Wednesday, November 2, 2016

The Walking Dead Season 7, Episode 2: The Well

In the past few seasons it's become something of a tradition for The Walking Dead to follow up a brutal episode with a lighthearted one. And that's just what happened this week. After all the horrifying violence and cruelty of The Day Will Come When You Won't Be, this week's The Well feels almost delightful. It's as close as The Walking Dead can ever come to outright comedy.

Be careful though— this episode's change in tone is so abrupt and jarring it's likely to give you whiplash.

Once again, we get a second episode of the season that would have made a far better premiere. I know I'm beating an undead zombie horse here, but wouldn't it have made far more sense for Negan to kill Abraham and Glenn and then break Rick at the end of last season, and then begin Season 7 with this look at an entirely new area settlement? I certainly think so.

This off-kilter scheduling has been happening more and more lately (they did it a LOT in Season 6), which makes me believe that showrunner Scott Gimple doesn't understand the concept of pacing.

Oh well. Eventually this will become a moot problem, as it's only an issue when the episodes are being broadcast. Once they're on blu ray and you can binge-watch to your heart's content, pacing won't be as much of an issue.

This week we're introduced to yet another new settlement of humanity in the middle of the zombie apocalypse— The Kingdom, which is led by the flamboyant self-titled King Ezekiel. The Kingdom's got a good thing going, as it's larger and more advanced than Alexandria. 

So far every colony we've seen has got along just fine by themselves, until Rick Grimes appeared. In every case, he's kicked down the door and immediately started stirring up sh*t, and before long the place is overrun with walkers and destroyed. He's become a terrifying force of nature, as bad or worse then the biggest herd of zombies.

Fortunately for The Kingdom, this time it's the peace-loving Morgan and Carol who stumble upon it. I'm hopeful this means Rick will keep his big nose out of the place, and it'll manage to survive in the long run. Knowing how the comic turns out though, I doubt that'll happen (Oops! Spoilers!).


The Plot:
After Carol's violent encounter with a group of Saviors last season, she wakes up in the back of a horse-drawn cart, being taken to The Kingdom. She drifts in and out of consciousness, seeing the caravan attacked by walkers and rescued by additional Kingdom soldiers.

She wakes up in a bed and sees Morgan watching over her from a nearby chair, which isn't the least bit creepy at all. He tells her she's been out for two days. She asks where the heck they are.

Cut to Morgan pushing Carol in a wheelchair through The Kingdom. It's a large, bustling community full of activity. People grow their own food and raise their own livestock. There's even a makeshift school. The whole thing makes Alexandria look like a slum. Morgan tells her he's been helping around the community in exchange for the medical care they gave her. He says it's time she met the leader of The Kingdom.

They enter a theater, where they see the leader of the community— King Ezekiel. He sits atop a throne onstage, speaks like a Shakespearean actor and has an honest-to-god pet tiger (named Shiva) at his side. He welcomes Carol and asks her what she thinks of The Kingdom. She's dumbstruck, and says it's "amazing."

Outside, Carol asks Morgan what the hell's going on. She says these people are all fooling themselves, pretending they're all safe. She says she's not staying, and intends to leave the minute Morgan's back is turned. The audience groans, realizing the writers are still shoving the "Carol's Tired Of Killing And Doesn't Want To Be Around Anyone Anymore" storyline down our throats. Morgan says he refuses to let Carol die in the wild, because he needs something to do on the show.

The next day Ezekiel takes a group of men, including Morgan, into a nearby city to hunt wild hogs. They lure the hogs into a building with a tied-up walker. They lock 'em inside, and the hogs start chowing down on the zombie. When Morgan asks what's going on, Richard, a knight of The Kingdom, says he wants to make sure the hogs' bellies are full of rot. He tells Morgan not to say anything about this back home.

