This is how we survive. We tell ourselves that we are the walking dead. – Rick Grimes.

Never has the writing in The Walking Dead been so on-the-nose than in last night’s episode, “Them”. Truthfully, the show needs that kind of writing every now and then. Especially when it takes a break from the zombie action to remind us that this is primarily a show about death. It is a show that needs to have their characters ask one underlying question: “Is it worth it to keep fighting?”

 

That question will arise again and again as each of our characters accustom themselves to the idea of moving on without their loved ones. Rick and Carl experienced this with Lori, Carol experienced it with her daughter, and in “Them,” the trio of Daryl, Maggie, and Sasha grieve the losses of Beth and Tyreese.

The trio’s theme of dealing with death is accompanied by the group’s overall survival goal for the week: get food and water. They are in dire circumstances, all walking down the road as if they were zombies themselves. Rick reminds Daryl that they are three weeks out of Atlanta, which is really just him telling the audience that they are three weeks out of Atlanta, because I’m sure Daryl knows that.

This kind of explicit dialogue runs through the episode as various characters come in to try and get our trio past their mourning stage.

We’ll start with Sasha. Her method of dealing with Tyreese’s death is reckless: she wants to be killing zombies, she wants to get her anger out. When Michonne tells her that Tyreese was angry after his loss as well, Sasha says “We are not the same.” Michonne comes back with “But it’s still the same. It just is.”

Sasha’s recklessness proves to be a hassle for the group in one of the more unique zombie sequences the show has pulled off. I found it clever and amusing that the characters trick the zombies into falling off a small ledge away from them. Of course, this couldn’t last and Sasha comes in to stab a zombie, getting the rest of them into a frenzy.

Michonne scolds Sasha, pushing her to the ground and saying “I told you to stop.” Sasha is not pleased, of course, and walks away. Later, with no hesitation she kills the vicious dogs that come upon the group after Eugene actually states “I truly don’t know if things can get worse,” followed by, I’m not joking, Rosa saying: “They can.” Cue dogs.

 

This isn’t the only convenient timing that occurs in the episode. After being mysteriously left a cache of water bottles accompanied by a note saying “from a friend,” our characters are saved from having to possibly drink poison by a miracle thunderstorm. The show is explicit in contrasting the two storylines: although the majority of the group is excited that it rained, we cut to Daryl, Maggie, and Sasha, who are not having any of it. They aren’t in a position to appreciate the water, so we need to watch them get there. The thunderstorm proves to be an issue as the group quickly realizes they need to find shelter.

Fortunately, Daryl’s method of dealing with his grief is going out on solo adventures to prove he can make it alone, where he can smoke a cigarette and stumble upon the perfect barn for them. Earlier, Carol tells him: “you’re not dead. You have to let yourself feel it.” He does exactly that while smoking his cigarette, burning the end into his hand. Again, this is very on-the-nose but it feels like something we need to watch as Daryl deals with Beth’s death.

 

They enter the barn and Maggie kills a zombie, one who seemingly had a gun to be able to kill herself. Carol comes up behind her and says “Some people can’t give up.” And just to make sure we know who she’s talking about, she finishes with: “Like us.” She’s not the first to try to help Maggie. Earlier, Carl gives her a broken music box. Later, Glenn coaxes her into talking, and she tells him that she never thought Beth was alive and that she doesn’t know if she wants to fight anymore. Again, this is the theme that all of Daryl, Maggie, and Sasha deal with.

This all comes to a head near the end of the episode. Daryl walks away from Rick calling them the walking dead, claiming “we ain’t them” as he goes. He comes to the front of the barn, where he sees dozens of zombies making their way in. He quickly slams the doors shut, but there’s no way he can withstand the force of them all.

Cut to Maggie looking up and rushing over to help. Then, of course, cut to Sasha looking up and rushing over to help. The entire group follows, even Carl, leaving Judith behind on the floor, reminding me that I’m always worried about the baby whenever she’s shown on-screen.

 

We get back to them as they wake up in the morning, safe and sound. Maggie and Daryl bond for a moment over Beth’s death, saying she was tough even though she didn’t know she was. After, Maggie and Sasha head outside to see that the storm miraculously killed all the walkers. They head out to see the sun rising over a field. Sasha finally opens up to Maggie, saying that she feels the same way that Noah does: she doesn’t know if she can make it. Maggie tells her they both will make it.

In typical Walking Dead fashion, the episode ends just as a new face makes an appearance: Aaron, the “friend” that left them the water. He says “I have good news,” wants to speak to Rick, and seems to know just a bit too much about the group. The music box begins as the episode ends mostly to remind us that this episode was very, very on-the-nose.

Final thoughts:

  • Father Gabriel lets go of his past and maybe even his religion by throwing out his clerical collar.
  • Abraham has no problems drinking alcohol even though it’ll affect him negatively.
  • What did we think of the zombie woman in the trunk? Tied up in the early stages of the apocalypse, thinking they could save her? Or a kidnap victim that died in the trunk? These are the kinds of interesting side-things that I like to see on The Walking Dead.
  • Other coincidental timing: when the group has their first zombie sequence that Sasha botches, Daryl shows up just in time from one of his solo adventures to save Rick.
  • The little conversation they have in the barn is a nice touch as our characters open up to each other about their thoughts on the state of the world. As Rick says, they need to keep getting up and going to war. It’s very true.
  • Did anyone else see the ridiculous zombie punctured way too high up a tree? What a crazy tornado.
  • Welcome Ross Marquand! The Internet tells me he is going to be a series regular and is our first openly gay character, which will probably become a plot point though it really shouldn’t be.

