Into the Unknown, Vol. 2

Into the Unknown, Vol. 2
by R.C. Murphy

Their numbers are tragically far, far fewer than those the main group has buried over seven seasons. Guess it just got easier to write deaths opposed to penning compelling reasons why anyone would distance themselves from Rick’s flawed leadership. Whereas we mourned the loss of numerous great characters in the Life After Death articles, in this sister-series I’ll take a stab at predicting what happened to our absent survivors, and we’ll catch up with the actors who brought them to life.

The ultimate fate of the Vatos has been up for debate since information leaked during TWD’s second season production linking at least one of the actors to the season premiere. Before the second season hit AMC, the scene in question—featuring Vatos leader Guillermo as a walker in the overrun nursing home—was cut. It’s not cannon if it’s never aired in the episode, right? That’s what we at the ZSC like to think, and it’s not just because we have a soft spot for these guys.

So what did happen after Rick and company armed the Vatos and left Atlanta for good? As always, I have theories. It was only a matter of time before the patients at the home gave in to the perils of old age and stress from constant walker threat. Sad to say, but the only way the Vatos survive is because their patients succumb to the inevitable. Guillermo and Felipe wouldn’t stay put after that. Not in an unsecure building smack dab in the middle of walker territory. We don’t know much about undead numbers in the areas around Atlanta, save the quarry, to really nail a new base of operations for the guys. With a crew in tow, going vast distances without a ride wouldn’t work. Hell, even driving fifty miles in the apocalypse is a huge risk. In the end, I fully believe the strongest Vatos would have made it out of Atlanta. Maybe they headed toward the ocean. Maybe they found a stronghold near their home city and fortified it. Those guys had too much heart and too many smarts to linger in the dead’s city once their obligations to their patients ended, or even before if things took a turn for the worst. G and his guys aren’t the type to sit and wait to die. For TWD writers to consider otherwise proves they don’t even understand their own characters’ motivations.

Guillermo provided one of the most surprising moments for Rick, simply because the guy’s leadership style didn’t involve slaughtering everyone and taking what they wanted. Matter of fact, G wasn’t even in a power position at the old folk’s home, just stayed because it was the right thing to do. That strong moral backbone is why Neil Brown Jr. was the perfect man to play the role. Keeping up with the guy’s career is a whole ‘nother matter. Post-TWD, Neil hit Hollywood hard and fast, appearing in projects like Battle: Los Angeles, Weeds, Rivers 9, Insecure, and NCIS. Then he got The Call, he’d landed the role as DJ Yella in the N.W.A. biopic Straight Outta Compton, which also stars O’Shea Jackson Jr, Jason Mitchell, Corey Hawkins, and Aldis Hodge. In 2016, Neil joined an eclectic cast, and an even weirder writer/producer, for BBC America’s Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency. Neil, and his furry costar Bentley, steal every scene they’re in. Dirk Gently will return for a second season. Catch Neil alongside Johnny Depp and Forest Whitaker in the upcoming film LAbryinth. He’s also in Sand Castle with Henry Cavill and Glen Powell, which will stream on Netflix in the near future.

It takes a special sort of soul to give up any hope of salvation in order to tend to those in need. Felipe could’ve split, leaving Abuela and the others to the undead. He didn’t. Not only did he stay, he still provided the nursing care the residents needed. Noel Gugliemi proved to be ideal for such a kind-hearted, but tough character. His smile is infectious, spreading to each fan he meets during numerous convention appearances. On the small screen, Noel has been a regular on Fresh Off the Boat, with appearances on The Mentalist, Chosen, and Bones. For the blockbuster Furious 7, Noel reprised his role as Hector, joining franchise regulars Vin Diesel and Paul Walker for another action-packed film. Since TWD he’s also appeared in The Dark Knight Rises, For the Love of Money, The Purge: Anarchy, and Vigilante Diaries. Catch him in the upcoming films Pope opposite TWD co-star Neil Brown Jr, and Charlie Charlie which also stars Tom Sizemore and Eric Roberts.

Vatos member Jorge never backed down from a fight. He provided the security G and Felipe needed to keep the patients safe. James Gonzaba went on to film several short films after TWD. He’s appeared on CSI: Miami, and fans can find him in the films The Return of Johnny V. and Gino’s Wife.

Ah, Abuela. No one was going to get anything past her, let alone the very men keeping her safe from day to day. Gina Morelli provided the perfect amount of sass for the role, giving me endless joy while watching a wall of strong men part like the Red Sea for her entrance. After the show, she went on to film several projects, including an appearance on the TV movie Fabulous High.

Need a hand, Miguel? I’m not sure Anthony Guajardo will ever live down the moment when Reedus flung Merle’s hand onto his lap. It’s pretty much burned into fans’ memories. Anthony was the first Vato on screen, giving us plenty of attitude and laughter. Since leaving the show, he’s worked on several short film projects like The Symphony of Silence, Arose the Coward, and Emily. Anthony joined Daeg Faerch and TWD co-star Noel Gugliemi in the 2016 teen drama Ditch Party. Recently, Anthony wrapped production on The Pizza Joint and The Margarita Man, so keep an eye out for the release dates.

Into the Unknown Vol. 1

Into the Unknown Vol. 1
by R.C. Murphy

Their numbers are tragically far, far fewer than those the main group has buried over seven seasons. Guess it just got easier to write deaths opposed to penning compelling reasons why anyone would distance themselves from Rick’s flawed leadership. Whereas we mourned the loss of numerous great characters in the Life After Death articles, in this sister-series I’ll take a stab at predicting what happened to our absent survivors, and we’ll catch up with the actors who brought them to life.

