Friday, March 9, 2018

The Walking Dead Season 8, Episode 9: Honor

Welcome to the Beginning Of The End Of The Walking Dead

Sorry this review is a week or two late, but... I just didn't much feel like writing it. There was a time when The Walking Dead was my favorite show on TV, and I couldn't wait to write about it each week. That time has passed.

The reason? Showrunner Scott Gimple. Over the past two or three seasons he's taken a series I once loved and blown a massive hole right through it. I'm at the point now where I no longer feel like watching the show, and am honestly considered dropping it. 

When Gimple took over The Walking Dead in Season 4, he brought a much-needed energy and focus to the series. Unfortunately with each subsequent season, it's become increasingly worse under his leadership. Every single creative decision he's made on the show has been the wrong one. It would be fascinating if it weren't so frustrating. 

Under Gimple's watch, character motivation has become nonexistent, changing from week to week to fit the needs of the script. Even worse, he seems unable to tell a simple linear story, as he fills each episode with infuriating, convoluted timelines that are impossible to unravel.

As if all that wasn't enough, he's senselessly killed off Carl Grimes, the second longest-running character on the entire goddamned show. Back in December I discussed in great detail just how stupid an idea it was to kill off a major character like Carl, so I won't bore you with all that again here. If you're interested, you can check out my reasons here.

I'm calling it right now— Honor, aka The One Where Carl Dies, is the episode that future critics will point to as the one that doomed the series to cancellation. It's the one that will cause even the most die hard fan to throw in the towel and lose interest in the show. The one in which showrunner Scott Gimple finally screwed up one too many times, and torpedoed his own show.

You may be wondering why I'm so upset by the death of a fictional character. After all, it's not like The Walking Dead has never killed off a major character before. Why should this one set me off so? Because killing Carl is a HUGE mistake, one that's going to have permanent repercussions. I don't think Gimple realizes it yet, but he's really shot himself in the foot this time. 

See, Carl's still alive and well in the comic, some three or four years after the events of the All Out War storyline that's currently playing out on the show. By needlessly killing him off, Gimple just flushed the next several years' worth of plots right down the crapper.

Carl played a BIG role in at least two or three major upcoming comic book storylines. At the end of the All Out War arc, Rick finally defeated Negan and imprisoned him in a makeshift jail in Alexandria. Carl then struck up a secret friendship with Negan, who took an odd shine to the lad and began offering him advice on life and becoming a man. Eventually Carl came to think of Negan as a surrogate father (!).

Carl then decided to move to the Hilltop, where he became a blacksmith. He was a good one too, supplying the various communities with various tools and bullets.

Later, the Alexandrians encountered the Whisperers, a group of deadly weirdos who wore the skins of zombies in order to move unseen among them. Carl even had a romantic relationship with the daughter of the Whisperer leader!

With TV Carl now dead, I have no idea how the series can possibly proceed with ANY of those storylines. The only other teen on the series is Enid, and I hope the hell they don't try to graft his story arcs onto her! As I've said over and over, Gimple really sh*t the bed this time, and obviously has no idea what the hell he's doing.

In addition to all that, Carl's death is a demoralizing blow in an already depressing and nihilistic series. In a way, Carl was the heart and soul of the show. He represented the next generation— the one that's grown up in this brave new miserable world. The one that would hopefully reclaim it from the dead someday.

With his senseless death, there's now no hope left. Everything Carl went through in the past eight seasons was all for nothing. Surviving a bullet to the gut, shooting Shane after he reanimated, killing his mom after she had Judith, losing an eye in a walker attack, and even sneaking into the Sanctuary to confront Negan by himself— all pointless.

As a final F-U to the fans, Gimple sent Carl out on the stupidest note possible. He didn't sacrifice himself to save a bus full of orphans. He wasn't attacked while heroically defending his community or his family. Instead he was accidentally bitten while walking through the woods. Something he'd done a million times before on the show. Talk about a letdown!

