Who Are You Now?: Review for The Walking Dead 906

Who Are You Now?:
Review for The Walking Dead 906
by R.C. Murphy

Don’t leap ahead without knowing there’s episode spoilers in this review. There. You’ve been warned.

Let’s do the time warp again! Usually when the production team introduces a time jump of any significant period, the fans wind up feeling a tad cheated. For instance, we missed Hershel being born thanks to the last time jump, and that’s really something that should have been celebrated given how poorly the pregnancy was handled in the first place. But for this particular skip in time, we’re brought in at a pretty good place. Not to mention the new additions to the cast, who are knocking it out of the park from the get-go. Cailey Fleming, playing an older Judith Grimes, is a scene stealer, for sure. I sincerely hope she gets to hang around for quite some time. Her exuberance is a breath of fresh air for a show that was getting old and stale.

Danai Gurira as Michonne, Dan Folger as Luke, Nadia Hilker as Magna – The Walking Dead _ Season 9, Episode 6 – Photo Credit: Gene Page/AMC

Speaking of newcomers, there’s a new survivor group in Alexandria. Meet Magna, Yumiko, Luke, Connie, and Kelly. Judith saved their bacon at the end of the previous episode and continues to do so now. She’s the one to finally put her foot down to get Magna and her people, particularly the injured Yumiko, somewhere safe. Watching a group of adults constantly one-upped on the humanity charts by a child is something to behold, and Judith does it quite often. She even gets a dig in on Negan when he smarts off while helping with her math homework. Her strong spirit moves only so many people. Michonne isn’t as easily swayed by her daughter’s iron will. Matter of fact, she’s pretty cold about Judith’s desire to help from the instant she sets eyes on the newbies. The community intervenes, led by Gabriel, and agrees to hold a vote over their fate. It’s a sham trial. Michonne already made up her mind and knew all the right ways to push her closed gates agenda on the voters. The minute she’s tired of pretending to care, Michonne exposes Magna as an ex-con who is still in possession of a knife, therefore rendering her untrustworthy.

Magna’s betrayal doesn’t go unpunished. Her group turns on her instantly, with Connie being the voice of reason, telling them all to not make it personal. To just take the help they get and go. And to particularly not go after Michonne with yet another knife Magna somehow found. The woman must be secretly related to Magneto, I swear. It’d explain her name. As expected, Magna still strikes out on her own after dark to settle things. She’s stopped in her tracks on Michonne’s porch by a heartwarming sight. Inside, Michonne’s youngest child, a boy, runs up and hugs her like he’s missed her for weeks, but it’s probably only been minutes. A child’s love is just that big, sometimes. In this case, it’s so powerful that Magna surrenders the knife, admitting to wrongdoings in the path that haunt her. If anyone can understand, it’s Michonne. This turn in behavior spurs Michonne into action. The next morning, the group’s eviction day after the failed vote, she cuts them off and offers to take them to Hilltop to find more permanent lodging.

While Michonne keeps her cool as much as possible in public, privately she’s a complete wreck. Several times in the episode her mind swerves off-track, sending her into conversations with the dead (or presumed dead) who cannot and will never answer. How often does she “accidentally” find herself at the charred husk of the bridge speaking to her husband? Obviously often enough that Judith knows about these one-sided conversations. In one scene toward the episode’s end, we learn so, so much about the family dynamic left behind after Rick’s departure and how neither of the Grimes women have been allowed to mourn properly. Judith tries to work her problems out by helping, rekindling the philanthropic efforts of her father and brother. Michonne? Her emotions are stuck simmering in a pot on the backburner, millimeters from boiling over. It’s not healthy. She’s going to snap one day soon.

Melissa McBride as Carol Peletier – The Walking Dead _ Season 9, Episode 6 – Photo Credit: Gene Page/AMC

The only thing snapping in the Kingdom is the old pipes. Now a teenager, Henry does his best to patch things up, but he’s woefully uneducated when it comes to making these kinds of repairs. After a tense conversation with Ezekiel, refereed by Carol, they all agree to send Henry to Hilltop to learn from Earl the blacksmith. With Carol as escort, the pair take off. But first, a detour. In one of Carol’s rare bad decision moments, their side trek takes them too close to the now abandoned Sanctuary where some former occupants still reside. All they want is supplies. Life without a home means no growing their own food and being forced to revert to scavenging. This time they picked the wrong target. Henry wants to fight them, but Carol keeps him from getting killed and hands over whatever they ask for. Until later when she goes back alone to inform Jed and his crew that they pissed off the wrong parent. By inform I mean she lights them on fire. Sometimes Ruthless Carol still sneaks out. She’s determined to never lose another child to the apocalypse. Nor a friend. Before they reach Hilltop, Carol finishes the detour and picks up Daryl. Wonder if he brought any of that fish he caught.

Josh McDermitt as Dr. Eugene Porter, Christian Serratos as Rosita Espinosa;  – The Walking Dead _ Season 9, Episode 6 – Photo Credit: Gene Page/AMC

In a bid to open communication lines (and maybe find the long-lost Anne?), Gabriel goes back to work on an old radio. Problem is, the signal isn’t that great. Solution? An amplifier stationed a few miles down the road to boost the signal. Gabriel barely gets the idea out of his head before his new lover, Rosita, jumps at the chance to help. She nabs Eugene on the way out of town to provide technical aid. Probably a mistake in some ways considering he spends the entire trip trying to prove he’s a better partner choice for her than Gabriel. Even after the zombies hit the fan, he tries yet again to express his feelings for her. I’ve never been so annoyed by this man, I swear to Bob. For goodness sake, he fell ten-ish feet, has a messed up knee, and there’s walkers on their tail, but sure, let’s finally admit to a decade-long crush. The pair wind up sliding into a ditch and covering themselves in mud to hide from the walkers.