Episode grade:B

“They’re weak, and I don’t want us to get weak too.” – Carl Grimes

It has been approximately twenty episodes since the gang of The Walking Dead were holed up in their last safest venture, the prison. There are some minor tones of familiarity through the episode to those early prison episodes. Jobs, for one, a necessity to keep a community strong. With the houses come a place to sleep that they can call their own. Though at the prison it was cells, the idea is there.

 

The similarities end there. The dynamic in Alexandria is completely different, because our survivors are joining a group of people who are not exposed to the outside world. The difference is immediate and almost unsettling. Rick stands outside two perfect houses. Aaron tells him that that’s where they’ll live. Just like that.

The survivors meet Deanna, Alexandria’s leader and a previous congresswoman. There was something immediately likeable about both the actress and the character, at least to me. It’s always nice to have new faces on the show, and especially nice when the characters are instantly interesting. Her son Aidan, on the other hand, is exactly what you’d expect: a douche.

As mentioned, everyone is assigned jobs. For some reason, Glenn, Tara, and a limping Noah are being assigned to going on runs outside of Alexandria. Wouldn’t Sergeant Abraham Ford be better suited for this, and in fact, better suited to take over smarmy Aidan’s job? Abraham was sadly shunned this week, but I’m interested to see what role he takes on. Meanwhile, Glenn continues to prove his worth by knocking Aidan out when they return to Alexandria.

 

Carol and Daryl have different ways of adjusting to Alexandria. While Daryl is reluctant, doesn’t shower the entire episode, and is generally dismissive about being there, Carol has taken on the role of ultra-sleuth. In a moment that might rival Carol’s badass takedown at Terminus, she sits in front of the camera as a wide-eyed widow, says she loves and misses her husband, and asks for a job for her “people-person” personality. Points to the writers for this clever gem.

And in what might be the most alternate-universe sounding plot from the episode, Carl has to choose between playing pool or playing video games. That’s not the entire thing, but really, that’s the whole basis of the episode. The people of Alexandria are not like the people from outside. Choosing between games is a trivial decision. Of course this is disorienting for Carl, who is used to the more survival-instinct-based decisions at this point.

Besides Aidan and Deanna, we’re also introduced to Jessie, a woman who lives on their street and has a husband and two boys. She cuts Rick’s hair and witnesses him break down after losing sight of Carl. It seems like they might be setting something up here, and the ominous conversation between Rick and her husband only fuels the suspicions.

 

The episode ends with Deanna asking Rick if he’ll be the constable. She asks Michonne as well, and though it feels kind of tacked on, I suspect that Aaron would have told Deanna that Michonne was the other side of the coin when they were debating coming to Alexandria. Unfortunately, this leaves Daryl in a tough spot – left out of their special group. Indeed, where in the pre-apocalypse world, Daryl’s job as a tracker allowed him a sort of wildness that thrived in the post-apocalyptic world, it doesn’t seem to fit in here in Alexandria. We’ll have to see if anything can make him feel at home.

Just to make sure we know that our group isn’t getting weak, Rick Grimes gets the best episode of the night. “If they don’t make it… Then we’ll just take this place.”

Final Thoughts:

  • Father Gabriel was almost completely MIA.
  • No jobs mentioned for Abraham, Eugene, Rosita, or Maggie, though Deanna specifically says that she’s working on Sasha’s job. I’m curious to see how this all plays out.
  • “I brought dinner.” – Daryl bringing the dead possum in was classic.
  • I really enjoyed the moment when Rick set his watch to the correct time. I can only assume he hadn’t gotten the right time on it for a long while.
  • There’s a great shot the first night in Alexandria, when the camera pans along to all our survivors (minus Father Gabriel, who maybe hopped in the shower right after Michonne.)
  • What are the thoughts on the missing gun?
  • What are the thoughts on the girl that runs away?
  • Rick tells Carl to “Get ready” when the walkers are approaching. I mean, I hope at this point that he’s got that lesson down.
  • RIP Rick’s beard.

Episode Grade: B+

Today is Norm Breyfolge’s birthday. Who is he? To me, his is a name that needs no introduction. It is possible that many comic fans today have forgotten or perhaps, not even heard of him. Norm Breyfogle is a Comic book artist that left a huge impression on me in a way that no other artist has. He is fondly remembered for his lengthy run on Detective Comics, Batman & Shadow Of The Bat.

Sadly Breyfolge suffered a serious stroke in December of last year that left left side of his body paralyzed. This is especially devastating to him because he is a left handed artist. On top of that his financial situation when it comes to medical care is rocky at best. So much so, that Breyfogle has had to turn to crowd funding to help foot the bill. Norm is showing signs of improvement of late but his comics career may be over.

I thought it best to pay tribute to a man that helped define the look of a character I love, and remind him that his art may be temporarily lost but it is not forgotten.

Norm Breyfogle has worked on a plethora of characters over his career but he is most associated with Batman. Particularly his partnership with writer, Alan Grant. Together they made Batman one of the best selling comics at a time when he was not, if you can believe it. They also added a large number of iconic characters to the Caped Crusader‘s world like Scarface: The Ventriloquist, Zsasz & Anarky.

The great thing about Breyfogle was that his art complemented the words perfectly and it allowed He & Grant to develop a consistency in the work. As a kid I was initially drawn to the art of those stories more than anything else. In fact my brother and I marveled at the way Norm drew a fight sequence. There was so much creativity and variety in every panel. You really got a great sense of the skill Batman had when dealing with multiple enemies. To this day I haven’t seen an artist that can craft a fight scene better than Norm,  Here is a classic example of that energy and dynamism.

Another staple of Norm’s art was his penchant for drama. He certainly came from the school of Jack Kirby where everything had to be big and alive. Subtle wasn’t in the cards. This really made the pages explode with urgency and life. He also combined the athleticism and realism that Neal Adams gave Batman. Of course Breyfogle’s anatomy wasn’t as perfect as Neal Adams but that was sort of the point.

