The question found in the title of tonight's midseason debut of THE WALKING DEAD is "What Happened And What's Going On"; my own title of this article is the answer. Tonight's ep reinforces both the extent to which TWD has become a caricature of itself and my own belief that the bad habits that have become ingrained in it are what will eventually do it in. I'm now wondering if the latter may happen much sooner than anyone expects.
It's a running joke on the internet that any time a new black guy shows up on TWD, an established black guy is killed. Over two years ago, I wrote that
"[The arrival of Tyreese] spells bad news for Oscar.. TWD has taken a lot of ribbing
for treating T-Dog as the Token Black Guy, an obvious redshirt given
virtually nothing to do except be black until such time as he
could be bumped off. Earlier this season, the writers introduced Oscar,
one of the inmates at the prison our heroes have made home. In the same
episode in which Oscar was accepted into the group, T-Dog was finally
allowed to be eaten by zombies. At the time, it led to a lot of Token
Black Guy jokes on the various TWD message boards. At the time, some of
these jokes were of questionable taste. Tonight, the writers lived down
to all of them, though. The opening introduces Tyreese--by the end of
the ep, Oscar is pushing up daisies."
This has become a good deal more than a just a joke--it has
become a part of TWD's formula. The introduction of Father Gabriel, yet
another black fellow, led almost immediately to the death of Bob. Back in November,
I wrote that "the fresh arrival of Noah as a potential regular should
have Tyreese and Gabriel feeling rather nervous just now." Tonight, our
heroes accompanied Noah to his home, a gated community in Virginia that had
barricaded itself against the dead. They discover it has been overrun
and everyone killed. Tyreese, trying to be reassuring, tells Noah he's
one of them now. Minutes later, Tyreese is bitten by a zombie--as always happens on TWD, he suddenly gets really stupid in order to allow this to happen--and by
episode's end he's dead. Nothing else of any real substance happens;
it's yet another example of building the series around a "shocking"
death that, because of rigid adherence to formula, is entirely
predicatable and thus non-shocking.
Tonight's ep was also yet another example of TWD's very bad habit
of taking 10 minutes worth of plot material and stretching it to fill
an hour. The characters discover Noah's neighborhood is dead within
minutes then spend most of the rest of the ep standing around expressing
their existential angst in the standard horrendously-written
pseudo-profound speeches to one another. When Tyreese is attacked and
bitten, Noah immediately runs to fetch the others, but this emergency
situation doesn't add any sense of immediacy to the story. Instead, the
ep just slows down even more, with large amounts of screen-time spent
indulging the dying Tyreese's instantly-appearing delusional
conversations with already-departed comrades and foes. Even the imagined
ghost of GINO puts in an appearance. Noah finally finds the others,
they remove Tyreese's arm, drag him from the neighborhood and head back
to base with the intention of cauterizing the wound, but Tyreese dies
along the way. For further filler, the writers go back to Glen Mazzara's
technique of throwing in zombie action to give the impression of
something happening: Tyreese, while waiting a seeming infinity for Noah
to retrieve the others, is attacked by a second zombie, who bites him again on the same wound on the same
arm--he has to overcome and kill it. Then later, as the group is trying
to get Tyreese through the gate of the former community, they have to
fight off a gaggle of zombies who have gathered outside. More zombie
action and CGI gore, signifying, like the rest of the ep, nothing.
This was TWD on autopilot, a series that isn't even trying anymore, and where there ain't nothin' goin' on. Collectively, it managed to eat up another hour, which, when it comes to TWD, is far too often the only point.
 This trek into Virginia occurs after the entire series has already established the entire series the
danger of traveling any real distance. In season 1, our heroes didn't want to
go to Ft. Benning because it was such a long trip (though it was only about a hundred miles). The beginning of
season 3 established that in 8 months on the road they'd been fored to
remain in a relatively small geographic area. In season 4, a trip to an
animal med facility only 50 miles away turned into a disaster the
charaters barely survived. This season, immediately prior to this episode, Abe's group couldn't even make it out of the state
(just as they'd been unable to make it very far back in season 4). Then
suddenly we get a 500+ mile trip into Virginia without any apparent difficulties, one that happens off-screen. The punchline is that Rick and Glenn, in discussing the matter, both essentially admit they didn't even believe the neighborhood would still be there and only brought Noah there because it's what Beth--dead Beth--wanted.
 As I've covered here into infinity, most of TWD's standard
formula is rooted in the cowardice of its creators. They absolutely
refuse to risk a loss of audience by offering viewers anything that
challenges them, and stick with the safe formula. I fail to see,
however, why this black-guy-in/black-guy-out rule should be a
rule. It isn't rooted in cowardice or in any other obvious need yet it
seems to be as carved-in-stone as the rest of the formula. From whence
does it come?
Noah and Gabriel, be fearful--Morgan is on our heroes' trail and he's bound to catch up eventually.
 The much bigger news from AMC tonight was the series premiere of
BETTER CALL SAUL, the much-anticipated prequel to BREAKING BAD. As it
turned out, it was a great premiere. AMC's custom is to repeat an
original program during the late-night hours, but in what I suspect is
an indication of how much respect AMC is going to give this new series,
BETTER CALL SAUL won't be so repeated. Instead, AMC is going to repeat
tonight's godawful TWD (and its companion TALKING DEAD) no less than
three times in a row.