Did you know that if you are riding a motorcycle with a herd of zombies 30 feet behind you, the zombies will leave you alone if anything rustles on either side of the path? Seriously, all you have to do is lure the zombies past a squirrel making noise in the bushes or an old plastic shopping bag blowing around and your problems are solved. The zombies will leave you alone to investigate the shiny new thing.
Okay, I had to get that out of my system because I’ve had a “love to hate” relationship with TWD since it’s premiere. It’s fun to watch and fun to poke fun at. But this Season 6 premiere was very solid because it played to the strengths of the show,and avoided most of its weaknesses and incorporated a few interesting wrinkles.
An easy way to grade any TWD episode is to count up how much zombie stuff there is versus how much “human drama” there is. The show can be elite level entertainment when it plays to its strength with zombie terror. But, like a baseball pitcher who has an 100 mph fastball, but a terrible curveball and change-up, the show struggles badly when it isn’t throwing fastballs.
As with many TWD premieres, the budget for this 90-minute episode allowed for more zombies. And holy hell, was it a LOT of zombies. I loved the whole idea of a quarry that the local zombies kept falling into, and that this was a partial reason why the herbivores of Alexandria had been allowed to have such a soft life (all the zombies in the area fell into the quarry). This was an idea that wasn’t first trotted out in the comics and I appreciated it’s inventiveness. As the show has made individual zombies look like less and less of a danger, the visual of a herd of thousands of zombies is still pretty scary. It’ll take a lot more than Michonne’s sword and Morgan’s staff to defeat that swarm.
The non-linear storytelling was also a great addition. It isn’t that non-linear is better than linear storytelling, but sometimes you have to mix it up. And sometimes TWD goes an entire season with nothing but linear storytelling. It’s just monotonous and it’s nice to have a change of pace. The addition of black-and-white for the flashback scenes was also welcome. Nice job, TWD! However, you still only get a “B” for creative storytelling. Before they pat themselves on the back too much, look back at how a show like The X-Files was willing to go 180 degrees away from it’s core “mythology” at times and bring us episodes like Jose Chung’s From Outer Space. That was a great, great episode of The X-Files and is actually more watchable today than the core mythology episodes are. While not as much of a self-parody as Jose Chung, a show like The Sopranos gave us Pine Barrens where we took a total break from whatever macro-level storytelling that was going on in Season 3. Or consider the Fly from Breaking Bad where we spent and entire episode in the meth lab with Walt and Jesse trying to kill a fly? I wish TWD would be unafraid to take the next leap beyond non-linear storytelling and give us something else: Rick and Michonne have to investigate the theft of Morgan’s peanut butter flavored protein bars where we see every scene from a different character’s perspective and Andrew Lincoln has to adjust his portrayal of Rick according to how that particular character views Rick.
Anyway, the mix-up in storytelling and visual elements was nice, but it also made me wish TWD would just go for it and try something totally different for an episode.
Another thing that really struck me was how different the zombies were compared to the ones in Fear the Walking Dead. In Fear, the zombies are just a few weeks old and are basically intact and look like humans. In TWD, these zombies are a few years old and rotten as hell. When the zombies ran into that metal barricade, some of their heads splattered – which was gnarly – but also showed how decomposed the zombies are at this point. Makes me wonder if there is an endgame here? Will all the Gen 1 zombies decompose so badly that they aren’t a threat anymore and the only risks are the humans and a general awareness that newly dead humans will become zombies that bite?
I felt like the show made good use of it’s 90-minute format too. Sometimes TWD has had a 90-minute episode where it felt like they had a 60 minute story that they fluffed to fill the time. Not so in this case where we had time for secondary characters like Carter to have a legitimate story or for the guy Who Glenn beat up last season to start his redemption.
All in all, a pretty good episode. But there are still some worrying things that I think might cause concern in the coming weeks when the special effects budget decreases.
- Rick saying they don’t bury killers inside the compound and Morgan pointing out the inconvenient truth that Morgan and Rick are killers too. I really don’t want to get back into the morality of the apocalypse.
- Rick lecturing Ron about things and having the follow up with his maybe girlfriend where she says he won’t listen to anything Rick says.
- How lame the Alexandriaites are when told to kill a few zombies. I mean, this idea that Rick & Co. are hardened realists and the Alexandriaites are softies isn’t that interesting of a story. Let it go!
- How Deanna is suddenly saying, “Rick is right” all the time.
- How there was all this talk about how the guy who Glenn beat up last season was responsible for Noah getting killed. I barely even remember who Noah was and the characters act like he was the most popular dude in town.
- Characters whose names I don’t remember.
It’ll probably be a long Season 6 with TWD. Some moments of awesomeness amidst a sea of dreck…
A very good episode that plays so strongly to TWD's strengths that the weaknesses are overshadowed, if only for a week. Alas, those weaknesses are still there and will be harder to ignore when there aren't 5000 zombies attacking the walls.