That’s when things get extra weird. The walkers . . . talk.

Guess we’re finally going to meet the Whisperers. Gotta say, their first appearance is pretty creepy. Looking forward to seeing how this story line progresses.


What Comes After: Review for The Walking Dead 905

What Comes After:
Review for The Walking Dead 905
by R.C. Murphy

There’s spoilers in this review. Proceed with caution.

Well. Talk about something completely different. We’ve seen similar storytelling techniques from this production team before, but Rick’s trip back and forth from the Great Beyond or wherever to reality takes the surreal dream stuff to a whole new level. For what they wanted to do for Rick’s final season, it works wonderfully. It even gave them a reason to bring Shane back for a little bit. Jon Bernthal really grew into his acting skills during his time away. His couple minutes back in Shane’s shoes outshined some of his better moments from the first seasons.

All Rick’s visits with the dead are also more than a little heartbreaking.

BTS, Andrew Lincoln as Rick Grimes, Scott Wilson as Hershel Greene – The Walking Dead _ Season 9, Episode 5 – Photo Credit: Jackson Lee Davis/AMC

As many of you know, the world lost an amazing man, Scott Wilson, not that long ago. He’d opted to keep his illness a secret and worked until he couldn’t anymore. This appearance as Hershel is one of the last projects he worked on, despite the severity of the illness. For as fun as the Shane scene is for Jon’s performance, this final goodbye from Hershel, and Scott, is a hundred times as tragic. Not only is their conversation one of men who’ve suffered great losses, but it’s a secret final farewell no one knew they were witnessing while on set that day.

The majority of Rick’s visions take him back to the hospital where he woke from the coma. Oddly enough, his new wound is in a similar location as the gunshot that took him out before the undead rose. The visions do not, unfortunately, take him to his family as he hopes. I kinda hoped, too. But I think with the visitors we do get, it’s good. A visit from Carl and Glenn would have made it amazing, though. The episode would have felt more like a goodbye with that small tweak to the cameo lineup.

While Rick struggles to stay on his horse in order to draw the walkers to the bridge, Maggie uses her well-earned anger to march straight through Alexandria’s gates, past Michonne, and right into Negan’s cell. Says something about Maggie’s determination when not even Michonne can talk sense to her, doesn’t it? When faced with Maggie’s logic, Michonne can’t look her in the eye and tell her that she is wrong, that continuing with the insane eye-for-an-eye logic only leaves behind a world of suffering. No. Because if she were in Maggie’s shoes, if Negan were the one to put Carl in the ground? Negan would’ve been dead before sunset the following day, no matter what.

So now everything’s going Maggie’s way. She’s in the room with the man who murdered her husband. Does she follow through with her threat by bashing Negan’s skull in with a crowbar? Nah. Her attempts to grandstand and make herself feel good about the impending murder are undermined by Negan’s visceral reaction to the very idea of being freed from his prison. Sure, it’s the hard, painful way, but anyway is up when one has spent so much time in near solitude. At last Rick’s way of doing things makes sense to Maggie. I’m sure he’d be elated to hear she’s moved on from her murderous rage after all this time, but he’s too busy, ya know, bleeding out and occasionally dying while zombies shamble closer and closer.

The others eventually catch wind that something’s not right near the camp. It’s far too late to do any real good, though. Daryl’s plan to collapse the bridge with the undead doesn’t work, leaving Rick the only person between a horde and a free pass to the nearest community. Daryl keeps Rick alive from a distance long enough for Rick to hatch a dangerous plan. Using some mysteriously handy TNT, Rick shoots it and blows the bridge sky high. Flaming walkers pour into the rushing river below. Rick is nowhere to be seen.

Downstream, Anne’s rustbucket RV breaks down, leaving her no choice but to arrange the pickup from the helicopter right there, awfully close to the camp. The bridge explosion startles her. What washes down the river moments later is far scarier. Thankfully most of the walkers are dead or too damaged to go after her. There’s something else in the sea of scorched dead—hope. Switching her plan at the last moment, Anne pleads with the helicopter to take herself and one other, a “B” who is strong, but injured, and she owes him a debt. The last we see of Rick Grimes and Anne, they’re flying off in the well-equipped mystery helicopter.

To add yet another twist, instead of waiting an episode to do a time jump, the production uses Rick’s departure shot to rapidly age the landscape. Now it’s several years later and new survivors are in the field where the helicopter took off from. They’re in trouble. Yet they need not worry. A pint-sized hero lurks in the woods. And she’s got a pretty snazzy hat, too.

I look forward to Judith causing even more chaos than Carl. She’s totally the only sheriff they need in Alexandria.


The Obliged: Review for The Walking Dead 904

The Obliged:
Review for The Walking Dead 904
by R.C. Murphy

Watch out, there’s a horde ahead! A horde of episode spoilers, that is.

Sometimes a dream just isn’t obtainable. Could be because said dream cannot be done with the means at hand. Other times Nature puts Her foot down and reminds one of their place in the world. In the case of Rick’s precious bridge, both forces wind up closing down construction. First, over half of the workforce walks out. Then the former Saviors rob the Kingdom and there’s a firefight with numerous casualties. All that bad news comes after the biggest blow of all—the newly risen river will wash away the bridge supports long before the remaining laborers can finish repairs. Everyone from the camp has a near-death, or actual death, experience during this doomed build. Sometimes escaping one near-death situation leads one right into the path of another, though.

And sometimes that path is cut by the people whom you trust the most.

