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The Walking Dead season 7 episode 3 review: The Cell
April 1, 2018

I hope you like children’s music, because you’re going to hear a lot of it in this episode. Specifically, the bulk of the episode is set to the happy little tune Easy Street by a band called Collapsible Hearts Club. You’ll hear it over, and over, and over again, as The Walking Dead follows along the torture of Daryl Dixon with the single-minded determination of a walker chained to a lead on a fence. There are a lot of those this episode, and there are a lot of shots of Daryl laying on a dirty concrete floor, either clad in dirty sweats or clad in his dirty skin.

Dwight (Austin Amelio) walks in, throws Daryl a dog food sandwich, and leaves. Daryl nearly falls asleep, and the loud and perky music kicks in. Daryl gets taken to meet Negan where he’s given his options: go to work as one of Negan’s men, go to work for points as one of the grey-sweater slaves, or go to work as a corpse chained to a fence to protect the yard around the Savior compound. There’s no fourth option, so Daryl will get thrown back into the hole until he’s ready to make a choice. Even when Daryl gets a brief glimpse at freedom, it’s just a trick designed to force him to make the right choice. When he’s taken to the doctor, it’s the same thing; it’s all about how working for Negan is way better than the alternative.

Then, back into the hole, back to the blasting music, and if you’re lucky, back to watching Dwight push a broken motorcycle after an escaping worker. Dwight is Negan’s scarred right-hand man, and we find out just how he went from one of the group provoking Daryl’s wrath last season to a guy who had half his face burned with an iron whose wife left him to become Negan’s wife. You know, just in case Daryl’s plight wasn’t depressing enough, you’ve got a relatively sympathetic member of the Saviors who is being blatantly cuckolded and everyone in the compound, from Daryl to the escaping Gordon, knows it.

Of course, Daryl needs a sympathetic person on the inside, and he has two in his old friends Dwight and Sherry (Christine Evangelista). Between those two and Doctor Carson (Tim Parati), there are a lot of people telling Daryl to take the easy way out, give in, and join up with Negan and company. As if he needs a reminder, Dwight makes sure to leave Daryl with a picture of one of his bashed friends, as a reminder of what happens when you oppose Negan.

To say the episode is monotonous is an understatement, there’s a lot of Dwight walking and a lot of Daryl laying on the floor or twitching like a beaten dog. To his credit, Norman Reedus is great when he does emote, and his body language is subtle and broken. It’s all glances and raw nerves, and it’s almost as good as Austin Amelio’s performance, particularly once he catches the man he’s been chasing and is forced to relive just what he’s traded for safety and security. He and Daryl are both trapped, and are both manifesting that desire to escape in different ways; Daryl is internalising his grief and Dwight is taking it out on other people.

The performances of the episode’s two lead actors are probably the most subtle thing, because Angela Kang’s script is pretty much on the nose at all points. The characters tend to directly say things to one another, though there is a nice subtle interplay between Sherry and Dwight when they run into one another, first at the doctor’s office where she has another failed pregnancy test and then again when they run into one another in the smoking stairwell. They dance around the Negan situation, and when Dwight and Sherry aren’t not talking about her new husband, they’re both trying to get Daryl to behave.

That repetition is furthered in Alrick Riley’s direction. We get Daryl tortured for probably ten minutes on screen, and if that band is getting paid per repetition of their song, they’re doing really well financially today. Riley features lots of close-ups on faces and eyes, working hard to pair Dwight and Daryl as two sides of the same coin before Daryl just comes out and announces it near the end of the episode.

The Walking Dead isn’t a show that’s known for being particularly smart or discreet. However, it seems like the show has taken a step back, at least early in the Neganverse. We see lots of people talking, and lots of people explaining, for example, the caste system of the Saviors’ compound when it’s pretty well defined by the uniforms the serfs wear versus the fact that all of Negan’s people are dressed like regular people. Still, it’s better to get it all out of the way in one fell swoop than to drag it out over the course of an entire season, especially since everyone knows there’s no way Daryl is going to turn against Rick and the gang, except perhaps to bring the Saviors down.

In many ways, choosing Daryl for this particular plot line takes a lot of the suspense out of it. Daryl’s not going to turn; he’s the most popular character on the show and he brings in too many viewers between The Walking Dead and his spin-off motorcycle show for him to go bad. If it was anyone else, like say… Carl or Sasha, the idea of that character changing teams wouldn’t be such a far-fetched one, but Daryl won’t go anywhere and everyone knows it. It’s like expecting Rick and Carl to die; it won’t happen until the show’s already over, so there’s absolutely no tension to be had by teasing the Daryl heel turn.

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The Walking Dead season 7 episode 2 review: The Well
April 1, 2018

The seventh season premiere of The Walking Dead was hard to watch. No matter how you actually felt about it, it was a slog. Downbeat, emotional, violent, nihilistic… it was every complaint every critic has ever had about the show, put into the same episode at essentially the same time. This isn’t a world with a lot of humour or colour, especially not these days, but when The Walking Dead pauses long enough to allow the home viewer to take the world in and crack a smile, it’s very effective.

Witness Carol’s introduction to The Kingdom. Watching Morgan try to prepare her for what she’s about to face is amusing enough, but when Carol gets rolled into an audience with King Ezekiel and his pet tiger Shiva, it’s hilarious. She’s trying her best to put on the Carol face, all smiles and humbleness, sweet as pie, but her eyes say otherwise, and the moment they roll out of the hearing of Ezekiel, she lets Morgan have it. Just watching Carol, the least hopeful and yet most grounded character on the show, interact with a guy who fancies himself King George Clinton is just hilarious at every turn.

It’s a great performance by Melissa McBride, the show’s best actor and best character by far. Carol’s got such a great poker face, and yet… this is straining her ability to act undisturbed. Wouldn’t you be a little confounded by a crazy man with a tiger who everyone treats like an honest-to-goodness king? However, when Ezekiel finds Carol near the end of the episode and the two sit down and have a heart-to-heart talk, the secret of Ezekiel’s madness makes a whole lot more sense. It’s a brilliantly written scene from Matthew Negrete, and Khary Payton’s background as a voice actor makes the transformation from King Ezekiel to Ezekiel the zookeeper work brilliantly. The way he slips into and out of the voice is effortless, and Payton’s able to pitch it so that it’s a lot less goofy than it has any right to be.

