Monday, March 26, 2018

The Stupids Send THE WALKING DEAD Astray Again

Deadlier and more prolific than the zombie virus, the Stupids continued to plague THE WALKING DEAD tonight. Simon leads the Saviors to attack Hilltop with no guns, just a few bows and a bunch of melee weapons. Last week, regarding this plan, I asked,

"How, exactly, are the Saviors, who are supposed to be getting low on ammo, ever going to get close enough to cut people barricaded in a walled fortress on a, yes, hilltop, particularly given that those people have guns--fully automatic weapons--to keep any attackers well at bay?"

Tonight, we got the answer: Hilltop, infected by the Stupids, just opens the gate and lets the Saviors in. When the Savior force arrives at its objective, some spike-strips placed on the road take out the tires on their lead vehicles, so they stop within easy range of the fortress to remove these obstacles. It's dark but they're lit by their own headlines--sitting ducks--yet the Hilltoppers don't fire on them, just lets them mill about. At this point, they can be turned to Swiss cheese before they even get to the gate--there's absolutely no way they're getting inside, and no way they can lay siege to the place either. If they stay there, they can be shot down at Hilltop's leisure. They've brought knives to a gunfight and that's that. Fortunately for them--and for the ep's running time--the writers haven't yet filled their contractually-obligated quota of moments during the season when Daryl is supposed to be made to look cool. Returning from lookout duty on his motorcycle, Daryl drives right through the middle of the enemy force, shooting them down as he goes. Hilltop opens the gates to let him in and just lets the Saviors roll right on through too.

As embarrassingly Stupid as this looks, it gets instantly worse: it turns out this was Maggie's plan all along. She has people waiting to ambush them as they come in.[1] The Hilltoppers, who probably outnumber the Saviors, are armed with fully-automatic weapons. Only on TWD can this be anything other than a one-sided massacre that lasts a few seconds but, the Spirit of Stupid having descended, the Saviors somehow make a hard fight of it. At one point, Hilltop's defenders are even forced to retreat into their Big House. The Saviors approach the house by walking straight up through the yard, right in the open with no cover. Hilltop is waiting--they light the yard and open up on them from the windows. Again, something that should be a one-sided massacre (when, earlier in the season, the Kingdom's forces were caught in a similar situation facing only one machine gun, they were all killed). The Saviors are sent fleeing toward the front gate but just at that moment, Rick arrives with the rest of the lookouts and the Saviors are caught with guns at their backs, guns at their front and no avenue of escape.

Game over, right?

Well, no, because maybe half a dozen Saviors just dive behind the Hilltop defensive wall on one side of the gateway. The returning lookouts, who are within spitting distance and couldn't possibly have missed this maneuver, just walk right past them. The Saviors run out the gate, get in a pair of vehicles and drive away. Rick and Maggie shoot at them as they flee but neither Rick nor Maggie nor anyone else jumps in vehicles, runs them down and finishes them off. Hey, there are still three more episodes to fill.[2]

Still, nearly the entire Savior fighting force was wiped out. Throughout this season, the Saviors have displayed a remarkable respawning ability; regenerating at the whim of the writers. The attacks on their outposts in the first half of the season should have reduced their numbers to the point that they didn't have the manpower to cause all the trouble they have since. In these last two eps, the Saviors threw their remaining fighters at Hilltop and lost badly. This should be the end of the war, an ordeal that has dragged on for two and a half seasons now, but there's no acknowledgement of this by anyone, no cheering, no celebrating. The tone remains as dreary as ever. Carol and Tobin have one of those cliche conversations about what Carol will do after the war in over, as if it wasn't. To get in some mixed signals, Rick takes the boards off the window of the Hilltop Big House, as if it is over.

In the night, the Stupids come again. The Saviors' weapons were coated in zombie grue and everyone they cut begins to zombify, rising from their beds and going off in search of people to eat. They growl and grunt and are none too quiet but even as they start killing people, their noise doesn't disturb the sleep of anyone.[3] One of them even falls down the very long staircase in the Big House with what looks like most of Hilltop's population sleeping at the bottom. No one so much as stirs.

