Monday, November 2, 2015

WALKING DEAD: Here's Not Here. Or There. Or Anywhere [Update Below]

My analysis of THE WALKING DEAD, both here and in the other locales in which I discuss the show, has, of late, been trending toward the idea that TWD has entered the "stuck around way too long" seasons, those follies every long-running show seem to indulge when it's creatively spent but still popular enough to continue getting renewed. I've been surprised by this as it has unfolded. Creatively, the series has rarely been any great shakes--it peaked with the pilot and the fourth season was the only one where any case could be made that the good outweighed the bad. Before last year's midseason break, I predicted that the series' viewership had peaked, that the show had fallen into a painfully predictable formula while having attracted a far larger audience than its creative shortcomings could possibly sustain.[1] The Alexandria Safe Zone storyline offered the opportunity to give the series a shot in the arm. Instead, all of TWD's bad old habits followed it behind those walls too. Before the current season launched, I thought the show had at least one more season before it began to hit that "stuck around way too long" twilight. I was wrong. That twilight is upon us.

I've written a lot here about the series' creative decline. The entire season to date has been built around Rick's Pied Piper plan to lead the quarry zombies away from town, a plan that was not only completely unnecessary (because a plethora of other options were available, every one of them better, safer and far less labor-intensive) but completely insane--so dangerous and subject to armageddon-level disaster if any one of about 50 things go wrong that it wouldn't have been the last thing anyone would consider when contemplating how to deal with the quarry situation only because it never would have been suggested as an option at all. The execution of this plotline has been as bad as the idea. TWD is suffering severe creative rot and has become bogged down in a rigid formula from which its creators are simply unable or unwilling to extract themselves.

Arnold Blumberg and Scott Woodard, who do the "Doctor of the Dead" podcast (which is excellent, btw, and you should be listening), are overly fond of TWD but not uncritical of it. Their love for it often seems to me to be against their own better judgment. In their most recent installment, Scott said the most recent TWD ("Thank You") employed tactics that seemed "beneath THE WALKING DEAD." I'll confess to getting a good laugh from this--I doubt anything is beneath THE WALKING DEAD--but the legitimate point upon which Scott was touching is this creative rot. I wasn't bothered when, at the end of the ep and with the dead closing in on Rick, the RV suddenly wouldn't start but Scott was quite correct about this being a horror movie cliché we've endured for decades. For me, the real groan-inducing example of this same sort of thing was another Arnold and Scott discussed: everyone is running from the shuffling dead and the girl falls and sprains her ankle, a trope so shopworn that publicly donning it as a garment would get one arrested for indecency.

TWD compounds the offense be telegraphing it. Only seconds before it happened, the same girl had tried to bolster the courage of the others, telling them "they [the dead] walk, we run!" That ridiculous reversal really drives home the extent to which TWD has, this season, become like a parody of itself. Any time a redshirt questions Rick, he's immediately killed. With Carter, the season opener set a new record for how long between pronouncement and death these events occur but "Thank You" topped it; it was less than a minute between an Alexandrian ranting about how Rick had dragged them out there to die and one of TWD's patented teleporting zombies materializing in their midst and making hash of the heretic. Rick in the season opener says "I don't take chances anymore" just before electing to release thousands of zombies right on top of their home. Michonne, last week, gives an extended, self-righteous speech about how she, Rick and the others know what they're doing and the Alexiandrians don't while she, the allegedly wise and hardened vet, progressively loses one person after another because she can't remember to use the old "cover yourself with zombie stink" routine, which would have allowed them to walk safely home, zombies or not, at whatever pace they preferred. She knows what she's doing but she doesn't know to use the old "cut off a zombies arms and jaw" routine either, which would have allowed for the same thing.

While it's impossible to receive such things as anything other than self-parody, they're not meant to be taken as such and the conclusion this suggests is that the writers themselves, so unbearably pretentious about their own work in their every public pronouncement, don't really even care what they're writing anymore. This is definitely a "stuck around way too long" season.