The fact that Ezekiel is able to keep the Kingdom running and happy is one thing, but as he shows himself to the outsiders—revealing the arrangements to provide fresh pork to the Saviors to Morgan and revealing that he’s putting on an act to Carol—not everything is great. There are flaws there, and while he’s clearly made things functional, mostly due to his ability to read people and give them what they want, he has bigger concerns, and he needs people on the inside he knows he can trust. Carol and Morgan are hardened survivors, which is what he needs at his side to replace the core of people he’s already lost. He knows there’s a real threat out there, and it’s a threat that can’t be defeated just by putting on a good show and rallying the people around a strong symbol like, say, a tiger on a chain.

One of the most troubling aspects of the King Ezekiel character isn’t the fact that there’s a Renaissance Faire king running around, but that said renfaire king has a pet tiger. Game Of Thrones spends $100 million dollars on a single season, and the crew actively avoids showing the dire wolves whenever possible because it’s so much more expensive and complicated to combine CGI and practical animal effects. So if the most expensive show on television is hesitant to start making animals, there’s no way a network like AMC is going to pay through the nose to have a great-looking CGI tiger. However, Shiva isn’t as bad as I expected. Apparently the crew has been working for months to get the tiger locked down, and it’s a pretty effective combination of CGI and puppetry.

It’s not perfect, but it’s good enough that someone like Greg Nicotero, director of this week’s episode, can make it believable. The episode’s other effects, particularly Carol’s hallucinations of zombies turning into humans and vice-versa, are much more accomplished, if only because they’re done with more traditional makeup and editing effects, blending one zombified twin with a normal twin actor in concert. Is that merely an effect of Carol’s wounds and infection, or is she starting to lose her grip on sanity? From the way she responds to Ezekiel, she’s perfectly sane, but so is he once you dig under the layer of theatrics—Ezekiel’s background in community theatre is really, really funny and it makes perfect sense for the character.

After last week, there needed to be some relief. Another down episode would have probably been too much for the audience, and a little levity with Carol struggling not to laugh at Ezekiel is a breath of fresh air. When he drops the act and the two characters connect on a real level, and when Ezekiel shows up at Carol’s house with a pomegranate, it’s a brand-new ship launched with only a conversation about a tiger and a piece of tropical fruit. King Ezekiel is as much a performance for his people as Negan is for his people, just in a different way.

Carol needs understanding, Morgan needs a purpose, and The Walking Deadneeded to take a few minutes to make the world smile. The Kingdom works because it’s so overboard good that it counteracts the bad out in the world. Where there’s life, there’s life, as Ezekiel so eloquently states, and given that his character is set up to be Opposite Negan, it makes sense that The Kingdom will be as sweet and light as The Saviors are dark and crude. The Kingdom is a fiefdom, but a powerful one, and when the various forces start working together—Alexandria has guns, Hilltop has a forge to make bladed weapons, and The Kingdom has literal knights in hockey pads—The Saviors might need a little saving of their own.

The fact is, good things are happening to Carol for the first time in a long time, and while she can’t quite accept it right now, she seems like she’s coming around to it by the end of the episode. So am I. Whether it’s a faux king bullshitting a bullshitter or Jerry (Cooper Andrews) making every pun he can, the fact that smiling and laughing with an episode of The Walking Dead is even possible is a nice feeling. The misery will be back next week, but for now, exhale and enjoy.

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The Walking Dead season 7 episode 1 review: The Day Will Come When You Won’t Be
April 1, 2018

If a character dies in a season premiere, and no one cares, does it make a sound? More importantly, does it make a dent in the hardened heart of a longtime viewer of the show who was turned off by the previous season’s cliffhanger? That’s a question that I’m asking myself, and that’s a question that’s going to be running through the minds (and computer screens) of fans of The Walking Dead for days and weeks to come.

Last season left the viewer waiting, blood-stained bat hanging in limbo. Comic book fans had an idea of who was to fall to the thirst of Lucille the vampire bat, so if you don’t want to know what happened, then I suggest that you throw your computer out the nearest window, stuff your ears with chewing gum, and lock yourself into a room until you can watch the episode. Otherwise, read on past Daphne the spoiler squirrel.

So what was the point? Glenn already died. Glenn, the character, has been mourned over a year ago. He was dragged to his death from atop a dumpster into the tearing claws and maws of a hundred zombies, dragged down by a person he was trying to save. It was a beautiful, heart-breaking moment undone by a lazy swipe of a pen and a magical dumpster with two feet of clearance under it. Glenn got a reprieve, then immediately got that carpet yanked out from under him due to a very stupid decision made by a character that knows better in Daryl. He’s been the character to make rash decisions, in the first season, but he’s been drawn back to that point because they needed a reason—a spurious reason—to kill Glenn yet again.

Abraham’s death is perfectly in character. He takes a shot on the head, wobbles, but doesn’t go down. He gathers himself enough to spit out a perfectly in-character reply (one last meme from the show’s meme generator) and then he’s gone. He’s bloody and bashed and dies a heroic death. Abraham takes it on the chin and it has emotional impact.

Glenn’s death, however, isn’t heroic. Glenn’s had his heroic death; this is Glenn’s goofy death. He takes a shot from Lucille and rather than collapse like a normal person would, Glenn briefly becomes a gurgling cartoon, his head dented and his eyeball bugged out comically. It’s supposed to be horrifying. It’s not. Greg Nicotero tries his best to make it horrifying, both with make-up and with the way he directs the scene, but it’s… frankly, I laughed. The giant eyeball gag can be horrifying (see Jason Voorhees without his mask), tragic (see Quasimodo), or funny (see Total Recall), and this one ends up being a joke, because all the blood and gore won’t make me not laugh at one googly eye looking in the wrong direction.

Negan’s jokes about it didn’t help.

Actually, Negan never stops making jokes, no matter what is going on. That’s not Jeffrey Dean Morgan’s fault; he actually gives a great performance as Negan. He’s swaggering, confident, manipulative, and cruel beyond measure. It’s the stand-out of the episode, a brilliant performance, and it’s kind of wasted, because when Negan isn’t preening, Rick is doing his thousand-yard stare and trying to come to terms with the fact that, once again, he’s been bested by the leader of a different group. Once again, Rick’s leadership is found wanting, and his friends have died as a result.

We’ve seen Rick like this, and we’ve seen Daryl like this, and it’s territory we’ve explored before. To his credit, Scott Gimple and Nicotero tried their best to obfuscate the character deaths by showing every character bashed in the head throughout the episode. Rick gets dragged away from the scene by Negan, brought to the RV, and taken for a ride with his hatchet for company. All the while, Negan is reading him the riot act. He pulls a gun on Rick, then sends Rick outside to go fetch the hatchet. Rick stumbles around in the smoke, killing zombies, and all the while he gets little glimpses and flashes of his friends.

