Wednesday, November 22, 2017

The Walking Dead Season 8, Episode 5: The Big Scary U

Behind the scenes on this week's The Walking Dead:

Showrunner Scott Gimple: "You know, our show's still great and all, but there's one thing it's always been missing."
Writer: "What's that, boss?"
Gimple: "Endless scenes of corporate meetings set in conference rooms, filled with dry, lifeless dialogue. Is that something we could add to the show?"
Writer: "Done and done!"

Yes, welcome to one of the dullest episodes of The Walking Dead since... well, maybe ever. If you love corporate intrigue and endless meetings between department heads in your zombie TV shows, then brother, this is the episode for you. 
There were a couple scenes of very slight interest, but overall this installment was a huge dud.

And to top it all off, this was one of the show's infamous Supersized Episodes! At this point in the life of the series, any time I see that an episode's gonna be an extra long, I know I'm in for a bad time.

I'll give them props though for at least trying to do something different this week, instead of the usual "Avoid Walkers While Killing Bad People And Then Worrying About Whether It's Right" plot. Sure, it failed miserably, but at least they made an attempt.

Once again, we got an episode with some more goddamned time hopping. I'm telling you, it's almost to the point where you need a series of complicated diagrams just to figure out exactly when a scene's happening. There's absolutely no reason to do this every week, other than to give the illusion that the story's more complicated and interesting than it actually is. 

The best part of the episode was the small peek into Negan's backstory, as he finally let down his defenses— just a little bit— to show us what makes him tick. Ever since he first appeared in the Season 6 finale he's been more of a cartoon character than an actual person. This episode managed to give him some much needed depth, and turn him into a flesh and blood human being.

On the other hand, is a humanized Negan is a good thing, or does it make him less intimidating? Good question! Overall I'd say it's necessary. If the show follows the comic, Negan's gonna be around for a long time to come. The only way that's going to work is if he's got some depth.

It was slightly interesting to see the action from the "other side" this week, and realize the Sanctuary's not the relentless, unbeatable juggernaut it seems. It's actually built on quite a precarious foundation, as it seems to rely completely on Negan for every aspect of its existence. Heck, the second he's removed from the equation, the whole organization instantly collapses like a house of cards. That's a dangerous situation for the Saviors.

For the past couple of episodes we've been seeing a Rick/Daryl confrontation brewing, as the two clashed over whether to try and work with the Saviors or eradicate them completely. The matter came to a head this week, as the two finally had it out. 

Unfortunately, what could have been an epic clash between two brothers-in-arms ended up being little more than a schoolyard brawl, and fizzled out as quickly as it started. Somehow I was expecting more from this subplot.

For weeks now, fans (including me!) have suspected that the twitchy Father Gabriel was secretly working for Negan, providing him with valuable intel on Rick & Co.'s movements. It seemed like a likely theory, and there was actually quite a bit of proof to back it up. Welp, apparently we were all way off base. This episode proved, in no uncertain terms, that Gabe was NOT in cahoots with Negan at all. Oh well.


The Plot:
We begin with another goddamned motherfracking flashback, because it's physically impossible for The Walking Dead writers to produce an episode without one. This time we wind back to just before the season premiere (in which Rick & his army attacked the Sanctuary). We see Simon bring breakfast to Gregory, who's apparently being held somewhere inside the Sanctuary. Simon thanks Gregory for coming to see him and telling him everything he knows about Maggie's plans.

Cut to a conference room, where Negan leads a meeting of his lieutenants. In attendance are Simon, Dwight, Eugene, Gavin, Regina and Gregory. Wow, a board room meeting. In The Walking Dead. Now that's exciting! Amazingly, no one reads the minutes of the last meeting or says words things like "synergy" or "let's think outside the box." Instead, Gregory makes a weaselly excuse to Negan for losing control of the Hilltop, and suggests killing Maggie and everyone there.

