Monday, March 13, 2017

Bury THE WALING DEAD Here [Updated Below]

Of the many people who have circulated through the WALKING DEAD writer's room over the years, few have shown any real interest in trying to organically develop any of the characters, preferring, instead, to stick with the soap melodrama model and arbitrarily impose new and often radically different characterizations on them to suit the momentary needs of the plot.

Like all of the characters on TWD, Carol has been subject to multiple personality transplants over the years.

Carol 1.0 was weak and pathetic, the formerly abused housewife who wouldn't even search for her own missing daughter, who resented being asked to help decide the fate of a prisoner our heroes had captured, who disappeared only to see everyone else declare her dead and dig a grave without bothering to look for her.

With season 4, the writers took her experience of losing her daughter (and a random, way-out-of-character moment from the previous season)[1] and created Carol 2.0, almost the polar opposite of the original. This was a Carol who had learned the hardest lesson of this zombified world in the hardest possible way and had vowed "never again," a Carol who was tough, uber-capable, the strongest character on the show and who, when she saw a problem, coldbloodedly did whatever she thought had to be done to deal with it. This Carol knew some would object to her teaching the children how to fight and to kill; it needed to be done, so she did it. When she saw the need to kill two entirely innocent people to try to prevent others from being infected by their illness, she did it. When a child she loved had killed another and become a danger, she murdered that child. When our heroes were taken prisoner by the Terminusians, she loaded up, Rambo-style, and laid waste to their compound and to them. And so on. Carol 2.0, a blatant contradiction of 1.0, wasn't an evolution of what had come before. Rather, she was a logical extrapolation of what someone might be like if they'd experienced what Carol had experienced, slapped on to the character herself. This Carol was often a depressed fret but her central personality trait was that she did what had to be done and by dreaming up this personality, the writers took her from the least interesting character to the most interesting one. And the best was yet to come.

Carol 3.0 suddenly appeared, fully formed, toward the end of season 5. By then, Z NATION had appeared on SyFy and was getting a great deal of mileage out of injecting humor into its zombie apocalypse. TWD had, up to then, been so relentlessly humorless that the very rare and always brief efforts at comedic moments always looked as if they were edited in from another show (and always came off badly). Fans even complained. Upon our heroes' arrival at the Alexandria Safe Zone, though, Carol suddenly became a wisecracking schemer who smiled for everyone and pretended to be a meek housewife while tossing out snarky quips and secretly plotting to overthrow the Republic. Or at least the Safe Zone leadership. This Carol carried over the do-what-needs-to-be-done ethos of 3.0 and married it with this new element to yield the high-point of the character--my own favorite and if the anecdotal evidence of the internet fan reaction is representative, the fan favorite as well.

But if there's one thing TWD's writers have proven over the years, it's that there's no good thing they can't utterly screw up, so in season 6, they invented and imposed another new personality for Carol. The 4.0 model flushed everything positive they'd built and all the lessons the previous incarnation had been written as having learned and became almost the direct opposite of 3.0, a suddenly weak, weepy woman who, though still capable, randomly decided she just isn't willing to fight for those she loves anymore, leaves and has spent the entire series since--over a season's worth of episodes to date--in self-imposed exile, doing nothing but looking droopy-faced and insisting she wants no part of anyone else's business.

This Carol sucks.

The writers have had a problem with her since shortly after they created 3.0. It's a long-running trope of TWD that anyone who advances, broadly, raw survivalist sentiment--the idea that hard, ugly choices are sometimes necessary in order to survive--is demonized by the writers. Carol's largely pointless murder of the sick people in season 4 was only the latest in a long string of examples of this.

When she was able to make a comeback after being exiled for this, it looked as if the writers may have turned over a new leaf (on that point, at least) but I think that exile itself is also significant. One of this author's long-running critiques of the series involves the fact that Rick is always written as an incredibly incompetent leader. The many personalities the writers have grafted onto Rick are (like the other characters) dumb. Really dumb. They're frequently weak and they always make stupid, wrongheaded decisions that get people killed, yet the series is sort of stuck with Rick as the ongoing leader and central character. As I've often noted, the writers compensate for this by having the other characters give speeches about how Rick is a great leader (which, of course, makes all of those characters look stupid as well). The writers have also became absurdly defensive on this point, making a regular practice of actually killing any character who questions Rick's leadership abilities. With Carol 3.0, the writers created a strong, decisive character, one who, when a problem arises, doesn't dick around, and then saw her become extraordinarily popular. She is, in this sense, a living embodiment of a critique of Rick, one who may even be seen as a rival (she's certainly much more likable). It seems significant that, during the Woodbury 2.0 business, she was in exile.

