Wednesday, March 28, 2018

The Walking Dead Season 8, Episode 11: Dead Or Alive Or

This week on The Walking Dead, we finally, at long last, check in on the show's two most beloved and popular charact... I'm sorry. I thought I could keep a straight face while I typed that, but I can't finish the sentence.

One of the more annoying things about The Walking Dead is its habit of veering away from the main narrative (often at the most frustrating times possible) to spotlight some of the minor members of its incredibly large cast. And so it is with Dead Or Alive Or, which features the dynamic duo of Father Gabriel and Dr. Carson 2. Yeah, that's right— Dr. Freakin' Carson. I bet you forgot he was even a character on the show, didn't you?

As you might expect from an episode starring these two, there's really nothing of note that happens here. Most of it concerns Gabriel and Carson's sad little roadtrip that ends up precisely where it began, making the whole thing extra pointless.

Then there're the riveting scenes of Daryl and the survivors of Alexandria making their way through a perilous forest as they head for the Hilltop, which is about as exciting as it sounds. There was honestly no reason for us to have to see any of this, as Daryl and the others could have just shown up at the Hilltop's gates and said, "Whew, I thought we'd never get here!" The only reason any of this is here is so the show can tread water until the season finale. 

The only semi-important events in the entire episode are Dwight reluctantly returning to the Saviors, and Negan deciding to use zombified weapons against the Hilltop. As relevant as these two plotlines were, they took up just a fraction of the languid runtime, and could have easily been incorporated into other, more exciting episodes. Again, the show's padding here.

Father Gabriel has always been one of the more flat-out annoying characters on the show, and he was even more aggravating than usual here. His absolute and utter confidence that God was looking out for them made him seem less like a man of faith, and more like a smug, sanctimonious asshole.

It was also incredibly obvious that this episode was setting up Gabriel for a huge fall. Every sentence he spoke was ridiculously pointed and on the nose. Every time he smiled in rapture and evoked the name of God, you just knew he was climbing another rung on the Karmic ladder that was about to snap in half and toss him to the ground.

In any other series, seeing a believer get slapped down hard would be tragic and shocking. Unfortunately eight seasons of The Walking Dead has trained its audience to recognize that hope equals disaster, and this episode didn't disappoint. Gabriel's fall was so telegraphed it became unintentionally hilarious.

SPOILERS!

The Plot:
As we begin, the Saviors are searching for the escaped Father Gabriel and Dr. Carson 2 (who Eugene helped escape from the Sanctuary many episodes ago). They drive over a bridge, and a few seconds later Daryl and a few Alexandria survivors— including Rosita, Tara and Judith— emerge from the brush. Dwight's there as well, and I guess he's kind of a prisoner? Or not? It isn't really clear. Anyway, they're all desperately trying to make their way to the Hilltop before the Saviors find them.

Tara's still peeved at Dwight for killing her girlfriend Dr. Cloyd several seasons ago, and doesn't believe he's really changed sides. A walker approaches, and Tara pretends she's going to stab it, but sort of throws it at the injured Dwight. He catches it and barely manages to dispatch it without any weapons. Daryl glares at Tara and hurries the survivors along.

Meanwhile, Gabriel and Dr. Carson are sitting in a car, hopelessly lost as they try to find the Hilltop. Gabriel's apparently feeling better, having gotten over whatever disease he caught from smearing walker guts on himself back in The Big Scary U. He squints at a map, and Carson asks if he's OK. Gabriel replies he's fine, as "God's leading the way." Yeah, well God's also the one who let the zombie apocalypse happen, so why trust in him?


Carson examines Gabriel's eyes and discovers they're infected by... something. He says if Gabriel isn't treated immediately, his vision could be permanently damaged. Suddenly the ever-squirrely Gabriel says he hears a bell, and takes off into the woods.

Back with the Alexandrians, Tara asks Daryl why Dwight's still alive. Daryl, who believes Dwight really has changed, tells her now's not the time to kill him. Surprisingly, Rosita agrees. She says the killing needs to stop, especially considering they just lost Carl.

At the Hilltop, Carol, Morgan and Young Henry stand guard over the Savior prisoners, including the assholeish Jared. Henry wants to know which one of the Saviors killed his brother Ben. If you'll recall, Jared killed Ben way back in Season 7's Bury Me Here. This cute little psychopath obviously has nothing but revenge on his mind, which worries Morgan and Carol. And when MORGAN'S concerned about someone's mental state, you know they're in trouble.