I'm not the only one who thinks Carl's death was a bad move. Jeffrey Dean Morgan, aka Negan himself, took to Instagram and expressed his disappointment with the decision. The Carl/Negan scenes were one of the reasons he joined the show in the first place, and now... all that's gone. Frittered away by Gimple in a desperate attempt at a ratings bump.

Since even the actors seem to think this was a bad idea, I wonder what would have happened if they'd all banded together, stormed into Gimple's office and told him, "No." What if they'd all said they weren't gonna go along with his idiotic idea, and weren't reporting to set until he changed it? What could he do? He can't fire ALL of them. Seems like if they had enough people on their side, he'd have had to back down and change the script. I guess we'll never know.

Other fans are just as pissed about the decision. This season the show's been shedding viewers at an alarming rate. In fact this week's ratings were the lowest they've been since Season 1! Honor scored a 2.9 rating, which somehow translates into 6.8 million viewers. Sounds like a lot, but that's a far cry from the glory days of Season 5, when it was regularly pulling in 15 to 17 million viewers.

There is a sliver of good news in all this though. I've been calling for Gimple's head for two or three years now, and it seems the gods old and new have finally answered my pleas. A couple weeks ago AMC announced that Scott Gimple had been "promoted" to the newly created role of "Chief Content Officer," whatever the hell that is. 

I don't know how it works in Hollywood, but in the corporate world, bumbling executives are often "promoted" instead of terminated. They're often placed in made-up positions with little or no power, to spare them the shame of being fired. I have a feeling this is what's happening with Gimple.

So starting with Season 9, Gimple's out. Angela Kang, who's been a co-executive producer on the show since 2013, will take over as the new showrunner. Hopefully she can steer the show back on course, but... honestly it's probably too late too late to save it. He's already punched a hole in the side of the ship, and it's only a matter of time before it sinks.

Honestly I don't much care at this point. I should have been deeply affected by Carl's "shocking" death. But because I fundamentally disagree with every single aspect of the idea, all I could think of during the episode was how monumentally stupid it was.

This was my expression all through the episode.

As I said, welcome to the Beginning Of The End Of The Walking Dead.

UPDATE: Shortly after this episode aired, it was reported that Lauren Cohen, aka Maggie, is the only cast member who's not signed up for Season 9. Apparently she's not happy with the money AMC's offering, and is stalling for a better deal.

This means Maggie's likely going to be killed off at the end of Season 8, which will deviate from the source material even MORE. And it means we'll never get to see her give birth to that goddamned kid that she's been carrying since Season 5 (seriously!).


The Plot:
Carol and Morgan rescue Ezekiel, and Carl dies from his bite. That's pretty much the extent of the story this week. Goodnight, everybody!

OK, OK, I guess I can fill in a few of the details.

Because this is The Walking Dead and Scott Gimple is the showrunner, linear narratives are strictly prohibited. The episode begins with a truly interminable series of flashforwards, flashsideways and who knows what all, before the actual present day storyline kicks in.

Cut to the scene of a red-eyed Rick that we've been seeing all goddamned season. You know, the one where he's starring up at a couple pieces of stained glass hanging from a tree. Once again he says, "My mercy prevailed over my wrath." I'm assuming this scene actually takes place during the season finale, in Episode 16.

Cut to yet another gauzily-filmed flashforward of Old Man Rick and Judith walking through an idyllic vision of Alexandria. Judith greets Jerry, who's helping Siddiq lay the foundation for a building.

Cut to another flashforward of Rick and Michonne digging a grave. Michonne is overcome with grief and almost collapses.

Cut to a flashback of Carl and Siddiq from The King, The Widow And Rick, in which they fight off a small group of walkers. Carl holds one at bay while he fumbles for his gun. Suddenly he grimaces and looks down to see a second walker biting him on the stomach. He shoots them both and looks stunned.

Cut to still another flashback, as for some reason, Carl hides Siddiq in the massive sewer system underneath Alexandria. He then goes home, takes off his shirt and examines his wound. He tapes it up, puts on his stupid sheriff hat and walks back outside.