The zombies who are in the medical trailers have to cross the yard and get inside the house to cause their mayhem. They're able to do so because yet again, Hilltop has no watchmen posted. This was an issue last season, when the lack of watchmen meant the Saviors were able to wreak all sorts of impossible havoc on Hilltop's grounds, and, as usual, our heroes haven't learned a thing since. With a war that may still be ongoing and a pen of dangerous prisoners in the yard, there isn't a single guard on duty, no one keeping a watch.

Speaking of those prisoners, they're in a crude, hastily-constructed pen. Anyone in it could easily slip out of it. They've only credibly remained there because of the presence of guards, which makes the complete absence of guards here even more egregious. As the zombies begin to rise, the brat Henry goes down to the prisoner pen with a rifle and demands to know which of the Saviors there killed his brother. Last week, Morgan told him the now-deceased Gavin had done so and there's no reason the boy wouldn't believe that but the Stupids are upon him too; he drops in on the prisoners and threatens to begin randomly shooting them if they don't identify the murderer. Henry can do this from outside the pen just fine but even as audible mayhem erupts in the house, the boy, who doesn't seem terribly interested in what may be happening to his friends inside, unlocks the pen and steps into it. As could be expected, he's then easily tackled and many of the Saviors escape.

As with the previous ep, the Stupids claimed everything this week.



[1] Throughout TWD, Rick has been presented as an absolutely wretched leader but because the writers have wanted him to remain the leader, they've compensated by having all the characters gratuitously praise his leadership. Tonight, they did the same with Maggie. There's no way to characterize her plan for unnecessarily allowing the Saviors inside her fortress as anything other than utterly idiotic, a thing that got people needlessly killed, so the writers have multiple characters come up to her after the fight to praise her great leadership skills, to the point that it begins to look really awkward.

[2] During the course of the fighting, Savior turncoat Dwight, who wants to help our heroes win, is running around behind Simon conspicuously failing to kill him or even trying to do so, for no reason other than that the writers decree it. Both he and Simon are with the small group who escape.

[3] Except for one fellow who, assigned the duty of watching over two seriously wounded people in a world in which people who die return as flesh-eating monsters, lays down between them and goes to sleep.

Twitter: @jriddlecult

Monday, March 19, 2018

The Key To THE WALKING DEAD Is the Stupids

Tonight on THE WALKING DEAD, everyone got stupid. That's nothing new, of course. TWD's writers have made nearly every inch of plot progression in the bulk of the show's run entirely dependent upon and occurring as a consequence of the characters being stupid. Typically not just run-of-the-mill stupid; we're talking profound cretinism so beyond the bounds of credible as to constitute an open, ongoing insult to and mockery of viewers. No one is this Stupid, and no one so unfailingly, relentlessly Stupid would survive very long in a zombie apocalypse. There are other problems with "The Key," tonight's installment, but this is the one that towers over all others.

Savior turncoat Dwight has cast his lot with our heroes. He's accepted that he'll be dead with the current war is over but he wants to help them win before he goes out. Last week, he was forced to return to the Savior fold to protect the denizens of the Safe Zone. A few eps ago, Dwight intentionally led his group of Saviors into an ambush and helped the Alexandrians kill them all, but one, a woman who witnessed his treachery, got away. When he went back to the Saviors last week, he learned that she is still missing in action but he has to figure she's going to turn up at any moment, and then it will be curtains for him. As tonight's ep opens, he's back at his apartment at the Sanctuary and the Stupids kick in really hard; Negan comes to visit him and Dwight doesn't assassinate the villain on sight. He doesn't do it while Negan stands around jawing. Negan is alone and would never see it coming but Dwight let's him talk for a while then leave in peace. Another victory for Negan's plot immunity and not even the only one this evening.

Negan's forces are going to attack Hilltop and Negan has come up with the idea of coating their melee weapons in walker grue in the hope that those cut by them will then die and zombify,[1] so there's a sequence of the Saviors cutting up zombies and getting their knives and axes good and gooey. It's an idea that came from the comics but there, guns and ammo were, by this point, a lot more scarce and fighting with such weapons much more common. Simon barks Negan's orders to the troops: cut some of 'em and make 'em turn but don't kill them all--they're going to go back to work for us when this is over. How, exactly, are the Saviors, who are supposed to be getting low on ammo, ever going to get close enough to cut people barricaded in a walled fortress on a, yes, hilltop, particularly given that those people have guns--fully automatic weapons--to keep any attackers well at bay?

