Monday, October 15, 2018

THE WALKING DEAD Cain't Afford Ta' Lose No Horses, You Dummy!

THE WALKING DEAD kicked off its 9th season last week but while the ep was entitled "A New Beginning," it felt an awful lot like everything that had gone before it, and tonight's installment, "The Bridge," had one checking the expiration date stamped on it well before it was over. "New," one suspects, really just isn't in the cards for this show.

If my absence here over the last few months doesn't speak to it, I haven't been writing much lately. Life has been what it always is with me and I've recently been through an overly long illness as well but I was feeling blocked up and uninspired even before that bug bit me. TWD certainly hasn't done anything in the last two weeks to make me rush to my keyboard. Still, I continue to do these TWD articles as, in part, a discipline, so I probably should have wrote about it last week, whether I felt like it or not. If I sound disjointed or pretty badly off my game, it certainly wouldn't be the first time that happened when writing about this particular subject but I apologize in advance.

Near the beginning of, well, "A New Beginning," a large group of our heroes trek to Washington D.C.. The city should be like Atlanta back in the 1st season--crawling with millions of zombies, essentially inaccessible and a place no one should risk even trying to enter unless utterly desperate for something he thinks he will find there. Perhaps budget restrictions prevented any massive zombie hordes from ever materializing; our heroes are able to go into town with minimal effort or notice by the dead and invade a museum that, oddly enough, looks just like the Georgia state capitol building in Atlanta. They're after a collection of seeds, a worthy target in an apocalypse, and some primitive farming/fishing gear.

The gear, which is the stuff that eventually causes all the trouble, doesn't really make a lot of sense. Maggie notes that an old horse-drawn plow will provide a pattern for their blacksmiths to copy. Fair enough, but a plow of that sort isn't exactly space-age tech; any good blacksmith tasked with creating one would do just fine without needing an existing one as a guide. Making even less sense is the heavy replica of a dugout canoe lifted by the leader of the Oceanside community. No one needs a pattern for a simple Stone Age dugout, just a good section of tree and the time to hack it out. Oceanside is a community that lives, yes, oceanside and already has far better fishing vessels. The biggest item is a replica of an old prairie wagon. Though building a wagon of that sort would be comically simple and we know our heroes already know how to do it, as they rode into town on one of their own, they go through a great deal of trouble to get this one, treating it as if it was made of gold in a world where that still meant something.

The wagon does seem to weigh enough to be made of gold. To create a moment of suspense, it's made to destroy the transparent masonry on the landing at the base of the building's stairs as our heroes try to make off with it. Hundreds of thousands--perhaps millions--of visitors would have trekked over that floor in the life of the museum--it's large enough to accommodate dozens of people at a time and would have been built to hold up far more weight than that--but in the TWD writers' hands, it crumbles like candy glass under a wagon that weighs about as much as 7 men. Our heroes risk life and limb to roll the wagon out over the floor as it's giving away, then carry the entirely worthless canoe over it but when Ezekiel and Carol try to move the plow, it finally gives out, and the King ends up falling through it.[1] The zombies milling about on the level below nearly eat him before he's hauled back to safety.

Never let it be said that our heroes won't put their lives on the line to protect a valuable asset! Even if there's absolutely no reason why these items would be regarded as such. Never let it be said... well, until about 5 minutes later.

"Hulk Zombie Smash Bridge!"
Traveling home with their salvage, our heroes come to a bridge that looks as if the Hulk has crashed through it, a mess of now-coallpsed and twisted steel supports and reinforced concrete that has been smashed to bits. With a straight face, Rosita explains that a zombie herd destroyed it, a feat that is, for a TWD zombie herd, roughly the equivalent of constructing a warp-drive. No one seems unnerved by--or even concerned with--this evidence of zombies with superpowers far beyond those ever seen on the show; they just paint "Bridge Out" on a nearby road-sign, as if that was necessary, and decide to take another way home.[2] Doing so, they run into a little mud. Very little mud. As in, maybe an inch of it. Though there's so little it isn't even worth mentioning--more budget limitations, perhaps?--they decide their horses can't possibly haul the wagon through it, so they unhitch the critters and they, themselves, pull the wagon through it. Because on TWD, the people are so awesome that they're better at moving a wagon than are a team of horses. 

Budget Zombie Herd Approaching Budget Muddy Spot
As they're finishing up, a handful of zombies appear out of the bushes behind them. There are maybe a dozen--light work for our heroes, who number half a dozen and whose best fighters (Rick, Daryl, Michonne) are present--but Rick orders the wagon abandoned, along with one of the horses that had been rehitched to it! The ep later establishes that they're using horses for transport now because fuel has (FINALLY) become too scarce. Unlike the dugout, the plow and the wagon, a horse would be one of their most valuable assets but while, only minutes earlier, Rick was willing to risk everyone's necks for those trinkets, he's suddenly dead-set on needlessly allowing zombies to chow down on one of their mounts.

An anonymous redshirt, who seems to be the fellow who takes care of the horses, doesn't much cotton to that idea. He goes back to free the horse but he runs into one of TWD's patented teleporting zombies, which suddenly appears beside him, bites his arm and spooks the horse so badly that it kicks him. Rick orders everyone to go back and fight the zombies, the thing they should have done in the first place, and they destroy the ghouls in a matter of seconds with minimal effort. Redshirt Kid dies though.