Morales and his wife Miranda may be the wisest characters in TWD history. The morning after walkers ambushed the quarry camp, they grabbed their kids—Louis and Eliza—and left before they joined the others in the graves poor, delirious Jim dug. Anyone in the camp with half a brain should’ve left behind the Grimes love-triangle mess, which had in a way compromised the safety of the camp. Grasping at the flimsy straws the CDC trip offered wouldn’t help in the long run, either, and Morales understood this. If his family were destined to die, he wanted to be near kin. I don’t blame him. I’d rather die with family than alone or surrounded by strangers. With meager supplies, Morales and family would have to use the freeway on their way to Birmingham, Alabama in order to scavenge enough to get by on their own for an undetermined time. That near two-hundred mile trip is a breeze nowadays. With the dead out and freeways clogged with abandoned vehicles, it’d probably take an entire day to reach their destination. Did they find their family? I like to think an uncle or cousin escaped unscathed, establishing a safe community for the area, and Morales takes over as their leader. Morales presented himself to Rick not as The Leader of the quarry group, but a person willing to make hard calls to spare everyone else the burden, so it’s only natural he care for his own community.

The charisma Juan Gabriel Pareja displayed in his first scenes on the show is all-natural and requires no acting, something fans have come to learn over the years as he makes appearances alongside TWD alumni at conventions throughout the United States. Pareja has been busy on the small screen, securing a recurring role on Amazon’s Goliath, which also stars Billy Bob Thornton, Maria Bello, and William Hurt. He also co-starred on shows like Castle, The Mentalist, and Hawaii 5-0,. Pareja did some voice acting post-TWD, lending his talents to the video games Battlefield 4 and Dead Rising 3. Catch Pareja in action in Crackle’s Mad Families, alongside Charlie Sheen and Leah Remini.

Viviana Chavez didn’t have an overabundance of screen time while the Morales family camped with the others. Miranda was soft-spoken and supportive of her husband. Often, her time was spent with the camp’s children. On the flipside, Viviana is quite outspoken, and quite busy. Recently, she’s joined forces with several other film creators to create Bed Head Media. She also operates a photography business, Vivify Photography. On the screen, Chavez has been on a slew of fan-favorite shows like Homeland, Reckless, Sleepy Hollow, and Quantico. She’s also landed roles in Nightcrawler, Furious 7, and The Accountant.

As half of the total children in the quarry camp, Noah and Maddie Lomax provided a way to establish some fond memories for Carl before his path took a dark turn after his mother’s death. The Lomax siblings, portraying Morales’ high-energy kids Louis and Eliza, were the reason behind some of the rare light-hearted moments on the show. They’re also the only non-Grimes children on TWD to survive for more than two seasons so far. Maddie has taken time away from acting post-TWD. Noah went on to star in several films, including Safe Haven, 99 Homes and Brave New Jersey to name a few. He also has guest-starring spots on The Middle and Bones.

Life After Death: Vol. 12

Life After Death: Vol. 12
by R.C. Murphy

Unfortunately, the reality during an apocalyptic scenario is that most people will not make it far with their families intact—these folks tend to fall to the wayside on the show quite often. Some of them shuffled off the mortal plain with next to no one left to mourn their passing, even amongst their neighbors. One we wished had made it to the current time line completely stole the show for a too-brief time. Then there’s the one with so much potential, killed off before the writers would have to tackle any hard questions about women’s sexuality when it isn’t in a heterosexual relationship.

We’re taking a look back at season six’s dearly departed, and catching up with the actors who brought them to life.

EEmbryWhen you need to kill off someone, but make it seem impactful, you write the perfect jerk. Carter was season’s six’s sacrificial lamb—slaughtered by the group’s incompetence to make a point that Alexandria does indeed need Rick’s people to teach them the way, and that any who speak up against him will meet the wrath of God. Seriously, that’s how a lot of the deaths for season six felt, like the writers were over-reaching and showing their hand when they plucked problematic characters from Rick’s takeover path with little fallout for the hero. A shame, really. Ethan Embry, the man behind Carter’s short yet impactful time on TWD, could’ve brought a lot to the table acting-wise. He was perfect as a “friendly” antagonist, countering Rick’s attempt to steamroll into town and set up a military camp in what had been a peaceful settlement.

Post-TWD life has been pretty busy for Embry. He starred in The Devil’s Candy opposite Shiri Appleby and Pruitt Taylor Vince, along with Fashionista starring Amanda Fuller and Eric Balfour. Embry stars in Cheap Thrills, which is currently available to stream on Netflix. On January 13th, Amazon will release Sneaky Pete. The series was created by Bryan Cranston and David Shore (House), with stars Ethan Embry, Giovanni Ribisi, and Marin Ireland. Embry also plays Coyote Bergstein on Netflix’s hit comedy Grace and Frankie. The series stars Jane Fonda and Lily Tomlin. It has so much fan appeal, Netflix secured a third season before the second season aired. The third season will be released on the streaming service May 2017.

MTraynorNicholas never really endeared himself to anyone, let alone TWD fans, during his half-dozen appearances on the show. He, like Carter, were guys determined to keep things as they were before the prison refugees joined their community. After Glenn bruised his ego, he made it his life’s mission to eradicate the newcomers. In the end, Nicholas’ childish reaction to criticism killed numerous people, including himself. His final act, suicide, did have the unexpected bonus of saving Glenn. Guess Nicholas’ life wasn’t a complete waste.

Michael Traynor didn’t pull the long straw when it came to characters fans would clamor over for years to come. That being said, Traynor is such an awesome guy, they love him anyway. He can often be found living it up at various horror conventions throughout the United States, appearing alongside other TWD stars to meet their fans. Traynor went on to guest star on Freeform’s The Fosters for several episodes. Playing the father to a teenager possessed by an alien creature, Traynor appears in the upcoming sci-fi thriller Ascension alongside Christie Burke and Ana Mulvoy-Ten. He also stars in another thriller, this time with a horror twist, in Needlestick. In October 2016, Traynor appeared in the Youtube Red original thriller The Thinning. His next project is the ’80s drama Juke Box Hero, out later this month.