It took twenty minutes of screen time for The Walking Dead to finally end the cliff-hanger. It’s interminable (and, quite frankly, infuriating). There are multiple flashbacks, a repetition of the eenie-meenie-miney-mo scene, and it just seems to linger well past the point of comprehension for even the thickest of home viewers. There’s no real tension, it just feels like buying time, delaying the inevitable, milking the most out of the cliff-hanger while they still can. Abraham’s execution works; Glenn’s execution doesn’t. The emotional responses to the murders are fine, except for one. Maggie’s response doesn’t make much sense. Isn’t she in serious medical distress, at risk of losing her baby, the only piece of Glenn that remains in the mortal coil?

Granted, she’s probably in shock, but it also feels more like everyone kind of forgets about her situation except for at the very end of the episode, where they all kind of just… hang around for an indeterminate amount of time. Perhaps it’s just poor planning on the part of showrunner Scott Gimple. You would think a living person and a possibly living baby would take precedence over burying the dead, especially if it was a life-or-death emergency only a few hours before. Then again, The Walking Dead only really needs one baby-shaped plot anchor, not two.

The cliff-hanger was a really poor idea. A show like this doesn’t need something to bring people back; it’s got people watching already. That was trying to fix something that wasn’t broken. The resolution of the cliff-hanger feels like trying to break something that’s not yet broken.

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The Walking Dead season 8 episode 1 review: Mercy
April 1, 2018

It’s strange how coincidences can happen. Earlier this week, prior to watching the eighth season premiere of The Walking Dead, I watched an episode of BoJack Horseman. I’m quite a fan of “the sad horse show,” thought I find it difficult to recommend to other people given just how dark and serious it can turn when it’s not making fun animal puns. Without spoiling the particular episode, one of the characters admits that when life becomes overwhelming, a fantasy recurs. That character imagines a distant future in which that character’s great-great-grandchild is speaking to classmates about just how well everything turned out for her ancestor, and how said ancestor is one of the grandchild’s heroes.

Watching Mercy, I was struck by the recurring motif of Rick, on the cusp of making a decision that he knows will cost him and his friends dearly, flashing back to a similar idyllic situation. Rick some years later, his hair gray and beard thick, waking up to kiss Michonne good morning, give Carl a hug, and spend time with a walking, talking toddler Judith. The bad times, such as they are, are over. And yet, Rick blinks his eyes and returns to a world in which he’s going to lead his friends and allies in a battle to the death for control of the post-apocalyptic future. The bad times haven’t even started yet.

The episode is interesting from a formatting standpoint. Rick’s fantasy is interspersed with close-up shots of Andrew Lincoln’s woozy eyes and sweat-dripping forehead. At some points, Rick and Ezekiel and Maggie give rousing speeches to the assembled fighters about their destiny, and how they’re about to take control of the future and put it in the hands of good people, not despotic Fonzie and his crew of flunkies. Interspersed with both the fantasy of peace and the preparation for war is the actual combat promised by the season 8 promise of “all-out war.”

One of the focuses for this season isn’t the human element, it’s the omnipresent threat of walkers. They’re both a weapon and a complication in “Mercy,” as several times Rick and company’s plans are almost upset by walkers getting in the way, but the walkers are also the main weapon that Rick is going to use against Negan and the Saviors. You can’t call a place Sanctuary when it’s not much of a protection against the walkers at the gates, right? Fear and panic are a great way to destabilize a tinpot dictatorship, because no matter how many of the folks on top are armed and willing to kill, the subjugated masses always have numbers on their side.

It appears that with his allies at Hilltop and the Kingdom, Rick has numbers on his side too, because he’s willing to throw away the element of surprise in a bold attack on the Saviors compound and yet he’s not willing to finish the job despite wasting hundreds of bullets shooting out windows and killing sentries at Negan’s various outposts while sending others of his team out on a wild zombie chase. With Dwight giving Rick and company inside information, and actively misdirecting his companions, it gives Rick a good advantage, but there’s a downside to the way Rick is conducting his attack. If he’s doing this simply to cause division in the Saviors, to encourage others to rise up against Negan, he’s going about it in such a way that will give Negan ample opportunity to hit back at the defenseless folk back home (assuming Negan is able to beat back the horde of zombies at his door).

Giving Greg Nicotero the opportunity to direct was the smartest thing the folks at AMC have done with The Walking Dead since bringing Frank Darabont on board to direct the pilot episode. He’s got a great touch with the actors, probably because he spends so much time with them in the makeup chair, and he’s got a great eye for interesting visuals, and he’s improved with every episode he’s directed at things like holding beats and creating tension from simple things. Carl getting out of a van while looking for gas? Tense, especially once someone starts yelling at him from afar. A zombie shambling towards a tripwire while Morgan races to stop him just in the nick of time? We don’t know what the trip wire does, but we know from the way Morgan charges after it and the look of relief that passes his face once he stops the walker that it’s something bad (the pay-off of the trip wire works well, because it follows on the heels of Morgan’s desperate lunge).

The structure of the episode is interesting to watch, and it’s a nice contrast between reality and fantasy, but after eight seasons, Rick’s inspirational speeches are starting to fall a little flat. We’ve heard it all before, and Scott M. Gimple isn’t able to reinvent the wheel as far as he’s concerned. Ezekiel and Maggie’s speeches work a little bit better, if only because Ezekiel gets to quote Shakespeare and Maggie gets to talk about the planning aspects of their fight and how much work they’ll have to do in the coming days. It’s an interesting dichotomy in leadership styles, but it doesn’t work as well as Maggie’s quiet little joke about being able to wage war until the second trimester, or the little scenes of Carol and Tara hanging out and waiting for the zombie parade to approach their overpass.

Perhaps Rick’s corny speeches are supposed to be a little corny, because they take a little bit of the edge off of a self-titled king and a guy who calls himself Jesus being community leaders. Still, Rick’s a little corn pone and Negan’s act is definitely bordering on silly at times this week, but all the other elements come together well enough. It’s entertaining, and that Gabriel is the one who gets captured by Negan makes the situation a little hairy, because Gabriel has grown into a productive member of the show’s ensemble and a guiding hand to help Rick rein in his darker impulses.

The seriousness of Rick’s assault, and the way in which they methodically planned it, is rewarding, and the fact that the shoot-out is mostly a distraction to allow the zombie herd to batter down Negan’s doors is another clever idea. It’s growth in the characters and their world, because it’s building off of Carol’s Rambo assault on Terminus and taking away Negan’s aura of indestructibility. Humans are dangerous to one another in this world, but let’s not forget about the zombies and how useful they can be in large groups.