That wasn't the last time either. Having created such a tough and to-the-point character, the writers have repeatedly resorted to taking her out of the action in order to allow their poorly constructed plots to proceed along the lines they prefer. After the prison exile, she went with Daryl to Atlanta in search of Beth, missing the return of the Terminusians. In Atlanta, she was run over by the "police," putting her in a hospital bed until that business with Beth could play out. When Rick wanted to do his insane zombie parade, she stayed home and baked cookies. That one could sort of be justified--she was pretending to be a wouldn't-hurt-a-fly housewife at the time--but Rick's zombie parade idea was so incredibly stupid, it seems very unlikely that Carol, if asked to weigh in, would have gone along with it. Carol 3.0 wasn't always smart, to be sure.[2] No one on TWD is written as smart. Her to-the-point persona, however, did pull against that sort of thing. Merely by being there, she's a better example than Rick, a  much stronger and more capable character. When the Wolves attacked the Safe Zone, she went into the street and took them out, no mercy, no prisoners. When she tried to deal with Morgan having kept one of them as a prisoner, something Morgan had done without telling anyone, she was again k.o.'d and put out of action. When the writers embarked upon the Saviors storyline, she was already taking on the newer persona. Still capable, when she was taken prisoner she managed to escape and to liquidate her captors but then she went full-on 4.0 and went into exile again before Negan appeared.

This last is more than just another example of the uncreative writers repeating themselves (another long-running problem with the show). Like all the rest, it looks like a move dictated by the necessities of the weak plotting. The writers wished to waste the first half of the present season on filler eps wherein our heroes bent over and acquiesced to the demands of the Saviors and didn't even so much as plan to ever fight back. Can anyone imagine Carol 3.0 going along with such a program? Rather than change the poorly-constructed plot, the writers yet again sent Carol into exile. Since Carol 2.0 launched, she has probably been out of action for various contrived reasons for as many--or more--eps than she's been available for it. In order to make this latest one happen, the writers have assassinated the character. She's being further victimized by the other defects of their plotting--the glacial pace, one-line item plots and filler, filler, filler. In practice, this has meant she just sits around in her adopted house looking sad, repetitively professing her unwillingness to deal with reality or stand with her family (which rubs viewers' noses in those stupid, arbitrary changes) and doing nothing else for ep after ep and ep.

That brings me to tonight's installment, "Bury Me Here." Carol is troubled by thoughts of what may have happened back at the Safe Zone when Negan appeared. A few eps ago, she talked to Daryl but in order to further artificially prolong her exile, the writers had Daryl lie to her and tell her no one back home was hurt. She goes looking for answers at the Kingdom, encounters some zombies and we get an example of her abilities--she pulls up a road-sign, climbs up a tree and takes out the creatures while comfortably sitting there. Morgan won't tell her what really happened, insisting that what she discussed with Daryl is between she and Daryl.

"Bury Me Here" offers multiple examples of the writers failing to watch their own show. When Morgan tells Carol she'll have to take up that matter with Daryl, for example, he tells her Daryl is back at the Safe Zone and repeatedly offers to go back there with her to talk with him. Daryl, of course, can't go back to the Safe Zone--he's a fugitive from the Saviors, who will be looking for him to return there. More to the point, Daryl, before he left the Kingdom, specifically told Morgan that he was going to Hilltop, not the Safe Zone. A few eps ago, after Ezekiel's man Richard had twice gotten into scuffles with one of the Saviors at the Kingdom's regular "tribute" meeting with the villains (more scene duplication), Ezekiel said Richard would no longer be attending those meetings. But--you guessed it!--tonight, there was Richard, attending the next one.[see Update below] Moreover, his presence was essential to the plot because he puts in motion a scheme to cause tension between the two groups in a bid to try to convince Ezekiel to join with the other communities in making war on the Saviors.[3] If this was the course to be taken, would it have been so difficult for the creators to simply remove that earlier line? Or just not have included it in the first place? For that matter, Ezekiel is being written as a half-wit for ever again having Richard attend those meetings after the first instance of trouble.[4]