It’s no secret I loathe flashback episodes on TWD, but when they introduced Morgan’s personal savior, Eastman, it was worth the flashback trauma. He’s calm, collected, a pro with a staff, has a goat, and is obsessed with making the perfect cheese. Basically, this is the guy you want around when the crap hits the fan. Eastman’s story is far from cut and dry. Matter of fact, I constantly lament FTWD not existing as Eastman’s story instead of the lackluster plot they opted to follow. We didn’t get nearly enough time with a seriously complex character, nor did we get to fully enjoy the tension in his background which made him such an intriguing person.

JCLynchWe also didn’t get enough time to bask in John Carroll Lynch’s brilliance. This guy has been on the genre fan’s favorite list for years, only adding to his status in our hearts with his TWD appearance. After, he returned to American Horror Story for AHS: Hotel, joining the weirdest dinner party ever as John Wayne Gacy. Lynch appeared as James Rivington on TURN: Washington’s Spies. Joining Jennifer Beals and Olivia Thiriby, the trio starred in the thriller White Orchid. Lynch also appeared alongside Matt Bomer and Maura Tierney in Anything. In December 2016, Jackie released with Natalie Portman in the title role and Lynch playing Lyndon B. Johnson. Later this month, the biopic The Founder releases, starring Lynch as Mac McDonald, along with Michael Keaton and Nick Offerman. SyFy’s creeptastic Channel Zero returns in 2017 for a second season, with Lynch coming onboard as John Sleator.

When the apocalypse happens, anyone with a trace of medical training will be king. Or in this case, queen. Denise didn’t start out her time in Alexandria as the community’s doctor. Thanks to Pete’s little self-destructive outburst, she was thrown into the position and forced to adapt or get people killed. As far as competency goes, she doesn’t do too horribly. As far as fair treatment from the writers? Not the same story. Denise suffers from the writers thinking they could handle two sets of gay characters. Aaron and his husband were established before Rick’s people got to town, leaving the romantic bits between the men sparse, without the passion from new lovers and rife with awkward moments where the writers flounder finding reasons for them to touch without it being “too much” for a predominately straight target audience. Conversely, Denise and Tara form a bond over their awkwardness within the show’s action. It morphs into a relationship which could have been refreshing, but never gets any time to develop—like the writers thought its mere existence was enough to convince viewers they were being inclusive and sensitive to gay viewers. It leaves us forced to believe two women in love can’t find enough time to be in a relationship, or even touch each other, if there’s anything else going on in their lives. Denise is another victim of the writer’s half-handed attempt to do something different, but when it proved too tricky (damn being sensitive to an already media-tormented people) they put her in Daryl’s story line to kill her. Sigh.

MWeverNot to fear, Merritt Wever isn’t gone from the airwaves for long. She’s laid low since saying goodbye to Denise in such a violent way, but is set to make a splash in her next project. Mever will appear as Mary Agnes in Netflix’s upcoming six-episode series Godless. The show is set in the American West during the 1880s, where a couple of warring outlaws find themselves in La Belle, New Mexico—a town completely devoid of men.

Hearts Still Beating: Review for The Walking Dead 708


Hearts Still Beating:
Review for The Walking Dead 708
by R.C. Murphy

Watch out, there! Episode spoilers lurk in this review.

It took seven additional episodes for Rick to realize a woman was right. Not only that, Michonne has echoed the sentiment the entire time, only backing down when he’d momentarily convinced her things would work out. Rick is surrounded by women telling him to stop being a door mat. Does he listen? Nope. Not until several other people kick the bucket and Negan gets the chance to show off for the people who didn’t witness the murders Rick obviously failed to explain in great detail. Are the writers intentionally adding misogyny to Rick’s bag of tricks? Why take seven episodes to do the only thing which makes sense, unless it’s to prove Rick can think for himself without some chick butting in? Maggie calls for war and she’s too emotional to make a rational decision. Rick has two friggen corpses right outside his house and when he jumps to, “We have to declare war,” it’s completely natural to believe he’s in his right mind. Because men handle death better. Because Maggie’s marriage deemed her an emotional risk. Because the writers have no clue how to actually cobble together an interesting war story which doesn’t revolve around men with guns at the helm. I called it weeks ago; Maggie should be the general in this army. Rick is so wishy-washy, he sparkles. That is not who you want leading the charge against Negan.

twd-708-aratrositaEveryone on a suicide mission, please stand up. Whoa. That’s a lot of ill-advised—nah, you know what? It’s dumb. It’s idiotic to have half the main fighting force split and scamper off like little mercenary rats. Defying the odds, they all head in different directions, but still manage to find what they want. Carl didn’t want to be marched home by his shirt collar, that’s for sure. But he still got a couple shots off in Negan’s presence, and let’s not forget the man himself admitted to being afraid of Carl’s particular brand of crazy. Rosita got the easiest commute when Negan happened to show up just as she’s obtained her precious bullet. And, as predicted, she throws away her shot. Well, unless you count Lucille’s non-fatal wound. On top of blowing her chance to kill Negan, Rosita more or less hands Eugene to the Saviors—a new bullet-making toy Negan happens to find on the road—and Olivia’s skull is ventilated by Arat during the search for the bullet-maker. The “Let’s Kill Negan” chemical isn’t just in the water in Alexandria.

twd-708-carolmorganRichard interrupts a short catch-up chat between Morgan and Carol, petitioning her to appeal to Ezekiel about going to war—though it took him ten minutes to get to the point. Carol’s reaction is exactly what we expect; she’s out of the war game and just wants to be left alone to read on the couch. Morgan isn’t all-aboard the war train, either. Richard won’t let the idea go, and with how the episode ends, he’ll get his war soon enough. Michonne is the only one to leave on a suicide mission and come back without taking a shot at her target, because she chose not to endanger herself or her people by foolishly attacking an armed body large enough to steal the stubborn from her spine. The only action Michonne sees after kidnapping the Savior, Isabelle, is when the woman instructs her on the best method of survival—shoot Isabelle, take the truck, go home, and hide the truck so well no Savior ever finds their missing property and comes for answers.

