Thursday, November 16, 2017

The Walking Dead Season 8, Episode 4: Some Guy

This week's The Walking Dead was the best episode of the season so far, which I admit comes close to damning it with faint praise.

Some guy focused on King Ezekiel, the outlandish ruler, eloquent and overly confident ruler of the Kingdom and its people. I like the character quite a bit, 
but even I have to admit he's been begging to be taken down a notch or twelve the past few weeks. His endless "And Yet I Smile" speeches and his bold assurances that the Kingdom wouldn't lose a single soldier in the upcoming war, it was inevitable that the gods would eventually slap him down. And boy, did they!

Khary Payton did an incredible job as Ezekiel, 
playing a man who realizes his subjects bought into his ridiculous Ren Faire act so completely they were literally willing to die for him. And just as the guilt of that realization sinks in, he's confronted with the fact that his people are STILL following him, even in death! It wasn't exactly subtle, but it was a damned cool scene.

My favorite part of the episode were the scenes between Ezekiel and his loyal subject Jerry. After his epic humbling, Ezekiel tearfully admits he's a fraud to Jerry. Of course Jerry knows Ezekiel's not an actual king, but it's a lie he needs to believe, in order to go on. It's a nice little moment between the two men.

Hopefully this tearing down of Ezekiel and his Kingdom will make him emerge as an even stronger leader later on.

There was a bit of a B-plot this week, as Carol, Rick and Daryl desperately tried to keep a shipment of weapons (including a very deadly Gatling gun) from being returned to Negan. For some insane reason, this is the first time all season that the audience has been informed of Rick's plan. The first three episodes were filled with fragmented, poorly-filmed shootouts with no apparent goal in mind. Hell, we had no idea where Rick's various groups were even located until this episode! 

Think how much better the season would have played out so far if, in the premiere episode, Rick had spelled out the plan to his people, and by proxy the audience. Just think how much better it would have been if we'd known WHY the Alexandrians were attacking the Savior outpost, and why they were risking their lives to do so. 

Without any such context, these battles are confusing and meaningless, and lack any urgency or tension. 


The Plot:
Since this is The Walking Dead, we begin with a flashback sequence. We see Ezekiel getting ready in the morning, as he literally puts on his kingly persona. Subtle!

We then see a montage of Kingdom soldiers getting ready for the upcoming battle with the Saviors, as they say goodbye to their loved ones. Ezekiel gives them all his rousing "And Yet I Smile" speech, promising them they'll defeat the Saviors and win the day with no casualties. Uh-oh. The Kingdomites all cheer their beloved "king."

Smash cut to the aftermath of the battle at the Savior outpost we saw last week, in which a Savior sniper cut down the Kingdom army with a Gatling gun (or something very much like one). Ezekiel's people sacrificed themselves to save him by piling on top of their King. After a few minutes Ezekiel craws from underneath the pile of lifeless and dismembered bodies (luckily the sniper got bored and left). He's horrified as he sees the remains of his people strewn over the field.

Suddenly the Kingdom corpses start to stir as they reanimate. Ezekiel realizes he needs to get away fast, but he's been shot in the leg and can't stand. He's forced to crawl away (the ultimate indignity for a king) as his own people start shambling toward him. He grabs weapons from nearby corpses, but unfortunately they're all empty. Just as one of the walkers is about to attack Ezekiel, it's shot in the head. A lone surviving Kingdomite named Alvaro appears, and helps Ezekiel get away.

Inside the outpost, the Saviors pack up the Gatling gun and other weapons. Carol, who somehow survived the attack, sneaks around the outpost. She crawls into the ceiling and shoots down, killing several of the Saviors. Unfortunately two survive and begin firing back at her. She runs off, and the Saviors finish loading up the guns to take back to the Sanctuary.

Meanwhile, Alvaro and Ezekiel hobble to safety. Ezekiel asks where Shiva is, but Alvaro says he hasn't seen her. Suddenly Alvaro's shot through the chest and dies, as Ezekiel topples to the ground. A creepy Savior named Gunther appears and takes Ezekiel hostage.

