Not a terrible set-up episode given that the season finale is next week. The drama was a little mixed because some storylines are more interesting than others, so let’s hop through them one-by-one:
- Will Rick & Co. get exiled? – Is Rick “good people” anymore? Are the residents of Alexandria soft? Umm… Who knows? Obviously a decent society can’t have its chief constable getting into bloody brawls over a woman and waving guns at the townies while ranting about doing-what-you-have-to-do and “fighting” and whatever he was talking about at the end. Rick always sounds like a looney when he talks to anyone about how the world “is” now. This was a nice way to embrace the lunacy, so just go with it– make him a looney. A less interesting subsection of the “decent people” thing is whatever is going on with Sasha. She’s clearly cracking up, but I’m not sure I care very much about Sasha, so this part is not very interesting.
- Michonne vs. Rick/Sasha – I actually liked how this developed because Michonne has been saying all season that “we need to get off the road because we’re getting weird”. She’s got her own PTSD to deal with, but she’s obviously made her decision to stick it out in Alexandria even if that puts her at odds with some of the others. I thought this played out pretty nicely and organically, especially because the residents of Alexandria were too soft to do anything about Ranting Rick.
- Deanna is thinking – This is a really flat part of the story. A recurring problem in The Walking Dead is that the leaders just aren’t believable enough. It’s a Hobbesian place. Any group leader has to look like they’d actually command a following because it just takes one jackass to say, “nah man, I shoot you,” and you’re not the leader anymore. I’ve never really bought Rick as that leader. The Governor was weak that way. And Deanna is the same. Her “leadership” seems to consist of walking up to situations and making a strained facial expression and then giving a small speech. Plus, she was a former Congressperson. Why would any group want a Congressperson to lead them? Doesn’t Congress have like a 15% approval rating?
- Uh oh, Glenn – It’s never a good thing when a character gets an expanded storyline. This new hard-ass Glenn just means he’s going to die soon.
- Carl – Zombie Runner – “I’m out here for the same reasons you are,” says the girl when Carl finds her in the forest. Ummm… What’s that mean? He followed her out there because he’s a teenage boy and she’s a teenage girl. She thinks he needs to be quiet one minute and then the next they’re running with the zombies. I guess this is an acceptable storyline if you’re really into Carl, but I don’t think many people are. Isn’t this what happens in all stories when the boy grows into a man? There’s a sequence where the boy escapes some rough situation (“I didn’t know you had it in you Carl”), the boy kills something (“now you are a man.”) and then has sex with a girl (“now you are the MAN.”). It’s pretty unimaginative storytelling. I just wish that if this sequence was required for the audience to accept Carl’s manhood, that they could mix it up a little bit.
- Who is W? – As I typed that, it all became clear. W is our 43rd President. If any former politician were to survive the the zombie apocalypse, it would probably be him. Remember all those pictures of him clearing brush with chainsaws in August in Texas? He’d totally be down for carving his initials in some foreheads. But seriously, this has been a curious storyline, but it needs an exclamation point. It was interesting to see the W zombies aren’t from someone carving on zombies, but doing it to humans who then reanimate. Hmmm… Of course, now we need a reason to care. I mean, if there is just one nutjob in the woods catching people, branding them and then killing them, I’m not sure how that makes the TWD universe more dangerous than it already is. Sure, it’s weird and the zombie dismemberment is strange as hell, but we need a reason to care.
- Surgeons… – I thought the way Pete’s abuse of Jessie was handled pretty clumsily. It’s another example of how TWD writers tend to overdo. That whole storyline could have been a lot more interesting if is wasn’t so blunt, if Pete wasn’t such a colossal jackass, if Jessie wasn’t so “he says he’ll stop,” if Deanna wasn’t so “he’s our only doctor, he’s saved lives.” Heck, TWD already played with this idea of doctors getting special treatment at The Hospital in the fall. I just feel like this show continually insults the viewers intelligence by removing any trace of nuance. About the only thing they didn’t do was have Jessie going around in sunglasses to hide her black eye.
So, as you can see, very mixed bag. There’s probably something for everyone in here and different people will like different things. But, I’ll also bet that every viewer is bored by a storyline or two. And there’s the lingering issue of characters disappearing from one week to the next. This week it was Abraham going bye-bye, so we don’t get to see him thriving as leader of the construction gang or what’s going on with him and that lady he saved from zombies.
One other interesting thing about the episode is that I thought it started a lot stronger artistically than it finished. I have generally been cold towards TWD playing music over the ends of episodes. But, I thought the use of the Run Mix over the opening action was pretty good. And there was the interesting scene with Asshole-Coward Run Dude getting interviewed by Deanna (and totally throwing Glenn under the bus) intermixed with Glenn giving a very different version of events. At first I thought Glenn was also being debriefed by Deanna, but he was talking to Rick. It was a nifty opening, and then it went into linear and unimaginative storytelling. Wonder what that’s all about?
It's okay. There is something for everyone to enjoy and be bored by in this episode. It's mostly set-up for next week anyway.