You have to give a nod to Steve Mitchell, whose inks helped accentuate Norm’s pencil’s all the more. Alan Grant & Norm Breyfogle’s Detective Comics & Batman run proved so successful that DC gave them their own series. At the time that series was Shadow Of The Bat. Fan favorite character Anarky got his own mini and eventually ongoing series. By the mid nineties Batman veteran scribe, Denny O’Neil wrote a graphic novel chronicling the origin of Bat Villain, Ra’s Al Ghul. Norm was hand picked for art on this endeavor and he did not disappoint turning in, perhaps his best work ever. It was an evolution for him. It combined the style that fans came to expect mixed in with a painted style.

Eventually Norm left the Bat books and that allowed him to do other things. He even managed to create, write and draw his own series called “Metaphysique” It was Norm’s baby and a true labor of love. It had a similar look to Birth Of The Demon but it was still it’s own thing. The book ran for only 6 issues but was well received.

Sadly I lost track of Norm’s work through the late 90’s and the bulk of the 2000’s. He did a few things here and there like draw a fill in issue of Black Panther, which I proudly own. No matter how rare or random it was, I always jumped at the chance to pick up anything Norm drew. Fortunately in 2011 DC put out a small collection of one shots called DC Retroactive, celebrating past comic icons telling new stories. Naturally Alan Grant and Norm Breyfogle were called up to tell one more tale in the world of Batman. The result was a surprisingly more streamlined look to his art. Norm inked his own work this time and it looked different but still as exciting as I remember.

It’s entirely possible that while some people may not have remembered Norm’s interior work, they unknowingly might recognize his cover art. I can’t begin to list all the iconic covers Norm has done over the years. Here are six of my favorites.

Even as I post these and look at them I can’t help but smile and be taken back to my childhood.In July of this year  DC will be putting out LEGENDS OF THE DARK KNIGHT: NORM BREYFOGLE HC. 

I strongly urge all those out there that are comic fans to check out this man’s work. I thank you Norm Breyfogle for a treasure chest of memories. By the way, Happy Birthday.

http://www.youcaring.com/medical-fundraiser/legendary-batman-artist-norm-breyfogle-stroke-fund/281723?utm_source=widget

The Walking Dead’s return begins with a series of seemingly-random clips. Shoveling dirt, a distraught Maggie, pictures of twin boys, etc. It all leads to a framed drawing of a house. Blood begins to drip onto the frame, begins to puddle, and then the show’s haunting theme kicks in.

And we’re back.

“What Happened and What’s Going On,” the ninth episode of season five, is a clear example of what the show does at both its best and its worst.

At its best, it tells a gripping, tight story with a clear goal about limited characters, shows character growth and strong emotions, and features just the perfect amount of zombie action for a post-apocalyptic show. As always, accompany this writing with some fantastic direction and cinematography, and you have yourself a recipe for a great episode of The Walking Dead.

At its worst, it tells a story that isn’t quite sure what it wants to be, relies on character stupidity to advance plot, and hopes that the always-excellent zombie action will eclipse its downfalls. And as always, the writing will be accompanied by the now-expected excellent direction and cinematography.

So what happens when you try to mask an “okay” idea inside the usual Walking Dead greatness? Well, you end up with an “okay” episode of The Walking Dead, which is an unfortunate way to say goodbye to Chad Coleman as Tyreese.

Though we’re still reeling from Beth’s death, we quickly learn that our group is on the road and at least one vehicle is going to check out Noah’s hometown. Tyreese gives a short monologue on the merits of listening to the news, something his father taught him, and I begin to realize we are watching a more “special” episode of The Walking Dead.

Noah tells us that he’s a twin, and that’s when the gears start spinning. The Walking Dead is not a particularly subtle show, though it can be if it tries hard enough. We know that the opening image of the blood dripping on the picture is going to come back, and given the show’s structure, it seems likely all opening images will be coming back. Does someone die? Who? Is this from the past or the future?

So when we learn that Noah is a twin, pieces start to fall into place. And this is where I think the episode falls short. Our group of Rick, Glenn, Michonne, Tyreese, and Noah arrive at his hometown to find that it’s, in Rick’s words, “gone.” Noah is naturally distraught, and while Rick, Glenn, and Michonne scavenge around and discuss their future, Noah returns to his home with Tyreese at his side. This is where Tyreese makes the unfortunate mistake of looking at a picture of Noah and his twin for much too long.

Look, I can’t harm the show for wanting to kill off its characters. It can provide for some great storytelling fuel and can affect characters in strong ways. It can even drastically change the show’s direction. It needs to happen to make room for the growing cast, a natural occurrence for such a show.

The problem with Tyreese’s death is two-fold. In the more minor sense, it’s a sad, stupid way for him to go. He knew that there was something moving in the house. What was so fascinating about the picture? Noah had told him he was a twin. It seemed the other twin was on that very bed, beside him. If there was anything to stare at for such a long time, surely it would be the body on the bed that looks remarkably like the living man you just saw.

In a more major way, Tyreese’s death comes at a time when the show’s emotional wheels were already spinning, and lumping him right after Beth’s death doesn’t provide the big punch it might have done otherwise.

On a side note, I can’t fault the show for wanting to bring back some great actors, but the hallucinations of our deceased characters only distracted from Tyreese’s death. I felt as if someone thought: “And then Beth’s there! And she sings! And The Governor’s there! And he says menacing things!”