At the Sanctuary, Negan tells Eugene that Gabriel and Dr. Carson escaped, and asks if he knows anything about it. Eugene of course helped the two escape a few episodes back, but wisely pretends to be clueless. Negan promises he'll catch them both, and when he does he'll torture 'em to find out who helped them leave. Gulp!

Negan then says the Sanctuary's low on bullets, so he's giving Eugene his very own outpost, one dedicated to making ammo.

Gabriel follows the bell sound and finds a deserted house in the woods. They cautiously enter and find the owner, dead and reanimated in the bedroom. Carson finds the homeowner's gun, while Gabriel notices the floor's strewn with pill bottles. Carson examines the pills and says they're exactly the kind of antibiotics that Gabriel needs. Once again Gabriel smiles smugly, and says God's providing for them. Carson's had enough of Gabriel's pontificating and sucker punches him, knocking him unconscious. OK, I made up that last part, as I was hoping that's what would happen.

In the woods, Daryl tries to decide which way to go. Dwight says the Saviors are undoubtedly on their trail, and will catch them soon. He says their only chance is to go through a nearby swamp, which the Saviors avoid because it's too dangerous. Daryl and Rosita agree with this plan, which angers Tara. Others in the group agree, wondering why they should trust Dwight. Daryl reminds them that Dwight saved their lives by killing several Saviors back in Alexandria. Dwight tells the Alexandrians he hates Negan as much as they do, and only wants to stop him. Daryl decides they'll head for the swamp.

At the Hilltop, Diane reports to Maggie. She says they're dangerously low on food and supplies, and will have to drastically cut rations to survive. Maggie asks about the prisoners, and Diane says they'll have to tighten their belts even more if they intend to feed them as well. She says Jesus is out scavenging, and will hopefully bring back enough food for everyone.

Maggie walks out to the makeshift prison. Gregory asks to be let out, saying she can't keep him locked up forever. Aiden The Friendly Savior approaches and says they don't have to be enemies. He asks if they can get some occasional time outside the pen. Maggie hisses that she doesn't have the resources to assign them all guards, and wouldn't do so even if she did. She announces she's cutting off their rations altogether.

Dwight tells Daryl that his wife Sherry is the one who let him out of solitary back at the Sanctuary. He says she escaped and fled into the forest, and is out here somewhere (foreshadowing?). They come to the swamp and Daryl and Rosita wade in to clear the area of submerged walkers. Suddenly they're surrounded by soggy zombies that pop up out of the water. Daryl, Rosita and Siddiq quickly dispatch them all.

The rest of the Alexandrians wait in the woods as the swamp is cleared. Tara sees a small group of walkers shambling around, tosses a knife to Dwight and tells him he just volunteered to help her clear them out.

Back in the house, Carson gives Gabriel the pills and tells him to rest. Gabriel accidentally knocks a giant piggybank off a table, and it shatters on the floor. Carson looks inside it and finds car keys and a map. He opens the map and realizes they're just a few miles from the Hilltop. Again, Gabriel smiles beatifically and says God's guiding them. Sigh... We get it, script! You're setting Gabriel up for a gigantic and obvious fall.

Dwight puts down several walkers, and stupidly tells Tara he's sorry he killed Dr. Cloyd. Of course this sets her off, and she points her gun right at him. He asks what good killing him will do, and of course she replies that it'll make her feel better. She shoots at near point blank range, but somehow misses him. He takes off running and she follows him through the woods. Eventually the two of them come out into a clearing. They hear voices and both dive for cover. A group of Saviors appear, searching for the Alexandrians.

Carson sees a garage behind the house and heads for it, hoping there's a car inside. Gabriel hangs back and waits. He looks up and sees a sign hanging over the garage. He squints and barely makes out that it says, "CAUTION! TRAPS!" He yells to Carson to stop, but it's too late. Carson steps in a bear trap and it clamps tightly on his leg. Suddenly several walkers hear his screams and come a' shamblin.'. Carson shoots a couple, but another falls on top of him, causing him to drop the gun.

Gabriel fumbles around in the grass, and eventually finds the gun. He holds it up, squints and fires. Miraculously he hits the walker and doesn't blow off Carson's head. I guess we're supposed to believe God guided his hand and aimed for him.

Meanwhile, Tara and Dwight are still hiding from the Saviors. The group starts heading in the direction of the Daryl and the others, so Dwight makes a decision. He pops out of the brush, much to the surprise of the Saviors. He lies and tells them he was ambushed by the Alexandrians, but managed to kill them all. He says he's been wandering through the woods alone ever since. They welcome him back into the fold and leave.