We then see a montage of Carl slowly saying goodbye to everybody, as he takes advantage of the time he has left. He writes notes to everyone, including Rick, Michonne and Enid. He even writes one to his pal Negan! He plants a tree, and then plays with Judith, as they finger paint and take photos together.

Cut to another flashback, as we finally get to see how the Saviors escaped from the walker-surrounded Sanctuary last episode. Morgan watches from a sniper's nest, and sees the Saviors stick their guns out the windows and shoot the entire herd. That was easy!

Morgan escapes and watches the Savior convoy heading for the Kingdom. Cut to the Kingdom, where Carol instructs everyone to hide in the woods. Young Henry, who's training to be a guard, wants to come with Carol, but she tells him to go with the others.

After ALL that, we FINALLY join the present day storyline, which picks up directly from the end of the previous episode. Rick and Michonne have just entered the vast sewers, as the Saviors bombard Alexandria with... something. Mortar rounds? Bombs dropped from planes? Who knows? Rick stares at Carl in disbelief, unable to comprehend the fact that his son has been bitten and is going to die. Michonne and Daryl look on in horror. Rick asks how it happened, and Carl says he simply got bit trying to save Siddiq. He assures Rick the Saviors had nothing to do with it.

Over at the Kingdom, Gavin the Savior has captured King Ezekiel. Gavin tells Ezekiel that Negan's going to kill him. Ezekiel says he saved his people, and doesn't care what happens to him. Gavin expresses genuine affection for Ezekiel, saying he always liked him and hates to see him die. Ezekiel tells Gavin it's not too late for him to change.

Morgan, who's somehow made it to the Kingdom on foot shortly after the Saviors did, stands outside the gates and observes. He sees Henry sneaking around in the shadows, but doesn't do anything about it. Suddenly he runs into Carol, and the two decide to liberate the Kingdom.

In the sewers, Michonne helps the rapidly-weakening Carl to a cot. Siddiq brings him some pills to help with his fever. Rick asks if he's a doctor, and he says he was a resident in the before time. Rick asks Carl if that's why he risked his life for Siddiq. He says he simply brought him back because he needed help.

Michonne sees Dwight, who's in the sewer with the Alexandrians for some reason, and demands he make the shelling stop. He says there's nothing they can do but sit tight until the Saviors get bored and go home. Then they can flee to the Hilltop.

Carl asks Michonne to help stop the war with the Saviors. He tells her it doesn't have to be like this, as he knows things can be better. The shelling stops, and the group prepares to move out. Rick says Carl's too weak to be moved, and opts to stay with him. Michonne says she's staying as well. Daryl volunteers to take Judith to the Hilltop. Carl says a tearful goodbye to his sister, telling the uncomprehending toddler to listen to Rick and help show him the way. He then gives her his stupid hat. Daryl stoically nods to him before leaving.

Carol and Morgan begin systematically wiping out the Saviors inside the Kingdom. Ezekiel keeps telling Gavin he can still change. Suddenly Gavin hears gunshots ring out, and rushes Ezekiel into the theater. Carol and Morgan burst in and take out the Saviors with brutal precision. One wounded Savior overpowers Morgan, until he reaches into the man's gut and literally pulls out his intestines (!). Gavin's wounded and takes off running. Morgan calmly goes after him. 

Cut to the beatific future scenes, as Eugene, now back on the side of the angels, offers an apple to Judith.

Smash cut to Rick & Michonne, still digging that grave.

In the sewer, Carl tells Michonne that she's his best friend. He asks to go back to their home. Rick and Michonne help him out of the sewers, and they walk through the ruins of Alexandria. Unfortunately he can't make it any further and collapses (I'm pretty sure their house was destroyed anyway). They take him into what's left of Father Gabriel's church.