I understand the theme that ran through the episode, about choosing between life and death, but it all felt as if The Walking Dead were trying to teach filmmaking students about how to write an episode, rather than be what it is at its best. Tyreese’s monologue about the news, his speech to Noah in the middle of the streets, talking about how he was there for Judith when she needed her, and if he hadn’t chosen to live… Then there was the recurring shot of the clock, the news talking about cannibalism, the drops of blood on the picture of home, and the Governor shouting “You have to pay the bill!”

It’s tough to handle hallucinations, and The Walking Dead has never had a great time with them. Remember Merle? Remember Lori? I did think the Shane hallucination was more well-handled, but for the most part, they always feel a little bit awkward.

I will credit the show for how it handled Tyreese after he got bit. I thought it was clever that he realized that his left arm was already gone and that he could therefore use it to his advantage. I also like that they showed the group cutting off his arm and trying to save him, even letting Rick call Carol and tell her to get Sasha and Carl out of there, futile as it ended up being. His final line in the car, saying “turn it off,” was well-done, coming full circle with his earlier monologue about the news.

The episode ends as an acute viewer might expect: the shovelling dirt returns. Of course, the writers must have thought they were clever, disguising this burial at the start of the episode as that of Beth’s, especially considering they masked it with a shot of Maggie crying. Unfortunately, this is the exact kind of subtlety that the show often tries to use, to varying success. Here, I thought it felt awkward, considering how quickly I figured that the opening shots were all going to come back.

Final thoughts:

  • Though Tyreese mentions he loved Karen, she does not get to be one of his hallucinations, no she does not.
  • The cut from Tyreese’s hallucinations to the frenzy of Michonne cutting his arm off was possibly the best moment of the episode. Followed almost directly by the slow-mo shot of Rick shooting a zombie.
  • Emily Kinney has a lovely singing voice, no doubt, but it was always a little shoehorned in, wasn’t it?
  • The zombie torsos falling out of that pickup truck? Both shocking and hilarious.
  • Oh right, the group is headed to Washington, despite the fact that Eugene was lying. And they’re close, suddenly! Let’s see where this goes.
  • Again, big props to the cinematography team. The episode was visually stunning.

Episode grade:B

“You still don’t get it. None of you do!” – Rick Grimes.

The Walking Dead has been a lot of things, but mostly, it has been a show about the evolution of Rick Grimes. It’s been a fascinating journey and Andrew Lincoln consistently delivers award-worthy performances. It’s unfortunate that it seems clear by now that he won’t be getting any such recognition for this role. While Rick’s journey from innocent police officer to brutal group leader doesn’t match, say, the transformation of Breaking Bad’s Walter White to Heisenberg, it still has many similarities. Walter gets taken down a dark path initially due to his unfortunate circumstance, but he clings to this darkness because it turns out that he has a deep passion for being a the top, pulling the strings, and winning. And while Rick’s journey to this darkness isn’t fueled by such a passion, it does also turn out that he is very qualified to survive, to succeed, and even to thrive in his new world.

I think about the Rick Grimes of Season One, naive and untested, who said such things as “We do not kill the living.” And I think now about Rick Grimes, who tells Deanna: “I kill him. We kill him.” It’s a drastic change, but when you think back on Rick’s journey, it makes sense. The loss of his wife, his periods of insanity, his interactions with people influential in both good and bad ways (The Governor and Hershel come to mind), and you can see how he must have changed.

 

This season, and particularly the latter half, have been very strong, and I think that this seems likely due to our characters’ new perspective on the world: asserted dominance. Long gone is the soft naivety. They have been careful, alert, and suspicious. And as shown in “Four Walls in a Roof,” earlier this season, some have become entirely brutal. When I think about Rick and Carol deciding that Pete needed to be killed, I’m brought back to that specific moment in the church. While Rick, Michonne, Abraham, and Sasha bludgeoned and stabbed the cannibals, we were also shown Glenn, Maggie, Tyreese, and Tara, watching in utter horror. And though it seems that they can accept that this needed to be done, it also seems that they wouldn’t be capable of doing it.

Knowing who these characters are, who they truly are, has taken some time, but I would stress how important it has become. Their time in Alexandria would not be nearly as fascinating if they were the naive characters we had begun with. With their journeys and their emotional arcs in mind, the risks and stakes of their circumstances are heightened. This allows us to cheer both for Rick on the street, fighting this man who beats his wife and son, and also for Michonne, when she knocks Rick unconscious.

I said last week that this season would have to culminate in some kind of showdown between Deanna and Rick, and more-so between the Alexandrians and our survivors. I’m glad that turned out to not be fully true. While I won’t try to predict what will happen next week, it’s refreshing to go into a finale with two of our more favored characters not too pleased with each other. Michonne may have agreed that Pete needed to go, but I think it seemed clear that she thought he went about it in a very inappropriate way. I’m excited to see how that plays out.

 

Besides the showdown between Rick and Pete, we were also treated to three subplots, one of which felt inconsequential, one of which felt like the writers wanted to wait for the finale to get to the point, and one which featured Sasha continuing her own personal streak of insanity. Let’s start with Sasha. I’ve said before that Sonequa Martin-Green has been delivering great performances. Unfortunately, her character as a whole has still suffered from a massive identity crisis. That is to say, I don’t know who Sasha is.

I was glad to see that the writers remembered character interactions, with Sasha angrily and perhaps guiltily telling Michonne and Rosita that she told Noah he would die. I’d personally forgotten about that little gem of hers, though I do now remember writing it down as I watched the episode. Although it’s still true, as she said, that if you don’t think you can make it you probably won’t, I don’t think it applied to Noah anymore. He’d taken on responsibility, he’d taken on a new outlook on life once they’d come to Alexandria. So while it was nice to hear her remember their conversation, it still rung hollow, because I just don’t know how she actually feels. Her behavior since Alexandria seems to have hints of post-traumatic stress disorder, especially her breakdown at the dinner party, but outside of that and her relationships to Tyreese and Bob, I never knew who she was. I’m finding it difficult to relate to her, and I think it’s for that reason.