This particular trip started back when Maggie made it clear that Negan’s survival was the final nail in the coffin of her open cooperation with Alexandria, particularly their leader, Rick. She’s had nearly two years since then to subvert certain fail-safe systems put in place to keep her activities in check. Her most important weapon being Rick’s good pal Daryl. Maggie’s second most important weapon is her rage. It keeps her focused on her mission, despite Jesus’ best efforts. While Maggie rides toward Alexandria, Rick is led astray by Daryl. Their inevitable physical encounter over Negan’s fate isn’t all that satisfying when it’s cut short by the pair falling into a pit. While it’s not his original plan, Daryl still gets the job done, delaying Rick long enough for Maggie to get to Alexandria.

The price for Maggie’s “justice” comes at the episode’s end, when shortly after scrambling from the pit, Rick opts to lead the walkers away from the main road on horseback instead of cutting off Maggie’s mission. At a crossroads with heavy debris, Rick accidentally leads one horde into another, spooking his horse. Our hero is impaled, and we’re left to wonder if this is finally it for Rick. We know he’s leaving, just not how he’s leaving. The production team has said it’s not death, but things aren’t looking too promising for Rick’s continued survival at this point.

What does Maggie hope to get out of her scheme? Will she even follow through? Guess we’ll have to wait and see.

Then there’s Michonne, who is barely hanging in there by the skin of her teeth. While the bridge crew works, she remains in Alexandria to make sure everything runs as it should. Unfortunately, not even the mental drain from being everyone’s stern voice of reason is enough to exhaust Michonne, allowing her a good night’s rest. To blow off steam, she does what any woman would do; she decapitates zombies in the middle of the night. One of her daytime chores puts her in charge of forcing Negan to eat during his hunger strike. They make a deal. All she has to do is chat with a lonely man for a little while. Negan digs his mental hooks deep during the conversation. The theme for Michonne’s story arc in this episode is how her life is so similar to Negan’s. There’s even a moment early in the episode where after finding a lynched zombie, Michonne’s attacked and forced to use a baseball bat to defend herself. The hunger strike ends when she admits they have similarities, however her outlook on the future is far, far better than his. We glimpse where Negan’s head is really at during the end of their second conversation when Michonne reveals that Lucille is still in the field where the final battle took place.

In the junkyard, Gabriel does his best to make what are surely his final moments with Anne as pleasant as possible. If one ignores the fact that she’s about to turn him into a walker as payment for transportation on some creepy sounding guy’s helicopter. The lord must have blessed that man’s tongue. All Gabriel’s talk about forgiveness gets to Anne. Instead of turning him, she knocks him out and runs. The only trace of her left behind is a note pinned into Gabriel’s coat.

Looks like we’re saying goodbye to quite a few characters. Either that or this universe is about to expand again.


Warning Signs: Review for The Walking Dead 903

Warning Signs:
Review for The Walking Dead 903
by R.C. Murphy

Yup. You guessed it. There’s spoilers in this review.

Rick’s little experiment crumbles around him, yet he still somehow holds out hope that everyone can and will live together. Like one speech from only one community leader absolving murderers and thieves of their sins is enough to make their victims magically forgive. It’s painfully obvious that others in power positions do not agree with Rick. Matter of fact, the only ones on his side by the end of the episode are Carol and presumably Ezekiel. But even Carol has her doubts about letting the former Saviors into their trust bubble. She takes them case by case, but the others don’t have the luxury of being able to compartmentalize thoughts and emotions with Carol’s skill long enough to work past the knee-jerk, “these are bad people,” reaction. Rick wants so badly for the Saviors to be redeemed in the eyes of society. Why? Why risk everything for these people? Because he is those people. Rick has seen and done just as many awful things. In another person’s narrative, Rick is a power-hungry monster who has left nothing but destroyed communities in his wake. Maggie and Daryl’s decision during this episode’s climax will send Rick into a spiral where he’s forced to assess his sins.

In order to put that self-assessment off for as long as possible, Rick takes to lollygagging around Alexandria. Well, after he and Michonne finish “discussing” the idea of having a baby together. He makes a doctor’s appointment for Judith, takes his favorite ladies out for a picnic, and goofs off instead of returning to the bridge worksite. In typical TWD fashion, they’re making Rick as happy as possible before yanking the rug out from under the character. It’s quite a task, keeping Rick happy. And it never lasts for long.

The assassinations send the former Saviors into a panic. As a group, they’ve been banned from carrying firearms, putting them at a distinct disadvantage against a serial killer using something similar to a crossbow. Cooperation between communities fails completely. By episode’s end, Sanctuary’s citizens walk out en masse, citing fear for their safety as their main concern. They’re right to be afraid, but are too late to save those with the largest targets on their heads. Those Oceanside ladies sure did work a great con, by the way. They were way, way down on my suspect list, though it is not out of character for that particular group to look at how Maggie solved her problem and emulate it. Can Maggie take them at their word now? Was Arat the final name on their revenge list or will they somehow remember another Savior who wronged them and start the cycle again? I’ve no doubt that this is not the last death of this nature. I do doubt that Maggie will get her revenge as easily as she seems to think it’ll happen.

At this rate Michonne won’t ever get a chance to pass her new laws, what with everyone running around playing assassin and all.

One subplot finally getting some traction is Anne and the mysterious helicopter. Spooked by accusations of being the serial killer, Anne returns to her old home to recover a walkie talkie linked to whoever operates said helicopter. The conversation the two have is in code, but the meaning is clear. In order for the mystery man to follow through with their plan, she has to make some form of payment. A human payment. Love-distracted Gabriel falls right into the trap by failing to agree to run off with Anne to a newer, better place. Either she’s going to ditch him and find other payment, or hand him over to the mystery man.

