The Walking Dead: Season 8, Episode 8 – How It’s Gotta Be

“If you care, you do something. You don’t just ‘hope’. It takes more than that.”

(SPOILER WARNING!)

And so, The Walking Dead’s largely uninspiring eight season has limped to a mid-season finale that was… uninspiring. Plenty of action to be sure, and some welcome reversals for Rick’s Rabble in their thus far implausibly successful campaign against the Saviors. Yet it all felt too manufactured somehow, as if the writers, and the showrunner in particular, were just running on autopilot. You can just hear them brainstorming in the writers’ room – “Oops, mid-season finale coming up. We haven’t killed anyone of note, better put some people in jeopardy to bring the viewers back next year… check. Oh, and who can we kill off that will really shock people but won’t make them hate us as much as if it were Carol or Daryl?” Continue reading “The Walking Dead: Season 8, Episode 8 – How It’s Gotta Be”

The Walking Dead: Season 7, episode 7 – Sing Me a Song

“You mowed down two of my men with a machine gun, I want something in return for that. Sing me a song.”

(SPOILER WARNING!)

Another week, another tense but leisurely look at one of the post-apocalyptic communities in this week’s The Walking Dead. Following on from episode 3, this week saw a return to the Savior HQ, the Sanctuary, as the ever-genial Negan welcomed his most recent subject – Carl Grimes. I’d been wondering if the show would adapt this aspect of the comic, which sees Carl and Negan building a twisted Clarice Starling/Hannibal Lecter bond, and I’m glad it has. It just had to find a different way of getting Rick’s obstreperous son there, as his place was taken in the season opener by Daryl. Continue reading “The Walking Dead: Season 7, episode 7 – Sing Me a Song”

The Walking Dead: Season 6, Episode 9 – No Way Out

“No-one gets to clock out today. And hell – this is a story they’re going to tell.”

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(SPOILER WARNING!)   

As I caught up on the return of The Walking Dead after my usual sojourn to LA this year, it occurred to me that I never did get round to writing a review of last year’s mid-season finale. Not that there was anything wrong with it, particularly; there were some tense set pieces, and some good character action. But basically, it was the third act of every zombie movie ever made – the inevitable bit where the hordes of hungry undead break into our heroes’ sanctuary, and carnage ensues. Continue reading “The Walking Dead: Season 6, Episode 9 – No Way Out”

The Walking Dead: Season 4, Episode 16 – A

“We gonna tell them? Everything that’s happened to us, everything we’ve done? We gonna tell them the truth?”

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(SPOILER WARNING!)

Well that went… about as well as expected. Let’s face it, if you’ve ever seen any post-apocalyptic drama on TV, you probably could have told Our Heroes that Terminus was not going to be the refuge they were hoping for. If nothing else, Woodbury last season was a pretty good indicator of that. And nothing good has ever come of anything called “Terminus”. But then, maybe these guys aren’t too genre savvy – perhaps they preferred reality shows.

Continue reading “The Walking Dead: Season 4, Episode 16 – A”

The Walking Dead: Season 4, Episodes 9 & 10 – After / Inmates

“You were wrong. I’m still here.”

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(SPOILER WARNING!)

Hello again, faithful readers (all several of you)! As usual this time of year, my reviews have been delayed by a sojourn to sunny Los Angeles, and the Gallifrey One Doctor Who convention. Consequently, I’ve missed covering two eps of The Walking Dead since it returned from its mid-season break, so I figured I’d do them both in one bumper post – with this week’s to follow tomorrow – jetlag permitting!

Continue reading “The Walking Dead: Season 4, Episodes 9 & 10 – After / Inmates”

The Walking Dead: Season 3, Episode 12–Clear

“You will be torn apart, by teeth or bullets. You and your boy.”

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The luxury of a longer season this year allowed The Walking Dead to try something new this week – essentially a standalone episode (albeit still connected tangentially to the main plot) featuring only three of the regular characters and none of the regular settings. And, even in a show that’s gone from strength to strength this year, it was a bit of a standout; focused, intense, allowing three very important characters room to breathe and grow, while still not stinting on the horror and the thrills. It also, surprisingly, dealt with a loose plot thread we might all have forgotten, one from way back in the show’s first ever episode.