Negan is a guy who loves nothing more than projecting power, but this move by Rick shows just how powerless Negan and the Saviors really are behind their swagger, facial hair, and leather. Being the baddest dog on the porch doesn’t mean much when you’re fenced in. Having an armed gang is useful, but only when they’re able to get out and shake down other communities for food and supplies and not fighting desperately against overwhelming odds for survival. When the guys with guns can’t keep the zombies away, then what good is it to trade freedom for survival when survival isn’t guaranteed anymore?

To take away Negan’s aura is to take away the one real advantage he has over every other 1950’s greaser survivalist. Negan can’t create the future he wants without people, and he certainly hasn’t earned a lot of love among his followers. Like Gregory once upon a time, he’s in power because he’s allowed to be in power, but much like Maggie changed that at Hilltop, Dwight seems to be trying to change that at the Sanctuary.

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The Walking Dead season 8 episode 2 review: The Damned
April 1, 2018

Two episodes in, The Walking Dead‘s eighth season has been nothing but action. There have been little fits and starts, and pauses for breath, but for the most part, two episodes in, we’ve seen a whole lot of people firing machine guns and a whole lot of cars covered in salvaged metal driving in front of armed compounds to wall people inside. There’s also another reminder of just how effective zombies can be in this new environment as a siege weapon.

The team Dwight sent off in the first episode is holed up in some sort of compound, cleaning and maintaining their weapons. There’s a bit of light comedy involving a goofy screw-up named Todd (every group apparently has their version of Jerry), and then, just when the group is about to get ready to move out, a bunch of armoured vehicles roll up and people start opening up with machine guns. Aaron and company hop out, and another huge gun battle ensues. Interspersed between the chaotic violence, yelling, and gunfire are a pair of incredibly tense scenes of Rick and Daryl doing a room-to-room search for some rumoured heavy weapons and Tara, Jesus, and Morgan doing a similar sweep-and-clear action in another Saviors stronghold.

One of the difficulties with The Damned is that it’s deliberately confusing. We open with a montage of close-ups of faces and eyes, smoke, and people looking concerned, and then we’re thrown into the action almost immediately. It’s up to the viewer to parse out over the rest of the episode just who is doing what and for what end. It all comes together, but one of the problems with The Walking Dead has been a poor sense of place. I’m not sure where any of these locations are, or how far away from one another they are, so I don’t know just how quickly Negan can reinforce one particular stronghold or another. No one gives any specifics, either; they simply talk about, for example, stopping one escapee from getting back to the compound to “the north” to warn the others about the attack, or the need for Rick and Daryl to go to a specific office complex to gather up heavy weapons of some kind.

One of the brilliant things in the script, from writers Matthew Negrete and Channing Powell, is the use of zombies. The Saviors have them set up as a sort-of moat in one compound, requiring Morgan to distract them and hope that Diane is a good enough shot with a bow and arrow to put down two guards almost immediately without firing a shot to warn the others. The other great use of the zombies is in the main gunfight. Aaron, throughout the battle, has to rein in his forces. They don’t have to storm the compound, they just have to make sure no one gets out and wait. The reason for this isn’t immediately known, but roughly halfway through the episode, the first of the dead Saviors sits up and takes a big bite out of the leader of the squad right about the time she figures out just why no one’s trying to attack them.

The bigger action sequences are a nice break from the tension of the Daryl and Rick scenes, with Ezekiel and the Kingdom’s further adventures with Carol providing a little bit of a laugh. There’s just something about the no-nonsense Carol and the all-nonsense Ezekiel together that works, especially when you’ve got Jerry around to grin and deadpan though several effective punchlines. Ezekiel’s whole philosophy, projecting confidence until you and everyone around you feels confident, makes a lot of sense; the Kingdom is a cult of personality, after all, and he’s the personality holding it all together. As long as Ezekiel is supremely confident, the Kingdom can do just about anything.

The other big quandary of the episode, specifically Tara’s drive for revenge, doesn’t feel quite right. I’m not sure if it’s just because the character has primarily been comic relief up until now or because Jesus is still underdeveloped. When it’s, for example, Morgan and Rick discussing redemption and second chances, it works a little better than Jesus and Tara having the same conversation. Tara, who redeemed herself from her role as a member of the Governor’s group, might work better as the one seeking to take prisoners and allow redemption for others, but instead she’s given essentially the same business as Morgan, just with a much lower body count.

Morgan’s bloody revenge saga, told in a few minutes over the course of this episode, is really well done. Just watching Lennie James stalk through a hallway with two guns in hand, blasting people both onscreen and off, is a lot of fun. We didn’t know the guys who got shot alongside him, but the shooting is staged perfectly for maximum shock value, and watching Morgan wake up on the ground, staring into the eyes of the dead guy beside him, has an emotional impact that makes his follow-on rampage… well, it’s not exciting, because it’s not played for excitement. Morgan is essentially the Terminator, wandering the halls of the police station, shooting basically everyone. It’s only through the intervention of Jesus that he doesn’t just wander out to gun down the prisoners captured by Jesus at the end of the episode.

It’s an interesting emotional beat, and Rosemary Rodriguez is smart not to play it as some sort of satisfying 70s revenge thriller moment. Morgan isn’t really getting vengeance, he’s rotely following Rick’s orders. Rick said to kill them all, and Morgan is going to do just that. Morgan is flat, damaged emotionally and psychologically, by what he’s gone through and what he continues to go through. It’s the exact opposite of what would be expected, and it’s an interesting counterpoint to Tara’s urge for revenge because for Morgan, it’s a hollow, unhappy thing.

There’s no satisfaction to carrying out Rick’s orders, or for killing the people who are killing his friends. If anything, Morgan is sad about what he’s doing, because he’s taking away a lot of second chances. Of course, Tara listens to Jesus and gives someone a second chance, only for the guy to attempt to take Jesus hostage, so… perhaps Rick is right that the Saviors might need to forgo redemption in favor of avoiding unnecessary deaths. Or maybe Jesus is right and at least some of the Saviors can be redeemed.

It can be two things.

There are rarely any black-or-white answers in The Walking Dead‘s world. Enemies can become friends can become enemies again; given the right motivation, even Rick’s oldest allies could take up arms against him. Saviors surrender en masse; a solo Savior wets himself in purpose to lull others into a false sense of security to try to murder his way out of captivity. Morgan gets redeemed from mental illness; Morgan becomes a killing machine again. There’s rarely a satisfying answer in this world, and the tasks most needed to keep friends alive might cost more than just a few spent cartridges or a bloodied sword.

