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


  1. lol...the ep seemed written, directed, and produced for not very bright children.

  2. Just about everyone who has the chance to kill Negan fails to really try to hurt him. For some reason they feel the need to give him a piece of their mind instead. "You're a big meanie, and I'm gonna really get you!" I half way expect them to stick out their tongues and make petulant sounds. Then Negan finds a way to gain the upper hand, or other saviors show up and chase them away, or something like that.

    They are really good at talking about how much they want to kill him. I mean, when you see them talking about their resolve to kill him, they really act like they mean it. More than anything, they want to kill him; more than anyone they have ever wanted to hurt, they want to hurt Negan. They want to see him dead, dead, dead! When you watch those scenes, you believe them. "Wow", you think, "if they ever get the chance to kill this guy, he is a goner for sure."

    Then when their chance arrives, they kill people near Negan, but they just talk to him! That is what Carl did when he stowed away in the back of that truck going to the Saviors camp. When the door opened he shot and killed the guy beside Negan. Then he pointed the rifle at Negan...AND STARTED TALKING TO HIM!!! NOBODY really tries to kill him.

    The writers are taking a big chance with this trope. They are wearing it out, and the viewers are fed up. There is a risk that viewers will stop caring what happens to Rick and the gang. If they continue to act this dumb, why stay emotionally invested in them? Let Negan kill them. They are really too stupid to survive.

    1. It's the kind of stupidity that's a standard feature on TWD but the writers have gone out of their way to make everyone despise Negan and want him killed, so it really stands out to viewers when, over and over again, one of the characters has him in a position to kill him and doesn't. This season began with Rick and co. rolling right up to the front down of the Sanctuary and when Negan appears, no one--no one in a group of probably 50 or more people armed with automatic weapons--shoots him. They just let him yak, yak, yak.

  3. So, lemme get this one straight; the 'key' to the future is the information on sawmills and such locked up in that woman from House of Cards' head, yet it was still printed up in a book that she presents to Maggie at the end anyway (which they somehow failed to notice after they commandeered and therefore meticulously searched the van...)... now other than the immediate and obvious holes involved here (ex: a simple chainsaw rig for milling wood instead of building some stupid huge midieval water mill contraption, existing and now-abundant solar panels ready for use to power other devices instead of Iron Age technology, apparently, while doctors and scientists seem to be plentiful in the ZA, people with simple practical knowledge of general engineering, like most farmers would, let alone actual engineers, are completely non-existent) wouldn't any such information,let alone much better information be readily available at say, oh I don't know, LIBRARIES??

    And what the hell were Maggie and co. arguing about anyway? The van and desperately-needed food was already at the Hilltop, they were at war with an attacking force on the way, so what was the point of all those moralizing speechifications? (In a how-is-this-logical sense I mean, not in a burn-up-more-minutes-to-pad-it-out sense) Were they thinking about killing the van idiots? If not, the whole tears-in-your-eyes blatherfest was over what, hurting their feelings?? I mean, 'sorry, but we're at war here, we're taking your food because we absolutely need this, but you're free to go and if we're still alive tomorrow, maybe we can talk deal then...'... would seem to be the Uber-obvious way to go here, but no, they go on and on about Carl and morals and I don't know what the hell the whole point of that was.... absolutely moronic and typical of TWD...

    And the whole Rick-and-Negan stupidity-parade in the basement, so, so much to pick apart there, but one that stands out for me is Negan's apparently actual true emotional attachment to his stupid baseball bat. WTF??? I can see him using it and his whole schtick as a very effective prop for intimidation, and in his quest to maintain a leadership role amongst a band of cutthroat villains. This makes sense, and so does having some sort of sentimental feelings towards any favored inanimate object, like your #1 fishing rod or something like that, but in this episode he is suddenly portrayed as completely delusional and mentally disturbed to the point where he completely loses his shit and is willing to risk anything to get his precious slugger back...

    On a positive note, I find Stephen Ogg's acting to be quite impressive. Even with the garbage he's forced to do, he still manages to come across as convincing. Quite a feat...