Simon has a bad case of the Stupids too. Contrary to Negan's direct orders, he has genocided the Garbage People then lied to Negan about it. His situation is less ambiguous than Dwight's missing witness--when it comes to Negan discovering the truth, it's just a matter of when, not if.[2] He wants Negan gone and wants to lead the Saviors himself and his big idea is to simply wipe out our heroes. Kill off the rebel communities and move on. But from everything we've seen, the Saviors are very heavily dependent upon their subjugated communities for food and supplies; it's the very reason Negan continues to argue for a measured response. The Saviors are thugs whose loyalty is partially purchased via the apocalyptic version of a luxurious lifestyle this arrangement provides them. Simon is proposing wiping out the lower caste in this carefully-organized caste-system without any replacement.

Back at Hilltop, our heroes have gathered and are preparing for the Saviors' coming siege. Maggie spies some crates in a field, checks them out and finds a note promising a "key to the future" if she'll fill the crates with food or "phonograph records"[3] and bring them to a designated rendezvous. It sounds like a rather obvious trap but Michonne immediately dismisses the idea that it could be the Saviors solely on the grounds that it isn't dramatic enough for them. At first, Maggie is clear-headed on the matter: "If someone is tryin' ta' help us and we miss out, we miss out. If someone is tryin' ta' kill us, we die." Maggie is the leader of the community and given the circumstances, this is a no-brainer, but Michonne works on her for a few minutes and astonishingly, with a Savior attack imminent, she opts to take Michonne and Rosita--two of their best fighters--and leave Hilltop for this meeting with  who-knows who!

It turns out there really is a benevolent benefactor behind this[4] but there's no reason it couldn't have been a Savior ambush. How stupid are the Saviors if they can't easily overcome people this stupid?

Rick puts in a turn on lookout duty, watching the roads for any approaching Savior activity and--can you believe the coincidence?--he ends up watching the very road Negan's forces are taking. He sees their convoy, sees Negan bringing up the rear and starts to give the signal to alert his own people of the enemy presence then decides, instead, to leave them in the dark about the approaching danger, jump in his vehicle and launch a hopeless solo attack on Negan's car that somewhat succeeds and doesn't get Rick killed solely because the writers decree it.

Negan has a large, open bucket of zombie grue in his front seat with his pet bat Lucille marinating in it. Apparently, Rick rather spectacularly t-boned the villain's car, smashing it and sending it flipping until it landed on its side but there doesn't seem to have been the budget to shoot such a thing--we only see Negan fleeing, Rick in pursuit, a cutaway to the other Saviors then the aftermath of what looks like a hell of a crash. Negan would probably be pretty banged up and all that zombie grue is all over him and the interior of the car but his plot armor saves him again. Rick has an automatic weapon but instead of charging in and killing Negan, he just starts ineffectually pumping rounds into the bottom of the overturned vehicle, allowing Negan to escape into a nearby building. Rick is close behind but throws away his rifle before entering! He then draws and empties his pistol, missing every time. Hearing the hammer click on an empty chamber, Negan, who has climbed a flight of stairs, turns to mock Rick--all outta' ammo now! Negan is far out of reach and Rick could easily just reload but instead, he puts the pistol away, pulls out an axe he had tucked in belt and... throws it away. He actually throws it with the intent of hitting Negan and misses but why in hell would anyone do that instead of just advancing up the stairs and taking the guy apart?

This ridiculous nonsense goes on for a while--the two end up in a dark basement talking smack to one another, fighting some zombies then escaping the building without ever causing each other any harm.[5] Negan, in an amusing twist, is captured by Jaydis of the Garbage People.

