all good fun. It should be routine at this point, but they keep finding little innovations like the Flame Zombie or nifty ways to kill them and it keeps working.
The other bonus from this episode is that we weren’t forced to endure monologs from either Rick or Carl. Perhaps the writers realized that we don’t really want to hear Rick talking about how good people do bad things sometimes or hear Carl talk about anything. So Carl spent the episode locked in a train car and Rick was literally gagged. Andrew Lincoln is a fine physical actor, so the less talking and more doing, the better. Nobody likes monologs and perhaps they’ve figured that out after 4 seasons. Hopefully we never have to endure a Rick monolog as his companions listen in rapt attention.
It’s also encouraging that we aren’t going to linger in Terminus for a whole season the way we loitered at the Farm and the Prison. One of the cool things about a post-apocalypse story is the opportunity to see lots of different micro-societies, and it would be a shame if we didn’t see more of the countryside. I’d rather leave Terminus with questions than stay past the story’s freshness date.
And what an awesome post-credit cameo! Morgan is back! Lennie James is a wonderful actor and this series could use a few more wonderful actors!
Oh, and Carol is back and more badass than ever. She is the one character on this show who has actually evolved over the seasons AND is the only one who can do the heavy lifting on the moral stuff the writers seem fascinated by. Why she was exiled midway through last season is still puzzling, but she is back now. Every character on this show is better when they have scenes with Carol.
The Glass Is Half Empty: Even if neither Rick nor Carl had a monolog about the nature of good and evil, we still had to watch that BS in the cabin between Tyreese and the Redneck. That was horrible and it scared the living daylights out of me. TV shows have a budget and they can’t do a zombie spectacular every week with hundreds of extras. When the budget is smaller in weeks to come, will we get more monologs from random rednecks? That would be bad. Tyreese’s whole story this episode made no sense either. He started out not wanting to kill zombies because of something that I can’t remember, but he’s killed before. So, the dramatic moment in this episode was that Tyreese killed the redneck and thereby became the same person he was before. He just ran in a big narrative circle and they acted like it was a big deal. What useless storyline…
And the show has a significant problem with too many of the cast being “safe.” The tension of the abattoir scene was dispelled when four random red-shirt dudes were kneeling next to Rick and Co. Of course, those guys were dead meat (literally) but they also signaled the safety of Rick & Co. And there was never much actual tension during the zombie herd scenes. The zombies are becoming very Shaun of the Dead. This reluctance to kill “main” characters is troubling because there just isn’t enough room for all of these characters to have a proper narrative arc. For example, what is the point of Tara? Is her story really going to compete for screen-time with Rick/Carl, Badass Carol, Darryl’s Crossbow, Eugene and The Cure, Michonne, Maggie/Glen, etc.? Why not just kill her in the abattoir and have everyone talking about it afterwards? Characters need to serve a purpose and this cast is simply too crowded. And now we’re adding another “main” character in Morgan? Where will they find time for his story?
Conclusion: This season premiere is a mixed bag overall. The parts that were good were quite good, but there are still worrying signs that old problems could return as soon as next week.
This season premiere is a mixed bag overall. The parts that were good were quite good, but there are still worrying signs that old problems could return as soon as next week.