twd-708-mandateOn the other side of the fence, there’s people like Gabriel, who just want to keep everyone alive and as happy as possible. We also have the token sympathizer, Spencer. It doesn’t take long for him to figure out the game, especially after the blonde Savior, Laura, all but shags him there by the truck for a job well done fetching supplies. With his newfound momentum, Spencer spruces up for a man-date with Negan, complete with a bottle of whiskey in tow. The pair hit it off so well, they opt to play a game of pool out in the gorgeous weather. The town gathers to watch, and it does not a thing to still Spencer’s tongue. What’s galling is the writers failing to have anyone step up and tell Spencer to shut his entitled, bratty mouth. Yes, Negan shuts him up in his way, but there’s a couple dozen people standing around who know Rick can’t realistically be held accountable for the Monroe family’s deaths. It’s ludicrous to bring most of the cast in and use them as wallpaper for a scene we see coming fifteen minutes in advance. Mix it up a little. Want to show dissention in Rick’s ranks? Use the crowd in the scene, not as props. Let them speak for once. Why drag around the remaining handful of Alexandria characters and not use them? Looking back at seasons past, there’s only one or two people left from each main safe-haven Rick visited. Why? Because character development is a luxury one doesn’t possess when driven by a network to make everything bigger and better. More blood! More fighting! But, god, please no more getting to know the guy who lives three houses down from Rick. He might just have some insight, but we’ll never know because he could be replaced with a cardboard standee and it’d be just the same as it is now. Unless that guy goes batty and kills everyone, he’ll never get a chance to be more than a generic-named background noisemaker.

In the episode’s big moment, they brought everyone together in Alexandria to silently watch Spencer do the dumb thing and get dead. Surprise. Not. Snooze.

Pro tip, writers: Stop holding the dreaded relationship conversation right before you plan to kill a character. It gives the death away every single time.

Rick and Aaron bring supplies, but fail to remove a rude note from one tub. Aaron receives the punishment for such insolence while Rick wrings his hands. Who does that? Who finds an offensive note and thinks, “Let’s leave this here for the psychos to find.” The same guy who keeps racking up debt from an overlord because he can’t keep his people in line. We’ve known for years that Rick isn’t a leader. Spencer just went about trying to depose him the wrong way.

twd-708-warcouncilarrivesMichonne comes back to tell Rick they have to kill Negan. He has the gall to say he knows. See my first paragraph again if you need a refresher on, “The friggen man just can’t admit the women are right.” We end the episode in Hilltop with a lot of hugs. Why, though, is there two minutes of awkward reaction shots before they head inside? Why is Rosita with the war council when she screwed up so much? Do we care that Daryl and Jesus made it to Hilltop? Nah, I care more that Daryl bludgeoned Fat Joey for no real reason while pretending his decision to murder was better than any decision Joey would’ve made in his future—all a pretense to bring Daryl back to his more aggressive form, which won’t work when the character has no substance to work from.

They’re promising war when TWD returns in February. I’ll assume all the gut-wrenching moments the actors and producers warned us about are in the final episodes, because nothing I saw in these eight wowed me and made me think anyone in the TWD camp gave a crap about making a quality story.

Sing Me a Song: Review for The Walking Dead 707


Sing Me a Song:
Review for The Walking Dead 707
by R.C. Murphy

Warning! This article contains episode spoilers.

twd-707-neganjoeyconfrontcarlRest your worried minds, Daryl fans. You won’t need secret decoder rings for his new mute lifestyle. He’s not a poor, injured bird needing a helping hand. Contrary to just about every fan theory floating around after Negan’s big visit to Alexandria, Daryl’s tongue wasn’t cut out, nor were his lips somehow secretly sealed shut—guess y’all are so bored you’ve resorted to outlandish theories to pass the time like this is the Westworld fandom. The dude simply had the wherewithal to keep his trap shut while around people Negan would hurt in a blink if it guaranteed Daryl would finally fall in line. That good sense flew out the window once the guys reached home-sweet-home. One would think with Carl going all Rambo, Daryl would be extra mindful to provide an example in how not to get dead. Instead, he constantly oversteps his bounds—an intentional, ham-handed way to get Daryl alone in his time-out closet so someone can just hand him the key to freedom. Passive character is passive and only gets dragged along to boost viewer numbers.

twd-707-spencerfindsstuffThe story is overly padded with side missions to find stuff or make stuff . . . and things. The Rick arc is pointless. Why do we need to follow he and Aaron on a fruitless—so far—supply run? Then we leave them without having any real conflict beyond, “Oh, there may be stuff in that boat in the zombie-pond.” Spencer accidentally scores a big hit after rifling through a dead guy’s pockets. Spencer could accidentally cure the dead and I wouldn’t care. His character isn’t. He’s Silly Putty, copying whatever’s around him, but half-assed and backwards. When Spencer does attempt to become a valuable part of society, he fails to support anything beyond his own interest in predictable ways. Rosita drags Eugene to the one place he doesn’t want to go—the warehouse with the makings for the now defunct bullet factory he and Abraham planned. After a lot of belittling, Eugene gives in and makes her precious bullet. At this point, any character out on a suicide mission should just get it over with. twd-707-michonnetakeshostageOh, Michonne is already ahead of me, there. She’s following a trail straight to Negan, and opts to use a shortcut by abducting a Savior at sword-point. Jesus is with Carl up until he’s tricked into bailing from the truck, then he’s just gone. Whatever. There’s so many plates in the air, every single one will come crashing down in an incomprehensible mess instead of a cohesive mid-season finale.