Peace has already reached its limits and Rick hasn’t made nearly as much progress as he wanted. Pushing society to development faster than it can handle keeps backfiring. Yet he drives on like there’s a fever burning his veins and the only cure is everyone living in perfect harmony. Sure, he says he’s bettering the world for everyone, and in Carl’s honor, but his decisions come from deeply selfish roots. That alone is why the wheels will totally come off Rick’s wagon over the next few weeks.


The Bridge: Review for The Walking Dead 902

The Bridge:
Review for The Walking Dead 902
by R.C. Murphy

Yup. There’s spoilers in the following review. You’ve been warned.

For once, the main plot is pretty straight forward on this show. Okay, there’s been a few single group or subject episodes, but the Cool Thing for quite some time has been to pack in as much drama as possible, from as many sources as possible, to overwhelm viewers in order to make an episode feel like it meant something instead of letting interpersonal relationships in a smaller group do the same thing. When the writing team steps back and lets the characters push the tension again—instead of like during All Out War where we clearly saw where they meddled to make the plot work—it’s a slow-paced episode, yet still fully highlights how much drama there is left to milk from the Rick/Savior story line. Infighting from a small, encamped group brings us back to the good ol’ days of squirrel flinging. Who doesn’t like that?

In the episode, the communities have banded together to repair the storm-damaged bridge which detoured the group heading back from D.C. with supplies. They’re over a month in and from all outward appearances, it looks like the various groups are doing well in their makeshift camp beside the river. Everyone’s got someone to smile at in the morning—even Jerry! It doesn’t take long for the shiny veneer to wear thin once Eugene runs down his ever-growing list of problems.

Problem one: Food. Extra labor means extra calories needed to keep the workforce on their feet. Sanctuary still isn’t pulling edible vegetables from their fields. Alexandria has never really recovered from Negan’s last raids, so their pantry is more dust than anything fit for human consumption once they pulled food for the project. Oceanside can only provide so much. Which leaves Hilltop once again footing the bill to keep the masses fed. That may not happen unless they can find the missing fuel from Sanctuary, since all they’ve got other than the tractor is an imprisoned blacksmith and a broken plow. Water looks like another hard spot for the work crew. Keeping fresh, yet purified water on-hand in quantities fit for hard labor can’t be easy with the camp setup.

Problem two: Missing former Saviors. About half a dozen gone without a trace. Even before Alden makes it back with a report that Sanctuary hasn’t seen the men, nor have their families, I knew something smelled fishy. That last scene with Justin confirms what I thought—a serial killer is taking out the ex-Saviors one by one. Yeah, it’s a totally predictable thing to happen, but the intrigue it brings to the show will be great. The added pressure on the reformed baddies to socialize, plus exhaustion from labor, plus concern about their well-being leads to a series of fights throughout the episode, and one near-fatal communication error.

Problem three: Gravity waits for no man. The levee put in place to divert water for the bridge project is failing rapidly. According to Eugene, the only way to make sure they finish on time is to work nonstop. That means not waiting for the walker herds—named using a similar method to hurricanes, I believe—to pass on their own so they can detonate TNT and stay on schedule. Due to tensions with Sanctuary workers, and the incident which cost Aaron his arm, that schedule is pretty much useless. Yet Rick still brags to Negan about having hope at the end of the day. That’s gotta be the exhaustion talking.

Away from the worksite, Michonne takes it upon herself to source the food necessary to get the bridge built. The response is cold at first. Maggie is tired of bleeding supplies needed for her people and getting little to nothing in return. Not only that, but unless the ethanol magically shows up, she has to finally make a decision about Earl’s punishment for attempted homicide or they’ll have no way to get the next round of crops in the ground. It’s the perfect opportunity for Michonne to pitch the idea for standardized laws once again. This time Maggie is listening, not overwhelmed by her anger. But Michonne alone can’t get Earl out of jail. It takes a long, hard conversation about his drinking for Maggie to see that Earl, like her father Hershel, just needs the chance to show his good without the booze doing the talking for him. If Hershel hadn’t gotten another chance, many of the survivors we’ve come to love wouldn’t be with us anymore.

The episode is fashioned as a bragging session from Rick to Negan. It’s so, so tacky for Rick to keep going to this guy, using him like his personal diary. “Dear Negan, Today a guy’s arm was cut off because I somehow magically trusted a man, who got in a fist fight over a kid’s job, to keep some lumberjacks from being eaten alive.” If Negan does break out and kill everyone, Rick’s asked for it by continuously poking the bear when he should have dropped him in an oubliette and walked away.


A New Beginning: Review for The Walking Dead 901

A New Beginning:
Review for The Walking Dead 901
by R.C. Murphy

You know the drill. There’s a ton of spoilers in this review, so proceed accordingly.

Despite the show being back on the air during its normal time frame, it feels like we were away from Rick and the gang for way too long. Or maybe it’s just that 2018 feels like 10 years packed in a single year’s box, held together with cheap packing tape. The Walking Dead gives fans a good way to vanish from the real world for a little while, as it always has. But did the production team manage to grab the waning attention of fans burnt out by the exhausting All Out War story line?

I’m honestly not sure this premiere is strong enough on its own to do that, and it’s a little worrying considering what all we know for sure is coming down the pipeline as far as actor departures from the show.