That brings me to Glenn's apparent "death" last week and some subsequent events that have led me to question if my TWD writings have also entered a sort of twilight. I write a lot about how TWD is forever mired in a rigid, absolutely unyielding formula and one of the aspects of that formula is that major characters don't die until the writers have spent a great deal of time ham-handedly telegraphing the death. The marked character suddenly gets a series of scenes in which the spotlight is on him or his own subplot or even an entire ep in which he's featured.[2] But however it's done, it's always done. There are never any surprises when it comes to this. The formula is more rigid than that of a slasher movie. And I know this! In my article last week, I wrote that "when he [Glenn] died without prior ceremony, it was as if he hadn't died at all." But even though this was such a radical deviation from a formula from which the series never deviates, I never thought Glenn wasn't dead until I started reading the TWD message boards later that night. Apparently, showrunner Scott Gimple had suggested, on the Talking Dead, that Glenn may still be alive. It had everyone chattering, exactly as was the intention of the whole stunt--twilight seasons love these sorts of gimmicks. Physically, of course, there's no way Glenn comes out of that situation alive. One can forget the physical aspects of this though; they're never going to be explained in a way that's satisfying or, indeed, anything less than an insult. The reason Glenn isn't dead and that we'll eventually have the equivalent of a Bobby-in-the-shower moment when he's revealed to have survived is because he died without any ham-handed ceremony. Over the years, I've occasionally gotten wrong minor details about TWD. I go back into my articles when one turns up and write a footnote correcting the record. That I initially missed this makes me feel as if I've made a major error, my first really big one regarding TWD.

Over the years, I've often felt at various times as if I've said everything about TWD I had to say. I begin to feel as if my articles don't add anything to what's already here or are repetitive. Sometimes, I've made them repetitive on purpose as a sort of private joke on the series' own repetitiveness. Maybe my analysis really has run its course. When it comes to this business regarding Glenn, I should have caught it.

Whether my TWD writing has hung around too long, it's certainly the case that TWD has. "Here's Not Here," tonight's installment, followed the usual TWD pattern; the tense situation the prior ep tried to set up is immediately followed by throwing out the drag-weights, slamming on the brakes, bringing everything to a halt and aggressively eradicating any such tension.[3] So this week, we got a lifeless, soulless, retread flashback unconvincingly explaining how Morgan became a stick-wielding Kwai Chang Caine wannabe whose content-free "all life is precious" ideology makes him a liability and a danger to everyone around him.[4] Last week, in a development I didn't mention in my write-up, the Wolves whom Morgan allowed to escape the safe zone attacked and nearly killed Rick. If tonight's ep was meant to rationalize that sort of behavior, it failed miserably.[5]

AMC clearly realizes TWD has shot its wad. It's why FEAR THE WALKING DEAD ended up as merely a cheap copy-and-paste of the original, an effort to recreate it--and, hopefully, its success--on a much lower budget and to further milk the greying cow. "Here's Not Here" was yet another 90-minute episode, the third one in five eps. TWD typically has trouble even filling the 60 minutes allotted it and has to resort to all manner of padding. All of the recent 90-minute eps have packed in even more of this filler. Tonight's was all filler, an ep that exists for no other purpose than to fill out a slot in the annual order (rather than actually use the time for anything). But 90 minutes allow for more commercials. And AMC just announced TWD has been renewed for another season after the current one.

Milk that cow right to its grave.



[1] That's been born out by the ratings so far. All of TWD's season openers have, throughout its run, added large numbers of viewers over the previous season. This season, viewership for the debut tumbled to a lower level than has been seen since season 3. I'd predicted in various locales that the ratings would either stay flat or go down, particularly after FEAR THE WALKING DEAD, but I was stunned by how radically the ratings dropped.

[2] Sometimes, the character gets an extended storyline in which he's demonized to the point that viewers are glad to see him go.

[3] Yes, I've written that before. Yes, I did it again just then on purpose.