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The Walking Dead season 8 episode 3 review: Monsters
April 1, 2018

The Walking Dead spends a lot of time arguing about the place of humanity in the post-apocalyptic world. Not the place of human beings as a species, but the place of human beings as a concept. The old rules versus the new rules, ruthless efficiency versus charity, second chances versus preventing revenge, that kind of thing. Usually these take the form we saw last week, which was basically Tara and Jesus arguing until the charity case in question tried to hold Jesus hostage to make his escape. However, this week, Greg Nicotero and company have decided that this disagreement on what to do with prisoners in a world in which everyone is trying to kill everyone else should take the form of an actual fight between two characters who know martial arts.

It’s actually refreshing to see two people who aren’t pegged as bad guys come to blows over a disagreement. The closest we’ve come are the various Rick problems in Alexandria and prior, but most of his problems in that town were caused by people who could be considered bad from an objective viewpoint: a wife-beater, a lick-spittle toady striving for power, an unrepentant racist, those sorts of folks. You know, the kind of people that aren’t going to really be considered great people no matter what else might be going on.

Rarely do you see two major characters on Rick’s side get into a legitimate physical disagreement, and yet, Jesus and Morgan have a solid fight scene after the prisoner dispute hinted at last week becomes physical. After a surprise zombie attack—a very funny sequence with zombies essentially falling down a hillside into the road—a group of Jesus’s prisoners make a break for it, with Morgan giving chase to stop them. Previously, the long-haired Savior Jared (who killed Morgan’s protege Benjamin) had taunted Morgan to the point of near-violence, only for Jesus to give said prisoner a reprieve and to argue with Morgan. Morgan chases down the escaping prisoners and shoots one before Jesus comes and saves the rest of them from summary execution for flight, leading to a Crouching Tiger fight between the two.

It’s nice to see that in a world in which everyone is a killer because they have to be, philosophical disagreements can become physical. Everyone’s constantly fighting in this world, be it Saviors or zombies, and not everyone would be mentally healthy enough to have a polite discussion about crime and punishment and criminal rehabilitation. At some point, someone’s going to kick someone in the chest, because these are people falling back on base instincts, and Morgan’s learned the hard way that not everyone can be rehabilitated, and that taking prisoners puts you at risk of having innocent people killed by those prisoners when they inevitably escape.

The same debate plays out during Rick and Daryl’s adventure skulking around the abandoned building looking for heavy weapons. Rick and Morales (remember him from the first season?) are having one of The Walking Dead‘s signature discussions—we’re all monsters and everyone we know and love is dead or soon to be dead—when Daryl shows up and ends the discussion by shooting Morales immediately, to Rick’s surprise. Daryl’s complete nonchalance about it (Norman Reedus is brilliant with that casual “Yeah, I know” when Rick asks if he knows who he just killed) is what makes the scene work. Daryl doesn’t care about someone from eight seasons ago; like Morales, Daryl knows that the guy who left for Birmingham isn’t the guy holding a gun at his friend. Even if he was, that doesn’t matter because Morales is holding Rick at gunpoint, threatening to turn him over to Negan. Rick’s in danger, and Daryl saves his life.

If you threaten Daryl’s friend, he’s going to make you die for it. No talking him out of it, no second chances. The conflict between Rick and Daryl is played out completely silently. Rick yells and looks shocked when Daryl kills Morales, and Rick looks almost disappointed when Daryl kills the Savior who tried to surrender to Rick in exchange for a car and a chance to live. It’s sold completely by Norman Reedus and Andrew Lincoln, and there are no words spoken about it.

It’s the most subtle element in Matthew Negrete and Channing Powell’s episode, and it’s a great counterpoint to the long discussion between Jesus and Tara in the previous episode. We get it. Rick gave his word to the guy, and Daryl shoots him because he’s one of the Saviors and could blow the whole operation by running away. Jesus thinks people can be redeemed, and Morgan might be losing his mind, but he’s right (and Tara agrees).

That debate, and the fact that both sides seem to think that Maggie will be on their side, gives a lot of weight to Gregory’s return to Hilltop. Xander Berkeley’s Gregory is probably the best new character the show has introduced in two seasons, if not longer. Maggie ultimately decides to let him back in after some hilarious begging and great interplay between Gregory and Cal, the guy who took Gregory to the Saviors compound in the first place. It’s nice to have a little intentional comedy, and Gregory is a lot of fun; the turn from begging to be let in to immediately refusing entry to the Savior prisoners is really funny, as is Maggie’s angry stare-down (Maggie’s child is going to be terrified of her, because that is an A+ mom stare).

It’s refreshing to have a Walking Dead episode where debates are shown via action, not discussed to death. There’s a little light comedy that works, some solid acting, and a couple of fun larger action sequences. The more emotional moments, particularly the death of Eric, don’t work as well, but that’s not the fault of director Greg Nicotero or of the two actors involved, Ross Marquand and Jordan Woods-Robinson. Everyone’s trying very hard, and there’s a little bit of poignancy to Aaron watching Eric’s reanimated corpse wander off into the distance, but there’s not a tonne of emotional impact because the audience hasn’t gotten to know Eric very well; he’s been a face in a crowd, someone unwilling to fight, and a guy who once had spaghetti with Daryl after breaking his ankle. He’s had no character development, and thus his final moments with Aaron don’t really matter, despite Ross Marquand knocking the scene out of the park.

It’s the equivalent to Ezekiel and his team walking into a Savior trap at the very end of the episode. Three or four people die immediately, but since we never really met them, it doesn’t really matter. Eric might have a character name, and he might get reaction shots occasionally, but that doesn’t make him developed, or mean we care that he dies (and it clears the way for Aaron and Jesus to become the show’s newest couple assuming everyone lives). He’s had less development than Tobin, and he’s never been shown to be as useful as Tobin, since most of his time on the show has been nursing a broken ankle.

And unlike Ezekiel’s ambush, there was never much suspense that Eric was going to make it out alive. Come to think of it, there wasn’t all that much suspense in Ezekiel’s ambush, either, since the more someone talks about how good things are going the more likely they are to suffer very bad things before the end of the episode. Having a plot threat leading from episode to episode has done wonders for the show’s pacing. Even if it’s obvious, it’s at least driving a specific narrative.

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The Walking Dead season 8 episode 4 review: Some Guy
April 1, 2018

What makes a king? Is it pulling a sword from a stone, the right bloodline, a lifetime of practice and breeding, or is it just a guy who acts like a king to the point where everyone else around him believes he’s a king? As far as the world of The Walking Dead goes, the only reason anyone is anything is because other people believe in them. Negan is Negan because his followers believe in him, and want to be part of Negan. Rick is in charge because everyone has decided to let him be in charge, through a combination of previous experience and fear. Maggie and Jesus have taken over Hilltop from Gregory because people stopped believing in Gregory and turned to more active leadership. And Ezekiel became the king because people wanted to believe that he was a king, and followed him accordingly.

