Over the past two seasons, TWD has received much (some of it very legitimate) criticism – from fans and critics alike. I would say my issues with the Walking Dead can be underpinned by the following three points: the sometimes cartoon-ish portrayal of Negan, the excessive naval-gazing of the writers for episodes on end (hand-in-hand with the pretentious direction and bottle episodes that focus on only two characters at a time), and a general lack of momentum. Some viewers criticise the series for too little action for a zombie show and others criticise it for not being “smart” enough. While these things are not mutually exclusive, and the last season was by far the most infuriating period for this once-adored series , there is a little of the “Goldilocks” around exactly why so many viewers are left not only unsatisfied, but angry at the series. I have been particularly annoyed by the lack of clarity around Rick’s state of play but I actually feel that overall, this season has been stronger. While there was a pause in the action this week, Dwight’s position is growing more and more precarious and I no longer trust Eugene to do the “right” thing by anybody beside himself. I can see this being the crux of the mid-season finale.
Anyway, I’ve started at the end. When the episode opened, I was concerned we were going to re-watch the opening episode of this season through the eyes of the Saviours. Thankfully, we skipped through the initial attack on the Saviours quite quickly and we revisited Negan and Gabriel soon enough. I was aware there had been whispers that Father Gabriel was a mole for Negan, hence his change of heart after having almost staged a mutiny against Rick back in Alexandria. It would have explained the reformation of the character and it this would have been a truly wicked, interesting twist. I will admit I felt some relief when it seemed that Gabriel and Negan were as unfamiliar as we would expect though. I think I’m still mourning Eugene and I would not have been able to stomach another turncoat. For the most part, the scene with Negan and Gabriel did achieve the goal of humanising Negan a little. I feel like the writers have been trying to push the idea that essentially, “Negan is just another Rick” for some time now, with poor results. It has been difficult to relate to Negan. He can be entertaining, nauseating and annoying, but thus far, he has not really been a multi-dimensional character. This episode explored a Negan who was less posturing, a Negan with a back-story, a Negan who had ample opportunity to torture Gabriel more than he did, but refrained. He also tried to justify the method to his madness, and his reasoning was not completely ridiculous. I also loved the scene where they carved their way through the Walkers, the direction of this scene was actually cool and very Romero-esque.
Elsewhere, Rick and Daryl clashed (literally). It was unintelligible – Daryl little more than growls monosyllabically these days, and in the process, they managed to lose the ammunition they fought so hard to get. And I can’t comment on Rick’s scenes without mentioning…the HELICOPTOR!? Who this belongs to, what this means…is kind of mind-blowing in TWD landscape.
The episode closed with Eugene taking food to Gabriel and finding him curled up in his cell, sweating and shaking. At first I thought he had been bitten, but there was no confirmation that a Walker had gotten to him. I am not sure we will revisit this next week, but I would rather not be left in suspense for weeks on end. Though, the writers do like to toy with us…