The bulk of this episode deals with an idea the producers introduced at SDCC this summer: Reclaiming old technology in order to ensure a future for their communities. In the opening montage, it’s clear that Sanctuary’s corn crop failed. The factory’s dirt is sour. All they can do with the produce is turn it into biofuel, and the yield isn’t nearly enough to keep everyone driving out to source supplies to fully replenish Negan’s former home sweet home nearly 2 years after the war ended. To speed up the process of healing the ground, they need a better, faster way to plow. There’s also a few other things they need, so everyone’s off to Washington D.C. to raid the Smithsonian. Makes perfect sense. How many scouting teams would’ve had the time or energy to take things like covered wagons before now? Aside from some minor walker damage, everything in the museum is intact.

The plan to get it all out, not so much.

This episode, like so many before it, is plagued with basic logic errors so great, one cannot help but yell at the television. There’s a vast difference in writing a tense scene in which a beloved character has a close call, and writing a series of foolish calls that are obviously wrong while still (still!) presenting the person giving the orders as the best possible leader for these people. This problem continues into the next set of problems while getting their loot home. How on earth did they create this relay network, yet when it comes to actually planning and executing what should be a moderately easy mission, they do things like fail to make sure all the bridges are secure? The latter oversight cost Ken his life. Always know your exits. It’s a basic lesson all women, police, and military learn.

Perhaps it’s because of all the bad calls that the power struggle is more pronounced this season. The first problem comes from everyone’s need to put an outside in charge of Sanctuary to keep the dissidents in line. Daryl wants out. Being in the building triggers his PTSD, but he stops just shy of admitting as much to Rick. Carol, however, hears and understands why Daryl needs to get away from there. Not sure she’s going to have much better luck, not with guys like Justin lurking on the fringes with his passive aggressive quips, and the constant reminders that someone in the community actively wants Negan back. The second problem comes to light curtesy of the unchecked, crumbling bridge. Turns out Hilltop has it good. Really good. They’re flush with people, produce, and ideas. And for this entire time, they’ve been loaning out supplies right and left to keep everyone afloat. Yet everyone defers to Rick. He gets the praise. Maggie, in a moment I wish to frame and mount on a wall, point-blank tells Rick that the power dynamic will change because she knows her worth, and that of the people under her care. Rick, to his credit, acknowledges it and doesn’t seem all that torn up to have a little pushback. The third problem is proof that Maggie needs the spine of steel we saw in her conversation with Rick because someone’s out for her head. I’ll give you one guess who it is. Gregory was never going to let the election results stand, and Maggie should have known he’d take a funeral as a chance to plot against her. In another show of power, Maggie hangs Gregory in the middle of town using one of the most painful methods ever. It’d take a brave fool to go toe to toe with her anytime soon.

A quick note to wrap up . . . . Can we have a spin-off romantic comedy with Carol and Ezekiel? Seriously, all I want is to see these two happily joking with each other until the end of time. No cameos. No walkers. Just a blissful couple in an empty world being adorable. It’s been a rough year. We deserve this one nice thing.


Wrath: Review for The Walking Dead 816

Wrath:
Review for The Walking Dead 816
by R.C. Murphy

Watch out! This review contains episode spoilers.

Try as they might, all the flashbacks and slo-mo close-ups in the world can’t bring my heart in line with how it should feel after watching this long-anticipated finale. The outcome, while favorable for the survivors we’ve traveled alongside for eight seasons, is dust on one’s palate; it just doesn’t satisfy. In an episode where they end a several-year story line, one would expect a little more substance. Even the flashy parts are lackluster recreations of past season’s greatest hits. How many shoot-outs have we seen with these groups? How many bullhorn monologues? How many times has an underdog person or group come out of the woodwork to save Rick at the last minute? We’ve seen so many variations of someone else saving Rick that when he’s supposed to protect everyone from his war, it’s still everyone else who does the hard work to neutralize the bulk of the threat, but he still claims the victory and dictates the terms.

Rick makes one cut, then calls himself sheriff in a land freed from its tyrant.

It takes a slap-dash army to topple the biggest threat in town, that’s for sure. Hilltop’s remaining fighters follow the trail Negan left for them, even while believing they’d outsmarted the ol’ fox. The usual suspects are in the militia, save the recovering ex-Saviors who are told to stay behind with the kind of empathy extended to dog poo on one’s flip-flop. Why the cold shoulder? Well, it starts with Morgan flipping out while they’re doing walker-centric chores outside the fence, and ends with Maggie still seeing Alden and his compatriots as fingers on Negan’s tyrannical fist. Is it a great idea to leave so many able-bodied and motivated men out of the fight? Nope. It doesn’t matter, though, because someone else arrives to lend helping hands. Though why anyone thought traveling so far from home to pick a fight with two pistols, Molotov cocktails, and hand-to-hand weapons is a good idea is beyond me. Oceanside has nothing to prove or sacrifice for anyone. They’re not even the saviors Aaron claimed they could be here because someone else swoops that spotlight right off of them, if we’re judging on the level of actual help rendered.

I can’t believe I’m going to say this, but . . . Eugene comes out looking like a diamond by the end of a season in which he actively helps Negan slaughter the people who kept him alive despite every selfish thing he did before defecting. Just when we thought Eugene and Gabriel were throw-away characters after they finished the bullets, the writers rouse them from mid-story mire to inspire yet another of their Oh So Smart Plot Twists. I mean, as far as twists go, it surprises the heck out of me to even consider Eugene lashing out against his new meal ticket, let alone to go back to a community in which there’s not one person who can look him in the eye without remembering a loved one they lost due in part to his actions. And let’s get this out now, I in no way trust Eugene. He succumbs to pressure too easily. It’s a liability. Sabotaging one fight in the name of the perceived good isn’t rehab enough for the broken relationships left in Eugene’s wake. What future does he have in a community where no one trusts him beyond the raw knowledge he has in his head? When he’s not given a hero’s welcome, will Eugene still offer his help to rebuild the communities ravaged by the war?