Back at The Kingdom, Ezekiel praises Morgan's sweet bo-staff skills, and asks him to train a young knight named Ben. Morgan reluctantly agrees. Meanwhile Carol wheels herself around the community. She expertly steals a knife and some clothes, preparing to leave that night. Morgan trains Ben, and the two bond. Ben sees a book in Morgan's pack (The Art Of Peace, given to him by Eastman in Here's Not Here) and asks to borrow it.

Ezekiel appears with a group of soldiers, and tells Morgan and Ben to come with him. They drive to a parking lot, where they're met by a group of Saviors. Like they do with every group they encounter, the Saviors demand "half their sh*t." Ezekiel gives them a truck full of well-fed hogs, whose bellies are secretly full of walker meat. There's a scuffle when one of the Saviors gets mouthy with Richard, but Ezekiel ends it quickly. The Saviors say they'll be back again next week, and if they don't meet their quota, someone will be killed.

Ezekiel tells Morgan to keep this quiet, as The Kingdomites don't know about the arrangement with the Saviors. He says if they did, they'd want to fight back, and The Kingdom would surely lose. How refreshing! A leader who doesn't want to immediately murder everyone who poses even a slight threat!

Back at The Kingdom, Morgan visits Carol, but finds her room empty. Meanwhile, Carol sneaks around in the dark, stealing supplies before she buggers off on her own. King Ezekiel appears, and asks what the hell she thinks she's doing. She say she has no purpose in The Kingdom, and wants to go.

Ezekiel says, "Never bullsh*t a bullsh*tter." He then drops the king act, and starts speaking normally. He says before the apocalypse he was a zookeeper, and found Shiva wounded and dying in a pit. He rescued her and says she's never so much as growled at him since. He said people need someone who makes them feel safe, and who better to do that than a man with a tiger? He used Shiva and his experience in community theater to build The Kingdom. Carol, for reasons known only to the writers, says she just can't stay. Ezekiel encourages her "to leave, but not leave."

At the end of the episode, we see Carol's apparently taken his advice, and moves into a house just outside the protective walls of The Kingdom. There's a knock at the door, which seems odd in this post apocalyptic world. She answers the door and sees it's Ezekiel and Shiva. He offers her a pomegranate, and says she really has to try them.

• For many seasons, Carol's been the baddest badass on the series. Remember how awesome it was when she singlehandedly saved Rick & Co. from Terminus in Season 5? Good times…

For some reason in the middle of Season 6, the writers saw fit to change all that, and grafted this bizarre "peacenik" storyline onto Carol. Suddenly and for no clear reason, she decided she didn't want to kill anymore, couldn't stand to be around anyone she cared about, and had to leave Alexandria and set out on her own.

The problem with this storyline is it came completely out of the blue. In fact it apparently happened off-screen, between episodes! Maybe if there'd been some sort of buildup to her change of heart; one that happened slowly and methodically over three or four episodes, it would have been more palatable. As it, her personality change was jarring, confusing and felt completely unearned.

The writers also believe this new Carol storyline is much more interesting than the audience does, as it just keeps going on and on and on and…

The main problem I have with the whole Carol thing is that she just wants to be left the hell alone, but no one will let her. Every time she tries to run off into the wilderness, one of the cast starts babbling on about "family," and tries to drag her back.

If Carol wants to die alone in the wild, then that's her business! Why can't everyone on the show see that, and just let her be?

• This week we're finally introduced to King Ezekiel, who was a major character in the comic for a few years.

I have to admit I was not a fan of the character. Scratch that— I was fine with the character, it was the fact that he had a goddamned pet tiger that I was having trouble accepting. I remember when I opened the comic and saw the above panel for the first time, I said, "Welp, that's that! The Walking Dead just jumped the tiger, shark." I thought it was one of the dumbest things I'd ever seen, and it almost put me off reading the comic after that.

All that said, somehow the show managed to pull the whole thing off in a satisfying way. Maybe it's because the series acknowledged the stupidity and ridiculousness of the situation, which made the whole thing more plausible and palatable?

