I’m all for shocks and having a show surprise me, but if you look at the actual narrative arcs that this episode completed, it isn’t so cheery. Just when this series kinda finds it’s footing, something like this always seems to happen.
Let’s start with the good news. A character died. The Walking Dead features a bloated cast with too many characters to adequately service them all; there simply isn’t enough time every week to hit everyone’s personal story. As the cast has grown, it’s been difficult to have good stories about anyone because the writers just scamper from character to character, checking boxes like a little league coach who is required to play every kid for at least 3 innings.
So, it’s a good thing that Beth is gone. Not necessarily because she was a bad character, but just to give the remaining characters a little more room to operate. I really didn’t see Beth’s death coming and that’s a pretty powerful thing in a story. And that was quickly followed by the death of the Dawn character who I really did kinda like. Boom! Boom! Nice job with the shock!
But, let’s pick at things…
- What was the purpose of our visit to The Hospital? Was there a purpose? Was any remaining character changed by their time there? Or was it merely a TV program writing a 3-episode loop to give Beth some spotlight before killing her? [As an aside, it is troubling that this show keeps giving characters a spotlight before killing them. How about point the spotlight on characters who will remain with us? Almost every character who has died on this show has had an added emphasis given before their death. It is almost like the writers realized nobody will care and scramble to catch up.] There is no forward momentum from this story. There is nothing that you can look forward to when the show returns in a few months and think, “Wow, I can’t wait to see how they resolve _______.” They literally just ran in a narrative circle and we now have the whole gang back together– on the road, doing stuff.
- And, how did the gang get back together? After spending last week’s episode with Abraham kneeling on the road, having an existential crisis, that group is suddenly back just in time to help Michonne and Carl in a moment of zombie-crisis. I guess if you looked at that scene in a certain way, it could be kick-ass that Abraham showed up just in time to save the day. But when was the last time a pack of zombies was a threat to a character that had a name? Did you really feel dread for Carl and Michonne as the zombies clawed their way out of the church? They were going to be fine.
- And that means that Abraham & Gang’s excursion was mostly pointless too. I guess it exposed Eugene’s deception, but it seems like a big part of that side-quest was to allow Abraham to have a character arc where he went from Protector of the Weak and Man on a Mission to “Kneeling Man,” and now he’s back to Protector of the Weak? Let’s have that arc affect him and the others somehow: Change their shirts, take a vow of silence– anything.
- Should we have been worried about Beth because this was the episode where Maggie finally remembered that she had a missing sister? All season it has been odd that Maggie hasn’t seemed remotely worried about Beth, and this was after last season when she was on a single-minded mission to reunite with Glenn despite zero evidence that Glenn was even alive. It’s almost as if the writers needed to make Maggie concerned about Beth just so they could set up that final scene where they finally rolled up at the hospital with Maggie being eager to see her rescued sister, only to be greeted with Darryl holding her lifeless body.
- How wasted and cliche was the whole Dawn story? She started as a horrible hard-ass who was yelling at Noah to get her laundry right as she pedaled on the stationary bike. Then we started to realized that perhaps there was a more empathetic side to her. Then she was killed off. I guess she was an interesting character, but I’m not sure how the overall story was richer for Dawn having been in it. I did enjoy the stand-off with the creepy cop, though, until they started kickboxing and then the fight became pretty predictable.
Overall, there are a lot of flat tires on this episode. It has some good moments, but it’s really hard to overlook the mediocre storytelling. Nobody is growing. There is no direction to the narrative.
There were moments during this first half-season where I was very optimistic about where this story could go. It was quickly paced and had a sense of direction with the mysteries of Terminus/The Hunters and Eugene’s mission. Now we just wasted 3 episodes on the Beth/Hospital arc.
Very high quality shocks attempting to cover up some very, very lukewarm storytelling.