Early in the ep, Benjamin, Morgan's young trainee at the Kingdom sees Carol take out those zombies from the tree and asks if he can watch her do her thing. He's trying to learn to fight. She turns him down. Later, he goes to fetch Morgan and brings his mentor a picture to hang on the wall. He knows a girl, he says, who fixed it up. He's reluctant to say more about her and gets some good-natured ribbing from Morgan over it. Seasoned viewers will recognize the pattern in this. Watching the ep with my mother, of all people, I turned to her, after Morgan brought up the girl the second time, and told her that kid is going to be dead soon. Sure enough, he didn't make it out of the ep.[5]

The boy's death doesn't just reacquaint Morgan with his killing instinct, it threatens to make him go full-on "Clear." He does do some clearing, in fact, hacking through a bunch of zombies on his way to Carol's place, where he tells her what actually happened between the Saviors and the Alexandrians. It looks like the writers have finally decided it's time to pull Carol out of the mothballs and get her involved again. Another of the writers' longstanding habits is that when a major characters is to be killed, they frequently spend some time making that character unlikable so viewers won't miss him when he's gone. For some time, Carol's storyline--if one can call sitting around doing nothing a "storyline"--has looked very much like her character assassination at the hands of the writers was going to go rather literal.

By TWD standards, this was definitely a passable ep. Ezekiel's Lando Calrissian routine has been both badly handled and needlessly prolonged. How many times are we going to have to repeat the meetings with the Saviors? Morgan's entire story is just a repeat of his arc from last season; after finally learning some things are worth fighting and killing for, he was devolved back to a peacenik so he could go through that same process again. Thirteen eps into this season, he's finally back roughly where he was last season (though it's worth noting that it was done better this second time around and he's meaner by the end of it). Carol appears, by the end, to be back to her 2.0 persona. Everything here that should have happened should have done so much earlier in this season. Besides the problems covered here, this wasn't really a bad ep, taken in isolation. But it doesn't happen in isolation either.



[1] When Andrea was visiting the prison in which our heroes were holed up, a prison that was then in conflict with Woodbury's dictator GINO, Carol took her aside and told her to screw GINO silly that night then, as he slept, put a knife in him. Entirely out of character for Carol 1.0 but indicative of a trait that would become a key element of Carol 2.0.

[2] The big, obvious example of this is that when Rick was plotting his stupid coup against the Safe Zone leadership, she was written as fully committed to going along with it, bending to Rick's leadership like all the rest.

[3] Part of Richard's big plan was to short the Saviors a cantaloupe out of a dozen that were being delivered to them. The Savior leader realizes the shipment is short one melon despite the fact that at no point has anyone told him there were supposed to be an even dozen. Don't mess with Savior magic! But it seems even that magic has its limitations; it didn't tell the Saviors what happened to the missing melon.

[4] Richard must not have been very well-liked in the Kingdom. After his scheme gets Morgan's pupil killed, Morgan, who is the only one who figured out that plot, attacks Richard, puts him down and slowly strangles him to death with his bare hands while the entire Kingdom delegation stand around watching and none of them make so much as a move to try to stop Morgan.

[5] In one of the most jaw-droppingly stupid moments tonight, one of the Saviors shoots the kid in the leg, he's bleeding out and Morgan yells, right in front of the Saviors, that they have to rush the boy to Carol's place, as she's closer than the Kingdom and had a bunch of medical supplies!

UPDATE (Wed., 15 March, 2017) - Several readers have told me that after the second problematic meeting between the Kingdom delegation and the Saviors (in "New Best Friends"), Gavin, the Savior leader, insisted that Ezekiel keep bringing Richard to their meetings, which wasn't my recollection[1] but upon review, is correct. After Richard caused problems for the second time, Ezekiel said he wouldn't be attending these meetings and Gavin replied, "No. No, Ezekiel, you're gonna keep bringing him. 'Cause if this doesn't stop, if this starts becoming a real problem, you remember what I said  He is still batting first in the lineup"--the first head on the chopping-block.

