"Sanctuary for all. Community for all. Those who arrive survive. TERMINUS.”
Well, so much for catching up with the blogging!
I could make all sorts of excuses. I’ve been busy at work (I haven’t). My social life is a hectic whirl (it isn’t). I’ve been ill (well, a little bit, but not terribly).
No, if I’m honest, I have to say that I’m finding this run of Walking Dead episodes a little… well, dull. Not terrible, don’t get me wrong. And actually, each one of these eps, in isolation, has plenty to recommend it. I like the idea of genre fiction taking itself seriously as drama, exploring and developing its characters, and giving us insights into their motivations.
It’s just the cumulative effect of, now, five eps in a row of the characters wandering aimlessly in the woods doing a bit of soul-searching has made it less than inspiring to write about. I mentioned previously that the first half of this season seemed to move at a bizarrely breakneck pace and could perhaps have been more evenly plotted. Well, it seems that trend has taken its toll on the second half, as, while the actors are getting plenty of chances to emote (and Beth’s even, finally, getting a personality of her own), the overall plot has moved about as fast as an asthmatic ant carrying some heavy shopping.
Still, it’s looking like something may be starting to happen at last. And out of loyalty to the show, I thought I’d at least write about what’s been going on, catching up on the last three eps at once. So – how is it in the post apocalyptic world for our plucky gang of tortured souls?
Well, for all their angst, it’s not going too badly. It’s just that they’d all have to finally meet up to realise that. Unbeknownst to each other (as yet), Rick has had the slightly unbelievable good fortune that his other child also survived in his absence; Glenn and Maggie’s hopes that each has survived are well-founded; Beth could indeed be reunited with her sister; Tyreese and Sasha will, presumably, meet again; and Daryl could take some of that guilt off his shoulders with the realisation that, actually, the only major ‘good guy’ not to have survived the prison conflagration was Hershel. Convenient, that.
Of course, none of them know any of this yet, meaning they all wander about unloading their personal angst on each other, like a Harold Pinter play amid a zombie apocalypse. And to be fair, the show’s still not stinting on the Walkers – in that regard, it’s still more interesting than the endless arguing on Hershel’s farm back in season 2. Each week has seen plenty of head-trauma action, though the characters are now so well-versed in offing the ghouls it’s hard to see them as much of a threat any more; more something to break up the monotony of the endless wandering.
Even so, there’s been some inventive use of them. An attack on Abraham’s party in the Army truck served to underline how double-hard-assed both Abraham and Glenn are at dealing with Walkers, while Eugene’s utter ineffectiveness presumably began to set out the stall for his character. This has also left the party on foot, along with all the others at this point. I realise it’s been, in universe, over a year since the collapse of society; but even so, it’s a little implausible that none of the characters can get any of the abandoned cars running.
The effect of this has been to drag out the only overall plot advancement we have had – the various characters eventually converging on the railway tracks, and the enigmatic signs inviting everyone to sanctuary at “Terminus”. Sasha at least is sensibly suspicious of this, but the others seem oddly willing to take it at face value; after their experience with Woodbury, that’s a bit hard to swallow.
Still, at least pretty much all of them are heading that way now, meaning they will presumably converge by the end of the season – and there will be much rejoicing. I said previously that I was glad the separated parties didn’t contrivedly meet up again at the beginning of ep9, but now I’m rather hoping they’ll just get on with it.
Along the way though, the endless walking has given us deeper glimpses into the various characters. Enlarging on the hints in the previous flashback, Michonne told Carl all about her lost (presumably dead) son, then got mentally tortured by the scriptwriters on seeing a child’s room filled with the rotting corpses of a family who’d all committed suicide together.
The recovering Rick might have found all that interesting, if he hadn’t been hiding under the bed as their chosen refuge was invaded by the stock post-apocalypse looting thugs we’ve all seen before. It was at least a tense set piece as he went all Die Hard on them, though in the end all he managed was to slip away and warn Carl and Michonne before they too stumbled into trouble. It was, though, clear even at that point that we’d be seeing these guys again; you don’t cast a well-known character actor like Jeff Kober for one line in one episode.
Sure enough, he did turn up later, to co-opt the reluctant Daryl. First though, Daryl and Beth got to have the show’s first two-hander (Walkers not counted), as each found their own way to deal with the demons of their guilt; Daryl by snarling a lot, and Beth by a determined effort to get drunk for the first time.
Of the three eps concerned, this one, Still, was the standout. Norman Reedus continues to make Daryl probably the most charismatic character in the show, and a perfect rebuttal to any snobs who would dismiss someone like him as nothing but ‘poor white trash’. The show’s touched on this before, but here old hand Angela Kang’s script really went for it, with Daryl unloading more than ever about his horrible past, combined with his own feelings of inadequacy, which were underscored by his perception that he’d failed to protect the community.
Reedus was admirably up to the task, showing us Daryl’s anger, frustration and real heart; his exchanges with Beth were by turns frightening, moving, and poignantly funny. And it’s fair to say that the previously underused Emily Kinney as Beth was a perfect foil, dealing with her own demons – her father’s alcoholism, her previous suicide attempt, her world being taken away from her at such a young age. Kinney, astonishingly, is actually 28 years old, enviably able to look far younger in the show.
The point of the ep, and its two characters, was cleverly underscored by the settings. A posh country club filled with corpses counterpointed Beth’s WASPish background, while later the two of them found themselves in a woodland shack Daryl found almost identical to the one he was raised in – so much so he could even find instantly where the moonshine was kept.