With their backs to a chain link fence, a wounded Ezekiel and his faithful sidekick Jerry have a brief moment of realisation. Ezekiel yells at Jerry to leave, to abandon him and save himself, and Jerry refuses. Jerry calls Ezekiel your majesty, and a wounded, despondent Ezekiel yells that Jerry doesn’t have to call him that anymore. Jerry, quite seriously, looks at “the king” and says solemnly, “Dude, yes I do.” That’s something that, in his darkest moments, Ezekiel is struggling to accept. His people fall on him to protect him from machine gun fire. His people fight through zombies to save him. Even Carol, when she sees Ezekiel in trouble, comes to his aid, and she’s the most pragmatic woman left in the world.

Throughout the episode, we see little moments of Ezekiel getting into character. It opens with him shaving his neck, tightening his braids, washing his face. He heads out to greet them, smiling and hugging, looking over his people with the knowledge that he was about to lead them into battle and that they might never see their loved ones again. But he’s strong, and he’s confident, and he believes in his people because they believe in him. He smiled and laughs and projects confidence, and people fall in line behind him because he’s charismatic. That confidence is tested throughout the episode, because we get a hard cut from the king surrounded by his cheering subjects to the king trapped beneath his bleeding, dying subjects. The cheerful confidence is gone; King Ezekiel is simply another man, trying like hell not to get eaten by the very followers that he marched into a killing field.

The episode focuses on Ezekiel and Carol throughout. In one of the flashbacks courtesy of writer David Leslie Johnson, Ezekiel talks about how he essentially turned himself into a king because at a certain point, he decided that he had to. Carol turned herself into a survivor because she had to. Part of it was choice, part of it was the world turning them into the things that they have become. Ezekiel hobbles through the episode, either under the gun of one of Negan’s followers—another guy who decided that he was going to become Negan—or with the aid of one of his few surviving followers while Carol tries to accomplish the mission at hand, capturing a couple of crates of machine guns.

Both characters are trapped, at the mercy of other forces beyond their control, and their responses are telling. Carol doubles down on being Carol; she’s pragmatic and she’s not willing to let Ezekiel stay behind and die despite both his injuries and his requests. The King’s facade slips completely, and he even drops the accent at certain points when he’s trying his best to get Carol and Jerry to leave him and find safety on their own. Jerry sees behind the mask, and refuses to leave the King’s side, if only because unlike Ezekiel, he knows just how much “King Ezekiel” means to the people around him more than the man himself does. Carol knows it, too; she watches the people around him get cut down, and then the few survivors come back to make sure that Ezekiel lives at the cost (or at least the risk) of their own lives in the process.

Melissa McBride, truthfully, doesn’t get a lot to do, but Khary Payton carries the episode, alongside with a Neganite who looks suspiciously like Jeffrey Dahmer. Between Payton and Cooper Andrews’ performance as Jerry, they do most of the heavy lifting and the character interaction between them works. Jerry knows that Ezekiel isn’t a king, but he needs to believe it anyway. They sell the point without belabouring the point, and it works. Jerry needs something to believe in more than he needs to know the Ezekiel is just an actor/zookeeper; what everyone was doing prior to the fall doesn’t matter, what matters is that the Kingdom needs a king more than they need a couple of M2 Browning .50 caliber machine guns (and Rick and Daryl show up at the last minute to save the day anyway).

There never feels to be much in the way of peril, if only because we’re dealing with two face characters, both of whom the Neganites have been told to capture alive if possible. That doesn’t really put any teeth into either Carol’s shootout or Ezekiel’s captivity. Still, anything is possible in this universe, and we do get a pretty tragic moment near the end of the episode, and there’s a lot of emotional impact in the way Dan Liu chooses to frame the episode with Ezekiel’s happy beginning and unhappy trudge back into the Kingdom without the friends he departed with. He’s heartbroken, and it’s going to be up to Carol, Jerry, and the rest of the Kingdom to come to the aid of their leader, rather than having their leader coming to their aid.

Ezekiel has lost a lot in a very short time. His illusion of confidence has been shattered. The group of loyal followers he’d led through victories has been blown to pieces, quite literally. He’s chosen to become the king, but the kind of king that he’s going to be is going to change, thanks to the world’s interference. He’ll either have to roll with the times or get out of the way, because Negan’s coming for him, and he’s aware of that. There won’t be much time for moping and sadness over dead friends, otherwise all of his non-dead friends are at risk of joining the ever-growing ranks of the walking dead.

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The Walking Dead season 8 episode 5 review: The Big Scary U
April 1, 2018

Negan has been the show’s longest-running villain, and there’s a reason for that. Negan is one of the more popular characters from the comic book continuity, he’s played by one of the better actors on the show, and he’s running a massive network of thugs and murderers who keep the kinder communities under his thumb and keep his Saviors well stocked up on pickles and ammunition. He’s also the only person holding that organisation together, and without Negan’s presence, the Saviors will return to what they were prior to his arrival—squabbling gangs shooting at one another over cans of corn.

However, Negan, despite all his wit and glower, isn’t intimidating. Never once in his trailer chat with Gabriel does it seem as though Negan is going to kill the priest. That would be too easy, too simple, and it would give the character teeth. Strange that a man who made his debut bashing two people to death with a baseball bat would need some help being intimidating, but Negan comes off more as a bragging frat boy or a struggling stand-up comedian rather than someone to be feared. Maybe it’s television censorship, maybe it’s his constant references to balls and dicks and toileting accidents that take some of the edge off the character, but he’s not going to kill Gabriel, and Gabriel seems to know that.

If anything, Negan is the easy one to deal with, Simon is the one who comes across as the most dangerous member of the Saviors. Part of this is down to the relationship shown in the opening with Gregory and Simon having their interaction. Simon is clearly in charge, and the relationship between the two is almost abusive, with Simon repeatedly building Gregory up only to take him down a notch before manipulating him into solving the problem of open rebellion for Simon. Clearly, he’s either trying to keep the guy he can control in power or he’s trying to position Gregory to be the guy feeding Lucille the next time she’s hungry (and I doubt he’s all that particular about which one happens). Unlike Negan, who claims to like killing but only when it’s killing the right person at the right time, Simon’s two plans for Hilltop are let Gregory get things back into order or go in and kill everyone at Hilltop, which is quite a waste of manpower. There can’t be that many blacksmiths left in the world, and Hilltop seems to have all of them.

