Monday, April 3, 2017

The First Day of the Rest of THE WALKING DEAD's Life

There's a great moment in tonight's season finale of THE WALKING DEAD. When the rubbish-tip-dwelling Garbage People arrive at the Safe Zone ready to do battle with the Saviors, they're traveling in--what else?--a fleet of garbage trucks! It's a small moment, offered, as all good comedy should be, without undue note. Though the show up to it had been pretty rough going, it gave me a good laugh and for an instant--just an instant[1]--I even entertained the thought that maybe TWD would pull off something it has never managed: a good season ender. Alas, it wasn't to be. "The First Day of the Rest of Your Life" ultimately belongs in the same pile as the rest of the series' lackluster finales.

Last week, Rosita brought Dwight back to the Safe Zone. He's distraught over the loss of his wife and wants to kill Negan. As one of the villain's inner circle, this would seem a simple matter but Dwight has ambitions; he wants to entirely overthrow the Saviors. Negan, he reveals, is bringing a bunch of soldiers to the Zone the next day. He pitches to Rick a plan whereby the Alexandrians and their allies can ambush and kill Negan and his men, appropriate their vehicles, return to the Sanctuary and wipe out the central Savior command-post. After that, it would just be a matter of taking out the outlying outposts one at a time.

Negan is coming to the Safe Zone on a punitive expedition after learning of Rick's scheming against him, which raises a rather significant question: How did Negan learn of this? Immediately, one must consider the possibility of a rat in the house (or one of the other houses). Solely because it would spoil the ep's big "plot twist" later, Rick never even asks. With a cooperative top Savior turncoat in his hands, he doesn't ask much of anything else either. How many Saviors are there? Where are they? Are there other communities they have under their thumb? Dwight could be a liar, of course, but Rick never asks any of this. He trusts Dwight enough to go with Dwight's plan and, being the Great Leader he's always been, never puts into motion any back-up plan of his own.

Fighting the Saviors requires guns and bodies. Rick, showing more of those leadership skills, went out of his way to entirely alienate a large community of potential allies just last week. He doesn't know the Kingdom has decided to fight--and doesn't bother to send an emissary there to appraise Ezekiel of the current situation either--but he does have Hilltop on his side and when he learns the Saviors are coming the next day, he doesn't bother to call them in, instead having Jesus tell Maggie and her people to stay out of it! Rick knows the do-or-die stakes--at one point, he tells Daryl that if Dwight is lying, "this is already over"--but of his allies, he relies only on the Garbage People.

All of this is arbitrary plotting with later "twists" in mind.

Dwight and a group from the Safe Zone drive out to put some trees across the road in order to slow down Negan's convoy. Why not just hit them while they're on the road? A quick ambush, trap them, take them out, with minimal risk to all involved. It doesn't make any sense to risk the Safe Zone itself. The final battle seems to take place at the Safe Zone for no other reason than that it's an existing set, and thus a cheaper place at which to shoot.

Meanwhile, Negan thinks he's recruited Sasha to his cause. She insists that if she joins him, he can only kill one from the Safe Zone. She spends the ep riding with Negan's convoy inside a coffin he intends to fill with whoever he decides to kill, herself dying from the poison she's taken and experiencing flashbacks of new material intended to fix past plot idiocies.[2] Sasha was ready to get herself killed over the death of Abraham, a fellow with whom she'd only just started a relationship when he was killed, so there's a tender moment with him from the day he died in which she said she'd had a dream in which he'd died. In its aftermath, she wanted him to stay in Alexandria. He, of course, refused and that led to his death. Last season, while the Safe Zone was threatened by dangerous foes, she, Abraham and all of the rest of its best fighters insisted on leaving it virtually defenseless in order to gratuitously accompany Maggie to Hilltop to see the doctor;[3] the flashback lamely attempts to justify why both she and Abraham went along.

When the Saviors arrive at the Safe Zone, the Garbage People betray our heroes, turning their guns on Rick and co. and revealing they'd cut a secret deal with Negan. Negan dramatically drags out that coffin he brought along and when he opens it to reveal Sasha, she's now dead and, Sonequa Martin-Green's spirit having already departed for the new STAR TREK series, zombified[4]--tries to eat him. Coral takes advantage of the confusion to shoot some Garbage People, everyone goes for their guns (the Garbagers never disarmed anyone after getting the drop on them) and a big firefight ensues. Though it doesn't make a great deal of sense (a consequence of some bad directorial and editorial decisions), the Saviors quickly win and have Rick and the rest on their knees again. Rick talks tough to Negan, reiterating his intention to eventually kill the villain, whatever it takes. Negan is about to bash in Coral's head when, at the very last second, both the Hilltoppers and the Kingdom arrive in force and attack!