The big story in the episode is Papa Negan’s reaction to Carl Jack-in-a-Boxing out of his truck with an automatic weapon in hand, killing a couple Saviors. Negan doesn’t snatch the whelp by his scruff and introduce his face to the pavement, though he has every right. Nor does he raise his voice to the kid, that’s saved for Daryl’s constant backseat nagging. Nah, Negan takes Carl inside, introduces him to the wives, orders snacks for them, and they sit to chat about Carl for just a little while. Keep in mind, Carl hasn’t really had a parent figure since season one. After Rick returned, Lori focused on her love triangle, leaving Carl to wander as he will. After Lori’s death, Rick dives into his plan to save humanity, leaving Carl to raise himself—and everyone else to raise Judith. Having a man sit and talk about him and not to him must’ve been weird. Not as weird as Negan’s obsession with Carl’s ragged eye socket. The talk buys time for the real show of power—where Negan provides the example Daryl wouldn’t, demonstrating what happens when rules are broken. The entire thing is orchestrated by Negan, down to Dwight—who’d met the iron after his insulin heist—passing the red-hot implement of justice to the bossman straight from the fire. I’ll tell you from experience, once you’ve had a severe burn over a large portion of skin, you’ll never forget the instant your nerves registered the pain.

Carl’s lack of enthusiasm, or fear, calls for drastic measures. No, Negan doesn’t reintroduce him to Lucille. They go on a little road trip, instead. For the second time, Negan rolls into Alexandria like he owns the place. Which, I guess he does. With Rick out doing next to nothing, Negan makes himself at home in his house, kicking back with Olivia and Carl. Making obscene comments. Ordering some really good lemonade. Oh, and he spends more time cooing at Judith, whom Carl attempts to hide, than Rick has done in ages. Rick is always just there with the kids. He doesn’t really react to them. He holds Judith, but always thinks of stuff ‘n’ things and stares in the distance. Carl could impregnate a horse at this point and Rick would wave it off.

We end with Negan threatening to kill and bury them in the garden before he moves in and takes over the little slice of heaven in Alexandria. Please do it. I’m tired of seeing everything from Rick’s point-of-view.

Swear: Review for The Walking Dead 706


Review for The Walking Dead 706
by R.C. Murphy

Episode spoilers below! You’ve been warned.

There’s so much foretelling in this episode, it’s pretty much an outline of how far down the humanity rabbit hole Alexandria will go in the coming episodes to appease the Saviors. The temptation to make Rick and company Those Guys, the ones who’d rob a woman-only group in order to save their own hides, is irresistible. Oh, it may not seem in the cards by episode’s end, but the idea is planted.

twd-706-heathinrvHow do we meet this new Ocean Side community? By Tara washing up on the beach like a piece of debris blown off a yacht. But that’s not even what happens first. This episode suffers from an acute case of flashbackitis. So we open with soggy Tara nearly being stabbed by the world’s most aggressive tween, then jump back to her and Heath arguing about not finding anything during their two-week outing. It does this constantly, without real rhyme or reason, throughout the episode. Like teasing Heath’s welfare will finally make him a part of the TWD universe instead of using a rising actor’s name to leave on the credits for attention. Why bother bringing in hard-hitters if they get two powerhouse minutes in as many seasons? AMC likes to collect actors in their stable, then never unleash their potential. And for this reason, they jacked up continuity to force tension over the welfare of a character fans don’t know well enough to mourn. A shame, really. Heath’s passionate speech in the RV is some of the best emotional reaction work on the show. They made him virtually forgettable, but made it clear he’ll never forget what they did at that Savior outpost.

twd-706-attemptedexecutionontaraOkay, but seriously, what about the new community? After Tara wakes, she stalks her savior, Cyndie, through dense forest until she finds dilapidated cabins, but thriving people. Some seriously jumpy people, at that. As more of Ocean Side comes into view, one thing is evident: There’s only women, girls, and boys under a certain age. Anyone with a twisted mind took a whopping two seconds to figure out why this particular group came along at this point in the story—they’re the example of why not to fight the Saviors. An ill-advised war cost them every single man, plus any boy over ten, as well as their trust in humanity. Thanks to the Saviors, Tara’s greeted with gunfire and not a hot meal. It takes some talking, and Tara’s awful lies, to garner her freedom. Even that’s fleeting once Natania, Beatrice, and Kathy—presumably the women in charge—realize the grand story Tara tells of killing people at the satellite facility is confession that she attacked the Saviors. The latter two ladies take Tara out of the community, promising to help her find Heath, who ran off after she was swarmed by walkers. In reality, it’s an execution. Tara holds her own for a little in the fight, but Cyndie saves her bacon again, defying her groups’ kill-strangers-on-the-spot mandate in order to actually help Tara. There’s no Heath to be found, of course. He’s long gone, having driven off when Tara went into the river. The writers do take the time to stage a false alarm. It’s almost as if they actually care about Heath.

I’m not buying it.

twd-706-walkersEven the walkers in this episode are pretty disappointing. The gimmick? A group buried walkers under fine sand and left them that way even after the living abandoned camp. Tara dislodges the sandcastle from hell by tugging on a duffle bag and out crawl a couple dozen walkers. For the most part, the makeup is done with heavy, dirty prosthetics or masks. Both leave the supposedly shriveled walkers with floating head syndrome—where it’s obvious the creature’s face is over a human one because the head is two inches too wide—instead of it reading as an actual monster. Rubber masks are for background actors, not foreground close-ups. What on earth were they thinking with this one? As far as walker gags go, the sand gimmick doesn’t sell as a threat, seems impossible it’d still be intact after all this time, and the sand-encrusted walkers look like rejects from the Universal Studios maze, not the show’s typical carefully-crafted feature creatures for the week.

Yet again, we’re distracted with a lot of nothing instead of getting what we want—Negan from Negan’s point-of-view. The Ocean Side community coming in now does about as much good as tits on a male dog story line wise. Not with the way it’s written. Not coming so long after Glenn and Abraham’s death, and spending a day inside Negan’s home-sweet-home. Sure. Okay. Negan had a bunch of men and boys killed. This is fully within the realm of believability from what we’ve seen. Shock us with his actions at last or get to the war already. This pointless floundering between does nothing but give airtime to advertisers. The episode’s only upside is Tara getting some solid laugh lines. Not worth an hour of my day.

