OK, The Walking Dead, enough's enough!
This is the third week in a row the series has wasted our time instead of telling the story it started at the beginning of the season. At this point it's like the show's sitting and diddling with its smart phone while it waits for the big mid-season finale to arrive.
Filler episodes are nothing new on TV. In fact they're necessary now and then. A show can't barrel ahead at 90 mph ALL the time. Occasionally it needs to stop and focus on the characters, so the audience will care about what happens to them.
The problem with these Walking Dead fillers is they're happening at the worst possible time. The first three episodes of the season built up a palpable, relentless sense of dread and momentum. An enormous herd of zombies is heading straight toward the peaceful and unprepared town of Alexandria, and nothing can stop it. But rather than give us a satisfying payoff to this ominous plotline, the series has spent the last three weeks calmly examining various side missions and introducing new characters! It's infuriating!
Why do they keep doing this to us? Because the show's counting down to the goddamned mid-season finale, that's why. The writers realized the "Marching On Alexandria" story wouldn't fill up eight entire episodes, so they're padding to make it fit.
It's no secret I'm not a fan of this new trend of dividing seasons in half. In my day (!), TV shows aired their episodes one after another, week by week. Then when they were done, they aired 'em all over again in the summer. By then it was just about time for the new season to start. It was a good system and we liked it (!).
This trend of splitting seasons in half, with three or four months in between, is killing TV. Just when a show finds its rhythm, it's time for the mid-season break and all that momentum gets flushed right down the crapper. Why not let storylines develop naturally? If it only takes four episodes to resolve it, then so be it. Write another storyline then! Don't pad out the first one and make the audience doze off.
Splitting the season also raises the very real possibility that the audience will find something else to do (or worse yet, another show to watch) after the seriesgoes on hiatus, and won't come back in the spring. You'd think the networks would be scared silly by that prospect, but they keep on doing it anyway.
In the end it all comes down to ratings I suppose. Having a two big finales a year no doubt means huge ratings, and that translates into dollars. So no matter how much the audience may hate the trend, it ain't gonna go away.
This week The Walking Dead rewinds yet again, as it precedes last week's show. After a strong linear start at the beginning of the season, the series is now apparently airing episodes in random order.
Even though this was a filler episode, it might turn out to be an important one. This week's episode may have just introduced the new threat for next season, as well as a couple of important characters from the comic. Time will tell.
This week we see what happened to Daryl, Abraham and Sasha on the terrible, horrible, no-good very bad day of the walker parade. The three lead the walkers the arbitrarily decided "safe" distance of twenty miles from Alexandria without incident. They then double back out of site of the horde and head back. On the way they're ambushed by a group of men that open fire on them. Sasha and Abraham's car crashes into a wall, and they leap out and strafe their attackers, killing them. They then head off on foot.
Daryl wipes out on his bike, but manages to escape the gunfire. He flees into a burned-out section of the woods and collapses. He's then captured by two women and an armed man who knocks him out. When he wakes up again, his captors force him to his feet. The Trio recently fled a group, and think Daryl's come to take them back. They tell him they "don't trust his people" and they're not returning. Daryl has no idea what they're talking about, much like the audience at this point. The man admits he started the fire to kill the walkers in the forest.
Daryl manages to grab a pack containing his confiscated crossbow and escapse. He runs further into the forest and stops to rest. As he looks through the pack, he finds a cooler labeled "insulin." He realizes that Tina, the youngest woman of the Trio, is diabetic. He then returns to the Trio and returns Tina's insulin. He takes the man's gun as payment.
Just then a truck comes barreling through the woods. A group of men, who we never see clearly, are searching for the Trio. A man named Wade, who again, we never see clearly, wants to bring them back so they can "repay what they took." Daryl improvises an escape.
Daryl and the Trio continue through the woods and find a burned out cabin. Tina says she used to babysit two boys here (in the middle of the woods?). She sees their lifeless bodies in the rubble, and as she places flowers on their heads, they spring to "life" and kill her. As they bury her, Daryl asks the man Rick's three questions, evidently thinking he'd make a good addition to Alexandria.
Daryl's apparently not a very good judge of character, because just then the Duo (heh) steal his crossbow and motorcycle. Daryl tells them they'll be sorry, much like a petulant child. He then finds a large fuel truck (that miraculously still starts) and drives away.
Meanwhile, Sasha and Abraham hole up in a building, hoping expert tracker Daryl will find them. There's a lot of emotional rigmarole between the two, which I'm not ashamed to say I didn't entirely understand. Sasha says she's in control now (despite the fact that last season she was positively suicidal) because she realized she's "responsible for her actions."