So what happens to the Saviors with a wounded Negan in custody care of sheriff Grimes for the indefinite future? Nothing. Nothing! Tra, la, la. Rick, finally listening to his son’s final wishes now that even Morgan says he’s lost too much to continue on, makes this speech about how they’re all free now, but those who cling to the war-mongering way of life are warned to kiss the idea goodbye. Which is, ya know, hilarious considering every time Rick encounters a new community, he meets them with barely concealed hostility. True to his word though, Rick sends helpers to Sanctuary to repair damages, and in return they send food for everyone else. Even the remaining Scavenger gets an invitation to join resources with this new collation, though Jadis is scrapping her artistic moniker for her given name, Anne.

All’s well in the neighborho . . . or not. There’s a group within Rick’s party who harbor deep resentment over Negan’s survival. They even tie Michonne to this mess as a conspirator since she obviously is okay with this lifetime imprisonment plan. Maggie is a reasonable person, except when it comes to this one thing. Negan’s demise, to her, is worth upending the fragile peace forged on the final battlefield. The upcoming mutiny isn’t their largest concern, though. Walker numbers are on the rise. A massive herd lurks too close for comfort. Can they use their combined resources and the building plans gifted to Maggie to fortify all the communities against the threat that never really dies?

The episode wraps by leading into Morgan’s transition to Fear the Walking Dead, which I tried to watch. Only, the video feed to constantly died and I took it as a sign to move on, just like Morgan is moving on after giving us so many wonderfully weird and powerful moments in TWD season eight.


Worth: Review for The Walking Dead episode 815

Worth:
Review for The Walking Dead episode 815
by R.C. Murphy

Danger zone! I mean, uh . . . spoiler zone, beware!

The Saviors take a break from war to scrub the refuse from their ranks. The level of manipulation in this episode reaffirms how damn good Negan is as a character. But why did we have to wait this long to get into the intriguing bits of his personality? This entire season takes place in such a truncated timeframe, what feels like years to us is nothing for them and it’s just not working anymore when it comes to character development. The production cannot save the pacing with one solid episode here and there, but I’ll take what they’re offering simply because these actors are giving their all every day on set. It’s just a shame the writing isn’t reflective of what we know the actors can do. We should’ve already seen this side of Negan. JDM keeps alluding to it, doing his best to BE Negan around all this macho, chest-pounding, ridiculous fallout from the Sanctuary attack. It’s not until he confronts Simon that I feel we’ve met the real Negan. He plays his opponent like a fiddle, getting whatever information he wants from the wannabe leader in order to flush out every single backstabber lurking in the shadows. When Rick tries to get rid of his detractors, it creates hell for everyone around him. Negan does the same with cold efficiency and only the people he feels need killing wind up dead. Weird how that happens. It’s like he knows how to lead a group. Not that I condone murder, but this is the fictional apocalypse and Negan’s got the loyalist, healthiest crew in the region shown on-screen now that Rick ruined The Kingdom and Alexandria, on top of Gregory abandoning Hilltop to chase promises for his own safety over his peoples’ future.

Tension is a whole distinct character in the Savior scenes. Negan’s carefully considered course of action to reaffirm his place at the top seems so clear-cut. Seems being the key word. Dwight thinks he’s mostly in the clear, as long as he’s careful not to get wound up in Simon’s scheme. Which is, quite frankly, impossible because Simon needs his fellow leaders to back his play before someone else steps up to challenge him. At no point does Simon consider Negan’s actual fate. The look on his face when Negan pops up is worth every second watching Simon slime his way to the top. He wants to be the boss? First he’s gotta beat the boss. These post-surprise scenes are some of few in eight seasons to make me lean forward, eager for the outcome. Then comes the actual twist, putting Dwight right where he doesn’t want to be—exposed as a traitor and spoon-fed information to harm his new pals at Hilltop. Negan’s mysterious hitchhiker is Laura, the sole survivor from Dwight’s betrayal outside Alexandria. Let me tell you, her joy in exposing Dwight should be bottled and sold. Whatever comes from Dwight handing over the intentionally false map, Laura will be first in line to celebrate. Conversely, Gregory’s regret over helping Dwight may be the only mood bigger than Laura’s rabid revenge, seeing as he’s back in the prison cell at Hilltop after delivering the map.

At the end of a long day the last thing Negan wants is anyone from the opposition contacting him out of the blue. Driven by Carl’s memory, Michonne does just that and risks reading his letter to Negan over the radio. Boy is it the wrong day to approach the man. Dude snaps. He lays the end out for her nice and clear; the only way out of this is through mass casualties on Hilltop’s behalf. The Saviors didn’t pick this costly fight, but they’ll end it. Negan’s done throwing away resources butting heads with Rick.

In order to fight, the Saviors will need way more ammunition. The folks at Eugene’s outpost can only move so fast, but it’s not good enough for their boss. Let me just pause right her to say, we need to petition the showrunners so they’ll never, ever, ever show Eugene eating on-screen again. Back to matters at hand. Eugene’s workers trudge along despite the nasty food and shoddy pep talk. Even Gabriel is roped back into the production line. Things look bright for Hilltop for a while when Rosita and Daryl manage to kidnap Eugene with little incident. That is until Eugene straight up pukes on Rosita and runs. If I didn’t dislike this character before, I certainly do now. Disgusting little snake hides and just returns to his outpost like he isn’t covered in ash and God knows what.