In a nutshell, this was an entire episode dealing with the quest for guns and ammunition mooted by Rick last week. Along for the ride, as proposed, were Michonne (to get a feel for how reliable she might be) and Carl (small, but hard enough to be backup in case Michonne proved to be as loose a cannon as Merle). In the course of this hour, all three got a chance to develop – even Rick, confronted by an old friend who was even more broken than he is.

That old friend turned out to be none other than Morgan Jones, played as before by Britain’s own Lennie James. Together with Andrew Lincoln and David Morrissey, this show is plainly a victim of the current trend in Hollywood to make serious TV drama with British actors pretending to be American.

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To be honest though, Morgan’s return wasn’t that much of a surprise once we’d established exactly where the trio had gone to look for weaponry – Rick’s home town. This became clear as he searched the now empty police weapons locker, stating, “I used to be the police in this town”, though eagle-eyed viewers with sharp memories might have picked up on the ubiquitous signage saying “King County”.

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It did make sense, as Rick knew where all the guns and ammo were in that town, but you had to wonder how small the circles were that he’d been moving in. I don’t have much of a sense of Georgia geography, but the gang have been to Atlanta, then to Hershel’s farm, then the prison (within walking distance, it seems, as is Woodbury), and now back to King County. Perhaps they might have better luck a little further afield, as that seems like a similar radius to, say, Kent.

Be that as it may, the trip there set the scene – and themes – for the episode. Michonne drove, sitting stony-faced and silent, as ever, while Carl fidgeted in the back and Rick looked grim in the passenger seat. Their determined ignorance of a frantic hitch-hiker showed us right away that (if we hadn’t got it by now) Rick is no longer the compassionate, eager to help ex-cop. Survival is more important, and nobody is to be trusted.

Which makes it all the harder to understand his choice of vehicle. Honestly, in a post-apocalyptic landscape littered with wreckage, why is he driving that suspiciously clean Hyundai Tucson? Could it be that Hyundai have offered the show promotional consideration? And why didn’t he at least get the four wheel drive version?

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Still, the Hyundai’s limitations gave rise to the first of several impressive set pieces throughout the hour, as it got bogged down in the mud trying to drive around a corpse-filled pileup. Walkers were soon all over the car; and it was a blackly amusing measure of how accustomed they all are to this that they just resignedly got on with the business of slaughter. We didn’t even need to see the details onscreen; we can take it as read now that Rick, Michonne and even Carl can deal with this.

As they plainly could when they reached the town and found it full of graffiti saying things like “TURN AROUND AND LIVE”. Plainly someone had laid claim to the place, and it didn’t take much guessing to figure out who the masked figure blazing away at them with a sniper rifle could be. Incapacitating him was, as with the Walkers, taken very much in stride (with some timely intervention from Carl), and the mask was pulled off to confirm that this was indeed Morgan.

The show had drifted yet again to its comic book origins, in which the gang passed back through the town and found Morgan starving and insane, his son having turned and being kept in chains. That aspect was left out – too similar to the scenario with the Governor’s daughter so recently, I’d guess.

But Morgan was certainly no longer in his right mind. Holed up with enough weaponry to equip a small army, he’d been decorating the walls with random apparent nonsense – the word “CLEAR” repeated over and over, along with the heartbreaking revelation of his son’s fate – “DUANE TURNED”.

Scott Gimple’s clever script split the group into two pairs, giving both the opportunity to spark off each other in some intense scenes. Left to look after Morgan, Rick had to deal with the man’s frenzied hostility and madness before convincing him that he wasn’t “wearing a dead man’s face”. This led to a pair of superb performances as Lincoln and James’ characters unburdened to each other everything that had happened since they last met.

