Monday, March 30, 2015

THE WALKING DEAD Stretch To Conquer

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When, a few weeks ago, it was announced that THE WALKING DEAD's season ender would be expanded to 90 minutes, I was curious as to what that would mean. Typically, the series' creators struggle to fill even their regular one-hour timeslot. Tonight, that extra running-time meant an ep that would, in competent editorial hands, have lasted 53 commercial-free minutes came out at 63. The ep, randomly titled "Conquer," is laden with filler, repetitive scenes, scenes that go on and on. TWD has a tradition of finales that are somewhere between terrible and terribly underwhelming. It's possible to say this was one of the better ones so long as one notes how little it had to do to accomplish that.

As the finale approached, the series creators followed a dismal tradition of their own, making the rounds in the press pimping hints of major cast deaths. As always happens, speculation regarding this became the major source of buzz surrounding the ep. Will it be Daryl? Will it be Maggie? Carol? Glenn? I'm always a bit surprised that some of the people who are allegedly such big fans of the series seem to pay it--and its rules--so little mind. There are no surprise deaths on TWD.[1] On Facebook earlier today, I wrote "Unless TWD suddenly breaks all precedent, we aren't going to see any deaths among the major players." And, indeed, we didn't. I also wrote that "TWD often doesn't set up a redshirt death until the ep in which it occurs." Tonight, Deanna's husband is suddenly given a very prominent moment with Maggie; by the end, he's suddenly history (in a ludicrously contrived manner).

Sasha is still behaving suicidally. Father Gabriel is still a cowardly, back-stabbing dog. Nicholas lures Glenn into an ambush and tries to kill him; Glenn gets the upper hand but still can't bring himself to end this treacherous character. Morgan has coincidentally arrived in the same area of Virginia as our heroes following the map he coincidentally found back in Georgia. When a pair of fellows are about to be eaten, he coincidentally turns up just in time to save the day (using ninja skills he's somehow acquired), and those fellows just coincidentally turn out to be Daryl and Aaron, who had fallen into a remarkably silly zombie-trap laid by the mysterious "wolves" group that has been haunting the perimeter of the series.[2] For a season finale, there's a distinct lack of payoff. Rick sort of comes to see that when it comes to the business of preparing the Alexandrians to survive the zombified world, he's been going at it all wrong and Deanna maybe comes to see it's an uglier world than she previously wanted to admit. No real surprises.[see Addendum below]

Some amusing bits: In an entirely pointless filler scene, Carol visits Pete--she bring shim a casserole! She's tiny in comparison yet threatens him with a knife she, the ace survivalist, holds the wrong way. After his rampage last week, Rick's purloined gun was confiscated. Carol gives him another. Rick then walks down the street, meeting and greeting several people along the way, and when he gets home we see him from behind and he has the new gun is tucked in the rear of his waistband with his shirt bunched up between it and himself--fully visible to anyone. In one of TWD's patented time-gaps, Rick discovers the gate has been left open (by Gabriel) and some bleeding something has slipped in; in broad daylight, he goes to look for whatever it is and it suddenly turns night. From daylight to pitch-black dark. The characters sitting around a campfire holding a meeting on Rick's fate even comment on it (the darkness, not the instantaneous changeover).[3] At one point in a scuffle, Aaron takes out a zombie with a machete in a moment replicated from George Romero's DAWN OF THE DEAD. As with most such moments TWD has duplicated over the years, it mostly just help illustrate why it's a bad idea for TWD to attempt to replicate such moments (it looks awful).

Season 5 had a rock-solid opening episode then immediately collapsed into the usual mishmash of mediocrity with outright awfulness. By the time Aaron found the group in the back half, the series had become nearly unwatchable. The Safe Zone storyline gave TWD a shot in the arm but continues to be plagued by most of the problems that have dragged it down for so long. It is what it is. Too good. Too bad.



[1] Insert my usual thought: Wouldn't it be great to have a TWD that generates a lot of buzz for something besides its use of character deaths as shock-tactics? One that instead drew attention because it was, say, well written?