From the opening moment, The Big Scary U features a summit of villainy interspersed with what is essentially a confession between Negan and Gabriel. this is the very meeting that Rick and his gunmen covered with ‘hillbilly armour’ crash with guns blazing and a walker surprise. Cutting back and forth between the guys inside and the two trapped outside, we see just how helpless the Saviors are without Negan—almost immediately, there’s a worker revolt, a shooting, and supply shortages—and just how resourceful Negan is when he decides to do something everyone watching the show has screamed about for seven seasons—he guts and smears a walker’s entrails all over himself and Gabriel so they can make their escape, kind of.

The script, from Leslie David Johnson and Angela Kang (with an additional story credit to Scott Gimple) is fairly calm by Walking Dead standards. Aside from the Rick and Daryl c-plot requiring an explosion (which could have easily been leftover material from last episode, or saved for a future episode), there weren’t a lot of expensive set pieces. Gabriel and Negan is noteworthy mostly for the moody lighting utilised by Michael E. Satrazemis (who really emphasises that these two men are completely alone and surrounded by constantly having zombies rattle the trailer) and block the bulk of the light coming in from outside. The Council of Evil meeting is noteworthy for the way Simon, the most violent of the bunch, immediately takes control (or tries to) and the uneasy alliance between Dwight and Eugene that forms.

The performances are solid. Steven Ogg remains one of the more frighting players on the show, and his scenes with Xander Berkeley make me glad that both characters are still on the show, because it’s so twisted, even in a world full of cannibals and murderers. The uneasiness that permeates every stolen glance between Dwight (Austin Amelio) and Eugene (Josh McDermitt) says more than the two characters’ brief interaction. Dwight knows Eugene suspects him, even before Eugene basically confirms it later on. Seth Gilliam has done wonders with the role of Gabriel, having turned him from side character coward to stalwart, supportive member of Rick’s group, willing to give himself up to save others in pursuit of a meaningful death, and Jeffrey Dean Morgan shines when he’s given some human emotions for Negan to express in the brief heart-to-heart discussion of Negan’s pre-apocalypse wife. For a brief moment, Negan is sympathetic, and then he’s right back to swaggering and talking about his genitals (more tellingly, Negan keeps his word to Gabriel and doesn’t simply abandon him Gregory-style when things get tough).

Negan, by reinforcing to all his soldiers that “I am Negan” is more than just a creepy slogan to chant in unison, is trying to give his organisation longevity, even when he’s not around. It’s not terribly effective; sure, Negan is a god-like figure among his people (with his whistle along enough to make everyone take a knee in a crowded hallway scene in a cool moment from Satrazemis) but without him, they’re fighting and running out of food, and he’s gone… a day, perhaps? Two?

It’s unclear, but the Saviors’ compound clearly isn’t a sustainable enterprise without Negan and without significant support from the outside. The rift between the workers and soldiers isn’t a surprise; we’ve seen that already. Neither is the rift between the various faction heads, who are clearly used to being in charge and don’t necessarily want to bow to anyone other than Negan. It only takes a little bit of external pressure, and the lack of a strong charismatic leader, to crack the whole facade.

Kill the head and the body will die, as the late Doctor Gonzo said of the Ali-Frazier fight. Negan’s the head. And it’s up to Rick (or Daryl, who have a violent disagreement involving dynamite and .50 caliber machine guns) to figure out how to kill the head without the body completely disintegrating. The whole point, from both sides, is to minimise bloodshed. Except for Daryl, who just wants to blow a hole in the wall and be done with it, knowing that the terrified workers will probably be too busy trying to save themselves to pick up weapons and turn on Rick and company. Rick’s better angels are going to get a lot more people killed. Maybe not ‘blow up the walls and let the zombies overrun the factory’ levels of death, but… it’ll probably be a push.

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The Walking Dead season 8 episode 6 review: The King, The Widow, And Rick
April 1, 2018

8.6 The King, The Widow, And Rick

The eighth season of The Walking Deadseems to have an obsession with surprises. It seems that every two episodes, some Savior is about to get away from whoever of the Ricktatorship is chasing him/her, and then another member of the Ricktatorship comes out of nowhere in some kind of vehicle to either give chase or just flat-out stop the escaping person via car crash. Rick and Daryl chased escaping Saviors trying to flee with a machine gun previously, and this week Daryl and Tara come out of nowhere in a garbage truck to smash down a Savior scout attempting to get away from their cache in a pickup truck loaded down with speakers.

In some situations, it makes sense. Carol told Henry not to follow on her trip out into trouble, so when Henry is in the woods trying to stick-fight away two walkers, Carol is going to show up and save his bacon because she’s aware she’s being followed. She might not like it, but kids never listen in this universe (Carl has never stayed in any house) and he wants to follow Mama Rambo on her hunt for Savior scalps. And, if you want to push it, Rick and Daryl showing up to bail out Carol and the King makes sense, because they’ve got a master list of targets that they’re hunting down, and they were given the location where the guns had been moved to.

But showing up in a garbage truck? Without any explanation other than “we still have work to do”? It seems to be a reach. Unless this cache was marked on the list—and it seems to be unrelated to Daryl’s mission so I doubt that it is—or they were drawn by the sound of the explosion, I honestly don’t know why Daryl and Tara showed up in time to save Michonne and Rosita from the repercussions of their escaping Savior. It doesn’t seem to really be a point, except to move Michonne and Rosita to the edge of the Savior compound to watch zombies paw at doors.

The title giving it away, The King, The Widow, And Rick is split between the three leaders of Rick’s anti-Negan alliance. It opens in a very clever way; you get the three leaders picking up notes left in various drop-off spots or carried by intermediaries. Rick, Carol, and Maggie, each giving updates regarding the current situation of combat. Rick and Maggie have mostly successes, and Carol has to give the bad news of the Kingdom’s slaughter at the hands of the Saviors. Sure, they won, but they’re weakened.

After that, the best moment of the episode again involves Carol (Melissa McBride is The Walking Dead‘s not-so-secret MVP) and Ezekiel. We’ve seen a lot of these scenes before; someone goes to someone else who has a crisis of confidence and tries to instill something in them to get them back to what they’re needed to do. An earlier scene in the episode between Aaron and Maggie is a mirror to this, but not as effective. Carol essentially goes to Ezekiel and tells him that he’s needed by his people—specifically, she needs him to be king—and they have a wonderful little exchange that both actors do a wonderful job of putting across. Carol and the Kingdom need Ezekiel; Ezekiel needs Carol because she made him believe in his own tall tales.