Morgan’s son Duane (named, as in the comics, after Duane Jones, star of Night of the Living Dead) had been bitten by the Walker that used to be his mother – the wife Morgan had found himself unable to shoot at the end of that very first episode. Not unnaturally, Morgan had blamed himself, but couldn’t bring himself to commit suicide, begging Rick to do it for him.

Rick, for his part, explained the loss of Lori, but still found enough optimism to encourage Morgan to join his group because, in the coming fight, “we’re going to win”. Perhaps seeing someone whose mind was even more broken than his own shocked him back to a more rational state of mind.

Carl, meanwhile, had taken off on a mysterious errand that was plainly more than the quest for baby supplies he told Rick. At first I groaned – were we back to the Carl of last year, who kept stupidly wandering off into mortal danger when no one was looking? But no, it turned out he had a good reason; he wanted to find the last remaining photo of his parents together, hanging in a local bar.

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Accompanying him was Michonne, and their mutual distrust found an outlet as Carl immediately tried to ditch her. But Michonne’s not that easy to ditch, as Merle could have told him, and she was back with him within moments, the pair uneasily cooperating. The bar having turned out to be chock full of Walkers, they had to work together to achieve Carl’s objective; as they did, you could see their distrust gradually turning into a bond of friendship and respect.

It also allowed Michonne to open up a bit from the taciturn, closed-in character she’d been, as she revealed what she’d got when she went back into the bar to slaughter more Walkers (again offscreen). It seems she has a taste for kitschy cat ornaments!

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By the time Carl confided in Rick, “I think she might be one of us”, she was comfortable enough with her new friends to confide in Rick, and maybe help him out a little. She told him that she knew he’d been seeing – and talking to – dead people, and made him feel a little better about it by revealing that she’d been doing it too, talking to her dead boyfriend.

Morgan couldn’t be persuaded to join the gang, so Rick left him in his fortified town, alone but with some of his nihilistic guilt alleviated. At that point it became clear what “CLEAR” meant – Morgan was going about the lonely business of clearing the town of Walkers, burning them on the pyre the group had seen on their way in. It wasn’t a happy ending, exactly; but neither did it feel too sad.

This distinctly out-of-format episode was one of the best this year (a tough task, given how good the show has been). Self-contained, deep, and with four amazing, intense performances, it gave me a lot of confidence in writer Scott Gimple, who’s soon to take over as showrunner from Glen Mazzara. It also (finally) gave some real depth to Michonne, that hopefully goes some way to countering the criticism of her as a two-dimensional comic book figure. Given the chance to do more than look surly and swing a katana about, Danai Gurira proved she’s every bit as good an actor as the rest of the ensemble, and her chemistry with Chandler Riggs’ increasingly earnest Carl was a highlight of the episode.

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Next week, it’s presumably back to the story proper, as the trio return to the prison with an awful lot of guns. Looks like they may need them. But this was such a good episode, it actually felt good to have a bit of a break from the ongoing saga of the fight with Woodbury. Let’s hope the show has a chance to do a few more standalone episodes next year.

The Walking Dead: Season 3, Episode 8 – Made to Suffer

“We’ve been running from Walkers so long, we forgot what people do.”

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The Walking Dead reached its ‘mid-season finale’ this week with a measured but exciting climax, by original comic writer Robert Kirkman, that resisted the usual temptation to chuck in everything but the kitchen sink. It was all the better for it, keeping a tight rein on the drama even while (surprisingly at this point) introducing a new group of characters.

Making their debut in the pre-credits teaser, the new gang include comics stalwart Tyreese, here played efficiently but unmemorably by Chad Coleman. Tyreese’s group got the lion’s share of the Walker action this week, fighting through the undead in the woods, then later in the prison, with some good head-smashing action sequences. Some nice direction from Billy Gierhart here – this is the first time we’ve seen any rain in the show since season one, where it functioned as a plot device rather than part of the show’s atmosphere. It certainly explains the well-realised increasing shabbiness of the Walkers, who presumably just stagger about in the open whatever the weather.

