Sunday, November 5, 2017

What's That Coming Over the Hill? Is it Monsters? No, It's Just THE WALKING DEAD

Last week's WALKING DEAD ended with Rick, then prowling around for guns inside a Savior compound, being confronted by a gun-wielding Morales, a character who hadn't been seen since he and his family decided to split from the regular cast way back in season 1. He'd become a Savior, said other Saviors were on their way and his reappearance was such a portentous event, it became the note on which the curtain fell. "Wow!", the viewer is led to think, "where will this go?" The move seemed to herald some significant plot-twist, so when, a few minutes into tonight's ep, Daryl shows up and just shoots Morales in the head without a word, it was a moment of dramatic awkwardness that was absolutely hilarious. Moreso for me because sitting watching it, I'd just made a joke about how Daryl was up there somewhere--he'd been on the same floor as Rick--and suggested he should slip up on the fellow and kill him. Because that would be funny, not because I thought it would actually happen. After, Rick looks stunned. "Th- that was..." he stuttered and then Daryl cuts him off: "I know who it was," he says in that mumbling, dismissive way Norman Reedus has made part of Daryl's signature. "Don't matter." Which just made the already-damn-funny situation really damn funny.

Though the definite entertainment value in this was strictly unintentional, it proved to be the high-point of the ep.

It seems TWD's writers went through all the trouble of bringing back Morales just to have him introduce the Big Theme of the episode. Subtlety simply doesn't live in the TWD writer's room, so before Morales' hysterically funny demise, he called Rick a "monster," said the only difference between Rick and himself was that he had a gun and that this didn't make Rick any better, it just made him lucky. OUR HEROES ARE JUST LIKE THE VILLAINS, get it? It's material TWD has recycled so often the actors probably don't even need a script anymore to recite the requisite sentiments.[1]

And recite it they do. TWD has always set up and milked moral dilemmas for melodrama but genuine moral complexity has proven to be as beyond the capabilities of its writers as warp-drive technology. Throughout TWD's run, our heroes are, on rare occasions, shown doing ignoble things, almost always for the sake of some plot of the moment, but in the moral landscape in which they exist they're clearly on the side of the angels.[2] Last week when Rick killed a fellow who, it was then revealed, was protecting a baby, he was clearly sickened, even horrified. By contrast, the featured Saviors are just presented as the embodiment of every bad and vicious characteristic of the human species, brutish ravagers who slaughter their way across the landscape killing, terrorizing and stealing whatever they want, enslaving communities and taking great glee in their crimes against humanity. Their leader is a camp cartoon who bashes in the brains of a helpless prisoner in front of the fellow's pregnant wife then mocks the victim as he dies, who threatens to have his men gang-rape a teenage boy for shits and giggles. Rick and co. would have to suck really badly to suck as badly as the Saviors and they just don't. Not in that way.[3] That leaves nothing but false equivalences to be wrung from this "look how alike they are" theme but the writers throw it in the viewer's face repeatedly. The title of tonight's ep, "Monsters," flat-out screams it. Morales straight-up says it. Morgan repeats it like a mantra. "Y'see, we're the same! We're the same! We're the same." Mr. Sulu, warp factor 6.