However, I am still interested to see where this goes, which is in complete contrast to Carl’s plot this week. We’re treated to a small story between kids surviving the apocalypse, both trying to act much older than they are while actually showing that they are still just kids. I won’t delve into it because even writing about it is rather boring.

 

The storyline that seems to be waiting until next week to kick into high gear is the mystery being investigated outside the walls of Alexandria. Daryl and Aaron saw a fire in the night and inexplicably waited until morning to actually walk over, only to not find anyone at all. Unsurprising. What they did find, though, is that someone has been doing… weird things to the zombies. The W symbol returns more than once, perhaps most notably on a dead zombie tied to a tree. We aren’t treated to anything new, as we knew that these marked zombies were wandering around. However, it has gotten me excited about next week’s episode.

Final Thoughts:

  • It continues to be weird to see Rosita in normal clothes and without a hat.
  • Since we got Abraham, Glenn, Maggie, Tara, Eugene, and Father Gabriel last week, we don’t get them this week. Although this constant shift is necessary for a large cast, and I see this sort of thing often in Game of Thrones, it feels more obvious when all the characters are supposedly in the same place.
  • Following up from above, I am curious to know about Tara’s fate, and whether Maggie is going to rat out Father Gabriel.
  • Not only is rejecting the casserole Carol baked insulting, it is also such a huge waste in this new world. Come on Deanna!
  • I don’t know the deal with the red balloon, thoughts?
  • So Nicholas is the one that stole the gun. Of course, since it hasn’t come into play, it will in the finale, and it seems likelier and likelier that it will be used to kill one of our survivors.
  • Which leads us to: Who will die in the finale? Does the show dare kill off one of its core cast members? Those being: Rick, Carl, Daryl, Glenn, Maggie, Michonne, and Carol. I think we’re likely to lose one or more of: Tara, Eugene, Rosita, Abraham, Sasha, and Father Gabriel. Not a very hard prediction to make, I know, considering I essentially listed all the characters.
  • And finally: Will we be seeing Morgan? It only seems right, considering he ended the first episode of the season.

Episode Grade: B+

“You’re going to have to kill him.” – Carol Pelletier.

 

As I mentioned when The Walking Dead hosted a dinner party last week, a consistent issue with the show seems to be its rather large cast. So it was not a huge surprise to me to see that this week, we would be getting more Father Gabriel, Tara, Noah, Glenn, Maggie, and Abraham.

I’ll start with what I consider to be the most unfortunate plot, and it is the one that bookends the start and end of the episode. Father Gabriel is a troubled man, but mostly, he’s a troubled character. While turning him into a villain of sorts against our heroes is a valiant effort at making him a more interesting character, it also instantly makes a boring character unlikable. His motivations from the beginning of his introduction have seemed thin and weak, much like his character, and having him deem our group as “bad people” after they’d saved him countless times seems both selfish and insane. I would assume that his main grievances from them come from their brutal assault on the cannibals in one of this season’s many standout episodes, “Four Walls and a Roof.” However, if he cannot truly see the reasoning for their actions, if he can’t see passed the brutal murder, he won’t be long for this world. A coward in The Walking Dead is not an interesting character. What I think most people hope to see from the smaller characters, those who seemed weak, is to see them grow in this new world. See: Carol. But more on her in a bit.

 

I wanted to touch on what I thought was a highlight of this episode, though it will probably have the least impact of anything we saw. Abraham taking the lead on the construction crew. Although a man gets punched, there really isn’t a lot of conflict in his story, and I think this is what made it so refreshing. Abraham proves his worth on the field. He finds that the people will follow him. And the previous head of construction, the guy Abraham punched, was man enough to admit that he wasn’t the fit for the job. We’ve had a lack of Abraham since the reveal that Eugene had been lying to him, and it’s definitely nice to see him finding a place in this new community.

Maggie, too, is finding her place, and although she isn’t given much to do this episode, it becomes more established what her role will be in the community. We see her working more closely with Deanna and her husband, finding out what people should be doing, and being a reference point for a lot of our group members. Though Deanna seems to realize that their group is taking up all the important roles, Maggie reminds her that Alexandria will need them. I am curious to see what Maggie does with Father Gabriel’s betrayal.

 

In our required zombie-plot of the episode, we unfortunately lose another character. Noah, who was showing such promise by trying to take after Deanna’s husband and learn about the building of the walls, is killed in a rather clever sequence involving rotating doors. While character deaths have become commonplace on The Walking Dead, it both frustrates me and relieves me when we see another one go. As I mentioned, the cast is huge. So killing off characters is a necessity. But what has always bothered me is the way characters are killed. Tyreese’s death was foolish. Beth’s death felt forced.

I didn’t feel this kind of anger about Noah’s death. Not that it didn’t affect me in the same way – I had in fact come to like Tyler James Williams in the role. It was more that I didn’t feel any anger at the manner of his death. So often the show has to rely on tropes and character stupidity to have a death, but here it felt, as I mentioned, clever. The ploy with the revolving doors was obvious, but the way the show dolled out the punches of how it would play out ended more interestingly than I would have anticipated. So while it was predictable that Eugene would pull around one side to lure zombies away, it doesn’t immediately click that this doesn’t actually get them out of danger yet. In the end, Nicholas decides to continue to be an asshole, and pushes his way out, directly leading to Noah being pulled into the building and devoured in what I would describe as one of the most gory deaths The Walking Dead has yet produced.