Ezekiel and the contingent from the Kingdom had coincidentally been on the road, heading to the Safe Zone to seal an alliance, but though they have vehicles, they'd been traveling on foot, which, of course, doesn't make any sense at all--more arbitrary stupidity the writers employ to keep them at bay until the right moment. On the other side of the world, Maggie had coincidentally opted to defy Rick's orders and bring the Hilltop force into the fight. Both the Kingdom and the Hilltop coincidentally arrive at exactly the same time and, also coincidentally, this is just in time to stop Negan from killing Coral and to save the day.[5]

In the end, the Saviors are decisively beaten but Negan and some of his key people manage to jump in a truck and escape. Though he's in a ponderous military vehicle and would be easily caught, the writers never have any of our heroes pursue him and take him out. He rides away while flipping off 25 people with fully automatic weapons and no one jumps in a vehicle and runs him down. The people already on horseback don't even pursue him very far beyond the Safe Zone gate. He's just allowed to drive away and begin organizing his forces for war.

At the end of last season, I wrote:

"Season 6 has crept along at a pace that makes snails look like Indy contenders. This has been the most filler-packed season of TWD since the Mazzara era, to the point that most of what we're shown just feels like something ginned up and tacked on to delay events until something else happens down the line."

This season has, in this respect, been even worse. Entire eps that add nothing but running-time, large sections of other eps that do the same, practically every scene allowed to go on and on, scenes that often didn't go anywhere the first time nevertheless repeated, repeated, repeated. After the season opener, the course of action for our heroes couldn't have been clearer: begin stashing weapons and supplies, searching for allies and planning to oppose the intolerable rule of the Saviors. But because that would preclude wasting half the season on filler material, Idiot Plot Syndrome--another of TWD's constant plagues--reared its head. Rick's decision to fight back, it was decreed, had to be the beat on which the half-season ends, so everyone gets stupid and we get a string of single-line-item "plots" padded to fill the time. We get an entire ep of Daryl in a closet. An ep in which the Saviors loot the Safe Zone. With days to prepare for this, Rick hadn't hidden a thing and even had a complete manifest of all of the Alexandrians' guns, so Negan's men can be sure they'd confiscated all of them.

The rest of the season fares no better. Narrative problems, holes, cheap gimmicks, Idiot Plot Syndrome gone wild. Even after the fan outcry against the stupid Glenn dumpster-dive "death" last season, the writers threw in a fake-out Rick "death" and tonight, a fake-out Michonne "death." While an entire 7A ep expended on slooowly introducing the Oceanside community suggested it was going to play a significant role in what was to come, that role was limited to being a source of guns; the Alexandrians, absent any apparent self-awareness, show up like a pack of Saviors and rob it blind, taking not even so much as an Oceanside character along with them to justify the inclusion of that community in this season. But including it did allow the writers to eat up the better part of another 2 eps, which seems to have been the only point. The Saviors visit Hilltop, the same moments repeated. The Kingdom meeting with the Savior delegation, tensions ensue, repeat. Carol, droopy-faced, entirely out of character, declaring she just can't fight--repeat, repeat, repeat. Eugene spent last season becoming crazy brave, the writers forget this ever happened and revert him to his prior cowardice. Maggie assumes leadership of the Hilltop community and a few eps later, the writers forget this ever happened.[6] Morgan's character arc from season 6 was consigned to a Memory Hole then repeated.

For all the time spent on Carol this season, her awful "storyline," if one wants to dignify it with the word, didn't go anywhere. A few weeks ago, I noted that, having created a strong, capable Carol who does what has to be done, the writers have repeatedly come up with ways to write her out of the action, as if they see such a competent character as a problem for their poorly-constructed plots. This awful 4.0 version has been with us since back well into the previous season. She learned what the Saviors did with her friends, realized she had to fight, packed up her gear... and that's pretty much it. She got one small scene on tonight's ep. In the aftermath of the Safe Zone shoot-out, no one even acknowledged her, though she's been gone from the Zone for some time. Morgan gets the same treatment; for all the time spent on taking him through exactly the same arc as last season, just gets one very brief scene--the same scene as Carol.