Aaron’s self destructive streak reaches new lows as he slowly starves to death outside Oceanside. No one extends a helping hand to the outsider. When walkers find him, he’s too weak to fight them all off. But the gall of this guy comes when he passes out, wakes to his rescuers’ faces, then lays into them about avoiding the war. To cap it off, he blames them for Natania’s death. They should’ve smacked him good. I’ve heard some bull on this show, but lecturing a bunch of traumatized women for avoiding a war none of them should be involved in really takes the cake. Why must these women in particular come in to mop up Rick and Negan’s mess? Leave them alone. They’ve lost too much already.

It’s finale time. Wonder how much of this wreckage they can fix in order to transition smoothly into season nine. Probably not enough.


Still Gotta Mean Something: Review for The Walking Dead 814

Still Gotta Mean Something:
Review for The Walking Dead 814
by R.C. Murphy

Watch out! This review has episode spoilers.

Something weird is going on back at the Scavengers’ scrap heap. I’m not talking about Jadis’ adorable pod home, which is so at odds with the persona she presents the world, the change is mindboggling. No, what has me scratching my head is A) the Tetris piece walker on a cart, and B) why hasn’t anyone addressed this friggen helicopter thing yet? Negan’s in the same confused boots, but far worse circumstances seeing as he’s lashed to a cart of his own. These scenes are great pace changers, with a few awkward timing bits like when Jadis shuts Negan up with Lucille, only to draw short and stand there for a few beats. It didn’t feel threatening, but that’s an example of how editing can change a scene. A tighter cut would’ve made her threat jarring. In typical style, Negan talks his way free without unnecessary bloodshed. We get a glimpse of a gentler side to the man behind the bat, and insight into how well Jadis adapts to life without her chosen family. It’s no big surprise to see that she’s barely holding in there after her plan to flag down the helicopter fails.

The theme for this episode is the survivors doing whatever it takes to save each other from their traumas. Michonne lives her life in memory of the kindness Andrea payed her by saving her from isolation in the wild while literally dragging her emotional baggage around. Carl’s letters are all about using his end-of-life insights to inspire the people he loves and respects to save each other. Carol goes the extra mile to save the last people she’s allowed into her heart, reflective of how hard Morgan and Ezekiel worked to bring her back from the brink a few times. Even Jared fights to save his guys by being brutally honest about the best method to get in good with the Saviors again. On the flipside, Rick uses the promise of salvation to sway the Saviors hiding with Jared into trusting them after the roadhouse is surrounded by walkers. Morgan’s only promise is death. Dude drops a great speech about the incoming herd—it’s no wonder the others turn on Jared later. Because they have no guilt when it comes to killing perceived threats, it takes one second for Rick and Morgan to turn on the men who cut them free. They mow through the Saviors while taking out the undead. Jared’s death gag is slow, full of shrieking. The production sets a higher and higher bar for Morgan’s kills. Utilizing the dead to his advantage leads to an agonizing demise for his enemy, different from the quick deaths from a gun or staff.

Joshua Mikel as Jared, Lennie James as Morgan Jones – The Walking Dead _ Season 8, Episode 14 – Photo Credit: Gene Page/AMC

Morgan’s trip into the woods began far differently. After passing up Ezekiel’s offer to join him on a search for Henry, Carol instead pairs up with Morgan for the rescue mission. Her motivation is purely in the interest of keeping her friend alive given his alarming outbursts of late and propensity to devolve into rambling. Also, the whole he sees dead people thing is concerning. Morgan isn’t a medium, folks. These are hallucinations, as proven by Henry’s fate at the episode’s end. Even if he understands that truth, Morgan doesn’t see a different path ahead. There’s nothing but death to his left and right, yet it doesn’t touch him so he just keeps going, listening to the visions which nag him to Do The Right Thing. This may be the last time Carol tries to reach out to her friend. They part ways on the road between Hilltop and Sanctuary. Morgan’s need to put down the dangerous men he didn’t kill way back when he first had the chance overrides his desire to save Henry. Once Carol has any sign to track the kid, her priority flips. The mission is a success all around, with Henry safe and the escapee Saviors taken out of the war, but we’re seeing the end of an era with the probable dissolution of the Carol/Morgan friendship.

Side note, did anyone feel a little déjà vu? When Carol finally hears Henry and tracks him to a cave in a creek bed, it felt eerily similar to a scene from when the gang were looking for Sophia. Can’t remember exactly which, though. It’s just a weird sense that they’re been there before.

Looks like Tara’s finally ready to forgive and move on with her life. Daryl, not so much. He’s not buying the idea that Dwight’s shot was intentional to keep her from being infected by someone else. But seeing as he can’t get to the guy he wants to take out, Daryl finds another way to keep himself occupied. Rosita has an epiphany which may be the turning point in the war and takes the idea to Daryl. If they can cut off the Savior’s ammunition supply, they can cut the legs from under the giant with minimal work. All they gotta do is capture the man with the plan, Eugene. Rosita and Daryl find Eugene’s outpost and make a quick plan. She’s itching to get back at the guy for jumping sides. Eugene’s in so much trouble.

There’s many, many questions in the air as the season wraps up. Who does Negan pick up on his ride back home? How can Hilltop sustain a war with their meager supplies and three combined communities? Which problem will implode first, Rick’s constant warmongering or Simon’s bid to dethrone Negan? What will be the straw to break the camel’s back when it comes to Morgan’s mental state? We have much to learn, but we have no time. Expect some cliffhangers, that’s for sure.


Do Not Send Us Astray: Review for The Walking Dead 813

Do Not Send Us Astray:
Review for The Walking Dead 813
by R.C. Murphy

Watch out for those episode spoilers waiting to ambush you.