[4] In one of those trillion-to-one cosmic coincidences around which so much of TWD is built, this ep was built around Morgan, still in an insane state after the events of season 3's "Clear," running into and taken in by one of the two or three psychiatrists left in the world, who also happens to be a Zen master.

[5] In the course of it, a fellow Morgan senselessly murdered came back as a zombie and bit his Jedi sensei. One can see this as being Morgan's fault for killing the fellow but given Morgan's recent actions, the reading of it that screams to the viewer is that this was a situation with which Morgan failed to properly deal and that came back with disastrous consequences--if he'd have piked the fellow in the brain, his sensei would still be alive.

UPDATE (2 Nov., 2015) - Lebeau over at Le Blog has done a really good write-up on last night's ep. his thoughts on TWD usually align with mine and we have a sort of friendly competition when it comes to writing about it but I usually write mine first, so I don't get as much chance to plug his pieces. If you're looking for something that covers the episode, his piece this week is definitely better than mine. I thought his was better last week as well but looking at them now, our two articles seem to compliment one another. Read both!

My overriding thought about last night's ep was that it really wasn't worth any time, which is why I didn't give it much time in my piece. Lebeau pretty much agrees with me on its merits but gave it much more considerate treatment and came up with some good observations ("Eastman" being a terrible fake name for the Jedi Master character, for example). Some of the commentary I've seen this morning made me want to add a few more thoughts.

I wrote that Morgan's "all life is precious" ideology is "content-free," but while "Here's Not Here" was meant to establish where Morgan got it, the ep actually does nothing to establish why he picked it up from Eastman. Eastman is a nice guy and brings Morgan back to his senses after he'd practically lost his mind but that doesn't really constitute any reason to adopt Eastman's philosophy. Indeed, Eastman himself is given no clear reason for having adopted it. As the ep proceeded, we learn that Eastman slowly starved to death an evil psychopath who had murdered his family. Eastman says doing this didn't make him feel any better but he still did it. He seems to have adopted the "all life is precious" philosophy in the wake of this in order to find inner peace but he's a fellow who has spent nearly the entire zombie apocalypse in a remote cabin entirely isolated from what was happening in the rest of the world. Outside the confines of the little world he's built for himself, it's often kill or be killed and his view is delusional. Entirely incompatible with reality. Morgan, on the other hand, is, by this point, well aware of what happens outside that little fence that keeps in Eastman's goat. He knows the score. In a 90-minute filler episode, there's never any connection made between Morgan and what Eastman was preaching, no insight, no moment at which Morgan came to see it as a better way, no incident that provided Morgan with any reason to see wisdom in it or to want to make it his own. The two never even have a conversation wherein the state of the world is discussed in relationship to this philosophy. That would require a greater depth than is present in martial arts movie clichés, a depth TWD's overbearingly pretentious writers are entirely incapable of providing. Morgan's adopting Eastman's view is utterly arbitrary, the character suddenly turned into an entirely new character solely because of temporary plot needs. Which is, of course, TWD's usual m.o.

Worse, it can be read as a very serious reduction of the character. Morgan, when he was introduced, was a fellow who just couldn't bring himself to kill the zombie that had once been his wife. This made him very human. It's the reason the character became so beloved. Later, in "Clear," it was revealed that he'd continued to put off killing the creature until, one day, it killed his son. In last night's opus, he senselessly murdered a fellow but didn't pike the fellow's brain. As Lebeau notes, that was an entirely arbitrary decision, and as I wrote, the fellow Morgan murdered came back as a zombie and bit Morgan's Jedi sensei. "One can see this as being Morgan's fault for killing the fellow but given Morgan's recent actions, the reading of it that screams to the viewer is that this was a situation with which Morgan failed to properly deal and that came back with disastrous consequences--if he'd have piked the fellow in the brain, his sensei would still be alive." Toward the end of last season, one of the Wolves turned up at the now-"enlightened" Morgan's camp. He announced his intention was to take everything Morgan had, including his life. Morgan allowed the fellow to live; the same fellow later came back with his Wolf buddies and carried out horrendous atrocities against the Alexandrians. When Morgan faced those marauding Wolves, he stood around like a naive idiot who had never lived so much as a day in this zombified world and didn't know what to do, trying to reason with them while they were committing gruesome murders he could have prevented. When he faced down the final group of them, he told them to run away and allowed them to escape. Minutes later, storytime, they attacked and tried to kill Rick. In arbitrarily imposing this "all life is precious" business, the writers have not only reduced this once-very-human fellow to a one-note caricature--his one all-time-worst mistake repeated into infinity--they've now made him ideologically committed to being nothing more. Morgan, the dumbass who gets others killed because he can never learn his one lesson.