    1. wouldn't any such information,let alone much better information be readily available at say, oh I don't know, LIBRARIES??
      I actually laughed when that turned out to be the "knowledge" she was peddling--absolutely nothing they couldn't have figured out themselves with minimal effort. That entire character had no point except to eat up screentime but I'm actually somewhat torn on being overly critical of it because that was really the only thing in the ep that was somewhat entertaining, if only because it was so odd.

      TV Negan is a more sadistic version of an Adam West Batman villain. Unidimensional, way, way over the top in everything, always putting on a show, never a hint of a human being behind any of it.

      Ogg is like so many other people on this show over the years--Michael Rooker, Xander Berkeley, Laurie Holden, even Jeffrey Dean Morgan--a rock-solid actor who is trying to make something out of the less-than-nothing he's being given every week. Like everyone else on TWD, Simon is written as a one-trick pony, a guy who does this sort of reserved intimidation thing, and what Ogg has brought to it is to suggest there's a great deal more to the character than just this surface posturing. The problem is that the writers don't bring that to it. With with this ep--and it was a problem in his immediately prior one too--he's now being written so he's doing that posturing even in private. Even when he's trying to recruit Dwight, he's still doing the same routine he fed Gregory instead of talking straight. When Dwight makes that crack about Negan stealing his wife and burning off half his face, that's Dwight dropping his mask for a moment, while Simon is still doing his same routine, melodramatically speechifying about here I stand naked before you, with my dick in the wind. I really dislike it.

  4. I agree with your assessment of Negan's pathetic over-the-top cartoon character, but I don't recall him ever being portrayed as completely irrational and mentally effed-up to the point where he absolutely loses his mind over essentially nothing. A new low-water mark for sure.

    I like your outline of the mishandling of Ogg/Simon and other characters too. What I personally really dislike is watching Gimple in interviews, acting all smug and pompous all the time, like TWD is the ultimate gift in dramatic writing. He even has the 'M' middle initial in his name, like he's this great writer... or maybe it's so we don't confuse him with the other Scott Gimple? What a douche...

    1. lol. Yeah, he's "Scott M. Gimple." Don't confuse him with that "Scott Gimple" who wrote some shitty eps in TWD season 2 and 3. Oh, wait, that was him too...

      When Gimple first took over the show, I really thought he was on the verge of saving it. By the end of season 3, it absolutely couldn't have gotten any worse but then, surprisingly, it got quite a bit better. Overall, s4 is the only one after the 1st that produced some quality eps but even there, it kept getting getting down in the old, bad Mazzara-era habits and after the season 5 opener, it just gave in to them completely. Gimple stopped trying to work on the characters and just let it all go to pieces. As a showrunner, he's better than Mazzara but one could almost not even be there and top that.

      More generally, the creators of TWD have always been the way you describe in public interviews, always treat it as if they're writing some grand drama when we all know they're just phoning it in, spending as little time as possible on it then collecting the paycheck. I don't bash them for this; when you're working on a project, you have to promote it, If you just come out and say in public that what you're doing is crap, you're probably not going to be doing it for much longer. This is especially true with a fanboy wank-fest like TALKING DEAD, where no criticism is allowed (if you watched the whole run of TALKING DEAD from its beginning to now, you'd think TWD has been the greatest show on television for the whole of its run and has never even had a less-than-spectacular ep).

  5. I wouldn't expect anyone promoting something to admit what they are doing is crappy, and I do see the play there; no matter how little effort they put forth or integrity they have for themselves, the duped masses still ate it up and made the show so highly rated for so many years, so why bother trying harder?

    I get that.

    But not admitting it's crap is one thing, to sit there like a pretentious weathered turd while lecturing on the fine art of storytelling just to stoke your own precious ego is quite another, IMO.

    As for the Talking Dead, yeah, I really shake my head at that pathetic hired shill Chris Hardwick. If you've ever seen his show @Midnight, he's off the leash and free to rip and ridicule most anything at will and he's good at it too. Then on TTD, he's this completely phony corporate puppet with AMC's hand all the way up his ass, spewing shameless, idiotic, schmaltzy, cheerleading garbage for an entire hour at a time.

    It would be funny if it wasn't so sad....