Go Getters: Review for The Walking Dead 705


Go Getters
Review for The Walking Dead 705
by R.C. Murphy

Slow your roll, buddy. There’s episode spoilers in this review. Sure you’re ready?

twd-705-gravesideJust so happens, for now at least, we get to hold onto the knowledge that Glenn’s child lives and is actually perfectly healthy, despite the scare during the season six finale. I spent the first seven minutes clutching a tissue because they kept hitting the Blubbering Idiot button. When Sasha hands over Hershel/Glenn’s watch at the graves, the anguish from both deaths kick the audience in the chest. I wasn’t ready for that callback.

twd-705-maggiegregorysashaThen Gregory walks over and I want nothing more than to strangle a fictional character. This little slug needs to be salted and left on hot cement already. Everything from his mouth is disgusting and sexist. He’s so self-centered, he can’t remember his own people’s names. And the icing on the cake? Gregory is such a coward, last week’s Rick looked like William Wallace. Gregory damn near licks Simon’s boots when the Saviors arrive to establish a new outpost—by taking half of Hilltop’s stuff. Astoundingly, it only took Gregory five minutes to roll over and attempt to betray Sasha and Maggie. Jesus and the ladies are always five steps ahead of the cretin. Probably because Jesus has lead Hilltop from the backseat while basking in the freedom to roam. Unfortunately, his game made Gregory believe he was the one calling all the right shots. Accordingly, his ego grew. Now that ego threatens to ruin them all. The false bravado of an egomaniac is cheesecloth. One good twist and secrets pour like whey. Only instead of spilling about the ladies hiding in the settlement, he accidentally hands over his scotch supply. Serves him right. By the time all’s said and done, Gregory will have as much power as a thirty year old AAA battery. But I kinda want Maggie to run him over with the tractor, too.

If anyone thought a difficult pregnancy would slow Maggie, they were grossly mistaken. Not long after Dr. Carson delivers the good/bad news, she’s helping Jesus and Sasha dismantle a Savior-made nightmare in the shape of wide-open gates and an armored car blasting music for all undead to hear. They handle the dead. Maggie gets creative, fetching Hilltop’s tractor and going Gravedigger on the musical menace. What does their fearless leader do? He slinks back to his study. Which is what Simon expects from Hilltop. He’s surprised to find their service wasn’t required, that somehow the gutless farmers took care of a horde on their own. There’s many more surprises like that coming, Simon. Jesus wants Maggie to lead. They should probably do it together, with Sasha providing a huge assist. The three of them shut down the Savior’s game in a blink. That’s the response time Hilltop needs from their leadership.

twd-705enidcarlskateKids these days. Roller-skating, holding hands, kissing, and plotting to assassinate vicious overlords. Tsk, tsk. Enid can’t wait for news to travel down the grapevine, so she’s going to the source—Maggie. At first, Carl plays cool. He’s not saving her anymore. Yada, yada, yada. She’s peddled maybe two miles down the road by the time he steals a car and tries to impress her by crashing it—twice—while killing walkers. They have a blast on their trip, eventually wheeling to a stop outside Hilltop as Saviors load their loot. That’s when Carl lays out his plan. He’s going on. It’s time to find Negan’s hideout and get revenge. Carl’s plan is daft. One teenager. All alone. No depth perception. Open wound in his face. Enid does what she can to convince him to stay with her. Like that’s going to work. Have you met his father? She goes inside to say her goodbye to Glenn—although she left the balloons on the wrong grave, I still cried. Carl climbs into a truck bound for Saviorland.

He’s not alone. Jesus is on a side mission from Sasha—find Negan. He’s more popular than Beanie Babies during their prime. Someone’s going to regret this little trip. Finding the big guy won’t be so easy.

The episode’s action is boring. Maggie’s tractor bit is the highlight. Some of the fights look choreographed. There’s nothing really at risk when the walkers enter the gates because everyone was in bed. The arguments have more at stake, but are so one-sided because Gregory is written as pond scum that we know the outcome before Maggie and Jesus finish laying out their verbal traps. The episode does establish a new Savior outpost. We now have two good guys infiltrating the bad guys like the world’s lamest spies, sitting in the back of an open truck and chatting. Hilltop is staged for a feminist revolution, which we saw coming way back when Maggie first met Gregory. None of this is surprising. There were the emotions I expected in this episode, but other than that it failed to deliver much to the party. This isn’t the time to hit a lull. Not after a lackluster extended episode. Someone isn’t looking at the big picture again.

Service: Review for The Walking Dead 704


Review for The Walking Dead 704
by R.C. Murphy

Watch out! Episode spoilers below.

twd-704-neganatgateTo give the old ways a push out the door before we settle into the Alexandria monotony again—though they did take the time to show Rick and Michonne in bed together, first—Negan makes a house call to collect his half of their stuff. The episode is a “90-minute shopping trip,” as several fans put it, with some threats tossed in to make it somewhat bearable. Negan is the snake in Alexandria’s Eden. With Rick by his side, he slithers through taking a mental and physical inventory of his newest acquisition. Interaction with the big man and the many is sparse, Negan preferring to use Rick as his mouthpiece to address the town. Negan gets face time with plot-pushing characters—Carl, Spencer, Rosita—plus there’s a few interactions I can’t help but think means the character will die sooner rather than later in the inevitable war with the Saviors. His mere presence sends everyone into a tizzy, and he laps up the chaos like an attention-starved tween girl. Mad props to Gabriel for being one of few to think clearly and quickly after the Saviors arrive, making it appear as though Maggie didn’t survive the miscarriage after all. Though his actions and his uncanny ability to startle their new overlord puts him firmly in the top five on my dead pool. That’s not a comfortable prospect for any character, just ask Olivia how gut-knotting a position that can be.