Meanwhile, Simon is salivating over this being his opportunity. He'd been trying, in a roundabout way, to recruit Dwight to his cause. When Rick attacks Negan's car, Simon bottles up the Saviors in an alley, tells them this could be a trap--in which case bottling them up in an alley in which they could be fired upon from buildings on both sides is just about the worst possible idea--and that they should set up a perimeter while he and Dwight will go see if Negan needs a hand. Comically nonchalant about the whole thing. Dwight and Simon come upon Negan's smashed up car. Negan could be hurt or dead somewhere nearby, they could kill him without being observed but instead of looking for him, and despite the consequences that will befall them if, as is likely, he turns up, they just decide to write him off. Simon goes back to the Saviors and tells them that after this attack on their leader, they should go to Hilltop and kill everyone. Despite the obvious consequences of such an act, they think this is a great idea.

And that was "The Key." Dumbassery and Decay and the Stupids held illimitable dominion over all.



[1] This line of thought emerged when the writers, 7 1/2 seasons into the show, suddenly changed the rules and made zombie grue toxic, making Father Gabriel get very sick from covering himself in it. It makes sense that it would be toxic, of course, but the long run of TWD has seen countless characters--even characters with open wounds--absolutely covered in zombie gore, their faces and eyes spattered with it, etc. and no one has ever gotten the least bit sick from it. While Negan thinks people will get die and zombify from wounds from treated weapons, Gabriel himself didn't and, treated with antibiotics, seems on the road to recovery, other than having lost a lot of his eyesight. Negan, of course, knows this: Gabriel is his prisoner.

[2] And, in fact, Negan learns of it in this ep.

[3] I'm old enough that it sounds weird for someone to call records that.

[4] It's a bizarre--and very Z NATION--fairy-tale character named Georgie who promises knowledge in exchange for music. She offers a collection of schematics for windmills, watermills, aqueducts, etc.--what she describes as "a book of Medieval achievement, so that we may have a future from our past." She says she will one day return and when she does, she'd better see great things. A glimpse, perhaps, at the ultimate end of the series?

[5] At one point, Rick does bash Negan with his own zombie-infected barbed-wire-wrapped bat but Rick was kind enough to set it on fire beforehand, presumably cauterizing it and leaving Negan non-infected.

Twitter: @jriddlecult

Monday, March 12, 2018

Not Wanted: Dead Or Alive Or THE WALKING DEAD

As with so many episodes of THE WALKING DEAD, the writers of tonight's "Dead Or Alive Or" didn't bother to provide an adequate plot. As so often happens, they chose, instead, to take a few minutes worth of material and pad it out to fill the running time. As has so often happened in recent season, this padding was so extensive that the ep even ran 5 minutes over its regularly-designated timeslot. Have to get in those extra minutes of commercials to pay for all that "work" the writers are doing.

Two weeks ago, Daryl, Rosita and Tara departed the Safe Zone to lead its mostly-nameless-and-faceless residents to Hilltop. This is the latest example of the brilliant strategic thinking typically displayed by our heroes. Why make it tougher for Negan to defeat you when you can all hole up in the same small, closed-in community to which his forces can easily lay siege until he's starved out all opposition, right?[1] This being TWD, that Safe Zoners plot-string was skipped last week and, this being TWD, tonight's ep, which picks it up, didn't begin with those characters at the gates of Hilltop. Instead, that's how it ends. Way back in December, Eugene arranged for Dr. Carson and the ailing Father Gabriel to escape Savior custody. They were heading to Hilltop as well but as the show finally returned to their thread three months later, they're not there either. They're lost and driving around backroads. Most of the ep just follows around the Safe Zoners as they try to hike to Hilltop and Gabriel/Carson as they mostly just dick around and waste time instead of trying to find Hilltop.

Neither of these threads feature anything interesting; they're just present to eat up running-time.

The Safe Zone group opt to cut through a swamp on the premise that the Saviors wrote it off as dangerous and won't be poking around there. They run into a zombie logjam ported in straight from Z NATION season 2 but it doesn't lead to anything--they just kill the zombies and move on. Tara is still furious at Savior turncoat Dwight and, being a dimwit, tries to kill him. He eventually hooks up with a group of Saviors who haven't heard of his betrayal and leads them away from the Zoners.