This enrages Negan, who says people are the only valuable resource in the new world (I guess food, water, ammo and fuel don't count), and he doesn't like killing them. Negan says he doesn't mind killing the right people at the right time though, in order to send a message. Negan says by killing one person, you can save hundreds more. Suddenly a light goes on over Gregory's head and he says, "That's why you're called the Saviors!" Oy, gevalt.

Negans suggests they capture Rick, Maggie and King Ezekiel, and publicly execute them in front of their own people to force everyone back into line. We've already known this plan for a couple weeks now, so seeing the origin of it did absolutely nothing but burn up precious minutes of screentime. This scene then catches up to the premiere episode, in which Rick and his army attacked the Sanctuary. Confused yet?

Cut to the present, where Negan and Father Gabriel are trapped inside  a trailer in the Sanctuary courtyard, surrounded by a sea of hungry walkers. They talk for a while, and then Negan tackles Gabriel and takes his gun. He tells him to sit quietly and wait for rescue. Gabriel accuses him of being a killer. Naturally like all good delusional villains, Negan says he killed Glenn and Abraham, but he didn't GET them killed— Rick did. Negan then taunts Gabriel for trying to rescue Gregory, which only got him trapped here. Gabriel says maybe he was trapped in the trailer for a reason— to hear Negan's confession.

Back in the board room, the Savior Department Heads discuss how to save Negan. Regina wants to send a bunch of workers out to distract the walkers herd, so a team can enter the trailer and rescue him. Eugene calculates the odds and says it'll never work. Dwight believes Negan's dead, and says they need to get out before the workers find out and revolt (!). Simon says they need to find out the identity of the mole who's been spilling their secrets to Rick.

Later Eugene visits Dwight, and thanks him for backing him up in the meeting. He sees a chess set that Dwight carved and admires it. He picks up one of the pieces, and Dwight tells him to be careful because he just painted it. Eugene looks at his fingers, which are now covered in red paint. (Plot Point!)

Inside the trailer, Negan and Gabriel continue to sit and talk, which is about as exciting as it sounds. A walker breaks though part of the trailer wall, and mindlessly grabs for the two men, who are out of its reach. Negan goes on and on about how people are weak and need rules and laws. He says when he came to the Sanctuary it was a free-for-all, but he cleaned it up, gave people a purpose and made them strong. He says without him, the Sanctuary will fall again.

Gabriel asks Negan again if he has anything to confess. He says he's never killed anyone who didn't need it. He also mentions he had a wife before the zombie apocalypse started. Suddenly Gabriel grabs his gun back from Negan and runs into the trailer's second room, locking the door.

Elsewhere, Rick and Daryl root through the Savior weapons truck they ran off the road last week, gathering guns and ammo. Daryl finds a crate full of dynamite and starts loading it into a bag. When Rick asks what he's doing, Daryl says he's gonna use it to blow up Negan and the Sanctuary once and for all. Rick says there're innocent workers and families inside, and killing them will turn the whole world against Alexandria. He says they need to stick to The Plan (which the show has still never explained to the audience).

Daryl ignores him and walks off with the dynamite. Rick tackles him and they roll around on the ground for a bit. Rick grabs the satchel of dynamite, and hurls it back into the overturned truck. Right on cue, the truck catches fire. The two men stop fighting and run for their lives as the truck explodes, knocking them down. They sit and watch as the truck— along with all the weapons and ammo inside— goes up in smoke. Congratulations, idiots. Dozens of your own people died trying to get ahold of these guns, and now they're gone.

Rick then gets in his jeep to drive off, but it's a TV vehicle, so it won't start when it's needed most. He tells Daryl again that they need to stick to The Plan. Daryl says they've got to win or else, and roars off on his bike. For some reason, Rick takes off on foot in the opposite direction.

Back in the Sanctuary, Eugene's playing videogames when the power goes out. Apparently Negan was right about the Sanctuary— he's only been presumed dead for a couple of hours (I guess?), and already the generators have quit working!

Negan apparently senses the Sanctuary's going to hell, and yells to Gabriel (who's still locked in the spare room) that it's time to go. Gabriel offers his own confession, telling Negan about the time he locked his own congregation out of his church and listened to them die. He then says he'll only come out if Negan confesses.

