Monday, February 13, 2017

WALKING DEAD's Plot In The Road

A few days ago, the Internet Movie Database announced it would soon be ending its message board system; on 20 February, it's going away for good. I'm a longtime user of that system--IMDb tells me I've been there since 2004--and I'm going to have some thoughts on it here within the next few days. There have been various efforts by users of the board system to preserve the communities that have grown up there over the years. As my own part in this, I've launched a new Facebook group aimed at giving sanctuary to the refugees of the WALKING DEAD, FEAR THE WALKING DEAD and Z NATION communities.

My position as an arch-critic of TWD has left some TWD fans to express some skepticism about the project, so before I get to tonight's installment of the show, I thought I'd try to make clear my aim. The immediate purpose of the group is, of course, to preserve these communities, such as they are. The IMDb boards are, in my view, irreplaceable. Besides the mainboard system, parts of which are really great, it's one of the few places one can go and interact with other viewers of just about anything. Boards, pages or even most Facebook groups that are devoted to a particular movie or tv series tend to be run by hardcore fans and far too many of them have an unfortunate habit of disallowing any criticism of their subject or even any sort of boisterous, full-bodied discussion of it. On the other end, you have the I-hate-TWD pages and groups, which don't allow fans. I'm more of a feel-free-to-speak-your-mind kind of guy. If someone says something with which I disagree, I prefer to simply make the case to the contrary and let whoever cares decide who has the better argument. I haven't liked TWD for a long time, it's true, but I love plenty of other shows and I understand how hard it can be to find good places to discuss them with other viewers, places that aren't forced by some heavy-handed moderators to be merely uncritical love-fests or omni-critical hate-fests. I have little use for that particular species of fan group, no matter how much I may love the movie or the show to which they're devoted. I've been kicked out of plenty of them over the years, not only for being critical of their subjects but also in defending people who were critical and were unfairly punished for it--I've stood up for them even when I've disagreed with the criticism and I've gotten the ban-hammer dropped on me for it. So it goes.

The new Facebook group is meant to be the sort of discussion forum I would want for a show I love. And, in fact, Z NATION is a show I love. Jenn, my co-conspirator on the project, is a big TWD fangirl. At their best, the IMDb boards have been something really special but their open-door, everyone-is-welcome way of doing business seems to be fading from the internet, as everyone retreats into "safe" enclaves that don't talk to one another. This isn't just the case in entertainment fan communities but in everything else. I'd like to keep around that more open and diverse idea of a discussion forum. That's what I want the group to be.

If it takes off, this group may eventually expand to cover other shows--after all, TWD and ZN won't go on forever. Right now, the important thing is to draw in as many viewers/readers/fans/critics/mutants as possible before the IMDb boards end. You, dear reader, are invited. Everyone is invited. It's here:

Hope you'll drop by.

The other business of the evening is, of course, TWD's midseason debut tonight, "Rock In the Road." This should have been the second ep of this season. Life under the permanent thumb of the Saviors was always a non-starter but it took 9 often-extended eps of needlessly drawn-out indignities absent much substance for Rick to finally decide they have to fight back. Tonight, our heroes are out looking for allies. Hilltop's spineless Gregory wants nothing to do with any fight and nothing more to do with the Safe Zone group at all. His people, however, seem to have a different view. They openly express their willingness to fight. If anyone is concerned about this sort of thing being openly discussed among an entire community that may have Savior spies or people willing to rat out this would-be resistance, it's never raised as an issue. Gregory himself has already shown himself willing to betray our heroes, yet they lay out the whole enterprise for him. It isn't really clear why Gregory is still being treated as if he's the leader of Hilltop. Maggie essentially wrested that position from him in the first half of the season. Viewers apparently aren't supposed to remember that. Gregory himself is like Father Gabriel in his first season, another of TWD's one-trick ponies. The only act the writers have ever given him grew old a few minutes after it was introduced. A real waste of a solid actor in Xander Berkeley.

Next, Jesus pulls a rabbit out of his hat, revealing to Rick the existence of the Kingdom. When Jesus was first introduced, he'd suggested that there were many survivor communities--"Your world's about to get a lot bigger," he'd told the Alexandrians--but then, this being TWD, nothing more was said about the matter. As incredible as that is on its own, it is, in light of the things that happened next, mindboggling. The fact that Jesus knew there are other communities under the thumb of the Saviors means that when Rick and co. were convinced the Saviors were just a small band and were plotting to wipe them out, he was withholding some rather critical information. Its not unreasonable that such communities would swear Jesus to secrecy about their existence--as, indeed, turned out to be the case with the Kingdom--but its ridiculous that, after Jesus had already suggested there were others, no one would even ask about them. Even if Jesus couldn't give out specific details, their mere existence suggests the Savior problem was much larger than Rick originally assumed. What else do those communities know about the Saviors, Jesus? Probably some stuff that would have been pretty important to learn as preface to attacking a Savior outpost. Viewers aren't supposed to contemplate such things. Or TWD doesn't want viewers who do. So tonight, Jesus' big reveal is like a magician's trick, not the last one in this ep.