 

This all leads to the bubbling conflict between our survivors and the group of Alexandria. As Deanna mentioned, she has a lot to think about, and she will have much more to think about when she discovers that her son is dead. The inevitable confrontation between Rick and Pete will likely have effects that Rick and Carol will not have anticipated. I don’t know how the pieces will fall, but I believe that The Walking Dead has set itself up to end the season on a very high note.

Final thoughts:

  • I mentioned Carol’s badassery, but she’s running really hot right now. I think she can tone it down just a notch.
  • Abraham, like Sasha, seemed to be thriving on the zombie conflict. Will his new position as head of construction help him get through living in Alexandria? We’ll see.
  • Speaking of Sasha, if I hadn’t seen her in the promo for next week, I would not have been surprised to not see her for the rest of the season, simply due to the sheer size and scope of the show in its current form.
  • I don’t think that Tara is going to die. Do you?
  • Daryl didn’t have much to do this episode, but we know that he’s begun his job as a recruiter. I bet he runs into trouble.
  • Although I praised the revolving door bit as clever, it really wouldn’t have happened if our survivors would finally learn to be smart – kill the walkers in the cage. Practice safe scavenging.
  • We have two episodes left in the season, and I’m predicting that Morgan will finally return, and this time, with some impact. I can’t wait.

Episode Grade: B+

 

“The Walking Dead” returns this Sunday, February 8th, at 9pm on AMC.

I’ll be reviewing the back half of Season Five of the AMC drama here at Zone Six, and thought it might be ideal to get a refresher of the series out there and perhaps inspire some discussion on the merits of the post-apocalyptic drama.

I will take us through the show’s five-season history, season by season, death by death, token black character by token black character. That last one is a joke, mostly.

The show, as most dramas on AMC at the time, had very humble beginnings. Season One consisted of only six episodes. The pilot remains one of the highest-quality episodes of the series, though I won’t fail to mention the others as they come. It succeeds almost entirely based on two things: Andrew Lincoln’s performance as Rick Grimes, and the tight yet expository writing that introduces us to this new world.

There was a clear air of doubt when the show first began: Is it possible that we have a cinema-style post-apocalyptic zombie drama airing on television, one that is actually great?

The answer was a very resounding: maybe.

Commercially, the show has only become bigger and bigger, hitting ratings highs in its most recent season and smashing records left and right. Critically, the show darts between high praise and slams as if it were never quite sure what it wanted to be. To me, however its slights, I always know that I will be entertained by the hour of television offered by the AMC drama. And that’s what is important, right?

Though the first season ended on a slightly lame note (the obviously-CGI explosion remains at the forefront of my mind), it seemed evident that this little show had something to offer. Unfortunately, the first season was followed by the almost entirely-lackluster second season.

Our gang spent one entire season at Hershel Greene’s farm, and that ended up being one season too many. It wasn’t that the characters there were particularly dull (welcome to the group, Maggie and Beth), or that the farm made for an uninteresting backdrop (though it kind of did). It was that the plot during this season was one of the most stalling, uninterested stories I have ever had the misfortune to come across.

I want to note that it is mildly difficult to recap previous seasons of the series when the last time I watched these episodes was years ago. However, any good show should be able to point to some major milestones it achieved in any season. I don’t believe that The Walking Dead has any such major milestones in its second season, anything that ripples through to today.

The most notable of events is the death of our first main character (and credited as such): Dale Horvath. His death didn’t impact me in the way that I think the producers and writers hoped it would. Partly because we never did spend much time with him, but mostly because Dale hardly inspired sympathy. And so with his death I gladly took to Hershel as the new “wise man” figure of the group, and a much better wise man did he make.

The second notable event concerns the plot of the first half of the second season: the search for missing Sophia, Carol’s daughter. An uninteresting plot at best, it manages to spark one good episode: “Pretty Much Dead Already,” in which we discover that she has been in the barn all along as a member of the undead.

The final notable event of the season is the end of the unwanted love triangle between Rick, Lori, and Shane. Lori is revealed to be pregnant and Rick murders Shane to protect his family. It all comes across as very intense, but mostly, I think we were all pleased that the farm burned down and that our survivors could head off to a brand new season, love triangles left behind. “Better Angels” and “Beside the Dying Fire,” the two last episodes of Season Two, almost made up for the entire season, but it was entirely too late.

The third season introduced us to several new characters while also positioning the show in a way it had yet to properly do by diverging the storytelling into two different areas: the prison and Woodbury. Of course, as with all shows, we know that these storylines must converge eventually, but it was nice to see things from different perspectives.

Unfortunately, this meant spending a bit too much time with an unlikeable character, Andrea, and a too-devious villain, The Governor.

On the plus-side, season three introduced us to Michonne. In retrospect, I’m actually rather surprised that it was only two short seasons ago that she was introduced. She naturally became a huge part of the show, in part due to the great portrayal by Danai Gurira, in part due to her intense badassery, and in part due to the strong relationships she managed to forge with Rick, Carl, and Daryl.

Season Three also saw the welcomed return of Merle Dixon, though as is expected his return didn’t last very long. Through his death, we’re treated to some fine acting by Norman Reedus, who had until that point been largely relegated to being the resident crossbow-wielding badass with a soft interior. Daryl Dixon has gone through some fantastic character progression, mostly in seasons four and five, but it has always been a pleasure to have his no-nonsense character show up on screen.

We were also treated to the deaths of two rather dull characters: Lori and Andrea. It’s not to say that The Walking Dead has troubles writing women (see Michonne, Carol, Maggie, and Beth). It was simply that Lori and Andrea both came across as overly unlikeable, and both characters had long overstayed their welcome.

As a show-watcher only, I was rather surprised when Lori was killed off. It seemed she must be an integral part of the show: she was the wife of the main character. The mother of the only child character. However, her death was one of necessity, as it allowed all of our characters to grow in ways I wasn’t even sure I needed.