Instead of kicking down the door and snapping Gabriel's neck like a normal person would, Negan actually offers a confession! He says he had a real wife before the world went to hell, but he was a bad person who cheated on her constantly. She got sick before the apocalypse, and died shortly after it began. He said he was weak, and couldn't bring himself to put her down after she turned.

Gabriel unlocks the door, hands Negan the gun and says, "You're forgiven." Negan then punches Gabriel in the face, in one of the most satisfying scenes in the history of the show. He gives him the gun back and then pulls the grasping walker through the hole and into the trailer. He smashes its head, then slices it open. He and Gabriel then do the old "Rub Zombie Guts All Over Yourself To Fool The Walkers" trick. Negan wonders if anyone's ever gotten sick from this ploy. (Possible Plot Point?)

Negan opens the trailer door, and a wave of walkers flood in. Fortunately they ignore the two camouflaged men. They cautiously thread their way through the thick herd, toward the Sanctuary. Naturally Gabriel trips and falls, and amazingly Negan helps him up instead of leaving him there. Just as they make it to the loading dock, several walkers topple over the edge and land on top of them.

In the board room, the Department Heads are STILL arguing and discussing. Suddenly a woman bursts in and says the workers are growing restless and coming up the stairs. Simon goes into the hallway, where he's met by a crowd of angry workers, who I was surprised to see aren't carrying torches and pitchforks. He tells them they're not allowed on the second floor, and to go back downstairs and wait for further instructions. They angrily demand to know why the power's out and if Negan's dead. One says they need water for their kids. Jesus Christ! As near as I can tell, Negan's only been gone a few hours! Did the Sanctuary really run completely out of water in that time?

The crowd starts to riot, and Regina shoots a woman dead. Suddenly they hear Negan whistling his little Savior tune, and he and Gabriel come around the corner. He announces he's back, and reports of his death have been highly exaggerated. He says he's going to go wash the walker guts off, but when he gets back, they've all got some explaining to do. A woman calls out, "Thank God for you, Negan!" He tells two Saviors to gently take Gabriel to a cell.

Cut to Rick walking through a woodland path. Suddenly he hears a noise and sees a helicopter fly overhead. Curious and amazed, he heads in the direction of the chopper. As he does so, he's watched by what appears to be one of the Garbage Pail kids, who whistles a signal. Jesus Christ, that means Jadis and her inbred tribe are coming back.

We then return to another thrilling scene in the Sanctuary conference room. Gavin presents a satchel full of guns that the Alexandrians used against them. He says the guns were taken from a Sanctuary outpost, and claims this proves there's a mole who's working with Rick and his army. Eugene, who apparently now has the deductive powers of Sherlock Holmes, glances at the satchel and notices a smear of red paint on it— the same kind Dwight used on his chess pieces. Gasp! After the meeting, Negan corners Eugene and tells him to use his smarts to ferret out the mole, or die trying. Literally!

Sometime later, Eugene visits Gabriel's windowless cell, bringing him a pillow and other comfort items. When he opens the door, he sees Gabriel's sweating profusely and apparently suffering from a fever. The implication is he was bitten by a walker while we weren't looking. Eugene tells Gabriel he's taking him to see Dr. Carson. Gabriel says no, and insists they need to get Carson back to the Hilltop to figure out why Maggie's been pregnant for over two years.

• The title of this week's episode (The Big Scary U) is Gregory's term for "the unknown." Why didn't he just say it normally in the first place? "The unknown" has two less syllables than "The Big Scary U."

• I've said it before, but I still think that Steven Ogg, aka Simon, would make a much better Negan than Jeffery Dean Morgan. Morgan's Negan seems downright buffoonish at times, what with his ridiculous cocksure swagger and frat boy patter. Ogg has a greasy, easygoing charm that masks a terrifying killer beneath.

• During one of this episode's endless board meetings, Eugene notices a small red smear on the gun satchel, and immediately realizes that Dwight's the mole. 