Contemplating none of this, our heroes set off to try to get King Ezekiel on their team. The King turns them down as well, throwing the story into another TWD stall and promising the usual--further eps of fretting and no plot progression aimed at burning through more of the season's order before characters become convinced to do the obvious. Overall, "Rock in the Road" featured an extraordinary amount of plot for TWD but it appears the show will shortly be returning to formless form.

On the way home, the characters stop for a suspense set-piece, which becomes the highlight of the show. They come across a trap set by the Saviors and intended to blow up a zombie herd--a cable laden with explosives stretched across the freeway and anchored to a pair of automobiles on either side. As the zombies close in, Rick and co. unwrap and make off with the precious dynamite, an essential commodity for any war. Then, as a final touch, the creators deliver a Z NATION gag.[1] Rick and Michonne jump in the cars anchoring the cable, hot-wire them in record time--we're not supposed to be surprised by this or to notice the fact that these dust-covered cars, which have probably been sitting there unused for years, still have charged batteries--and drive, in tandem, up the road, using the cable between them to mow down a huge section of the zombie herd. It's an hilarious, gory, physics-defying bit of business, pure ZN material, but the editor of the ep was apparently never let in on the joke--he cuts it as a straight action scene, with the same ever-so-serious tone as everything else TWD. Which, of course, only makes it funnier. To make their getaway after this stunt, Rick and Michonne somehow fight their way through a huge crowd of zombies without getting bitten,[2] jump in the vehicle with everyone else and speed away! Rosita even gets a funny quip about some damaged dynamite she'd left behind and that blows up in their wake. It's a glorious sequence--not only the high-point of this ep but the high-point of the last 2 1/2 seasons.

In tonight's cold opening, Father Gabriel making off with all of the Safe Zone's weapons and food and headed to the boat Rick found a couple eps earlier. He was apparently the hidden figure watching Rick and Aaron on that particular adventure and not helping them, having stumbled upon them by some one-in-a-trillion coincidence.[3] His motives in hijacking supplies are unclear but by the end, Rick and co. are on his trail and, in the next magic trick of the evening, suddenly find themselves surrounded by what looks like about a hundred armed people. Rick, seeing soldiers rather than people who are probably looking to have him for dinner, smiles.

"Rock in the Road" ran 15 minutes over its usual timeslot and covered a lot of ground. That it seemed to be straining to contain all of its plot material can't help but remind one of how much time was simply wasted in the first half of the season, time that could have been spent better developing all of this, instead of just jamming it in like this in the back-end.



[1] The preview for next week's installment features a zombie with a Medieval-looking helmet that is remarkably reminiscent of something ZN did in its season 3 debut. We'll have to see where that goes. TWD has often borrowed from ZN, just as ZN has borrowed from TWD, but whereas TWD can learn a lot from ZN, it doesn't have much to teach ZN.

[2] There's absolutely no reason they couldn't have just continued through the zombies a little further until they'd cleared a trail then backed up to their getaway vehicle but Rick had earlier said they needed the herd on the road. Why? Who knows? But, of course, that begs the question of why he decide to kill so many in the first place. Here, TWD hasn't learned from ZN; the goofy gags on that show always have a purpose.

[3] Prior to the midseason break, Gabriel had been riding with Spencer, Spencer pissed him off with a negative review of Rick and he got out of the car and announced is intention to walk home. This was apparently on the same road Rick and Aaron had been traveling and though they were way back off that road and not visible from it, Gabriel somehow stumbled upon them. And didn't help them. Tonight, Rick found his footprints in the mud, which was dry as if it had been there more than a week, when, by the show's timeline, it was just the day before.

Twitter: @jriddlecult


  1. Did you notice that it appeared someone was in the car with Gabriel? Also, I'm thinking Gabe cleaned out the pantry to refurbish the supplies Rick took from the boat.

    1. Yeah, I noticed the apparent passenger. I really don't know why he'd take the supplies, including all of their food. I'm sure it will be another rabbit out of the hat explanation.

  2. I like how the plot of Maggie being at the hilltop and slowly building up political power to challenge Gregory which was always clumsily handled this season is now completely thrown aside and suddenly Enid off screen convinces a huge portion of hilltop to be loyal to Ricks people. WTF?

    The zombie in the preview for next week was visually stunning and cool even if it was ripped off from z nation. Looking forward to seeing what happens with that. I have a sinking feeling though that we might be in another delayed cliffhanger scenario and cut away to something else next episode.

    1. Yes, and even consulting Gregory swept all of that aside. It's like those on the writing team are coming in to work on different days and not paying any attention to one another.

    2. I have often thought the same thing about the writers. It's like they all are writing for their own show.

  3. So -

    In addition to touring the Southland with Sgt Abe (for something like two years while escorting pretend scientist Eugene) and learning how to use firearms so effectively she missed a stationary target at ~10ft with her handgun - Rosita became a "cut the red wire not the blue wire" EOD expert as well?

    Well, I guess she and Sgt Abe had to pass the time away somehow between escortin', love makin' (while being watched by Eugene) and calming Eugene in the aftermath of a bad mullet day.

    She is a jewel with many facets (though considering her handgun abilities - she may need glasses).