This sets up a not-terribly-interesting subplot wherein the elderly mother of Redshirt Kid becomes very angry that their boy has died on, as she sees it, a mission to help the Saviors (?!). The idea--spelled in neon letters 10 feet high--is to convey the boiling resentment among some Hilltoppers, who were enslaved and terrorized for so long by the Saviors at Sanctuary and are now being asked to accept them as just another community to which they render mutual aid, but that's an obvious point that shouldn't really need this amount of attention. Carried out both badly (because the museum job wasn't just to aid the Saviors) and ham-handedly, and with characters we don't even know, it just feels like an exercise in filling time with something that, in a better-written show, would just be accepted. Trying to get the Saviors' former victims to be all nicey-nice with them was obviously going to be a problem.

Remarkably, Gregory is still around. He suggested Hilltop hold elections for their leader and is fuming because Maggie beat him. Redshirt Kid's father is an alcoholic who has been dry for years; Gregory plies him with hooch and convinces him to try to assassinate Maggie. That doesn't go so well and when Maggie confronts him, Gregory attacks her. For that, Gregory finally ends up at the end of a rope.

Tonight's installment was mostly just a filler ep. The premise of it was that Rick was visiting Negan, locked up in a jail-cell at the Safe Zone, to give the villain a status report on the great new world the communities are building, and Rick narrates the show but it's full of all kinds of things that happen outside Rick's knowledge, events for which he wasn't present, things that, absent previously undisclosed super-powers, he has no way of knowing. The writers apparently don't expect their viewers to notice such things and as TWD's audience is increasingly being pared down to a core of die-hards, most of them probably won't.

In this one, the communities set out to repair that bridge. Because they're getting so much help from Hilltop, Maggie insists that the Saviors do most of the work. The ep spends some time showing they're an unruly bunch, some of whom cause a lot of problems.[3] Daryl, who never liked the idea of letting the Saviors live, has been charged with overseeing them and his disgust, made plain in the previous ep, is repeated here. Redshirt Kid's mother stages a protest at being cut off from her husband, who has been locked in a storm cellar since his failed attack on Maggie. This leads to a lot of drama regarding whether Maggie should let her see the old boy, whether he should be locked up, his backstory and a lot of other things about which viewers care not a whit but which are used to consume a great deal of screentime. The writers are forcing a come-out-of-nowhere, zero-chemistry romance between Father Gregory and Jadis/Anne. As Gabriel is entirely blind in one eye and may not see so well out of the other, he's assigned lookout duty. At night (he decides to make out with Anne instead). Later, Anne sees a helicopter overhead. She's never really explained the helicopter, which we've seen before and which had some connection to her. At one point, our heroes' system for diverting wandering zombies breaks down when one of the least likable Saviors goes temporarily AWOL and a horde end up marching right through the middle of one of the bridge lumber-camps. This seems to happen only to get some zombie action into an otherwise very dull, filler-filled ep.

In the only real substantive development, Saviors are disappearing under mysterious circumstances. Some of these are probably just leaving because they don't like having to work for a living but some are unlikely to have just disappeared under their own steam--they have families, children at Sanctuary--and others have gone missing with important supplies--in particular, a shipment of fuel intended for Hilltop's tractor. These disappearances should raise some alarms but don't. At no point does anyone seem to be trying to find out what's happening. Toward the end, one Savior, exiled by Rick, is wandering in the woods, comes across someone he knows, starts talking and is apparently killed.

Andrew Lincoln is supposed to be leaving the show after this season and AMC's promotional materials reflect this, though it wouldn't be at all out of character for TWD to merely be using this as an attention-grabbing ruse along the lines of Glenn's infamous dumpster dive a few years ago. There's no way Rick can just be made to leave; to be rid of him, TWD will have to kill off the character, their central character from TWD's first screen moments. AMC's greed is infamous. Its execs show every sign of wanting to milk this cash-cow right into its grave and beyond. But the smart ones--if there are any--must see the writing on the wall. Last week's ep, a season opener, drew the smallest audience since the show's 2nd season. The numbers, taken in the abstract, are still impressive for a cable series but anyone but the die-hards would be hard-pressed not to concede TWD is a fundamentally broken show that has been, in effect, dead for years now. Killing Rick can only further devastate the ratings. Continuing without him would be like the Ringling Bros./Barnum & Bailey Circus without the elephants (and would go over just as well). AMC should wrap up the series while Lincoln is still on board and try to give it some sort of dignified ending.

Do I think that will happen?

Not a chance.



[1] When the floor gives way, it appears to be about as thick as an ordinary pane of glass.

[2] Robert Kirkman, the co-creator of TWD, also wrote Marvel Zombies, which saw the Marvel universe of superheroes and villains transformed into super-zombies. Perhaps this is subtley laying the groundwork for a later TWD/Marvel Zombies crossover?

[3] Among other things, they're nostalgic for Negan, and it feels like the show is setting up some scenario whereby Negan (possibly a reformed Negan?) could return to whip them into shape.

Twitter: @jriddlecult