This leads to other narrative problems. The Saviors' arrangement with the Kingdom is a much more cordial affair than with the other communities they keep under their thumb. The Saviors have never killed any Kingdomites or ransacked the Kingdom itself. Rather, the Kingdom provides "tributes" as sort of a negotiated treaty to avoid any such messiness.[2] This has been a beneficial arrangement for the Saviors, who get the spoils of victory without ever having to win one. In Sunday's ep, Gavin tells Ezekiel, "I appreciate that you've been delivering but things have been unnecessarily tense and that makes me unnecessarily tense. I didn't go this route for stress. No, just the opposite." Makes perfect sense. What doesn't make any sense, in light of it though, is why Gavin, a fellow who has proven quite reasonable, would not only continue to drag along Jared, his rat-faced prick of an underling who has caused that "tension"--a pair of physical altercations--during at least two sequential meetings, but would also insist Ezekiel continue bringing Richard, the target of Jared's persistent bullying.[3] It's another of those things that happen merely because the writers want things to play out that way. The script requires that the Kingdom and the Saviors have to be brought into conflict, so everybody gets stupid.



[1] As I'd remembered it, Gavin had told Ezekiel that excluding Richard from the meetings wouldn't fix the problem.

[2] No one in the Kingdom outside of Ezekiel's inner circle even knows of the arrangement.

[3] Through the course of these provocations, neither Richard nor Jared show any sign of having been reprimanded by their respective bosses.

Twitter: @jriddlecult


  1. It's definitely a step up over previous episodes, but at this point it's hard to care.

    Also, I'm curious on what you think of LEGION. I haven't heard you mention about it yet.

    1. A movie or tv series? The name is common but I'm not recalling any recent project with that name. Perhaps it's just that it's late!

    2. There's a show on F/X based (loosely) on the Marvel comic book. It's run by Noah Hawley from F/X's Fargo adaptation. I enjoy both shows quite a bit.

    3. It's the first X-Men-ish related TV show. It's based on the Marvel character who is Xavier's son who has multiple personalities. Fox made it alongside with Marvel Studios' television division (it's not in the MCU but it's in the X-Men movie universe). I heard it's really good (and really trippy) but I haven't caught up with it yet.

      Here's a trailer:

  2. The Carol character is just plain silly. I loved how Carol abruptly after 3 months, according to the shows timeline, "evolved" into the most capable character on the show. She's now the best marksmen, hand to hand fighter, the smartest and most clever. Oh, and of course she's a hunter and damn good cook! There's no way she could have surpassed anyone in that group on any level except Judith. The ham fisted attempt to turn Carol into a "badass" has ruined several storylines that were weak to begin with. The Carol character is just horrible.

    1. It certainly didn't make any sense but it did make for a much more interesting and entertaining character and with this show, I'll take that where I can get it.

  3. Solid examination of the history of Carol. It's a shame what the writers have done to her. As you say, it's entirely in the service of the plot. I hadn't realized how many times they have used this same trick with Carol since making her the most effective character on the show. Having her in Alexandria would have made it difficult for the writers to stall things out as long as they have.

    One minor point, if I remember correctly after Ezekiel said Richard would not come to any more drop offs, he was told by the head goon that Richard's continued attendance was mandatory.

    1. No, as I recall, Ezekiel said Richard wouldn't be attending any more of these meetings and the Savior guy said that wouldn't fix the problem. I don't remember anything about him saying Richard had to be there.

    2. I remember that as well. Gavin (the head good) rebuffed Ezekiel's order and demanded Richard to attend all future drops, so, you know, in case anything went sideways Richard was always Gavin's pick for the one to die. That is what Richard counted on, but of course, it was contrived by the writers to have Ben, of all people, call Jared "rat faced prick" when the latter struck Jerry, so that Jared would make Ben pay for the comment rather than kill Richard, who in Gavin's mind was overdue.

    3. Some other folks have told me that today too. I'm going to check it out and make a correction if needed.

  4. The Alexandria people have dynamite and Rosita is an explosive expert. Have her make some IEDs for the next time Negan and his pals drive up to Alexandria