The writers wasted incredible amounts of time this year on filler then, with the second half of the season, tried to suddenly jam in a bunch of often-paradigm-shifting elements that, in a competently-written series, would have been introduced over the full season. While the writers struggled every week to fill the time they have, this season, like last, also featured many extended eps, the point of which just seems to be to squeeze in as many ads as possible--to keep milking the dying cow right into its grave. Tonight's ep ran nearly 90 minutes as well. This just makes the underwriting problem worse.

Several prominent moments of Z NATION-inspired zaniness peppered throughout the season were a welcome change. The insane "zombie lawnmower" sequence from "Rock In the Road" was the highlight of not only this season but of the last few. The Mad Max-ian Garbage People were a real hoot but once they were introduced, the writers did practically nothing with them (the characters only seem to be present for Rick to credulously trust them then be betrayed by them). That's really the biggest problem with these imported elements; not enough of them. Whenever one has appeared, it has seemed entirely out of place in the world of TWD, a bizarre, tonally dissonant turn of events dropped in from another (and very different) show, which is, of course, exactly what it is. Longtime TWD fans who have found something to love in the regular plodding, awful soap melodrama direction of the series have every right to be appalled by them. But these elements work, at a time when none of TWD's native elements do.



[1] It was immediately followed by another funny moment when Jadis, the Garbage leader, asks Michonne if Rick is hers. Michonne notes they're together. Jadis: "I lay with him after. You care?" The confounded looks by both Rich and Michonne at this are priceless.

[2] They're also an example of some other long-running TWD nonsense. Killing well-established characters that have developed a fan following is risky business in television. Until this season, TWD has always avoided those risks. The usual practice for well-established characters marked for death is to demonize them so that viewers weren't so sad to see them go. This season, the creators showed some backbone on this point for the first time by liquidating Glenn without first making a jerk or villain of him. And their ratings crashed--probably won't ever be any more of that. TWD's redshirts, on the other hand, are always expendable, and this is the category into which Sasha fell. The redshirts are kept sketchy and ill-defined until they're about to be destroyed, at which point they're suddenly thrust into the spotlight, given something to do at the last minute to try to make audiences care about them so that their death can have some impact. Just not much impact. Enough to milk for soap melodrama and/or shock effect.

[3] Like some of the plotting in this ep, this was done for no other reason than to have all of those characters present when Negan appears.

[4] This, like so much else that happens, is a culmination of absurdly fortuitous coincidences. When Eugene gave her the poison, he couldn't tell her exactly how long it would take or even if it would work at all but for everything to play out as it did, the poison had to kill her and in less time than the drive to the Safe Zone, no one could check on Sasha while she was in the coffin (which becomes even more ridiculous when the convoy is stopped by trees over the road and everyone has to wait until its cleared) and she has to have time to reanimate--something that can take minutes to hours--before Negan opens the coffin.

[5] One need only imagine how much better this would have played if, when Negan was pronouncing sentence on Rick, Rick told him he had a little surprise for him and then these forces, acting as part of a coordinated Rick back-up plan of which the viewer was unaware, appeared and mopped up the villains. Instead, the writers go with a deus ex machina and Ezekiel gets to lead the charge.

[6] As of tonight, Gregory has finally gone to the Savior compound to tell Simon about Maggie and her scheming, something the show has been absolutely plodding in putting in motion. In my article last week, I made a joke that at this pace, Gregory "should get there by about the fourth ep of the next season." Tonight's ep acknowledged Gregory had departed; we'll have to see when he turns up at the Sanctuary. Another subplot on which a great deal of time was spent but that didn't go anywhere.

Unrelated Musical Interlude Dept. - This is the latest audio concoction by my friend Sarah Cummings (who is a goddamn awesome singer) and her brother. They're looking to get some attention for it. Check it out. And if you like it and are of a mind, pass it around:

Twitter: @jriddlecult


  1. Hi Jriddle. This is LadyGigi.

    What can I say other than you are 99% accurate with your assessment of the writing. You're like Scott Gimple's worst enemy.

    I like the way you add crticism, commentary and synopsis all in one long review. I still enjoy the show regardless. I'm one of those die hard fans that you mentioned. While I realize that there are a lot of weaknesses in the production, I still appreciate what they're trying to achieve with this melodromatic zombie apocalypse soap opera. It belongs in the category of "so bad, it's good".

    1. I just see it as such a waste of a good premise. It's almost impossible for me to have any respect for them anymore. Even when they do something right, it always proves to be some fluke, something into which they bumbled by accident. There's no reason this couldn't be one of the best shows on television. Instead, we get this.