Tara's stunned, as she realizes Dwight really was telling the truth all along, and just sacrificed himself for the sake of the Alexandrians. She turns and sees Rosita behind her, who says she witnessed the whole incident. They return to Daryl, who's livid. He says Dwight could be leading the Saviors to them right now. Tara and Rosita assure him Dwight really has switched sides, and won't betray them. Daryl starts ranting that he's gonna kill Dwight the first chance he gets. He then glances over and sees Baby Judith looking at him in horror, realizes what he's doing, and stops.

Gabriel frees Carson from the bear trap, and they open the garage door to reveal a car inside. The get in, and Carson says maybe Gabriel's right, and God's looking out for them after all. Naturally at that exact moment they hear guns cocking, and when they look behind them, they see they're surrounded by Saviors. D'oh!

They're loaded into the back of a truck, as Gabriel assures Carson this is still part of God's plan. Just then Carson reaches for a Savior's gun, as another one shoots him dead. Hmm. Was THAT part of God's plan too?

Daryl and the others finally make it back to the Hilltop. Carol rushes to the gate to greet them. Daryl shakes his head and simply says, "Carl." Carol and Maggie are stunned, while Enid collapses to the ground.

Later Morgan, Carol and Henry are guarding the prisoners again. Henry asks how Carl died (did he ever even meet him?). Carol says he died helping a stranger. Morgan stands up and lies to Henry, telling him that Gavin killed Ben. He says Henry already killed Gavin, so it's all settled. Carol smiles, approving of the fib.

Maggie offers some food to Siddiq, apologizing that it's not much. He disagrees, saying it's everything. He asks if they have a hospital, announcing that he has medical training. This shames Maggie into deciding to let out two Saviors at a time for work and exercise. Just then, Rick and Michonne arrive.

Cut to Eugene at his outpost (already?). Negan bursts in with Gabriel, who covers for Eugene and says the escape plan was all Carson's idea. For some reason, Negan puts Gabriel to work sorting bullets instead of killing him. 

Negan then asks how the bullet-making's going, saying he's gonna need lots of them soon to wipe out the Hilltop. Eugene says he's working at capacity, but it's gonna take time to build up enough ammo. Negan ominously says that won't do. In a panic, Eugene suggests psychological warfare, by building a catapult to throw walker parts over the fence at the Hilltopians. Negan dismisses this ridiculous idea, but it gives him a brainstorm of his own.

Back at the Sanctuary, he rounds up the Saviors for a demo. He bashes in a walker's head with Lucille, and then rubs her in its gory wound, coating it with blood and brains. That way, even a glancing blow by a Savior weapon will infect and kill the Hilltopians. Evil!

Thoughts:
• Once again, the vague Virginia geography comes into play. Gabriel and Dr. Carson escape from the Sanctuary (with a little help from Eugene), but actually get hopelessly lost on their way to the Hilltop! How the hell is that even possible? All the little communities on the show seem to be within a ten mile radius of one another. You could probably pick a direction at random and have a pretty good chance of running into one of them.

• Father Gabriel's always been a twitchy and unlikable character (in my opinion), but he was extra insufferable this week. He spends the entire episode smugly asserting that everything that happens to them is all part of God's plan, and he's "looking out for them."

The show's touched on religion a few times in the past, as characters like Hershel have claimed they still have faith. This baffles me no end. I have no use for God or organized religion NOW. There's no way in hell I'd continue believing and praise his name after a zombie apocalypse. A god who caused something like this, allowed it to happen or was powerless to prevent it isn't worthy of worship.

• Man, have you ever seen two more imbecilic post apocalyptic "survivors" than Father Gabriel and Dr. Carson 2? I can kind of excuse Gabriel for acting like an idiot in this episode, as he can barely see. But what's Carson's excuse? How the hell did he ever last this long in such a world?

• At the Hilltop we see Henry, as he sits glaring at the captive Saviors. He's trying to figure out which one of them killed his brother Ben, so he can murder them in kind.

In the comic, at the end of the All Out War storyline, Negan's captured and tossed in a makeshift prison inside Alexandria. Carl then secretly begins visiting him, and the two form and unlikely bond, as Negan gives him advice and becomes sort of a surrogate father to him.

Because showrunner Scott Gimple stupidly killed off Carl, we'll never get to see him form his relationship with Negan. Or will we? I wonder... is Gimple grooming Henry here to become something of a substitute Carl? Will we see Negan be imprisoned and Henry sneak in and start bonding with him? I'm thinking that may be where they're heading.