Two weeks ago, in the wake of Morgan's handling of the Wolves, I wrote there was "a time-limit counter practically flashing across the back of his head." As I discussed with Lebeau this morning, "it seems incredible to me that Morgan would be reintroduced into the series just to be killed but a character suddenly getting a featured ep usually means the end is near. I’ll note that the series introduced a new black guy a few weeks ago on camera [Heath] and without killing an established one, which has never happened in the entire run of TWD, and that the midseason finale is rapidly approaching." In the context of this update, I'd also note the longstanding practice by TWD's writers of assassinating the character of popular figures on the series they plan to eliminate. This is done so the audience won't be alienated by the death. I expected Morgan to stick around longer. Maybe TWD won't stick with its usual formula here. Wouldn't that be something?


  1. Can you at least admit that the opening with psychotic, survivalist Morgan was cool and way more in line with his previous incarnations that is the Morgan everyone was expecting and hoping for.

    The back story of the guy who helped Morgan was interesting for a one episode character a lot was put into him.

    Maybe we were actually lucky that we got a new show runner each season earlier in the show. Maybe that's the only way the series can function.

  2. I guess it's time to stop watching.

  3. Didn't hate it. But I am trying to decide if that's Morgan nostalgia calling me back to season one or because it wasn't terrible. I didn't buy the whole overweight white guy routine and towards the ends was thinking that this guy was the dude he "starved" the whole time... But nothing so cool happened. :(

    1. Some typos from the phone this AM. I didn't buy the overweight white guy turned ninja routine. The thing that is weird to me was the fact that this guy has become "everyone lives"... but seems like Morgan is his first real test of that theory? Did I miss some dialog?

      Also hate the fact that there are just random people in the middle of the woods when the plot wants them there. It cheapens everything about the show. The odds of running into someone in a somewhat remote part of Georgia in the woods randomly RIGHT NOW are nearly zero. They'd be astronomically small during the ZA where most of the world is dead. And to have it happen with two random two-somes in the same episode felt pathetic. Again with the people who have been alive for 2-3 years but still don't have a gun or any weapons on them...? Weird.

      Was hoping for something like Clear... not great, but much better than the surrounding material. Doesn't look like that's the case here. Trying too hard? I don't know. I agree on the sad tactics of a dying show. I figured the fake deaths would hold off another season at least... the ratings aren't really in the tank, they are just lower. Seems like they're worried about getting cancelled or something already... Geeze.

      Didn't Nicotero say 11 or 12 seasons? Can you imagine TWD Season 12...? Oh boy.

    2. No, no missed dialogue. Morgan, it would seem, is his first test of this ideology. The fellow has spent nearly the entire zombie apocalypse living alone in an isolated cabin and could probably be excused for the perniciousness of his ideology in such a world. Morgan doesn't have that excuse and it's ridiculous to concoct this story in order to turn him into a blank slate.

    3. I have a feeling they might completely reverse him again back to a killing monster... which would be ridiculous. Maybe flipped the switch last night when he considered not locking the gate and then did?

    4. I just added an "update" where I went into that a bit--it ended up almost as long as the original article! The signs are there that Morgan may not be long for that world.