Gabriel and Carson find a cabin, hang out there, go on and on about Gabriel's increasing loss of vision.[2] In order to safely walk among the dead, Gabriel, several eps back, covered himself in zombie guts. Characters on TWD have been using this same trick since the 2nd episode of the series, even those with open wounds.[3] We've seen people splattered with zombie blood and gore, seen it get in their faces, their eyes. No one has ever suffered so much as a cough as a consequence but this season, the writers suddenly decided zombie gore was toxic.[4] Gabriel is ill and going bind.[5]

We find out why this was suddenly written into the plot toward the end of the ep. After breaking out of the zombie-surrounded Sanctuary, the Saviors are running low on ammo and Eugene's reloading operation isn't turning out enough at a fast-enough clip--Eugene may be foot-dragging on purpose. When Negan leans on him, Eugene comes up with the idea of using primitive siege weapons to chuck zombie gore over the walls of Hilltop. Negan doesn't like this suggestion at all but from it, he gets the bright idea to have the Saviors coat their weapons in this grue, use it for a sort of biological warfare. I'm disappointed we're not going to get to see Medieval trebuchets and catapults chucking zombie-parts over the wall.

And that's it. Near the end, the gate guard at Hilltop yells that Rick has returned but because if he appears, Andrew Lincoln gets paid for the ep, we never see him.



[1] As if to compensate for this obvious idiocy, the writers have Gregory point out to Maggie that the Saviors are on their way and suggests evacuating Hilltop. "How can we win?" Maggie replies, "look around, Gregory. How can we lose?" But it's so idiotic, even she doesn't sound as if she means it.

[2] The Saviors reapprehend Gregory and Carson; when Carson goes for a gun, they shoot him, one of the last doctors in the world. Fortunately--and coincidentally--the stranger Coral took in has medical training. Absurdly, Negan assigns the dying and nearly-blind Gabriel to sorting empty shells in preparation for reloading them.

[3] In fact, Rick, the first one to use the trick on screen, had an open gunshot wound in his side when he first did it.

[4] Zombie grue should be potentially rather dangerous--human corpses are a regular stew of bacteria--but after 8 years of watching people intimately interact with it to no negative effect, it's a bit late to be making it poisonous.

[5] Negan's plot-armor comes with an immunity charm; he covered himself in gore from the same zombie as Gabriel but remains unaffected by it.

Twitter: @jriddlecult

Monday, March 5, 2018

THE WALKING DEAD Burns Bartertown

I've been a fan of THE WALKING DEAD's Garbage People from pretty much the moment they were introduced. After their first appearance, I wrote:

"Tonight, on THE WALKING DEAD, Rick and co. appeared to have dropped into the pocket universe wherein the Max Max flicks are set; where characters with weird names and inexpressive faces dressed in black and grey Max Max-like gear stand around and speak through a monotone in clipped, half-sentences as if they've grown up in the aftermath of the nuclear apocalypse and regular conversation is strange to them. Their home is a maze of piled-up car-wrecks and trash that stretches to the horizon--with the whole world at their disposal for residences, they're mindful enough of the series' desire for visuals to live there--and they interact with our heroes while in the distance, a rusty car-door blown by the eternal winds of the wastelands atmospherically squonks away. I never noticed a crow cawing at any point--perhaps an oversight."

Seemingly born of the writers' exposure to Z NATION, the Garbage People didn't make a lick of sense in the context of TWD's world, but they were entertaining, through a time when little else about the series has been, an odd, unpredictable element that felt like something phasing into TWD from a different--and better--show. Given my usually less-than-stellar estimation of TWD's writers. I can't really say it's any surprise that they apparently didn't understand what a good thing they had with this community. In the only meaningful development in "The Lost & the Plunderers," tonight's installment, they liquidated it.

That dreadful decision began with a conflict between Simon, who wants to be the big boss of the Saviors, and Negan, who is the big boss. Simon just wants to kill off all these rebellious communities and move on with life but, in a sequence that runs several times longer than was necessary, Negan insists they're still a resource. He and Simon argue and he orders Simon to bring to heel the Garbage People, who briefly joined the rebellion. But once at the Big Dump, Simon, still smarting over Negan's tongue-lashing, gets a little too ambitious and starts shooting people. When Jadis, the Garbage Queen, slugs him, he gives the order and the Saviors kill everyone. Negan will probably be just as pleased by this as I was.[1]

A lot of the screentime devoted to Rick and Michonne here is just filler material. Near the beginning, they're packing up and about to depart from the Safe Zone, which has been torn up by the Saviors, and Michonne gets it in her head that, before she leaves, she simply must go put out the fire that is consuming a gazebo, so she and Rick charge into action, risking their lives in battle against zombies in order to waste two of the only fire-extinguishers left in the world trying, for no real reason, to put out the blaze on a structure that has already mostly burned up.