• At one point, the still-pregnant Maggie sits worriedly in her Hilltop office.

Hilariously, we see her staring in wonder at Baby Gracie, who Rick rescued from a Savior outpost back in The Damned. It's almost like she's never seen a baby before, and doesn't understand what this tiny human is supposed to be.

And why not? Maggie's been pregnant since goddamned Season 5, and she STILL isn't even showing yet! Hopefully being in the presence of an actual, honest to goodness baby will cause the dormant embryo in her womb to start growing.

• Oh boy! Another conference room scene! I dunno about anyone else, but that's the main reason I watch The Walking Dead— to see endless fascinating boardroom meetings!

• Near the beginning of the episode, Negan tells Eugene he's giving him his own bullet-making outpost. Then in the third act, we Eugene's actually making ammo, as his outpost is up, running and humming along!

Jesus Christ, that was fast! It's unclear how much time passes during this episode, but it appears the whole thing takes place all in the same day. Somehow the Saviors got a foundry up and running in just a few hours!

• As Daryl and the others clear the swamp, we see some really fun waterlogged walkers rise up out of the much. I particularly liked the way their moans gurgled as the water ran out of their soggy bodies.

• All through the episode, Tara's incensed by Dwight's presence in the group, as he's the man who shot an arrow through her girlfriend's eye.

At one point she gets Dwight alone and says she's gonna kill him. He tries to assure her he hates Negan and he's left the Saviors. She hisses, "Don't care. You don't get to switch sides and make it OK."

Um... Tara? Did you maybe forget something?

Sometimes I wonder if the current writing team has ever seen the show before.

• A group of Saviors approaches, as Dwight and Tara hide in the brush. Even though Dwight hates the idea of going back to the Sanctuary, he does so in order to save the Alexandrians. This completely gobsmacks Tara, who realizes he was telling the truth all along.

Tara then turns and sees Rosita's been behind her the whole time and witnessed the incident. Wha...? How the hell did Rosita catch up to Tara and Dwight? Last we saw she was clearing out the swamp with Daryl and Siddiq, a good half mile away! 

Did Rosita really finish clearing out the swamp, trudge back through the brackish, waist-deep water, see that Tara and Dwight were gone and then sprint through the woods in the exact direction they went and then catch up to them in time to see everything that went down? I'm starting to think she's secretly a teleporter!

• Apparently when Gabriel slathered zombie guts all over himself back in The Big Scary U, he picked up some horrible bacteria from them. As far as I know, this is the first time anyone on the show's ever gotten sick from this trick.

The infection almost killed him a few weeks back, but apparently he managed to overcome it enough to move around. Unfortunately the infection's settled in his eyes, and threatens to irreparably harm his vision.

This is of course a real thing, as infection-related blindness is rampant in some Third World countries.

It's too bad Father Gabriel's not part of the Mobile Infantry anymore. I bet they could fix his eyes up in no time! Remember, Service Guarantees Citizenship! Would you like to know more?

• As Dr. Carson explores the abandoned house, Gabriel looks up and is barely able to make out a sign that says, "CAUTION! TRAPS!" Why the hell would the owner of the house put up a warning sign? Doesn't that kind of defeat the purpose of a booby trap?

• Sure enough, Carson 2 triggers a bear trap, and writhes helpless on the ground as a gaggle of walkers approach him. Gabriel sprints to the rescue, and we see him actually stomp on several other traps as he makes his way to Carson.

I guess the implication here is God really is watching out for him, and kept the traps from clamping shut on his ankles as he clumsily plodded over them (insert eye roll here).

• Gabriel eventually rescues Carson, and the two find a fully fueled Jeep inside the garage. Hooray! They're saved! Until they hear guns cocking, and turn around to see a group of Saviors standing directly behind them.

Note that this scene is edited with precise comic timing, so even though it's deadly serious, it's impossible not to burst out laughing.

• I can't let Dr. Carson 2's death go without commenting on it. Even after the two are captured by the Saviors, Gabriel sits in the back of their truck smiling like an idiot, still insisting this is all part of God's plan.

Carson, who witnessed firsthand the miracle of Gideon shooting a walker in the head while his eyes were closed, is finally convinced. Given everything that's happened to them in this episode, there must be a God watching out for them, right?