Season Three also introduces us to Tyreese and Sasha, siblings who have yet to reveal their last names. I can’t say that these two characters have ever struck a particular chord with me, however I’ve never minded having them around.

For a moment, let us reminisce about the fantastic episode that lay in the middle of the season. I’m talking, of course, about “Clear.” What this episode does right is what every other episode does wrong: it manages to have a single, clear purpose. It manages to trim the cast down to the most minimal amount necessary. It manages to feature the return of a beloved character without seeming contrived or out-of-place. And it featured some of the best acting the show had yet to see.

I could, in fact, fill this entire piece on the merits of “Clear,” but let me be clear (aha) by saying that if there were ever any doubt that The Walking Dead could be a good show, this episode was the one to prove that doubt wrong. Sure, the show is never consistent. And sure, we’re often treated to characters making the most ridiculous decisions. This episode showed us that the writers know how to tell a contained story. And they did, with massive success. The side plot of Carl and Michonne heading to find his family picture is touching and moving. It also gives us one of the more interesting friendships on the show, one that has strong reason to be lighthearted and fun: both of these characters desperately need it.

Beyond “Clear,” I cannot think of a single standout episode of Season Three. The finale doesn’t offer any of the climaxes that a viewer might have hoped for. The difficulties with the episode were two-fold: Firstly, it seemed that the height of the episode, the tying of the season, was Andrea’s death. That was ultimately unsatisfying. Secondly, and this ties into the first point, The Governor’s survival was unnecessary and only inspired a long sigh. His death would have been welcomed, and if his death had come at the hands of Andrea or Michonne, it would have made the entire season much cleaner, much tighter, and would have made for a much more enjoyable final hour.

I think I was right about that sigh, because come Season Four, we were treated to two very inconsequential episodes that solely featured The Governor. It’s not to say that David Morrissey is a bad actor, in fact, he is rather brilliant. It’s that the writing for The Governor was never particularly good, his motivations were never strong enough, and his brutality seemed to always come from some unnecessary bitterness.

I won’t focus on the inconsequential early episodes that focused on Rick becoming a farmer and the virus that plagued the prison, nor will I focus on the return of The Governor.

I would, however, take a moment of silence for Hershel Greene, who had a target on his head since the day he lost his leg. His death was brutal and merciless, and was perhaps the first death in the series that made me feel truly sad. Scott Wilson did a fantastic job, portraying tortured father to his daughters, mentor to Rick, and general wise man to the group. He will and has been missed.

What I will focus on is the consequences of The Governor’s attack on the prison, splitting our group up in a way we had never seen. Five groups of survivors. The will-they-or-won’t-they: Daryl and Beth. The dream team: Rick, Carl, and Michonne. The weird new family: Tyreese, Carol, and the two girls. The two that invite new characters to the show: Glenn and Tara. And the remainder: Maggie, Sasha, and Bob.

What follows are a string of fantastic episodes, some of the best the series, though none quite reaching the bars set by the pilot or “Clear.”

In particular, three episodes stand out to me to this day. “After,” the episode that finds Carl taking care of Rick and eventually having Michonne find them, has strong ties to “Clear,” which also only featured Rick, Carl, and Michonne. It was a slow-burn of an episode, quiet yet visually stunning, and the closing moment is one of the only few, truly hopeful and happy times we get in the series.

The second is “Still,” which featured only Daryl and Beth. It was a daring episode, in part because Beth had yet to be a very developed character, and in part because the goal of that episode seemed to be her trying to find alcohol. And yet it worked in a way that most other episodes do not, because it had a tight focus, and because Norman Reedus and Emily Kinney were very up to delivering the goods needed. I cannot say that this is a “must-watch” episode of the series, nor can I even say that it is in the top five of the season, but it was a specifically touching, character-driven episode.

The final is, of course, “The Grove,” which featured the death of a child at the hands of a human, the first shown in the series. It was a very unsettling episode, featuring some standout acting by Melissa McBride and the two children. It resolved the tension between Carol and Tyreese, the tension created from her killing Karen (I didn’t mention that storyline because it was largely irrelevant.) What “The Grove” managed to do was put viewers in a position they had not yet been, watching this show. Not tense for fear of zombies, nor sad due to a character’s death. It was simple terror at seeing this mentally unstable child murder her own sister.

Which leads us directly to our characters coming back together at Terminus, joined now by new characters Abraham, Rosalita, and Eugene. The cannibalism story was lifted directly from the comics, of course, but it makes a large amount of sense. In this post-apocalyptic world, some would be starving for food and would turn to their only alternative: each other.

It’s disturbing and cringe-inducing, and it all ended rather abruptly in episode three. Not to say this is a bad thing. In a series where the previous big-bad lasted much too long, I was extremely pleased to see Gareth and his gang killed off so quickly, allowing our characters to move on to their next destination.

“Four Walls and a Roof” is an early contender for the best episode of Season Five. It features one of the most intense and satisfying cold openings of the series, with Lawrence Gilliard Jr,’s excellent delivery of “I’m tainted meat!” It also marks the return of brutality from our characters, justifiably so, as they bludgeon Gareth and his friends to death.

What follows this strong episode is a slew of excellency. “Slabtown,” the standalone episode featuring Beth in the hospital, “Self-Help,” the episode featuring Glenn, Maggie, and Abraham’s group, and “Consumed,” the episode featuring Daryl and Carol, are all widely great episodes in their own rights. However, I felt their merits were squashed by an abrupt, unnecessary ending in the midseason finale.