• Khary Payton was wonderful as the outlandish King Ezekiel. I especially liked his heart-to-heart talk with Carol late in the episode, in which he slowly dropped the formal, faux-Shakespearian accent and reverted to his actual way of speaking. Kudos to Payton, who's worked as a voice actor in video games, for his ability to effortlessly slide in and out of the Ezekiel act!

• I was also very impressed with Shiva, who looked and acted just like a real tiger to my eyes.

Obviously there's no way they were going to have a dangerous, unpredictable tiger on the set, so I naturally assumed Shiva was a CGI creation. Not entirely! In the majority of scenes, Shiva is a sophisticated and very realistic animatronic puppet! They do augment things like eye blinks and ear twitches with computer graphics though. And when you see a full body shot of her walking around, she's obviously 100% CGI. But a surprising amount of the tiger effects are done practically, on set. Pretty cool!

• In last week's episode, Negan chose Lucille's victim by reciting "Eeny, meeny, miny, moe. Catch a tiger by his toe."

It didn't occur to me at the time (because I was too nervous about who was going to be killed), but could that little rhyme have been foreshadowing? Or was it just a coincidence?

• In the comic, Michonne hooks up with Ezekiel, not Rick. Based on this episode, it appears they're taking Michonne's storyline and transferring it to Carol.

I suppose they had to do this, since Michonne is currently with Rick, and has sort of taken the place of Andrea (who's still alive in the comic and has become Rick's "wife"). Time will tell if this is a good idea or not.

By the way, much of the Ezekiel's backstory is lifted almost word-for-word from the comic.

• In this episode we're introduced to member of the Kingdom named Ben. He's a teen whose father was killed by walkers, and is trying his best to become one of King Ezekiel's knights. He's also doing his best to raise his younger brother by himself. In addition to all that he's highly intelligent and a voracious reader.

Annnnnd he doesn't have a prayer in this world. There's no way such a sympathetic character will survive for long on this show. I predict he'll be dead by the mid-season finale. Heck, he might as well be wearing a red shirt.

• Ezekiel takes Morgan along for the weekly offering to the Saviors. It's interesting to see how different The Kingdom's relationship with the Saviors is, especially when compared to that of Rick and his crew. The Saviors obviously have the upper hand, but they still treat Ezekiel and The Kingdom with caution, and the slightest hint of respect. 

Of cause this just might have something to do with the fact that Ezekiel didn't kill thirty or forty of Negan's men the way Rick did, resulting in the two groups being on relatively good terms.

All this helps give the Saviors a badly needed bit of depth, as we see they're not all psychopathic killers, and can be reasoned with if you play by their rules.

• Once again the show's vague sense of geography comes into play in this episode. 

Last season Rick & Co. stumbled across the little settlement of Alexandria. We were told that the Alexandrians have several teams who've been going on supply runsever since the apocalypse began.

Isn't it amazing that in all those trips of ever-increasing distance, the Alexandrians never once ran across anyone from the Hilltop, the Saviors or The Kingdom? What are the odds?

Obviously the writers are keeping the distances between these colonies a mystery, to try and make this situation more plausible.

• So what was the deal with the Kingdom feeding walkers to the wild pigs and then offering them as tribute to the Saviors? Was Ezekiel trying to infect the Saviors and turn 'em all into walkers?

Eh, I don't think so. Remember, everyone in this world is already infected with the zombie virus. Anyone who dies for any reason automatically turns into a walker. A walker bite will kill you (due to the massive amount of bacteria in its mouth), but it won't directly cause you turn.

Oddly enough we've seen numerous characters get sprayed with walker blood and guts, and they suffered no ill effects. It's probably safe to assume eating walker flesh is harmless as well.

Additionally, this obviously isn't the first time The Kingdom has delivered "tainted" hogs to the Saviors. If eating them really was deadly, Negan would know about it by now, and would have executed Ezekiel and everyone in The Kingdom long ago.

I'm betting Ezekiel is just fattening the hogs with walker meat so he doesn't have to waste precious resources on his offerings to Negan. The less food he gives to the hogs, the more he has for his people.

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