The idea here is that the splotch is identical to the red paint Dwight used on his chess pieces. Sure, why not? That's a mildly clever way to implicate Dwight. But did they have to make the paint RED? In a world filled with the blood of walking corpses and their victims? How does Eugene know the smear isn't just blood? Wouldn't it have made more sense if the paint smear was green or blue?

• Daryl roots through the overturned weapons truck, and finds a crate of dynamite. Man, he was was really tossing around those sticks of dynamite in this episode! I thought that was a bad thing? Isn't TNT highly unstable? Shouldn't Daryl be dead after showing that dynamite who's boss?

According to the interwebs, the risk of accidental explosion from rough handing of fresh dynamite is minimal, but quite high when it gets old. Dynamite has a maximum shelf life of one year. After that it starts to "sweat" nitroglycerin, which of course is very unstable and shock, friction and temperature sensitive.

Since fans that keep track of such say a bit less than two years have passed on the show since the zombie apocalypse started (really!), the dynamite they find is well over a year old, and should be handled with care. By all rights Daryl should have blown up real good when he started manhandling it.

• It's not clear what's wrong with Gabriel at the end of the episode, but I'm sure we're supposed to assume he was bitten in between scenes. We didn't actually see him and Negan enter the Sanctuary— the last we saw a couple of walkers fell on top of them and the screen went dark. So it's entirely possible Gabriel was bitten sometime between then and when he and Negan appeared inside the Sanctuary, and we'll eventually see the incident in one of the show's ubiquitous flashbacks.

On the other hand, it's also possible he contracted some horrible disease after smearing zombie guts all over himself. There's even a scene where Negan mentions this as a possibility:

Negan: "You ever done this trick with the guts before?"

Gabriel: "Mm-hmm."
Negan: "These are putrid, decaying organs, dead blood, piss, and sh*t that have been cooking all day in the Virginian sun. None of your people ever gotten sick from this?"
Gabriel: "We're from Georgia."

It's an odd scene, and a strange thing for a character to emphasize. Is it possible he wasn't bitten and just has an infection from the guts? In the comic, Gabriel dies long after this All Out War storyline, which gives a bit of credence to the infection theory. The show's deviated from the comic before though, so who knows? I guess we'll find out next week. Or whenever they decide to revisit this subplot.

• Of course the biggest question of this week's episode is who's in the helicopter that Rick sees fly overhead?

We've seen choppers on the show before, of course. Way back in the pilot episode, Rick spotted a vacant on outside the hospital, and later on sees one fly over downtown Atlanta.

The Govenor's people actually shot down a helicopter in Season 3 (I think?), and in Season 4 one was parked on the roof of a grocery store (and eventually fell through!).

And then there's the Season 7 episode New Best Friends, which introduced Jadis and the Garbage Pail Kids. In that episode there's a horribly obvious greenscreen shot of Rick standing in front of the vast junkyard, and many fans absolutely swear they see a helicopter flying by in the far distance.

Some viewers believed the alleged chopper was deliberate, and indicated another colony of survivors nearby. Others claimed it was a filming mistake, as a copter accidentally wondered into the shot while filming. That makes absolutely no sense. They didn't shoot the scene on location  it's clearly a fake CGI background. Why would anyone deliberately add a helicopter to an effects shot if it wasn't supposed to be there?

As to who's in the chopper, some think it's yet a group we've not seen before. That seems unlikely to me, as I doubt they'd add another colony during the All Out War storyline and complicate it even further. Others believe it contains cast members from sister series Fear The Walking Dead. I've never seen the show (there're only so many hours in a day), so I honestly can't say if that's true or not.

I'm going all Occam's Razor here, and saying the simplest explanation is the best. I think the copter belongs to the Garbage Pail Kids. Pollyanna McIntosh (aka Jadis) shows up in the credits every week, so we know her group's gonna be back sooner or later. We know her people are scavengers, so it's totally possible they found a chopper and flew it to the junkyard. Plus right after it zoomed overhead, we saw what appeared to be a Garbage Pail Kid guard who was eyeing Rick. 

Until the show proves otherwise, that's the explanation I'm going with.

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