Tuesday, December 1, 2015

The Walking Dead Season 6, Episode 8: Start To Finish

Sigh... you're really starting to test my patience, The Walking Dead

You started your season with three very strong episodes, as Rick discovered a quarry full of walkers next door to Alexandria and tried to lure them all away in a big parade. You gave us an awesome new storyline filled with a sense of dread and relentless momentum. 

But then you turned your gaze from this ominous plot, as you realized it wouldn't fill up the first eight episodes of the season. You started treading water, padding out your season with endless scenes of characters standing around talking, irrelevant asides and even flashbacks (such as how Morgan got his groove back)!

Then just when it looked your action is finally going to ramp up again, you give us an unsatisfying mid-season finale that pads out the season even more! The whole season's been heading toward the invasion of Alexandria, and now that it's here, the aftermath has been pushed back even further, to the second half of the season! What the hell, The Walking Dead?

And your big cliffhanger was the worst! It was so abrupt that for a few seconds I thought my computer had crashed. It reminded me for all the world of the awful series finale of The Sopranos!

I desperately hate this "split season" format and everything about it. The first half of this season is a perfect example of why it's a bad idea, and why it's ruining television. When there are two half seasons instead of a whole one, the writers have to dream up two cliffhangers instead of one. 

But what if your storyline won't accommodate two cliffhangers? Well then, you've got to force one in there unnaturally, and then pad the rest of your episodes so they fit the format.

Another problem— stopping halfway through the season and then going off the air for months at a time kills any momentum your show may have built up over the weeks. When your show comes back six months later (sometimes more!), the audience forgot what the hell was going on, and you've got to establish your momentum all over again.

Split seasons are the worst!

SPOILERS!

The Plot:
Picking up where we left off last week, the church tower collapses and knocks down part of Alexandria's wall. Hundreds of walkers begin pouring into the unprepared town, like ants swarming over a discarded cookie (heh). Everyone scrambles to escape, barely reaching cover in time. Maggie's trapped atop a lookout tower, while Eugene, Tara and Rosita hide out in a garage. Carol and Morgan take cover in a half-finished home. Dr. Cloyd is stuck in the makeshift jail with the captive Wolf.

Rick, Deanna, Michonne, Carl, Ron and Father Gabriel dive into Jessie's house in the nick of time. Once inside, they discover Deanna's been bitten, and she reacts with the best line of the season. Ron and Carl take time out from the emergency to argue over whose dad is the worse killer. Ron pulls his gun on Carl and the two struggle. Ron stupidly knocks out a garage window, and the walkers start pouring in. Rick and the others try to block the door, but are overwhelmed. They're forced to take refuge on the second floor.

Meanwhile in the dumbest and most uninteresting subplot of the episode, Carol's figured out that Morgan's hiding a Wolf in the makeshift jail. Morgan says now's not really the best time to argue about this, which is true. Carol won't give up on the idea, and somehow sneaks into the jail with the intention of killing the Wolf. Morgan arrives and says she'll have to go through him if she wants to kill the psychopathic Wolf he's keeping locked up. Morgan knocks out Carol, and then the Wolf predictably escapes his bonds and knocks out Morgan. The Wolf then advances on a terrified Dr. Cloyd.

Just then Tara, Rosita and Eugene enter the jail. The Wolf threatens to kill the Doc unless they hand over their guns to him. He then escapes into the walker-filled streets with Dr. Cloyd as his hostage.

Glenn does absolutely nothing during the entire episode, as he sits and stares over the wall, watching the events unfold just like the audience at home.

Deanna tells Rick that he's in charge of Alexandria now, and they're all his people. Michonne offers to mercy kill Deanna, but she says she'll do it herself, thanks. Rick decides the only way out of the house is to use the old "disguise yourself with walker guts" trick. He and Michonne capture a couple of walkers and gut them, smearing blood and entrails all over everyone. They slowly make their way downstairs, easing through a huge crowd of walkers.

They manage to make it outside, but Jessie's idiot son Sam begins chanting, "Mom. Mom. Mom. Mommy. Mom-eee!" Smash cut to black. That's it! That's the frustrating, unsatisfying non-end to the episode. See you all next year, suckers!

Thoughts:
• In the cold open we see Jessie's idiot son Sam, still holed up in his room, afraid to even come downstairs. This entire sequence was a gold mine of silent exposition and oddities.

I get that Sam's been through a lot in his short life— he lives in a zombie-filled world, his abusive dad was just killed, and his little town's been invaded by casserole-baking women who threaten to kill him. Still, with his ridiculous bowl haircut and his increasingly infantile manner, he's starting to remind me more than a little of Ralph Wiggum. Any minute I expect him to say, "My cat's breath smells like cat food."

Sam sits in his room listening to a record of Tiny Tim's famous rendition of Tiptoe Through The Tulips. That's an odd song for anyone under the age of sixty to ever listen to. I guess in the zombie apocalypse your musical playlist is probably limited though. 

Where the hell would a kid even find a Tiny Tim record in 2015 (or whatever year it's supposed to be on the show)? Alexandria's supposedly a newly constructed community—  that means it wasn't sitting around when they moved in, someone had to actually bring in a phonograph and a box of fifty year old records with them.

Sam draws a series of pictures while listening to Mr. Tim. In particular he appears to be drawing himself tied to a tree, surrounded by monsters. That's the exact scenario Carol traumatized him with last season in Forget, when she told him if he didn't shape up, he'd wake tied to a tree while walkers ate him alive.