[2] Three huge trailers meant to look as if they're full of canned goods but actually full of zombies; when anyone tries to open one, they all spring open, freeing the creatures. Why anyone would bother with such an elaborate and dangerous-to-set trap is anyone's guess, and it should, of course, be entirely ineffective--if not immediately nabbed, all anyone has to do is run back out the same gate through which he entered--outpacing the zombies is no problem unless they are of the TWD patented teleporting variety. The "wolves" behind it were careful to select only the most elite zombies--those who are not only teleporters but ninja who know to be perfectly still and silent inside the containers while Daryl and Aaron walk all around them, talking the whole time.

[3] This particular time-lapse has the effect of making Rick, who is supposed to be the uber-competent fellow in the story, look incredibly incompetent. One or more creatures have slipped inside the gate, one of them leaving a trail, and he apparently goes running through the town for an hour or more looking for them without ever sounding the alarm or even telling anyone else they've gotten in.

ADDENDUM (30 March, 2015) - Today's internet fan reaction seems quite divided. Some of the pro-"Conquer" commentary has, in my view, quite radically overstated the amount of payoff in the ep. In spite of some huff and bluster on this point, TWD advanced very little. By the end, practically all of the characters, even those who were given significant screentime throughout it, are exactly where they were before it began. Nicholas spends most of the ep trying to kill Glenn and Glenn still can't bring himself to kill the weasel, leaving their conflict right where it was before. Sasha and Gabriel are given significant screentime; both, like Carol, Maggie, Daryl, Rosita, etc., finish exactly where they were before the ep began. Eugene and Abraham have a moment where they make up, but prior eps had left the impression they'd already done so. In a post-credit sequence, Michonne takes up her sword again but she'd already assured Rick, near the beginning of the ep, that she was with him. The only ones who really changed were Rick and Deanna. Rick has a come-to-his-senses moment wherein he walks away from his desire to launch a coup against the Alexandrians while the accidental killing of Deanna's husband by Pete suddenly brings about a full 180 in her "thinking." This isn't just unsatisfying because of the extremely contrived nature of the scenario or the instantaneousness of her flip-flop; it falls flat because, as I've covered here, it's never been a credibly-written conflict in the first place. Rick's big speech at the end is essentially a rehash of his "I'm not your Governor" speech from season 3.


  1. Jeez, what's happen to Scott Gimple this season. This and the Tyreese episode were major duds. Even the Season Four Ender 'A' (which, I admit I like) was more eventful than this. 'No Sanctuary' was his only standout this season.

    1. Gimple, for some reason, prefers to write finales with a collaborator. Last year's finale, "A", was co-written by Angela Kang, and, while being a mixed bag, was more good than bad. This time he co-wrote it with his longtime collaborator Seth Hoffman, whose track record this season has been pretty bad. Then again, Gimple and Hoffman co-wrote the godawful Ghost Rider 2 with David S. Goyer (whom I have lost respect ever since he made that She-Hulk joke).

      This episode is definitely not Ghost Rider 2, but still underwhelming in a way.

  2. Nothing in the finale made any sense. That takes real effort. These writers should really be studied. Because they are the writing braindead.

  3. Decent finale. I probably preferred "A", last seasons ender, even though it had a lot of dumb stuff in it, but seriously that's expected of a Tv-Twd episode.

    Glenn going after Nicholas seemed contrived, don't know why he would bother going after that asshole, just let him go off and die if that's what he wanted. Not to mention that they chickened out on having Glenn killing him again. They have teased all season that Glenn will develop into a killer, but off-course they don't give in and Glenn remains where he was at the beginning of the season.

    Why didn't Maggie tell her group that Gabriel sold them out?