    5. The snapping back and forth is nuts. It was a little nuts that Morgan had swung so far in "Clear". But then to swing back the otherway doubly so is nuts again. We can yack back and forth about it constantly. Nearly ever character has done a wild swing back and forth. Carl killed that guy in "cold blood" while out with Hershel. Much stink was raised about it and Carl (probably rightfully so, was unapologetic about it). Now this season there's a mortal enemy literally right outside of his door and he doesn't kill the guy off and instead turns around and walks back into the house to go emote with Enid for 30 seconds while sitting back to back.

      What in the world...? You don't even know who each character is anymore. The fact that they filmed this particular Morgan episode S6E4 AFTER filming the mid-season finale may mean something.... Probably that they ended up needing a filler episode haha.

    6. Overall, it just oozes pathetic. That's not to say that the show hasn't been more or less awful from the end of season one on... but at least there were a few characters that were consistent in the show. Shane. Dale. Glenn. They offed the first two and Glenn will have his character assassinated throughout the rest of the season if Gimple interviews can be trusted (he says that Glenn as we know him is, in fact, dead). So now we'll get Glenn to swing the murderous psycho route I guess. A complete snap to the other direction after being devoutly non-killing. Truthfully, of all the characters... Glenn is probably the last one that has any shred of himself as originally created. The rest of been completely flipped on their heads and back more times than one could reasonably count. It's setting up Glenn's first human kill to be something "epic"... Negan? Morgan (for getting Maggie or someone else killed with his passiveness)? Who knows. Confident that it will be poorly done regardless.

  4. Another disappointing episode of filler, most of it redundant psycho babble. I was much more looking forward to reading your thoughts on Ash vs Evil Dead or the latest Z Nation, which packed more plot in 40 minutes than TWD has so far in this season.

    1. I'm running behind on Z NATION; I may end up waiting until after the next ep and write a piece about both. I haven't seen the new EVIL DEAD series yet but I'll definitely be getting around to it.

    2. Doctor of the dead tweeted that Starz had Ash episode 1 online for free. It lives up to your expectations, Bruce is back and its glorious.

  5. Nice write-up on the overall state of the show. The extra-long episode was extra-short on content. I like that you addressed it in a footnote. That seems appropriate for an episode which was essentially a 90-minute footnote.

    This may be a new low for the show.

  6. Great update and not just because of the shout-out. ;)

    I completely agree that there is no reason given for Morgan to adopt Eastman's "all life is precious" philosophy. But that's much more than I expect from the show. Ripping off Kung Fu is exactly what I expect. I'm just disappointed they spent 90 minutes on it.

    You alluded to something else which I found humorous. Eastman's cabin is apparently located in one of those mystical Walking Dead locations that is mostly untouched by the zombie apocalypse. I understand that the cabin is supposed to be remote. But how far is it from wherever Morgan was holed up in Clear? The zombie he killed and didn't bother putting down found his way there. Doesn't seem like it could be that far away.

    It's one thing to accept that Eastman hasn't faced a zombie-related threat that he couldn't handle. But wouldn't you think he'd have come across some other humans by now? Someone he couldn't rehabilitate in an open jail cell?

  7. I think "Eastman" is a play on the fact that a real life person named Eastman was somehow involved in the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles? And the guy who taught them their bo staff skills played a TMNT in the movies at some point in his career. Lots of turtle references in the episode as well. Almost over-the-top.

    Googling tells me it was Kevin Eastman who was co-creator of TMNT comics?

    1. I've seen that elsewhere on the internet but it sounds fishy to me. TWD doesn't really do that sort of thing and I didn't see anything else in it--though I'm sure others will correct me if I'm wrong on this--that suggested the Ninja Turtles.

  8. This episode got 9.5/10 on IGN and an A rating on AV club, so what you said cannot be correct - this was not a bad episode. So either you are misinformed or a liar, which do you want to be?

    1. This episode got 0.5/10 on JRS (Jacob's Review Site) and an F- rating on Seal Club, so what you said cannot be correct - this was a bad episode. So either you are misinformed or a liar, which do you want to be?