Sam has a series of Invincible minimate figures! From the left that's Invincible, Allen The Alien, Atom Eve and Omni-Man. Invincible is another of the many comics written by Walking Dead creator Robert Kirkman, hence the little cameo here.

The camera then pans away from Sam and we see a line of ants, all relentlessly engulfing a forgotten cookie on a plate. Subtle! If that metaphor was any heavier it would sink into the center of the earth.

• After seeking refuge in Jessie's house, Deanna discovers she has a large walker bite on her side. She wins the award for Best Line Of The Season as she looks down, sighs and says, "Well, shit."

• If nothing else, this show knows how to film tension-filled scenes. I knew there was no way in hell the pregnant Maggie was going to die in this episode, but as she spent sixty frantic seconds trying to scramble up that ladder to safety, I was practically screaming at my screen. Phew!

• Still no sign of Heath in this episode. Is he even still on the show?

For some reason he, along with Deanna's bone-headed son Spencer, appear in the press photos for this episode. That makes me wonder if it was originally supposed to be ninety minutes long. It felt very choppy, as if large chunks of story were cut out of it. 

Was this "Take Your Daughter To Work" week at The Walking Dead, and the editor let his kid chop it up?

Let's see if I have this straight—  the episode in which Morgan learns to be a Ninja Turtle deserved ninety whole minutes, but the mid-season finale only warrants forty five. Got it.

• As Eugene hides, helplessly watching walkers go by, he hears Daryl's static-y voice coming from Rick's discarded radio. He picks it up and bleats out a weak cry for help.

A couple weeks ago in Always Accountable, Daryl tried to raise Rick on his radio and heard a faint croak for help. Fans assumed the voice was Glenn's, but we found out last week it wasn't him. Now we know the voice belonged to Eugene.

Man, this season's timeline is seriously tangled. At this point I don't know if anyone could ever sort it all out.

• Carl and Ron pause in the middle of the zombie attack for a heart to heart talk. Carl tells Ron, "Look, I get it. My dad killed your dad. But you need to know something. Your dad was an asshole."

That's all true, but probably not something you should say to a jittery little psycho who just tried to kill you.

Earlier in the episode Ron told Carl that his Rick was a killer. Rick killed Ron's father Pete, he got a bunch of other people in Alexandria killed, and now Ron's convinced he's doomed him as well. I can't argue with the lad there. He's absolutely right. Wherever Rick goes, dead bodies begin piling up before long. He's worse than Jessica Fletcher!

• So Ron decides the best time to kill Carl is when they're trapped in his house, surrounded by zombies. Clearly he wasn't thinking very far ahead here. What was he going to say if he had killed Carll? "Um... I think he shot himself. Or a zombie did it."

• I reeeeeally thought that something that happens to Carl in the comic was going to happen in this episode, but that would have been an event in an otherwise uneventful episode. I bet they're saving it for next year.

• Rosita says she's afraid Abraham is dead. Tara says he's not, because "she didn't see him die." Sounds like Tara's been reading the message boards and knows that no one on the show ever dies without someone witnessing it!

By the way, Rosita is clearly under the impression here that she and Abraham are still a couple. Compare that to a couple weeks ago when Abe was hitting pretty hard on Sasha. Obviously he has different ideas.

• All through the episode, everyone is hopeful that Alexandria can still be savaged. WHY? Look at everything that's happened in this town in just the past few weeks. Pete killed Reg. Rick then killed Pete. The Wolves invaded and wiped out a ton of redshirts. Now there's a quarry full of zombies outside their doors. And they want to stay here?

• You'd think that since the blood-soaked "Walker Disguise" works so well they might want to use it more than once every two seasons or so. I think last time we saw anyone use it was in the Season 5 episode No Sanctuary, when Carol donned a bloody poncho to rescue Rick and the others from Terminus.

• Sam freaks out when he's told he has to wear a gore-soaked sheet and walk through a crowd of "monsters." Jessie tells him to "pretend to be brave," in a way that implies she's said it many times before. Um... does that actually work? Can someone who's out of their mind with fear pretend they're not? Isn't that like trying to pretend you're a genius?

• If I was Rick and saw how agitated (and dangerous) Sam was becoming, I think maybe I'd have knocked him unconscious, covered him in a bloody sheet, slung him over my shoulder and carried him through the horde. That way he couldn't freak out and do his Stewie Griffin impression, saying, "Mom. Mom. Mommy!" over and over.

• Boy, that Judith is one quiet-ass baby, isn't she? Even when she's covered with a foul-smelling, gut-soaked sheet she never lets out a peep. Maybe she's like a canary and goes to sleep when you cover her cage.

• As Deanna's life comes to a close, she points her gun at her chin, ready to end it all. She then hears a crowd of zombies coming down the hall, gets up and begins firing at them, going out in a savage blaze of glory.

Naturally in the final seconds of her life (when it no longer matters), she finally becomes a deadly marksman and makes every single head shot count. Too little, too late, Deanna!

Plus I guess Deanna unloading her clip didn't agitate the crowd of walkers Rick and Co. were trying to navigate. Lucky!

• If you were watching the episode on AMC, you may have seen a short prologue for the second half of the season. 

In it, Daryl, Sasha and Abraham are tooling back to Alexandria in their recently acquired fuel truck, when they're stopped by a group of motorcycle toughs parked in the middle of the road.

This little group is obviously the Saviors, and the leader says all their possessions now belong to Negan. He was part of a huge storyline in the comic, and will no doubt be the next Big Bad the gang faces on the show.

It was a tense little scene, and made more of an impact in its two minutes than the preceding episode did in forty five. Let's hope that's a good sign for the rest of the season.

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