As I've so often noted, words and actions on TWD are often disconnected and TWD's writers give no indication they've ever been exposed to the 1st Rule of Screenwriting, "Show, Don't Tell." Here, they can't inject their preferred theme into the ep by writing that draws genuine parallels between the actions of the heroes and Saviors--the Saviors are simply too deplorable--so they weave it into the ep as I've described, by having people talk about it. It's hard to find in the actual actions of the characters. Rick saw to it that the baby he'd found would be cared for. When Gregory, who betrayed the Hilltop community to the Saviors, shows up back at its gates and makes an impassioned plea to be able to return, Maggie--incredibly--allows it. Last week, Jesus created the show's current moral dilemma by, well, acting like a Jesus. Out of the blue and while his mission was already underway, he suddenly decided the whole thing bothered his conscience and instead of simply wiping out the Saviors against which his group was engaged (as was apparently the plan), he insisted on negotiating a surrender. Hilltop has no capacity for dealing with a large number of hostile prisoners and these are people who, as Tara noted last week, will kill you the second your back is turned. Jesus is acting incredibly stupid here but the writers are siding with him, having him mouth noble platitudes about "peace" and how we will have to live with these people after the war is over. Because overt survivalist sentiment is never given a fair hearing on TWD, no one points out to him that the war has only just started, that his own side in that war is totally outnumbered and outgunned, that the idea of a people peacefully coexisting with another that has only ever terrorized, abused and murdered them is extremely dubious or that the only reason they'd ever have to live with any of this particular group of murderous sadists is that he unwisely opted to spare them. Instead, his foils are Tara, who, after one of TWD's patented personality transplants, has been set up as an increasingly vicious, almost proto-Savior character, and Morgan, who is presented as completely insane. They just want to kill 'em, even after the Saviors are disarmed--a much uglier act than would have been defeating them in a battle. Jesus stands firm, even fights Morgan over it. In context, viewers have seen plenty of who the Saviors are and what they do and if anyone needs a refresher, the vicious Jared continued, in this ep, to taunt Morgan over Morgan's young pupil, whom Jared murdered, but it's still like a final insult when, near the end, the writers choose as the one who draws attention to their savage nature the despicable, back-stabbing Gregory; he calls them "monsters,"[4] bookending when Morales used that same word for Rick. While nearly the entire ep presents our heroes as basically good people who are, among other things, merciful to the point of being TWD-level stupid, they're really just all the same, see?

To try to justify the presence of this theme in a story in which it's really entirely out of place, the writers throw in a moment in which Rick coaxes a lone Savior into surrendering in exchange for some information, making a big show of giving his word that the fellow won't be harmed if he cooperates then, after Rick gets the info, Daryl shoots the guy. Sort of a half-assed effort at theme-service; if the writers were serious, they would have had Rick pull the trigger.

Like last week, there's a lot of shooting and wasting of what should be precious ammo. When the Hilltoppers transporting those captured Saviors are set upon by a horde of zombies, they open up, full-auto, even though there's no reason for it (and to prove that the heroes and Saviors are all just the same, some of the good guys even get killed trying to protect those prisoners). Last week's silly, shallow-field shootout between Rick's group and the Saviors finally wraps up--who knew military-grade weapons couldn't shatter the windows on cars? As happened last week, the Saviors killed in that exchange zombify and though they've only just died moments earlier, the zombie make-up and appliances are caked on to them, making them look as if they've already been dead for weeks or months.

At this point, that sounds a bit like a metaphor for THE WALKING DEAD.



[1] Morales was given several minutes to make his own speech introducing all of this, which just added to the impression that the writers were going to do something important with him and made it more funny when he's immediately killed.

[2] Even when they stole guns from the Oceanside community, which was very wrong, no one was hurt and the action was done in the cause of fighting a common enemy. There's no doubt that when the fight is over, the only way Oceanside won't be welcomed as a friend is if it chooses not to be one.

[3] That's also why it's completely ridiculous to drag this theme into the show over and over again until it's worn down to parody. "Don't matter" indeed!

[4] When Gregory is raving about the evil of the Saviors and insisting Hilltop not let in Jesus' prisoners, there's a moment I found very funny when Maggie, looking to shut him up, angrily shouts at him--"GRIGORY!"--like she's trying to make a young child behave. It's all in Lauren Cohan's delivery.


Twitter: @jriddlecult


  1. This was the best episode of season 8! Of course as jriddle points out each and every week this is a pretty low bar.

    I'll just point out one moment I did sort of enjoy was Aaron's bfs death. Now of course their relationship was underdeveloped and I never really cared about them, but the moment when Aaron returns to Eric and finds the body has left and is shambling to join the dead is actually a pretty creepy and emotional idea. A meditation on the unique horror of losing someone in this world. This is something the show doesn't do enough so I was glad to see some attempt of it on this episode. Hey we have to throw the writers a bone now and then!

    I'm going to lol so hard if we don't get back to Negan and Gabriel's world record for longest standoff between himicidal maniac and good guy with a gun cliffhanger until the mid season finale.

  2. Yep when Cohan shouts Gregory I died.

    1. I think I'm going to try to screencap it and drop it in here.