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Success Story: Tony Tan Caktiong of Jollibee Group
July 15, 2018

Known to be the man behind the country’s famous bee, Tony Tan Caktiong is another rags-to-riches story – from owning a small ice cream franchise, to heading some of the Philippines’ most famous food chains.

Image grabbed from bilyonaryo.com

Born third of seven siblings, Tony Tan Caktiong was from a poor family in China who immigrated to the Philippines in hope that they may have a better life. His family helped each other out, establishing a restaurant business in Davao which enabled young Tony to study Civil Engineering in the University of Santo Tomas.

When he was 22, Caktiong decided to shell out P350,000 in an ice cream parlor franchise. He opened Cubao Ice Cream House and Quiapo Ice Cream House. As their business becomes more and more successful, they started to hire more people to help them manage it. Two years later, he decided to serve hamburgers, fried chicken, and spaghetti as people began to tell him that they don’t want to eat ice cream all the time. It was then that they decided to rebrand and change their name to “Jollibee” as it represents them as a company, and the people that they cater to – hardworking and happy.

McDonald’s came into the picture not many years later, but they failed to take over Jollibee’s popularity as, according to Caktiong, they don’t know the local food culture. Filipinos have a sweet taste on food, so Jollibee decided to serve spaghetti with a sweeter flavour. Filipinos like to smell everything they eat, which is the reason behind the “Langhap Sarap” tagline they have been using for a while now.

As years go by, the Jollibee group grew bigger. Caktiong partnered up and established a couple other food chains including Chowking, Red Ribbon, Greenwich, and Delifrance. Aside from bringing Jollibee, Chowking, and Red Ribbon to other countries, they’ve also established new food chains in China and Taiwan which suit the tastes of the people there.

As of 2016, Tony Tan Caktiong ranked 6th in Forbes’ Philippines’ 50 Richest. He was also awarded the Entrepreneur of the Year and the Ernst and Young Entrepreneur of the Year in 2004.

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From Riches to Rags to Riches Again: The John Gokongwei Jr. Story
July 15, 2018

You may have heard of Universal Robina Corporation, JG Summit Holdings, Cebu Pacific, and the Robinsons Corporation. These are all John Gokongwei Jr. ’s fruits of labor which he got from pure determination to survive.

Gokongwei Jr. was once a scion of a wealthy Filipino-Chinese clan. He was born with a silver spoon—he was studying in one of Cebu’s premiere schools (San Carlos University), and their family was known to be one of the richest in Cebu. Unfortunately, one day, all these things he enjoyed were taken away from him when his father died. The creditor seized their home and cars, their business were gone and suddenly everything he had had disappeared.

They became flat broke. At 15, Gokongwei Jr. had to work to provide for his family. His mother had to sell her jewelries. His siblings were sent to China where the cost of living was cheaper. He sold roasted peanuts and opened up a small stall in the market, where he had to compete with other vendors to sell his goods. He sold soap, candles, and threads to earn money.   Determined as he was, Gokongwei Jr. knew he had an advantage as he was younger, therefore he used this as a strength in his job.



Companies comprised of JG Summit Holdings


It was in 1943 when Gokongwei Jr.  began trading goods from Cebu to Manila. When the World War II ended, he saw this as an opportunity to trade goods in the Philippines. He put up Amasia Trading with his brother which helped bring back his siblings home to help out with the business. He then went on to pursue other business ventures: from cornstarch manufacturing, to food production, to purchasing shares in San Miguel Corporation, the then leading business in the 70s. He had a vision to make every Filipino fly thus the creation of the low-cost carrier Cebu Pacific, in 2003 he established a mobile company, in 2004 he introduced C2 beverage, and all that comprise Gokongwei Jr.’s empire, the JG Summit holdings.

It didn’t always go smoothly—in between these success come failure. He had a hard time to get a loan, but fortunately one bank trusted him. He started getting recognized at the business scene but before that he had to fight for a position. His loss and failures were broadcasted. But still he succeeded—and is now considered as a key player when it comes to the powerful business sector.

Now, John Gokongwei  Jr. is the second richest Filipino in 2016, according to Forbes Magazine. Aside from being a business magnate, he is also a philanthropist. And with all the businesses he owns in the country, he provides thousands of jobs to people. With his story, he hopes to inspire people to have the determination to bounce back in life without ever quitting.

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HENRY SY. Philippines’ richest businessman
July 15, 2018

Believe it or not, Henry Sy’s story was a ‘rags to riches’ kind of tale. Born in Xiamen, China in November 1924, Henry Sy was not born with a silver spoon in his mouth. Wanting to escape poverty, Henry followed his father to the Philippines only to experience a miserable youth in a foreign country. Sy struggled hard living in a foreign country as an immigrant and had to learn the local language. Determined to become successful, he worked hard day and night to provide for his needs.

Sy started out with a small sari-sari store business that helped them in their day-to-day life. Sy and his father lived in a small space until the fruits of their labor made them successful in the following years. However, when the Philippine economy collapsed in World War II, their store burned down that forced his father to go back to China. Henry Sy stayed in the Philippines and built his own shoe business in Marikina.

Sy did not have an overnight success: he had to enroll himself in school, change legal names, sell rejected and overrun shoes, plus many other setbacks that he had to face early in life. He did not give up and pushed through maybe because he knew that something big, which is what he has now, is about to come.

After a series of failures in his business, Henry Sy stood back up and persevered to attain his goal. He established a small shoe store in Quiapo, Manila that marked the establishment of SM Prime Holdings. Now with three of the most valuable companies in the Philippines: SM Investments Corp. and SM Prime Holdings Inc., valued at over Php 1 trillion each, and BDO Unibank, valued at around Php635 million, he is has become the richest man in the country.

With his inspiring story, one can learn about the ideals of success. Henry Sy tells us not to give up on our dreams, no matter how far-fetched it seems.

Who knows, maybe yours is the next success story to tell!

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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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