The new characters also served to introduce some action into the prison, where the regulars would otherwise have little to do but twiddle their thumbs waiting for Rick and co to return. There was a bit of this, with moustachioed and frustrated Axel seemingly hitting on young Beth, then having a go at the stern Carol (once he’d established that she wasn’t a lesbian). But of all the ones waiting at the prison, it was, once again, Carl who got to step up and be a hero.

It’s a measure of how the series has grown that Carl is no longer the irritating child who keeps wandering off into mortal danger, but a hardened survivor more than capable of taking care of himself. By this point in the comics, he’d had to take some very nasty courses of action that left him pretty well scarred psychologically; here, obviously his part in his mother’s death has served that function somewhat. He’s now almost like a miniature Rick, stern, gruff and taciturn – and handy with a gun. Chandler Riggs continues to use the opportunity to deliver an excellent performance – between this, Game of Thrones and Mad Men, cable drama seems to have some amazingly good child actors.

Carl’s sojourn into the Walker-infested depths of the prison to rescue Tyreese’s crew also revealed that the prison was not as secure as it might have seemed. There’s an enormous hole blasted in one of the buildings and the fence around it, which is presumably why the gang haven’t yet completely cleared the place of Walkers. What’s the betting that this could be a problem when the Governor’s forces finally turn up?

And turn up they undoubtedly will after the events of this episode. Occurrences at the prison were really just a sideshow, as the bulk of the story concentrated on Rick, Daryl, Oscar and Michonne as they infiltrated Woodbury to rescue Glenn and Maggie – laying the ground for some unanticipated consequences. Glenn continued to be resourceful this week, literally ripping the arm bones out of the downed Walker to use as a weapon. It was a gruesome moment, which also showcased how good Steven Yeun currently looks with his shirt off – someone’s been working out.

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Significantly, Maggie told the concerned Glenn that the Governor “never touched” her – very much in contradiction to what was heavily implied (but not shown) last week. Given this show’s tendency to put its characters through the wringer, I’m betting that she’s trying to spare her boyfriend’s feelings, and that some measure of PTSD is very much in the offing for her.

Glenn did get to use his improvised weapon on one of the Woodbury troops, but not unexpectedly failed to get the drop on Merle. Luckily for him (and Maggie, that was the point when Rick and his commandos showed up to rescue them, alerted by the shooting they’d provoked.

One of the major points of suspense in the episode was when exactly Merle and Daryl would meet up (or at least realise they were fighting each other as the gang battled through the streets of Woodbury in a shot filled firefight). In this, both script and direction were clever, as Rick deployed smoke bombs to obscure their presence. This also had the effect of obscuring who the shadowy figures shooting were, meaning Merle and Daryl were frequently within spitting distance of each other, all unawares.

Rick too got a moment of confusion about who he was shooting at – he thought it was Shane. Yes, in a crowd-pleasing (but extremely contrived) moment, Jon Bernthal popped back to the show for a quick wordless cameo, blasting away at Rick in slo mo. Contrived it may have been, but it also served to point up that Rick’s mental state may not be all that stable after everything he’s been through; perhaps that will come back to haunt him.

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Still, Rick is a paragon of sanity compared to the Governor, whose actions this week pretty much laid bare everything he’d been keeping secret. Michonne, obviously motivated by a personal grudge, had split off from Rick and co to head for the Governor’s apartment; where it didn’t take her long to stumble over his room full of floating heads, and what she initially took to be a little girl held hostage.

Again, direction and script worked well together as, at the precise moment she realised what the little girl really was and prepared to despatch her, who should walk in but the Governor himself. It was a measure of how much more nuanced this version of the character is than his comic counterpart that, with the threat to his beloved daughter, he was instantly submissive, dropping all his weapons and practically begging Michonne not to harm his little girl.

I’ve read a couple of comments to the effect that, by then killing her anyway in the face of pleas from a man who’s obviously mentally ill, Michonne didn’t exactly show herself to be the better “man” in this scene. Certainly, David Morrissey’s performance made me feel more than a bit of sympathy for the Governor, despite all we’ve seen him do.