Well, this episode certainly has a different tone than anything we’ve seen this season. It’s almost like they remembered that the genre is more than a bunch of angry men hitting each other. Sure, there’s a long firefight in the middle, but bookending it are a good ol ghost story and a little love note to low budget zombie flicks.

Hilltop is more than prepared for the Saviors when they finally roll in after dark. Maggie’s focus isn’t on the gift Georgie gave them. She admits after that her plan is to lure the Saviors into Hilltop so Negan dies where Glenn rests eternally. Which, you know, I get to a point. What puts her on a different level is Maggie, unlike Rick, looks at that same graveyard after the fight and knows she caused those losses. Dianne positions herself at Maggie’s side quite often, first providing encouragement, then as a source for us to check into Maggie’s emotions at the episode’s end. “What is it,” Dianne asks at the graveyard. “The cost,” Maggie replies. The price for this war is getting too high for her conscious. This last move, pushed by desperate fear on her and Rick’s behalf, has taken everything from their people. Alexandria and the Kingdom are lost. Hilltop’s remaining gardens can’t produce enough food and their stores went to the Saviors as payment. The populations of the communities combined have been wiped out, with countless more passing in this episode alone. Will this be the straw to break the alliance’s back? She may be new to the job, but Maggie doesn’t seem like the type to put her people through that kind of horror again.

The fight itself perfectly illustrates why Simon is a crap leader who’ll send his people straight to their deaths. Not only has he failed to send a scout ahead to check for traps on the road, which they then drive over, but Simon follows right along with the plan set to trap them by chasing Daryl through the gate into the first ambush. He does it again when Maggie signals for the lights to be doused and smoke bombs set off. Sure, he divides up his forces, but the bulk of the Saviors are front and center for the second surprise attack from the main house’s windows. If they followed Negan’s plan, attacking with bows from outside to wound as many as possible and picking off what they could with other gore-coated weapons, the Saviors would’ve lost half a dozen men maximum. Simon can’t even claim a win here at all. It’s not his part of the Savior’s fight which yields a higher body count. Negan’s bio warfare tactic claims far more Hilltop citizens while everyone’s sleeping. He may be the bad guy, but you gotta admire his problem-solving abilities, which are so great, he doesn’t have to be within ten miles for a plan to go right.

There’s a whole lotta weird going on in Morgan’s head. I . . . I kind of like it. The flashbacks and such were getting tired, but this new approach to Morgan’s mental illness is top notch horror fuel. Ghost Gavin won’t stop badgering the guy. He’s always there, beside Morgan, ragging on him about something which is never given a name, really. I assume this is Morgan’s mind telling him he should’ve been the one to kill Gavin in the most spectacularly screwed up way imaginable. How long until others notice Morgan’s talking to the air? How can he convince his subconscious that there’s no way to re-kill a guy? This is a great twist to this character. And of course it’s coming about the time he’s jumping shows so I’ll either be forced to watch FtWD or wave goodbye to all this character development. Not today, Satan. I’ll just enjoy the time I’ve got left with Morgan and his bloody Jiminy Cricket.

The other side of Morgan’s story is where his influence has led Henry after his brother’s death. This kid’s determined to bloody his hands via vengeance. First he goes after Ezekiel and Carol for refusing to arm him to fight in the main battle. Later, the kid steals the prison cell key, takes a military grade rifle, and casually threatens a group of men like a good little terrorist in the making. This is why we must teach men that “eye for an eye” thinking will only lead to bloodshed. Justice is not a mirror to reflect the offender’s pain back onto them. That’s not how humanity as a whole decided to handle the people who are too dangerous to remain amongst us. Not only will Henry grow into the very type of man he’s trying to kill, but he’s unleashed those men back into the world when Maggie had them safely sequestered where they couldn’t cause harm. Someone get this kid in-hand, already. He’s not Carl. This isn’t even a good attempt to set up a child character with the same mentality. It’s just tossing angry male patterns into the wind, hoping it works because otherwise they’ve lost their young white man representation on a show dominated by the dumb decisions made by middle-aged white men. How will the white guys find themselves in this show without someone young and angry at everything? Yes, that’s sarcasm. It’s also to illustrate that we don’t need every stereotype on-screen in every show. The writers are blatantly writing Henry to be the new Carl in ways which will never work. All these years listening to how fans treated that character, yet none of it reflects in Henry’s story line.

Jason Douglas as Tobin, Melissa McBride as Carol Peletier – The Walking Dead _ Season 8, Episode 13 – Photo Credit: Gene Page/AMC

That final action sequence with Tobin and the others injured in the fight turning walker is aces. Some of the tensest zombie action we’ve had on the show in a while. Honestly, I’m shocked Tobin is the one to go in this episode. He’s been that one person I look for in the crowd to see whether or not Alexandria is present in certain scenes. For as little as they used him, Tobin being a constant for the Alexandrian people was reassuring. As long as he makes it, this won’t be another prison or Woodbury situation. And then he doesn’t make it. Worse yet, he turns on the people he protected. I didn’t think losing this one guy would hit so hard, but the more I think about how much I assumed he’d survive, the more my brain wants to reject reality. Carol’s reaction to Tobin’s demise is probably what pushes it over the edge. She’s genuinely gutted to see him turn. Melissa McBride yet again acts her backside off to really drag those emotions from the fans.

Will Maggie allow her people to continue this fight after she’s seen the cost? Rick will not give up until Negan’s dead, and Maggie wants that as well, but this isn’t justice anymore. Hilltop realizes that now. Can they back out of the war when they’ve become home base for an army?