Abraham goes out scavenging, and finds a rocket launcher with several rounds of ammo (!). He returns to the office and tells Sasha that he's been living his life "paycheck to paycheck" and now sees he has a long and fruitful life ahead of him (uh-oh). He then actually hits on Sasha, apparently forgetting he's been shacking up with Rosita. Amazingly Sasha seems more bemused than repulsed by his advances. Luckily for her, she hears Daryl driving by in his new truck.
The episode ends with the three heading back to Alexandria. Daryl tries to contact Rick or any of the others on his radio. Through the static he hears an unknown voice call for help. Gosh, I wonder who that could be?
• It's pretty obvious that the group hunting the Trio are supposed to be the Saviors. In the comic, they were a large group of survivors who lived in an abandoned factory, surrounded by a fence studded with impaled walkers. Their leader was Negan, a psychopath who offered "protection" to nearby survivor groups, in exchange for half their crops and supplies. Any group that refused Negan's protection would be severely punished or killed.
AMC just announced that actor Jeffrey Dean Morgan was cast as Negan, so I'd say it's a pretty good bet this episode just gave us a preview of the Saviors.
So why did the writers go out of their way to hide the faces of the Saviors? The man in charge of this little scouting party was named Wade, who I don't think was ever a character in the comic. Have they not cast the Saviors yet, and were forced to use no-name stand-ins?
Another possibility-- in the comic, Negan liked to disfigure anyone who disobeyed him. Were these Saviors horribly scarred, and the writers want to save that revelation for later? I honestly don't know.
• We never learn the name of the man who captures Daryl, but his two female friends are Shelly and Tina. Shelly was a character in the comic, but Tina was obviously a redshirt who was created specifically to die in this episode. So what about the man?
I think we just met Dwight! He's another character from the comic, who was Negan's right hand man. Dwight was married to Sherry, until Negan claimed her as one of his many "wives." Also in the comic, Dwight's weapon of choice was a crossbow. At the end of this episode, Maybe Dwight stole Daryl's crossbow. Given this evidence, I don't see anyone else the character could be,
In the comic the entire left side of Dwight's face is disfigured, courtesy of Negan. Don't be surprised if the next time we see Maybe Dwight on the show, the same thing has happened to him.
• After Daryl escapes from the Trio, he stops to catch his breath. A mossy-looking walker appears, and Daryl struggles-- really struggles mind you-- to remove his crossbow from the pack he stole in order to kill it. He finally frees the bow and shoots the walker a split second before it attacks.
I guess Daryl must really be tired after his ordeal, because it apparently never occurs to him to simply walk away from the zombie until he gets the crossbow free.
• Once again The Walking Dead plays fast and loose with geography to help the plot. Alexandria has been up and running since the beginning of the apocalypse. The Saviors settlement is only about twenty miles away, and somehow the two groups have never crossed paths. Luckeeeee!
• Tina was a goner even if she hadn't been eaten by plastic-wrapped walkers. She was diabetic, and though she had a supply of insulin, it wouldn't have lasted forever. Plus the longer it's left unrefrigerated, the less effective it becomes. It's probably tough to find viable insulin in the zombie apocalypse, so Tina's demise was inevitable.
• Sometimes I'm puzzled by what this show's censors deem acceptable and what they don't. Case in point: Daryl tricks a Savior named Cam into getting attacked by a walker. He's bitten on the arm, and his fellow Savior, er, saves him by chopping off his limb with a machete.
Note that during the amputation scene, the camera chastely cuts away to show us Daryl and the Trio's reaction.
So... decapitating and dismembering zombies in the goriest fashion possible is A-OK, but showing a human getting his arm chopped off is verboten. Got it.
• By the way, there was a lot of very black humor in that amputation scene. The guy who performs the operation takes the time to pull the watch off Cam's disembodied limb before tossing it away like the dead meat it is. He then radios back to Wade, informing him that "Cam got a boo-boo." He then helps the stunned Cam up and tells him to, "Walk it off!" Yikes!
• Here's something that only a graphic designer would notice: Take a good look at that logo on the fuel truck. Notice the kerning in the name "Pattrick." It's perfect! Whoever the art director is on The Walking Dead realized that it would look weird if the two letter Ts had a space between them, so they merged them together to make the logo more visually pleasing. Kudos!
• Ever since he was introduced, Abraham's been one of the least developed characters on the show. He finally got some character building moments in this episode, so you know what that means! Bye, bye Abraham!
• At the very end of the episode, Daryl uses his radio to contact anyone else. Over the static he hears a faint voice call for help.
I'm convinced that was Glenn's voice on the radio, and the show's teasing that he's still alive, as most fans already believe.
However, in an interview last week, actor Norman Reedus (who plays Daryl) adamantly denied that the voice was Glenn's though. But isn't that exactly what someone would say if they were trying to keep Glenn's fate a secret?