Gunther tells Ezekiel he's taking him to the Sanctuary to present him to Negan. He takes Ezekiel's sword and mocks him, telling him he's nothing but a con man who bamboozled his people into thinking he's an actual king. He points to the pursuing walkers and notes that Ezekiel's people are still blindly following him, even in death. Harsh!

Outside the outpost, Carol sees the Saviors loading the guns into a truck. She fires at them, but for plot reasons can't seem to hit a single one of them. The Saviors fire back, and there's another lengthy gun battle, as thousands more rounds of ammo are spent.

Gunther and Ezekiel come to a fence with a locked gate. Gunther tries to unlock it as the walkers loom closer. Ezekiel asks for his sword back so he can fight off the walkers. Gunther refuses, and then makes a decision. He was under orders to bring Ezekiel to Negan intact, but he says his head will do just fine. Just as Gunther's about to decapitate Ezekiel, he's split clean in two (!) by Jerry, Ezekiel's right hand man. Just how such a large, hulking target managed to survive the Gatling gun attack and sneak up behind Gunther is left to our imaginations.

Carol's still pinned down, so she tries a new tactic. She yells to the Saviors that she's out of ammo, and offers to tell where her people are if they let her live. One of the Saviors approaches her, and she grabs him and holds a knife to his throat, threatening to kill him. The Saviors apparently don't care, as they fire THROUGH their man at her (!). Carol dives to the ground and activates an electric gate, letting hundreds of walkers into the outpost courtyard. The Saviors forget about her as they try (and fail) to fight off the walkers.

Jerry tries to open the gate with his axe, but it breaks. With their backs against the fence, he and Ezekiel have no choice but to fight the approaching walkers.

Carol sees there're only two Saviors left in the courtyard, and says she's not letting them take the guns. Just then she looks over and notices Ezekiel and Jerry fighting for their lives against the fence, as we realize everyone's in the same place. Carol makes a decision and heads toward the fence.

She opens fire on the walkers, cutting down most, but not all of them. She then unlocks the fence and rescues Ezekiel and Jerry. Just then the two Saviors drive off with all the guns. Ezekiel's crushed, as this means his people died for nothing, and the Sanctuary will get the guns back. Just then Carol hears a motorcycle and says, "Don't be too sure."

Cut to Daryl on his bike, and Rick in a jeep as they follow the Savior truck. Never mind where they've been or how they got here, I guess. The Saviors see Daryl and fire at him, causing him to swerve and run off the road. Rick floors it and catches up to the truck. Suddenly one of the Saviors jumps in the back and fires the Gatling gun at him. Rick swerves, revealing Daryl behind him. Apparently we're not supposed to wonder how he got back on his bike so quickly and caught up. Anyhow, Daryl shoots the Gatling Savior.

Rick then pulls up next to the truck and does his best Indiana Jones impression, jumping into the passenger seat. He stabs the driver and jumps out of the truck. It swerves and flies down a steep cliff. Yay, they got the guns!

Meanwhile, Carol, Ezekiel and Jerry are still on the run from the Kingdomite walker herd. Ezekiel does the old, "I'm slowing you down, leave me behind" shtick, but they refuse to listen. The come to a deep ravine, filled with leaking barrels of toxic waste. The ravine's full of really gross walkers whose skin's been partially dissolved by the caustic sludge. Carol and the others are forced to splash through the ravine. Carol clambers up the other side, and Jerry struggles to lift Ezekiel, as the acid walkers close in. Jerry says he's sorry he failed "his Majesty."

Ezekiel breaks down and yells, "I'm not your king! I'm not your Majesty! I ain't no king. I am nothing. I'm just some guy." Houston, we have a title! Jerry of course knows this, but also realizes that the Kingdom needs its ruler now more than ever. He refuses to give up, and continues trying to lift Ezekiel up to Carol.

Just then Shiva appears, and tears into the acid zombies, sacrificing her life for Ezekiel and giving him a chance to escape. Jerry and Ezekiel finally climb out of the gully to safety. Ezekiel's devastated by the loss of his pet.