The big moments in the episode happen after Carl threatens Negan and the boss puts Alexandria on a firearm lockdown. Everything in the town’s vast inventory is collected. All except two handguns, which are in the books but nowhere in sight. Que panic. But only for Rick. Everyone in the town meeting has a look like they want to stand up, fight, put the Saviors in the ground in some spectacular way. Some of them, even after knowing Olivia would die without the weapons in Negan’s hand ASAP, were ready to arm up and roll out. Fighting for a cause is great, but pick your battles and don’t do anything at the expense of someone who’s devoted her entire time to easing their strife as far as supplies and inventorying them go. Eventually they disperse to search for the weapons. Olivia gets a surprise date with Negan . . . and possibly Lucille, too. Who has the guns? Spencer. There’s a complete lack of surprise when Rick notices the loose vent grate. Nor is it surprising to see more stolen food/booze in Spencer’s house. They established his paranoia early enough and firmly enough, his second betrayal doesn’t warrant a blink. Yet again, I wonder why Spencer thrives when characters with more potential are sacrificed to the plot monster. Then again, every show needs a scapegoat. TWD loves to lean on theirs, up until they kill them in some forgettable way.

twd-704-checkinggunaccountingThat bit of tension with the guns is so drawn out, it’s a non-issue by the time Spencer returns from his side trip with Rosita—fetching Daryl’s bike and having a long talk about accepting the new world order or bucking against the system. The time it takes to resolve any problem is the glaring issue in these 90-minute episodes. Audiences don’t have the attention span to properly appreciate Negan and Dwight’s mind games. They’re playing the long game in an instant gratification world. Fans want flashy conflict with well-defined reasons and minimal subtlety. Leave just enough plot motivation below the surface to make attentive fans feel clever, but everyone else wants a short-form action flick every week. They’re not going to get it. I know this. You may even know this, but one look at the fandom in general and they’re woefully unprepared to think through the Negan era. Character motivation has always been spoon-fed to them. All the little puzzles and plot twists have fallen away—remember how mad we were when TERMINUS was a cannibal’s wet dream and the CDC’s only solution to the apocalypse was to blow itself up—replaced by Richonne concerns and some serious story telegraphing whenever characters speak out against their leader. Spoilers: They always die when they question Rick for more than a moment.

Daryl is in the episode. He blinks a message to Rick, I guess. I’m so over Daryl’s story, I took Negan’s threat to heart and forgot the guy was in the episode until they showed another reaction shot of him looking awfully concerned, but it could be gas.

twd-704-michonnetargetpracticeLooking to the future is difficult when the characters are settling in for a long winter under a crazed dictator. It could become seriously monotonous, with constant failed attempts to undermine Negan without full-frontal conflict. There could be a few solid hits from Alexandria which loosen his grip. They could all die in a firefight at three in the morning because Negan decided he wasn’t getting enough from them and wants the city. Whatever happens, it’s likely the blooming resistance force will be led by three people: Michonne, Carl, and Maggie. Michonne missed the shopping trip, but saw the town’s discarded/burned mattresses not long after promising Rick she’d try to work with the new rules. Settling for anything has never been Carl’s M.O., evident way back in season two when he wouldn’t, couldn’t stay put despite having been shot. There’s no need to say why Maggie will lead this rebellion until the day they win or she dies. Why them and not Rick? His speech to Michonne before taking her rifle. He’s got so much at stake, he’ll literally eat Negan’s feces to stay alive long enough to give Judith a Sweet 16 present. It’s no longer good enough to know any people survive in the world, Rick has to know his blood lives on after he’s gone. Obsession over one’s lineage is what doomed Henry VIII—he lost Rome’s backing, married like he changed his poofy pants, and in the end produced one legitimate male heir too fragile to remain on the throne, throwing his kingdom into turmoil years after his death. The lesson? Focusing fifteen-plus years down the road means you’re blind to the monster sneaking up behind you. Rick’s monster just happens to think he’s more useful alive. For now.

The Cell: Review for The Walking Dead 703


The Cell
Review for The Walking Dead 703
by R.C. Murphy

Spoiler warning! Not that there’s much to spoil . . . .

Number one, the unavoidable Reedus nudity. I signed off on the last review with a snippy remark about Daryl being nude as a selling point for The Powers That Be at AMC. Sure enough, it took nearly ten minutes into the episode for Daryl to be sufficiently clothed. Master Dwight may have given Dobby clothes, but he’s not a free elf. Much to my chagrin. This story line has the potential to go nowhere given the lack of know-how when it comes to handling the Character Development Forgot.

twd-703-sherrydarylTo balance out the awkwardness of cramming Daryl into the Sanctuary lifestyle, they give him a woman to talk to—a misnomer, she talks, he bobs his head or gives soulful eyes. Sherry originally came onto the show with her sister and Dwight after they stole insulin for the sister. Now she’s back to make sure the show doesn’t devolve into a sausage fest during Sanctuary scenes, and to give fans a woman to ‘ship Daryl with, because that’s so necessary. It’s obvious no matter what comes out of her mouth, she has no agency to actually make it happen. Daryl doesn’t listen to her. Dwight and Negan treat her like a commodity, though the former at least has the decency to blush as his boss lays out the full transaction for their new guest. She skulks around the compound like a frightened cat, and is always hidden the minute the big guy is nearby.

twd-703-goodeatsThe inevitable showdown between Daryl and Negan only ever had one outcome. He effed up and got Glenn killed, that guilt will keep Daryl on the side of the angels for as long as possible. And now that he has a woman to fight for, or help Dwight fight for, he’ll stubbornly remain Rick’s attack dog. Until they beat it out of him, that is. Negan’s not going to keep giving him free Alpo sandwiches, clothes, and shelter for long. Just like in The Kingdom, you reap what you sew in the Sanctuary. But you better be sewing a lot more than what the boss lets you reap. No one upstages that man except Lucille.