There's more heartfelt dialogue, as Carl thanks his father for everything. He confesses to killing a kid back at the prison, and says he regrets it. Rick says it didn't count, as Carl was just a child back then (which, according to the show's timeline, was supposed to be just three years ago, even though Carl looks to be at least eighteen now). Carl says it's easy to kill, and begs Rick to stop the slaughter and figure out a way to make peace with the Saviors.

At the Kingdom, Morgan corners the terrified Gavin, who says killing him won't make Negan go away. Carol and Ezekiel catch up, and tell Morgan he doesn't have to end Gavin. Morgan's determined to do it though, but just as he raises his bo staff, another one jabs through Gavin's throat from behind. He falls forward to reveal Henry killed him.

Carl then starts describing how the world could be, and we see that the flashforwards are actually his version of the future, rather than scenes of the time jump from the comic. This is a bunch of bullsh*t trickery on the part of showrunner Scott Gimple, for which he deserves a punch in the nuts. Rick promises to make Carl's vision a reality, but we all know he's lying.

Carl then reaches for his gun, tells Rick & Michonne he loves them, and says he has to do it himself. They stand outside the church, and jump as they hear the gunshot. They then begin digging Carl's grave.

In Carl's dreamworld, we see Judith run up to a man tending a garden. It's Negan, who warmly greets her.

And we flashforward one last time, to a bloodied Rick sitting under the goddamned stained glass again.

• In the comic, after the All Out War storyline finished there was a time jump of three years or so. After the jump, Rick sported a beard, wore a prosthetic hook hand (since the comic version lost his to the Governor) and walked with the aid of a cane after the injuries he suffered in a final battle with Negan.

At the beginning of this season, we saw what LOOKED for all the world like a flashforward to life after the time jump. Rick has a beard, Michonne looks happy, Judith is now five or six years old, and a smiling Carl walks through the kitchen.

Wait, what?

Carl dies at the end of this episode. So how can he be alive and well after the time jump? How can our boy Gimple possibly weasel himself out of this seemingly fatal plot hole?

Welp, he does it by backpedaling and saying that we weren't seeing the time jump after all, but rather fantasies concocted by Carl's dying mind. All the idyllic scenes of everyone working together and getting along are nothing more than his hopes and dreams for the future, and not the way things will actually work out. Sigh...

This was nothing more than Gimple flipping off the comic book readers in the audience. By showing Carl in these scenes he made us think were seeing him alive and well after the time jump, all in an effort to keep his death a complete and utter surprise.

My expression after realizing I'd been trolled again by Gimple.

I'm still convinced that the gauzily-shot scenes in the season premiere really were flashforwards, and Carl was never meant to die. But then at some point afterward, Gimple came up with the extremely misguided idea to kill off Carl, and hurriedly came up with the "fantasy" notion to explain away the plot hole he generated. He's just weaselly enough to pull a stunt like that.

• So let me see if I have this straight... in Carl's Utopian vision of the future, his father's apparently suffered some sort of permanent, debilitating injury, and has to walk with the aid of a cane. A cane. In a perfect fantasy world. Got it.

• In one of the interminable flashbacks in the cold open, we see a montage of Carl making the most of the time left to him, as he says goodbye to his friends and plays with Judith. This is all accompanied by Bright Eyes' song At The Bottom Of Everything on the soundtrack.

At one point, the lyrics say, "While my mother waters plants, my father loads his gun. He says death will give us back to god, just like the setting sun." As the last line is sung, Carl takes off his hat and lets the rays of the last sunset he'll ever see wash over his face.
Subtlety, they name is The Walking Dead!

• The opening credits finally finish flashing across the screen at the 15:26 mark. Jesus Christ! That seems excessive. At one point I was wondering if they'd ever stop, and we'd see the director's credit right as the episode ended.

• Apparently the Paris Catacombs are located underneath the small gated community of Alexandria.

I'm by no means a city planner, but I'm pretty sure most small town sewer drains are nowhere near this huge.

• Back in the season premiere Mercy, Rick led a bold attack against the Sanctuary, which resulted in the entire compound being completely surrounded by a massive herd of walkers.