Anyone that knows anything about the show could have predicted that Beth’s death was coming soon. Why, you ask? Because she was given rapid-fire character development in a way most other characters take seasons to achieve. I felt her death was completely unnecessary, sparked by the writers needing to add heightened emotion to the episode, needing to add an exclamation point to the end of their midseason finale. It felt shoehorned in and clumsy, though it’s not to say that her death was not or will not be impactful.

I can’t imagine for a moment what she thought she would achieve by stabbing Dawn in the shoulder with small scissors. Surely, it would be painful, but definitely not death-inducing. Maybe she knew Dawn would retaliate, and she knew someone would kill Dawn, and thus she got what she wanted. But then it seems selfish, surely there would be some more efficient way to dispose of her without potentially exposing your group of friends to open-fire from the hospital residents.

Beth’s death made me sad in a way Hershel’s did not. I felt like I didn’t get any closure with her character. I felt that she was just ready to begin to hit her potential. Emily Kinney stepped up her game at the end of Season Four and into this season, and I’m disappointed that I don’t get to see where else the show could have taken her character.

However, let us not dwell on the past, though I’m sure the show will. Maggie only just seemed to remember she had a sister as her sister’s dead body was carried out of the hospital. Noah joins our cast, and he will certainly feel some burden from her death. And I feel most of all that Daryl, our resident softie, may be the most impacted by it all.

I suppose we’ll see. If you’re up for it, AMC posted the first two minutes of the episode, which you can watch below.

What do you think? Is the show at a creative high? Does it deserve the millions upon millions of viewers it gets each week, breaking records on its way? Does it deserve critical praise alongside these viewers, or are you okay to accept it as entertaining television at best?

“Come and get me.” – Sasha

At some point during “Forget”, I became enthralled with the idea that the concept of the episode would make for a great series finale, and the more I watched, the more it hit all the right marks. What might we want, some day in the long future, from a series finale of “The Walking Dead?” To me, there are two possible options, and one of them would be very similar to the premise of Alexandria. Our heroes finding a place that is safe for them, or at least as safe as could be. The threat of the walkers can never really go away, especially given how everyone is already infected with the disease, but it could end with that threat at its lowest.

 

Of course, in such a finale, I wouldn’t possibly expect everyone to end up happy. No, I would expect to see some reactions similar to what we saw with Sasha. People who can’t settle in to this, not after being through what they’d been through. And I would hope that we would see our characters’ true natures still poking through, like Rick still taking the gun inside. But overall, this potential ending would have our characters settling in, with the viewer thinking, or knowing, that they will be okay.

The second potential ending that I can see is both similar and completely different from the first. It would end with the audience knowing our characters would move forward, but in this case, they’re still out in the wild, out in our post-apocalyptic world, fighting zombies every day, fighting for their lives every day. Some would die, and more would join them, but they’d go on, as they have since the apocalypse began.

I’m more enthralled with the idea of the first, though more inclined to think the second would actually happen, especially if the show were to follow the potential ending that Robert Kirkman’s might have in mind for the graphic novels – I don’t think he’s going to end it with them in a safe zone.

 

Regardless, this episode showed some strong themes that I would expect to run through any finale that The Walking Dead chose. From montages like the end scene with the upbeat and unusual song choice, to the moment with Michonne and her hanging her sword, to Daryl accepting his position in the community, the episode was filled with the kind of concluding moments that I feel would fit well in a finale.

The problems that The Walking Dead has always had remain, such as the forced tension when Aaron is grabbed by a zombie in the field, and some of the more stilted and obvious dialogue (Michonne saying “This is now” and cutting to the next scene comes to mind.)  However, I’ve come to learn that these are inherent traits of the show, and any finale in my mind would mostly succeed or fail based on story.

One problem that is quickly becoming apparent is the expanding cast. Father Gabriel, Tara, and Eugene were noticeably absent from this episode, and even Sasha’s story-line feels forced due to the audience’s unfamiliarity with the character. In fact, in The Talking Dead, Sonequa Martin-Green tells the audience that her character used to be a firefighter. This was a question that I asked myself during this very episode. I had no idea what she used to be. In fact, I had no idea who Sasha really was, apart from her relationships to Tyreese and Bob.

The problems will killing off characters is that to make their deaths significant, we first need to know more about them. So we were treated to more Tyreese and more Beth, just before they were killed. The second problem is that once we learn more about these characters, we are more interested in watching them on screen, yet killing them off means we start watching more minor characters instead. It’s a wheel, of course. It’s a juggling act. I just don’t think that The Walking Dead has yet nailed this performance, but it does try.

So I hope that The Walking Dead doesn’t kill Sasha this season. If I were to follow patterns, it would seem like she might be next, but I think her storyline outside the wall offers more potential than simply another death. We’ll see what happens.

 

Final thoughts:

  • Rick’s smile throughout the episode was great. It’s very odd to see Andrew Lincoln laughing, but also very heartwarming. The dinner party as a whole was interesting, and I enjoyed the group’s interactions with Deanna and Rick’s talk with her husband.
  • Carol threatening the kid was probably the most intense and excellent moment of this season so far.
  • The mentions of the pasta-maker were pretty hilarious. I hope our group doesn’t burn Alexandria to the ground too quickly.
  • The mysterious W on the walker’s head is sure to come back, and we’re still not quite sure what happened to the gun that Rick hid.
  • The awkward kiss that Rick gave Jessie is not a sign of good things to come, both for the characters and for my enjoyment of the show.
  • I kind of hoped they would catch the horse and Rick and Michonne would ride it around the streets of Alexandria.
  • The Daryl and Aaron plot evolved in a way I didn’t expect. It was excellent and touching and I hope it doesn’t mean bad things for Norman Reedus.
  • The final shot of Rick and the walker on opposite sides of the wall was excellent. Fantastic cinematography as per the usual.

Episode Grade: A-