Dwight may be a potential ally, if Daryl could stop being an A-class jerk for half a second. His self-pity will prevent this pair-up from happening for too long, probably. Meanwhile, Dwight stews in his resentment, ripe for turning against Negan with a push in the right direction. Of course, it’d take a chess partner as skilled at manipulation as Negan to really make it work. Not sure Daryl is up for five coherent sentences in a row, let alone convincing Dwight to work from the inside out to dismantle the Saviors. Maybe that’s why Sherry was brought along as baggage. She’ll do the convincing so Daryl can brood enough for twelve TV bad-boys.

twd-703joeydwdarylWe meet more Saviors, some who’ll probably be go-to men throughout the season. Only one of the goons got a name outside the official “I am Negan” moniker—Fat Joey. Dr. Carson seems reasonable, but is completely in Negan’s sway. If the big guy crapped a rainbow, the doctor would say, “I told you so.” On the flipside of the coin, Dwight chases a doomed character, Gordon, down the road a ways. This guy is done living in Negan’s wet dream for the apocalypse. He just wants an out, any out. He’d rather take a bullet than serve Negan again. Instead of complying, Dwight’s insecurity about his place in Sanctuary push him to permanently enslave Gordon as a walker on their fence line.

Why is it the actions of a new character scream development, but a man who’s been there since episode two hasn’t grown at all? If anything, Daryl has regressed into even less of a character since they stripped away his remaining family and doused pretty much every relationship he started which delved deeper than passing acquaintance. What are they waiting for? Why hold back with this one character? Crap or get off the pot, already. They need to find a way to make him an actual part of the story, not just an object the story happens to or around. I would’ve rather we see an episode without any of Rick’s people involved to get a real taste of the Saviors. So far, everything’s been from someone else’s POV. If they want to truly shock us, let us see what it’s like when the machine runs smoothly. Negan’s efficiency is what’s truly terrifying. He gets things done. But how? All we ever see is him reprimanding one man, maybe two. Show us how he handles all his business. Intelligence can be serious nightmare fuel in the right hands.

Next week, Negan makes a house call. It’s supposedly a long episode, so anticipate me saying they added unnecessary things to make a non-event writing wise feel like a big to-do. It’s all they ever do with these extended episodes. But I’ll take it for the extra time to watch Jeffrey Dean Morgan smirk.

The Well: Review for The Walking Dead 702


The Well
Review for The Walking Dead 702
by R.C. Murphy

Whoa! Hold on a minute. There’s episode spoilers below. Proceed with caution.

Why does it feel we were cheated out of more depth in the premiere after seeing what the production team did to present a fully-fleshed Kingdom?

Lennie James as Morgan Jones, Melissa McBride as Carol Peletier - The Walking Dead _ Season 7, Episode 2 - Photo Credit: Gene Page/AMC

Lennie James as Morgan Jones, Melissa McBride as Carol Peletier – The Walking Dead _ Season 7, Episode 2 – Photo Credit: Gene Page/AMC

Because we were cheated. The premiere, as I said before, was edited specifically to make cliffhanger naysayers wait for any story resolution. That petty decision killed the episode’s pacing, making this week’s feel refreshing, but not for any reason the TWD crew wanted. It’s refreshing because something actually happens. Carol and Morgan go places, do things, grow as people, and find their place in the world during the scant forty-something minutes allotted. Rick stared at some zombies, got people killed, and ended up exactly where we knew he would—in league with Negan.

I guess what I’m getting at is, they don’t know how to write or direct their main character or the super-bad guy they’ve brought in to shake things up. High-tension moments for Rick and Negan turn laughable when silence is held for thirty seconds too long. But when Carol and Morgan discuss her departure from The Kingdom and having the free will to do so, I couldn’t turn away. There is no immediate threat to either character. No hammer over someone’s head at another location to instill concern in the fans when the scene’s substance is lacking. It’s just two people discussing the future with the weight of their weariness in their voices, and I wanted more. More frank discussions about who these people have become since leaving Atlanta. More Carol not giving an ounce of crap about what anyone thinks and calling them on their bull. More time with Morgan as a teacher, not a killer. And I definitely want more long conversations in the dark with Ezekiel and Carol.

twd-702-zekejerrywalkerkillingDoes his apple taste as sweet as promised? Man, there’s so many innuendos at the episode’s end, my head spun. And I loved it. We needed new characters to come in and remind us, not to mention our favorite survivors, that laughter is a thing. A joke won’t bash in your head. Giggling won’t cost an arm or a leg. No one will bite your face off if you smile at the stupid pun dancing through your head. Society for us, and on the show, is a nightmare. Finding the people who’ve still got the ability to look at the bright side of life is vital to balancing the mental trauma from the apocalypse—and this year’s election. That being said, Jerry is totally my favorite thing since sliced cheese. His zany antics balance Ezekiel’s carefully calculated demeanor. We need, nay we deserve a Jerry-centric episode. Someone make this happen, please.

twd-702-ezekielcarolrealtalkDo I need to mention the tiger? Shiva is a wonderful addition. Her animation isn’t clunky and she’s “grounded” in the room, but I feel they did too much by adding a couple unnecessary shots during Carol’s initial introduction to King Ezekiel. Save your budget. Gonna need it for fake blood during Negan’s episodes.

Speaking of our favorite a-hole, he’s got his fingers in The Kingdom’s pies, as well. Smart cookie that he is, Ezekiel uses Morgan as backup several times throughout the episode, namely when they’re gathering and delivering tribute to the Saviors. These little piggys aren’t all they seem. They’ve been eating walkers for who knows how long before they’re butchered and handed over. Presumably this is done in order to make the Saviors sick during a long game of revenge. All I can think of is Bob yelling, “Tainted meat,” while the TERMINUS survivors enjoy their Bob-b-que. With The Kingdom paying tribute regularly, Rick is bound to end up on pickup duty one day. What a day that’ll be. I hope Morgan knocks Rick’s face sideways with that stick of his before one word is said.

Come on, we all know Rick’s earned it.

Looks like we’re catching up with Daryl next week. Expect man tears, dirt, blood, and probably unnecessary male nudity. They’ve got to do something to bring female fans back to the television, and selling Daryl as a sex symbol seems to be the only plan in the TWD playbook. Maybe they’ll surprise me and make the episode truly deep and meaningful. Yeah, and I’ll win the Lotto next week, too.