Negan and the Saviors were then trapped inside for the six episodes, as their food and water began running low. Then in the mid-season finale How It's Gotta Be, Negan and his troops somehow mysteriously escaped from the Sanctuary and attacked Alexandria.

We were never given any explanation as to just how the hell they accomplished this miraculous feat. Until now.

In this episode we see a flashback explaining how the Saviors escaped from their surrounded compound. Several of them simply leaned out the upper windows and started firing at the herd. Wow, what a cunning and ingenious plan! And it only took them six episodes to think of it!

Even better, they somehow managed to shoot the walkers so as to form two large walls of undead flesh on either side of the Sanctuary's entrance, so the Saviors could stroll out in relative safety. Amazing!

• Carol and Carl both use "TV silencers" in this episode. You know, the kind that turn the loud bang of a normal gunshot into a barely audible "phiit."

As you might expect, this is not how silencers work in the real world. A normal gunshot clocks in at around 140—160 decibels. That's well into the dangerous end of the scale, that can actually damage your hearing if you're not wearing protection.

Using a silencer will take the sound all the way down to... 120—130 decibels! That's still the equivalent of a jackhammer or a thunderclap. Hardly worth the effort of screwing one onto the end of your gun barrel.

I can't really fault The Walking Dead too much for doing this, as virtually EVERY movie and TV show ever made is guilty of this erroneous trope.

• Gosh, I wonder what Morgan's philosophy is this week? Let's spin the Wheel Of Emotion, shall we? Hmm. Looks like it landed on "Psychotic Killer Mode."

I didn't keep track, but he must have dispassionately killed at least thirty of forty people this week as he and Carol liberated the Kingdom from the Savior occupation force. A far cry from a season or two ago when he refused to kill anyone, even when they were invading Alexandria.

Morgan was actually a compelling and tragic character when he first appeared back in the very first episode, Days Gone Bye. Unfortunately he's been so inconsistently written over the years that it's like there's two versions of him— The Peacenik and The Psycho— and you never know from week to week which one you'll get.

• Jesus Christ, that scene of Morgan reaching into a living man's gut and pulling out his intestines is one of the grossest things I've seen in all eight seasons of this show! And that's saying something!

Heck, even Gavin is horrified by what he does!

• Late in the third act, Rick & Michonne half drag, half carry Carl through the flaming ruins of Alexandria. I wonder where they filmed these scenes? Surely not in the actual subdivision they use for filming!

See, the Alexandria scenes aren't shot on the AMC backlot— they're filmed in an actual, inhabited housing development in Senoa, Georgia (where the bulk of the show's been filmed since Season 3). You can see it here on Google Maps.

Unless AMC somehow convinced the residents of this subdivision to let them set their houses on fire, they couldn't possibly have filmed this scene there. I'm assuming the blazing street is either a detailed miniature or some very convincing CGI.

• So against all logic and reason, Carl dies at the end, choosing to shoot himself in the head before he fully turns. Once again, Gimple doesn't understand simple storytelling and pacing and drags it out over two episodes, which aired two or three months apart. Because of this, any emotional impact Carl's death might have had is completely dissipated.

Once again, my expression during what should have been a heart-wrenching moment.

Gimple claims he included this ill-advised deviation from the comic because Rick needed a 
major death to jolt him into changing his ways, so Carl needed to go. I fundamentally disagree with that notion, but whatever. 

If Gimple really believed it though and wanted to sacrifice a character, then why not kill off Baby Judith? She's been dead in the comic for years now! She has no storylines to screw up, and her death wouldn't have torpedoed the show the way Carl's will.

• At the very end of the episode we see another glimpse of Carl's fantasy vision of how life could be, even though he's dead at this point and shouldn't be able to imagine anything.

We see Judith run toward a man who's tending a garden. As he spins around, we see the man is actually a shiny, happy Negan, busily working in Alexandria alongside Rick and the others.

Yeah, sorry, Carl. That's not gonna happen.

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