The settings also contributed to a palpably spooky atmosphere – especially the country club, with its piles of corpses, twitching Walkers hanging from nooses, and hints that some very bad shit had gone down before those hiding there finally snuffed it. Had they all killed themselves? And that rotting torso adorned with the placard proclaiming "RICH BITCH" was more than a clue to the class-consciousness that bubbled under the surface of the script.
And of course, all they could find to drink there was peach schnapps. "Is it good?" Beth tentatively enquired, and I found myself actually pre-empting Daryl by snorting, "No!" So it was off to the cabin Daryl said he’d found with Michonne, and a night on the moonshine (which, fortunately, wasn’t bad enough to make either go blind).
Getting two of your characters drunk is a tried and tested (and realistic) way of getting them to reveal their depths, and so it proved here. That old drinking game "Never have I ever…" challenged plenty of Beth’s assumptions about Daryl while also showing the prejudice involved in making them. The mood turned, as it so often does in reality, from jovial laughs to melancholy, ending with both of them in tears. Fittingly, the ep ended with them torching the place with moonshine and a burning bundle of money, and giving it the finger. A little obvious perhaps, but effective.
That was a fantastic ep, but would have worked far better for the committed viewer had it been sandwiched between others with a different tone. As it was, the next ep, Alone, showed us more of the same, though it was less intense. This time the focus was again on Daryl and Beth, but they were intercut with Maggie, Bob and Sasha as they squabbled about whether to stop moving or continue Maggie’s quest for Glenn.
To be honest, it seemed a bit of a no-brainer to me. Sasha’s scheme of finding a tall building to hole up in, drinking rainwater and growing crops on the roof seemed nonsensical; the only real hope would be getting together with fellow survivors, and Maggie was at least trying to find one of them. Bob, for his part, was constantly grinning just at the thought that he’d managed to survive the destruction of another camp but not end up on his own this time. That’s lovely for him, but after surviving the destruction of three such communities now, if I were in his shoes I’d be starting to think I was some seriously bad luck…
Unsurprisingly, their bickering was less interesting than what was going on with Daryl and Beth, who’d found another interesting setting to stumble into – a funeral home, in the middle of a cemetery. Given that this is a show about the dead rising, this was curiously apposite; I wondered if it had been avoided before precisely because it might have seemed cliched.
But it had the interesting wrinkle that somebody appeared to still be looking after the place. And not just the place, but the Walkers too – several were neatly laid out in the mortuary, suited and made up as if for a funeral. Whoever’s doing this is obviously a skilled mortician, but more to the point it allowed Beth to remind us (perhaps for the first time since season 1) that whatever the Walkers are now, they used to be people. The show often alludes to this with visuals that hint at Walkers’ backstories, but its nice to have the characters themselves realise it from time to time.
We saw Daryl acknowledge that maybe there were good people left, and that maybe compromise could lead to settling down with their mysterious benefactor; a nice character moment, but also the obvious cue for the whole thing to go to hell as he rather stupidly let in a horde of Walkers under the impression that they were the stray mutt he’d seen at the door earlier. Minus points there, I think – Daryl managed to keep his wits about him the week before while blotto on moonshine, and now he’s that dense?
Still, the Walker invasion was a nicely tense set piece, and reminded us that these things can be dangerous if you’re trapped in an enclosed space with a lot of them (though Daryl, predictably, coped). More to the point, it also advanced the plot. It looks like the whole thing was sert up by the driver of the mysterious car that seems to have abducted Beth. And it looked like the kind of car that might be driven at a funeral…
Not even Daryl can keep up with a moving car (though getting one running himself might have been an idea) so he found himself collapsing in despair at the rail tracks. That was a clever bit of misdirection. Just when I expected he too would spy one of the ‘Terminus’ signs, he found himself accosted by the gang of thugs Rick fell foul of earlier. "Why hurt yourself when you can hurt other people?" was their leader’s rather chilling philosophy – I knew Jeff Kober would be back, and playing a stone cold baddie, as always. On this evidence though, he seems a pale shadow of the more nuanced Governor. Still, time will tell, I suppose.
Gore of the week(s)
Plenty more Walker-offing to keep us all happy, but nothing that struck me as wildly inventive.
The bedroom containing the dead family was gruesome but also moving, and that "RICH BITCH" at the country club was a nasty touch. Other than that, we did get some new kinds of head-squishing, with Abraham at the truck:
And Daryl moved up in the world by abandoning his crossbow momentarily in favour of a (presumably expensive) golf club. Fore!
As I say, these were all pretty good eps in their own right – and Still, in particular, was outstanding. But they definitely suffered from all being run together, rather than punctuated with faster-moving eps, and some progression of the overall plot. That does seem to be moving a little now, with the revelation of ‘Terminus’, and Abraham’s mission to get Eugene to Washington DC. Terminus is new, but Abraham and Eugene seem to be adapted pretty faithfully from the comics. No spoilers, then, but really, what use does Abraham think an “answer” to the apocalypse is going to be at this point? For that matter, shouldn’t Glenn point out that he met the last survivor of the CDC research team, and even they couldn’t figure it out?
Three eps to go, and our heroes may be scattered hither and yon, but many of them are now heading to the same place at least. And there’s the new subplots of the gang of thugs with Daryl, and Beth’s mysterious disappearance to deal with. So, while I do like a nice bit of thoughtful introspection, please let’s pick up the pace a bit for the rest of the season! And hopefully I can whip myself into writing more regularly, too…