But let’s not forget, Michonne’s initial suspicions of him hardened into certainty quite quickly, when in the second episode featuring Woodbury, she found damn near conclusive evidence that he’d murdered all those National Guardsmen then lied to the town about it. And we as viewers have seen enough that any flickers of sympathy disappeared fairly quickly as he roared with rage and engaged her in a pretty brutal fight. It was cleverly choreographed, as some of the fish tanks were pulled over to deposit chomping undead heads on the floor between the combatants, giving an extra layer of jeopardy to it.

Michonne eventually got the upper hand, and incapacitated the enraged Governor with a shard of glass from one of the broken fish tanks, inserted into the eye. It was another nod to the comics (where the Governor lost considerably more body parts in that fight), later issues of which show him sporting an eyepatch – currently it’s just bandaged up, but I’m guessing the eyepatch is on the way.

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Of course, that was the point where, inevitably, Andrea walked in to find her erstwhile comrade having just half-blinded the man she’s sleeping with. While many critics find Michonne’s comic-book hardassery and terseness an annoying feature of this year, for me it’s trumped by Andrea’s continuing stupidity, gullibility and blind trust. You’d expect her to be horrified by the revelation that the Governor had an aquarium of zombie heads (including the quite recognisable helicopter pilot), and was keeping his undead daughter chained in a cupboard. For most people, this would likely be a relationship-ending moment.

Not for Andrea, though. She was horrified for a bit, then meekly accepted the Governor’s dubious excuse that the heads were to “prepare me for the horrors out there”. And she still hasn’t had the nous to wonder what provoked the running battle on Woodbury’s formerly idyllic streets – ie the hostages that used to be friends of hers. Yes, I acknowledge that Michonne needs to be given more depth when the show returns, to stop her being just a Batman-like hardass cipher; but even more urgently, the writers need to stop portraying Andrea as quite so stupid.

Luckily for the Governor, the rest of Woodbury’s population seem just as gullible as Andrea is. Nuts he may be, but he’s still an instinctively smart politician, and as soon as he used the word “terrorists” to describe Rick and his gang, I could see where this was going. Yes, it’s becoming an overused trope for powerful TV villains to cast our heroes in this light, with all the contemporary comment it’s obviously freighted with. But it was done well here, with David Morrissey’s charismatic speech whipping the Woodbury residents into a convincingly frenzied, vengeance-hungry mob.

And it was the targets of their hate that prompted the cleverly low key cliffhanger to this half of the season. It was a genuine shock (both offscreen and on) when the Governor suddenly singled Merle out as the traitor who’d granted the terrorists access. Michael Rooker was, as ever, excellent as he went from astonishment to trepidation to cynicism here. We – and he – know that Merle’s being made a scapegoat because of his lies about having killed Michonne. But the Woodbury mob doesn’t know that. And the crowning cliffhanger (which became inevitable once we realised Merle was being thrown to the wolves) was the Governor’s evidence against him – his captive brother, dragged out in chains.

As I say, a nicely restrained mid-season cliffhanger; only two of the major characters are in immediate jeopardy, and one of those isn’t very nice (though I’d hate to lose him). Rick and the rest of the gang are safely (well, safely-ish) on their way back to the prison with Glenn and Maggie; though they lost Oscar along the way. Shame, I thought he was shaping up nicely as a character. And the rest of the prison crew are still safe (ish), with Tyreese and the new gang behind locked doors until they can be trusted. So it’s really just Merle and Daryl we have to worry about. For now.

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I like that; too many shows try to ramp up the cliffhangers in an increasingly contrived desire to up the stakes for each season break. Here, Kirkman’s script gives us longer-term worries; the Governor definitely wants the prison cleared of people, but he doesn’t want to move his community there. Why should he? Their blindly faithful morale would likely be crushed by its grey bleakness. No, it seems he just doesn’t want to lose face, having previously claimed the prison to be uninhabitable. I’m not sure I buy that as a motive, but either way his sights are obviously fixed on the place. Merle and Daryl might be the only ones in immediate danger, but the rest of our heroes had better watch out when the show returns in February.