Yes, that really happened.[2]

Later, they turn up at the Big Dump and find the zombified Garbagers. Only Jadis is left. She's distraught and, in a development that makes no more sense than the community itself, suddenly remembers how to speak proper English, as if all that Mad Maxian stuff was just a put-on. Given that she had been allied with Rick and had just seen all of her friends and family wiped out by their common enemy because of that alliance, one would think Rick would have a great deal of sympathy but instead, he's openly hostile--tells Jadis this is all her fault, refuses to help her escape, even points his gun at her when she's fighting through zombies while trying to follow him out--shoots over her head as a warning. If this ep was the story of the end of the Garbage People told from Jadis' perspective, Rick could fill the role of the ghost of her guilt as leader for the death of her people. As it is though, she's just an element in Simon's story then Rick's, and Rick's behavior is just more random and bizarre shit, as if he's this thing entirely disconnected from what we've seen him experience[3] and who we've seen him be.[4]

The ep only ever adopts Jadis' point of view when she has to see to the disposition of the walking dead who were once her friends. In what could, in better hands, have been a most remarkable scene--and in these hands still stands out as fairly striking for TWD--she leads the dead into an industrial shredder, watching with sad resignation as, one by one, they drop into the machine and are ground up into gory oatmeal that runs out on a conveyor belt beside her final painting--a fine, arty touch on paper that doesn't really come off as well on screen.

The ep checks in on Aaron and Enid, who, in a random sequence inserted into an earlier ep, went off to find the Oceanside community, were attacked, killed Oceanside's matron leader and were captured. Tonight, they're chained, about to be executed, Enid makes a speech and the new leader, the granddaughter of the dead one, just decides to let them go. As they're leaving, Aaron decides he's going to go back and convince them to join the fight--the reason Aaron went there in the first place--which makes one wonder what has been the point of anything that has happened with this thread. Aaron will try to make his case, Oceanside will listen or it won't--nothing shown tonight added anything to this except running time. With TWD though, that's often all it takes.

Near the end, Rick talks to Negan over a purloined radio, tells him Coral is dead. Rick says he's going to kill Negan, Negan says Coral is dead because Rick failed him. In the Walking Dead comics, Negan and Carl developed an interesting relationship that would have made a scene like this very interesting but that was almost entirely cut from the series and the scene, lacking any real dramatic weight, just plays out as Negan being the villain and taunting the hero.



[1] During his interrogation of Jadis, Simon suddenly mentions a helipad and solar panels on the landfill grounds, things never before mentioned. Rick saw a helicopter flying over a few eps ago and when Jadis does away with the Garbage-ite dead, she has electricity to do it. Simon hints that the site may have been something much more than just a garbage dump before the end of the world but later, Jadis seems to explain living there as strictly an artistic choice. The helipad will probably turn up again but the electricity may have been introduced merely to allow Jadis to carry out that zombie-killing sequence.

[2] Though with a war on and all, one would expect the Saviors would be out looking for the Safe Zone gang, they don't seem to be doing so. Rick seems to take out a Savior in the Safe Zone near the beginning--it happens off camera--and it makes sense someone would be posted there to see if anyone returned but he was apparently all alone and Rick and Michonne are able to drive the road unmolested and without even encountering any Savior lookouts. Near the end of the ep, we learn that Negan hasn't heard from Gavin's crew at the Kingdom. They've all been killed, of course, but that happened the night before and no one, it seems, has checked on them.

[3] And this would stand out even to someone who had only ever seen the last two eps of TWD--Coral had just given Rick the we've-got-to-do-better-about-holding-on-to-our-humanity speech as some of his dying words in the ep prior.

[4] It doesn't help matters that the writers throw in a later scene wherein Michonne is giving Rick the eye for this behavior and he tells her he just wanted Jadis to go away.

Twitter: @jriddlecult