Believing himself invincible, Carson lunges for an inattentive Savior's gun, and instantly gets his blown off by another. Way to go, Gideon! Your stupid misguided faith in a petulant, mercurial god just got your friend killed— as surely as if you'd pulled the trigger yourself. Have fun living with that knowledge!

• Back in Honor, Daryl assured Rick that he'd get Judith safely to the Hilltop. All through this episode though we've seen Tobin (the guy in the very back center of the screen) schlepping her on his back. He was even playing with her to keep her occupied!

Now suddenly the group's made it to the Hilltop, and guess who's triumphantly carrying Judith through the gates? Is it Tobin? Nope! It's Daryl, who apparently grabbed the kid and carried her twenty feet just for show.

• Daryl tells the Hilltopians that Carl didn't make it, and we see a montage of Carol, Maggie and Enid reacting to the news. The soundtrack then plays a distinctive tinkly, descending piano riff that's dark and foreboding.

Note that this tune is INCREDIBLY similar to the Bella's Lullaby theme from the Twilight series. Seriously, it's reeeeeally close. Go ahead, look it up. I'll wait. See? Told you! I guess the composer didn't think anyone would notice?

And yes, I'm very embarrassed that I recognized music from the Twilight movies.

• When Maggie finds out the Hilltop's almost out of food, she decides to starve her Savior prisoners. Then Siddiq shows up and thanks her for the meager rations she gives him. For some reason, this triggers a 180 degree turn in Maggie, and she decides to feed the Saviors again. Really? That's all it took? A couple nice words and she completely changes her mind about these dangerous thugs she's holding prisoner?

• Negan really needs to make up his mind. Last week, Simon wanted to wipe out the Garbage Pail Kids for no other reason than they were annoying. Negan warned him not to touch a hair on their collective heads, saying that people are the greatest resource in this brave new world.

Then just one episode later, he's willing to wipe out the entire Hilltop by infecting them with zombie blood.

So which is it, Negan? Are people valuable cogs in your supply chain or are they expendable?

• After speaking with Eugene, Negan gets the bright— and nasty— idea to coat the Savior weapons with walker blood and guts, so that even a glancing blow will infect them.

Negan explains it to his troops like so: "You all know how it works. You get a bite, some kind of wound from one of these
 things, something from them gets in you, and you die. You join the club which sucks. What if we could use that to our advantage? (He jams Lucille into a walker's gory chest) Ah, you see how Lucille is getting to know our beautiful, cold friend here? That's it. Look at that. No more smashing and bashing. With this Well, this, it can just be a touch. Or a big, wet kiss. Either way, this gets you full membership, and that's what we want. We want people to join the club. Hilltop is gonna learn to toe the line one way or another, dead or alive Or some kinda shit in between."

This scene comes directly from Issue #122 of the comic, where Negan gets the exact same idea. It's amazing just how close the episode is to the comic. The entire sequence is played out almost shot for shot and word for word. Note that Negan's language is a bit more colorful in the comic, of course.

Of course this brings up an issue that fans of The Walking Dead have been debating for years— just how does the zombie virus work?

In the vast majority of zombie movies, the undead carry some kind of mysterious virus. When a person's bitten by a zombie, they contract the virus, become sick and eventually die. They then reanimate as a zombie themselves.

The Walking Dead's a bit different, in that EVERYONE is already infected with the zombie virus. It doesn't seem to cause any problems for the living thougheveryone seems to be perfectly healthy. No fevers or infections to be seen. However, when anyone in this world dies for ANY reason, they reanimate shortly after death.

However, a zombie bite or scratch will also infect or kill you in this world, causing you to die and come back. It's not quite clear just why there's a secondary method of infection in this world, or how exactly it works. The consensus is the zombie's bite doesn't transfer any kind of virus to the victim. Instead, a walker's mouth is crawling with all sorts of horrible bacteria, which causes a massive infection when they bite their prey. Once they're dead, whatever's already infected anyone makes them reanimate. Complicated!

Negan's plan is actually a good one, since even a slight cut or glancing blow from a blood-soaked knife or bullet will infect the target. In effect, it's simulating a zombie bite.

There's just one problem— in past episodes we've seen characters shoot walkers at close range and get splattered with zombie blood and guts. It covers their faces, no doubt getting in their eyes and mouths. And yet they don't get sick. If even a slight cut from a bloody weapon spreads the disease, shouldn't blood in the eyes do so as well?

It probably seems silly to argue disease vectors and realism in a show about shambling corpses, but it's not. Horror films and TV shows need clear and well-defined rules, and they need to stick to them. Otherwise you've got chaos like we have here.

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