Sometime later, Ezekiel, Carol and Jerry stumble back into the Kingdom. The Kingdomites rush to them, shocked and stunned to see only three of their soldiers survived. A beaten and broken Ezekiel silently shuffles off to his chambers. He's no longer smiling.

The Walking Dead continues to be the most subtle show on TV, as the episode begins with a shot of King Ezekiel going through his morning routine and dressing for his role as leader. See? He's literally putting on his kingly persona the way one puts on a costume! Get it?

• Some day I hope to watch an episode of The Walking Dead that unfolds in real time, without any flashbacks, flash forwards or scenes edited out of order. It's becoming increasing obvious that these constant time shifts are just a ploy to distract the audience from the fact that there's no actual story. At this point it's like a lame and overused magic trick.

• I think the scariest and most disturbing part of this week's episode was this.

That's right— an onscreen credit for Pollyanna McIntosh. She's the weirdo who plays Jadis, the leader of the Gargage Pail Kids who were introduced last season. If she's still gettin' a credit, then you know what that means— she and her ridiculous clan are gonna be back on the show at some point this season. Shudder.

• As his soldiers reanimate and shamble toward him, the hobbled Ezekiel can only crawl away. He grabs a couple of discarded guns, but unfortunately they're all empty. D'oh! 

Funny how in the past few weeks everyone on both sides has seemingly had infinite ammo, but then when someone REALLY needs a gun— suddenly they're all empty.

• Noooooo!!! Not, er, Red Headed Kingdom Soldier! Why, God, why? He had so much to live for! Say it ain't so!!!

I think maybe this Kingdomite's name was Daniel? Maybe? He's been popping up in the background for two seasons now, so we should definitely know his name at this point. This show's absolutely terrible when it comes to identifying characters for the audience. I shouldn't have to go to the Walking Dead wiki page to find out what the hell a character's name is.

• I dunno where they found the guy who played Gunther, but he was creepy as hell. He looked like the unholy offspring between David Koresh and Jeffery Dahmer. There was something... unwholesome and disturbing about him. He looks like someone who spends his spare time torturing small animals.

Gunther was played by actor Whitmer Thomas, who fortunately doesn't look anywhere near as unpleasant in real life.

• Gunther realizes there's no way he's going to be able to drag an intact Ezekiel all the way back to the Sanctuary, but soon realizes that's impossible. He says, "Negan was hoping to have your ass chained to the Sanctuary fence. You, the Widow, Rick. But your head on a pike will do just fine."

COMIC BOOK SPOILER AHEAD! Highlight the text between the asterisks to reveal: 

****** This is likely an ominous bit of foreshadowing at King Ezekiel's fate in the comic. After the Negan storyline plays out, the three "good" colonies encounter the Whisperers, a group of bizarre weirdoes who wear walker skins so they can walk freely among zombies. The Whisperers launch a secret attack against the colonies, beheading various citizens and placing their heads on pikes as a warning to stay out of their territory. Sadly, Ezekiel's head is one of them that ends up on a spike.******

Whether this will eventually happen on the show or not remains to be seen.

• It was a truly awesome moment when Jerry appeared and cleaved Gunther in two with his mighty axe. But was it really necessary for Jerry to rage chop him a second time? Surely Gunther wasn't gonna reanimate after being bisected down the middle!

• I was very happy to see Jerry somehow survived the Gatling gun attack, as he's just a cool character. I was terrified though that they'd spared him just so they could turn around and kill him while we watched. Luckily that didn't happen. At least not this week.

• There're a lot of really obvious CGI bullet strikes when the Saviors shoot at the truck Carol hides behind.

By the way, I know next to nothing about guns, but even I've noticed that no matter what kind of weapon the characters fire, there never seems to be any recoil. Funny how that works out, eh?

• Oh, the perils of jumbling your series' timelines.