    Morgan's part as you point out, was so over-ripe with coincidences it became absurd (finding the map at the church, meeting the "Ws", arriving at the "Ws" trap at the exact same time as Daryl, arriving just in time for the execution)

    Where do you stand in relation to the book? I wasn't particularly impressed with the execution scene in the show. Rick's speech felt really flat and uninspiring and Rick offing him in the book had that close-up on his face with the exact same style that Charlie used when The Governor offed Hershel which was really chilling. Not to mention that Pete came of as a silly and unrealistic cartoon in the show with that voice he used and the dialogue he received.

  4. "Wouldn't it be great to have a TWD that generates a lot of buzz for something besides its use of character deaths as shock-tactics? One that instead drew attention because it was, say, well written?"

    This was actually the case of "Clear" and "The Grove" when they aired. The buzz of those episodes focused how they were the greatest episodes TWD has ever offered, even more than the deaths of Lizzie and Mika. Sadly, the visual storytelling present in other episodes, like "Infected", "Live Bait" and "No Sanctuary" are dismissed in lieu of the pacing and deaths focused by many critics.

    In the contrast, the episodes that received buzz for being awful were most episodes of season 3, particularly in its back half. It's logical because the back half of s3, "Clear" aside, is the worst "half" the series has to offer, and it's appropriate because it deserves backlash for ruining the prison storyline.

    (I do have to admit that I fall victim to this trend. Sorry.)

    Anyways, I wonder why people still think that main cast members are gonna be written off in the end - only the season 3 finale had a major death (Andrea). They already offed four regulars (Gareth, Bob, Beth and Tyreese), so why have more bloodshed?

    "As the finale approached, the series creators followed a dismal tradition of their own, making the rounds in the press pimping hints of major cast deaths."

    Sadly the comics is following this tradition as well (Then again, I don't really read the comics that much and I mostly read recaps found in the internet, so take this with a grain of salt). In the "All Out War" storyline, the fans were promised brutality from the very start, but the first issues of the storyline was simply a setup issue, before the good stuff happened in the following issue. In the end of that storyline (SPOILERS if you're extremely behind), Robert Kirkman promised that "nothing will be the same," and the ending was bloody, sure, but nobody major dies. There's a happy ending. Rick even pulled a TV Glenn/Nicholas thing (albeit arguably better written, I think?). The ending polarized fans. Also, the last issue was teased in Facebook as a "game changer," but I don't know if it's "game-changing," in my opinion.

    I could be very wrong, so I apologize in advance if I'm wrong. The comics are still superior to the show, sure, but the comics have some bad habits as well.

    1. I'm so behind on the comic I don't even know what's happening with it now.

      The buzz for "Clear" and "The Grove" was all after-the-fact. "Clear," in particular, appeared out of nowhere and was basically just a random, self-contained story that could have been slipped in just about anywhere. I'm talking about generating buzz from the fact that the show is so spectacular, so well-written and well-made that people just can't wait to see it week after week, particularly the finales. Season enders (or the newest species, mid-season enders) are like season openers--they always draw a much bigger audience than the rest of the season and the creators of a series always try to bring their A-game to it. TWD's finales, by contrast, tend to be among some of the worst eps in the series and practically never even feature any cliffhangers. The mediocrity of this one is actually a step up from most of them, maybe all of them. I didn't give this one an overall good or bad because I was mostly just indifferent toward it--it's like just another ep that just rehashes things we've already seen.

      I don't know why people come to believe main characters will just suddenly be randomly killed off. TWD follows a formula as rigid as slasher movies and that's not a part of it. If some major character is to be killed off, you'll know about it waaaay in advance. Or at least you will if you pay the series the slightest attention.

    2. While I can say that you're right about there being no "major" deaths in the All-Out-War-Arc, there was brutality and Negan had already wiped Abraham and Glenn of the map in extremely disturbing and horrible ways a few books earlier, so Negan at least stood for the death of two favorites.

      The game-changer obviously wasn't suppose to mean that someone important would die, but rather that the whole situation the survivors where in would change, which it did with the next book.

      I personally thought All-Out-War was a good read, though it could have been edited better and the issues at the end of part 2 should have been used tie up some loose ends and not simply end right after they brought down Negan.