Jesus seems to be believe that his nickname is a description of who he really is, much to Maggie’s chagrin. One of the better moments of that little side journey from writers Angela Kang and Corey Reed is the entire moment in which Gregory tells Maggie that he’s the guy who is there to tell her to give into her baser nature, only for Maggie to take Gregory’s warning to heart by throwing the snivelling politician into the barbed-wire pen with the rest of the Saviors. She might have learned from that particular lesson, but the fact that one of the Saviors (Jared as played by Joshua Mikel) goes for a guard’s gun and isn’t immediately executed seems false. There’s giving these guys a second chance, and being plainly stupid, and this is on the stupid side of things. Giving Gregory an army he can weasel his way into control of is an even worse idea in a whole episode full of mostly bad decisions made by characters who should know better.

That’s one of the big problems of the episode. Structurally, it’s split up between half a dozen different things happening at once, and more of it doesn’t fit together than does fit together. Perhaps this is a problem caused by the show itself; it’s been focused on single events and single groups for much longer than it usually does. Unfortunately, this week’s episode takes a huge step back and rather than focusing on something, focuses on nothing—Carl meeting Siddiq, Michonne and Rosita, Daryl and Tara, Rick and the Garbage Pail Kids, Maggie and Hilltop, Carol and Ezekiel, and little side-pairings like Maggie and Gregory and Jesus and the Saviors—without anything really standing out aside from the few things mentioned previously.

It’s a disappointment. Director John Polson does a good job with the actors and there are a couple of fun moments (Rosita blowing up someone with an RPG), but all in all it’s not terribly entertaining. Carl makes a friend, Carol takes a kid out into the woods, and a lot of people get caught up in grief. None of it is very interesting, as we’ve seen it all before repeatedly at this point, and it can be slightly difficult to follow along with just because there are a dozen things of varying quality happening at once.

The promise was all-out war, and none of this is actually war. As Rick reminds them all, there’s a ticking clock, and the longer it takes his group to get their business accomplished, the more likely it is that Negan will break free of his confinement and get back on the warpath. From the way this episode plays out, that won’t be until after The Walking Dead winter break, but we probably will get Rick versus the Junkyard Gang.

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The Walking Dead season 8 episode 7 review: Time For After
April 1, 2018

The Walking Dead is a show with a lot of interesting characters who speak in interesting ways. Negan is probably the most obvious one; he spins long sentences and crams in strange, infantile profanity. Rick has lots of long speeches that allow writers to really dig into a specific topic. Jadis is… well, she’s different, but not entirely complicated, you just cut out non-essential words and boil everything down to noun-verb or verb-adjective phrases. But the character that has to be the most fun to write for is Eugene Porter, and he’s the central character in Time For After.

I can only provide conjecture on the process of writing for Eugene, but I imagine it’s something like write the script straight, then embellish the hell out if it with interesting, funny turns of phrase that sound great coming out of Josh McDermitt’s mouth. I can only imagine McDermitt adds to the process himself, considering his background in improv and comedy, but whatever the process is, it works spectacularly and it allows Eugene to be one of the few bright spots in a show typically full of frowning and sweating and blood. Eugene is strong enough to carry an episode, and he has previously in The Walking Dead‘s run, but the character tends to be at his best when he’s put into a situation where he has to go maximum weasel.

Eugene has been on maximum weasel mode since he had his confrontation with Dwight, and it’s increasing with every visit Eugene has with either Negan or Dwight. With Negan, the brief scene between the two is shot in a very clever way. You don’t see Negan so much as you see Negan sitting on a table with the handle and barrel of Lucille in the frame, and Eugene, during the entire conversation, can’t take his eyes off the bat that Negan keeps stroking and tapping. Negan is nothing but agreeable throughout most of the discussion, but the threat is always there, and it’s clear that Eugene is more afraid of Negan than of Dwight, who also confronts Eugene but who scares Eugene less, even when Dwight has a gun pointed at him.

It’s not a huge surprise that Eugene knows who the traitor is, and that Eugene knows that Dwight wouldn’t throw him under the bus to save his own skin. Dwight gives Eugene an out by coming to his assistance during the previous tense meeting of all the Savior chapter heads while Negan was hanging out with Gabriel in the trailer. Even if Eugene hadn’t quite put all the dots together at that moment, it’s enough of a tell that he’s able to put it all together, but it’s nice to see that, in the end, Eugene isn’t quite fully gone. Yes, the script from Matthew Negrete and Corey Reed makes it absolutely clear that Eugene’s out for himself, but he’s not quite willing to sell out an otherwise good person in the process.

That’s one of the more clever character moments for Eugene, and I don’t think it has anything to do with his bedside talk with Gabriel. Eugene is a survivor; he makes that abundantly clear in every discussion with pretty much everyone. But Eugene is smart enough not to burn all the bridges he has crossed on his current path. He might be a coward, but he’s a smart coward, and a resourceful one. He comes up with an idea to clear out the zombies, which is good. He has the opportunity to throw Dwight under the bus and refuses to do so, which is also good. Either way, Eugene has a good spot no matter how Rick’s plan plays out. That’s a true survivor move.

Josh McDermitt is one of the strongest performers on The Walking Deadwhen he’s given something to do. Eugene could very easily be a one-note character, a sort-of running joke, but in McDermitt’s hands, Eugene is fully rounded. He’s funny, but there’s definitely a sense of character to his jokes. Eugene uses big words to sound smart; it’s how he passed as a doctor, and how he continues to pass as smarter than he is. He’s clever and resourceful, and he’s got a knack for things like practical science experiments and electronics repairs. He’s not brave or strong, but he uses his mind, and being constantly afraid, for someone with his intelligence level who can see a dozen ways for the world to fall down around him, is a special sort of hell. McDermitt puts this across beautifully this week, particularly in Eugene’s angry outburst to Gabriel after Gabriel tries to get him to do the right thing and in Eugene’s private breakdown in his quarters.

After last week’s episode, it’s nice to have an instalment that packs an emotional touch. Eugene might talk a good game, and he might have a great deadpan face, but he’s hurting and conflicted inside, and when that peeks through, it’s touching. Eugene, now more than ever, is a pitiable character. Everyone wants to think they’d be Daryl or Michonne; most people would be Eugene, if they even lived this far into the apocalypse. He’s relatable, and not aspirational, and that’s one of the reasons why the character is a favourite.

Of course, Eugene isn’t the sole focus of the episode. Rick gets out of a ridiculous predicament that he got himself into and Daryl tries to expedite Rick’s plan and fails miserably, getting both innocent people and Rick’s snipers killed in the process, but Eugene is what holds the episode together and gives it something with more punch, focus, and humour than recent visits to the wasteland. Eugene is just fun (even when being terrorised), and that’s not something you get a lot in The Walking Dead.

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