This week we see Ezekiel giving his troops his patented "And Yet I Smile" speech right before they go into battle. Fine. But then we get a flashback that takes place before this moment, in which Ezekiel and Carol are walking along, and he gives her the same exact speech. 

Then last week in Monsters, Ezekiel and Carol were walking along on their way to wipe out a Savior stronghold. She asks him why he's smiling, and he gives her the speech again! 

If you untangle all the scenes and put them in proper order, they go like this:

— Ezekiel and Carol are talking sometime before the Savior battle, and he gives her his "And Yet I Smile" speech.

— Ezekiel inspires his troops with the "And Yet I Smile" speech before they leave the Kingdom and go to battle.

— Ezekiel and Carol are walking to the Savior battle, and he gives her the "And Yet I Smile" speech, as if she's not heard it twice already.

The writers would have probably realized this screwup if they'd stop with the goddamned flashbacks and twisted timelines, and just show us what's happening in linear time.

• As Carol, Ezekiel and Jerry try to run from the pursuing walker herd, they struggle over a railroad track. I'd think after the events of Season 5, Carol would steer as far away from train tracks as possible!

• I guess in all the fear and confusion, no one ever thought to simply have the hulking Jerry carry Ezekiel on his back, rather than making the poor man limp along at one mile per hour.

• During the big car chase, the Saviors fire their Gatling gun at the pursuing Rick. Oddly enough, the gun does relatively little damage to his jeep— about all it does is poke a small hole in the radiator. This is surprising, since it literally tore the Savior soldiers limb from limb.

• Apparently Rick is now Indiana Jones, as he leaps from his jeep into a moving transport truck and stabs the driver. The only thing missing is the Ark Of The Covenant in the back of the truck!

• A couple weeks ago in The Damned, I pointed out that in the opening credits, the images that appear behind an actor's name usually (but not always) have something to do with their character. For example, a photo of Rick's trusty police revolver appears behind Andrew Lincoln's name, while Michonne's samurai sword appears behind Danai Gurira's.

I also noted that this season Seth Gilliam, aka Father Gabriel, had been promoted to the opening credits. For some reason, an image of a large sewer drain appears behind Gilliam's name. I said I couldn't figure out what, if anything, that had to do with the character.

Welp, I still don't know what the image has to do with him, but at least now we know where it comes from. It's the sewer drain that dumped toxic waste into the gulley and created the sludge walkers.

• Back in The Damned, the Kingdomites ran into a walker that looked like it'd been partially dissolved. Ezekiel saw it and wondered, "What befell this creature?" Well, now we know! There's a whole pocket of walkers in the gully that've been eaten away by caustic waste leaking from several barrels.

I couldn't find a really good image of them from this episode, as the camera was constantly moving across them. This is about the best I could do.

Here's a pretty good behind the scenes production photo of one of them, in all its disgusting glory. Remind you of anything?

According to Walking Dead producer/director/makeup artist Greg Nicotero, the Sludge Walkers were an homage to Emil Antonowski's gruesome fate from the original RobocopCool!

• R.I.P. Shiva. You will be missed.

I knew she this was gonna be Shiva's last episode a
s soon as Ezekiel started infodumping her backstory to Carol (which he already explained to her once last season). It's traditional on The Walkind Dead that any time a character suddenly starts telling their life story to someone, they'll end up dead before the episode's over. Shiva couldn't tell anyone her story herself, so Ezekiel did it for her.

I think this is supposed to give the character's demise some added emotion. Instead it's like a big 'ol warning buzzer, telling the audience a death's coming.

Her death didn't really come as much of a surprise. Shiva died in the comic around this time, so it was inevitable that it would happen on the show as well. 

Not to mention the fact that CGI is notoriously expensive, so I'm sure the producers were more than happy to be shed of her.

Regardless of why they offed her, it probably says something about the writing on this show when the saddest death so far this season was that of a CGI tiger.

• I dunno, I'd like to think a full-grown tiger could escape from a mob of wriggling, partially-dissolved dead bodies. Seems like she could have easily torn them all to shreds and leaped out of the gully to fight another day.

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