'The Walking Dead' continues to be a tense, well-produced zombie show in its tenth season, despite ... [+] the glacial pacing.
The Walking Dead returns for yet another solid episode Sunday night, though the shows glacial pacing isnt doing it any favors.
While nothing this season has been blatant filler, and many of the slower points have still been interesting and essential character building vignettes, it does feel at times like were still juggling too many pieces and an overly-large cast. Sometimes that can make the show drag, though my complaints on this front are minimal.
Theres lots that What It Always Is gets right, of course, much like the four episodes preceding it this season. So much of The Walking Dead is now focused on relationships and tension between various characters. Eugene and Rosita; Michonne and Ezekiel; Siddiq and his own PTSD; Daryl and Connies possible romance; the deteriorating relationship between Magna and Yumiko.
Negans relationship with the rest of the Alexandrians (and survivors of Hilltop and Oceanside) is one of the major focal points of Season 10. It was in Season 9 as well, but Negan continues to evolve into more and more of a heroicand likablecharacter in Season 10. Id say hes becomequite shockinglyone of the most likable characters on the show at this point.
Most people still dont trust or like Negan, though hes managed to make inroads with Gabriel, Michonne and even Daryl. The girls of Alexandria seem to like him best. Judith is perhaps his closest friend at this point, while Lydia has quickly formed a bond with the former Savior chieftain, largely thanks to their shared outsider status.
But there are other fans of Negan, including a young man named Brandon who follows him when he escapes. Brandon didnt let Negan out, and Negan doesnt bother telling him who did, so were still left guessing. But hes the child of Saviors raised in Alexandria with a whole head of nonsense mythology about Negan and his exploits. He catches up with Negan somehow (the other searchers dont manage it) and joins him on his journey.
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I am Negan, he chortles at one point. At another he brags about how Negan probably shot Carl Grimes, which is when we see Negan start to lose his patience. I never kill children, he growls, a message quickly lost on Brandon. Later, Brandon sees a female walker and tells Negan shes a seven. Negan is puzzled. Isnt this what you used to do to kill time? Brandon asks. Negan doesnt recall ever rating the hotness of zombies, though he jokes that shes a three.
Brandon brings Negan gifts, as well: his barbed-wire bat, Lucille, and his trademark leather jacket. Negan tells him to put the jacket away. Theres too much of the old Negan wrapped up in that look, it seems, though he simply says I dont want to be recognized.
Later they come across a woman screaming and go to her aid. Shes being attacked by zombies in a bus where shes holed up with her young son (about Judiths age). They save the pair of them, with Negan bashing in one walkers head until its little more than chunks of bone and brain. Classic Negan! Brandon shouts, gleefully.
But sometimes its best if you never meet your heroes. As soon as the woman and her boy are out of earshot, Brandon starts conspiring with Negan about following them to their stash. Negan tells him to go back to Alexandria, but Brandon responds with a threat of his own: Theyre going to want to know where hes been and hes not much of a liar, so . . . .
So Negan tells him to go wherever he wants, tell them exactly where he is, just so long as he doesnt have to see his pasty, good-for-nothing face ever again. Brandon pouts and stalks off, telling Negan hes just like the rest of them.
After Brandon leaves, Negan sits down and has a nice talk with the kid. Seems like a good kid, and we know that Negan has a soft spot for children. He loved Carl, hes close as it gets to Judith and he was drawn immediately to Lydia. This is another kid who he can joke with and relate to, so naturally things go sideways.
While Negan is gone, Brandon comes back and kills the mother and the boy, bludgeoning them to death with a tire iron. Hes whistling Negans creepy whistle when he gets back to camp and sees the bodies. Brandon thinks the whole thing was a test. Brandon is crazy.
Negan grabs a large rock and beats the young man to death with it, without a word spoken.
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The episode opens on Kelly out hunting by herself, and this is one of those classic The Walking Dead moments of stupidity that I really cant stand, and that the show continues to foist upon us even as it mostly gets back to being a quality TV show.
I think its probably a bad idea in the zombie apocalypse to ever, ever travel alone anywhere no matter who you are. Outside of extreme circumstances, a buddy system is just too sensible to not have in place. I dont care if youre Daryl Dixon or Michonne or anyone else, traversing a zombie-strewn apocalypse, replete with roving bands of thieves, Whisperers and plenty of other dangers, is enormously stupid.
Doing so as a young woman who is gradually losing her hearing is simply insane. Maybe Kelly is so young and naive that shed think it was a good idea, but surely the people she was travelling with would have disagreed. Surely someone would have thought Leaving this young woman, who can barely hear if a zombie is walking up behind her, all by herself in the forest hunting boar, is a terrible idea. Lets have someone accompany her!
Instead, she goes hunting alone and very nearly dies. Its a cool scene, truth be told. She gets the boar but the zombies arrive and start eating it and shes forced to flee, sprinting through the tangled woods with only the muffled sounds of the dead around her. She falls badly and lands in a heap, and we see a zombie approaching. Only, it doesnt lean over to feast on her flesh. A hand reaches out, slowly, and brushes her face. Its yet another Whisperer, across the border, spying. They leave her alone.
Shes found later by Daryl, Magna and her sister, Connie. Shes hurt badly and Daryl doesnt think they should risk going all the way back to Hilltop with her, though where a closer safe-haven is Im not sure. Tell them, Kelly signs to Magna.
It turns out that the two of them have been stealing supplies from Hilltops stores. Food, medicine, and whatever else they need, all stashed outside of town near where Kelly was hunting. Connie knew nothing of the thefts, but she asks Daryl to lie with her about it, and just tell everyone that they found the missing supplies.
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Yumiko doesnt buy it, and confronts Magna later. This turns into yet another fight. Magna has been acting like a petulant child for the past two episodes, but it appears she has deep-seeded resentment toward Yumiko, who used to be her lawyer and who, she feels, is too controlling or domineering and judgmental.
This is, on the one hand, exactly the kind of character conflict I do enjoy. We need conflict outside of just the Survivors vs the Whisperers, after all. On the other hand, it feels really rushed and strange. I suppose Magna could just be a depressive, or have massive mood swings, perhaps even some bipolar stuff going on, but until the last two episodes there hasnt really been any sort of tension or division between these two. Last weeks episode opened to a montage in which we see them making love. Now, suddenly, theyre breaking up.
Sure, fights can come out of nowhere. Old resentment can suddenly loom large. A perfectly fine relationship can crumble overnight. But I still feel like this one wasnt earned. In many ways, I just dont think we know these characters well enough to really become invested in this kind of breakdown. If wed spent more time with Magna and Yumikos relationship before now, it might be something we were invested enough in to feel pain at its collapse.
Its kind of like how the show keeps killing off bit parts all the time, like the woman and her boy this episode. It would be so much more powerful and profound if Negan had met these people and he had formed a bond with the boy and then, an episode or two down the line Brandon had showed up and killed them. To feel the loss of something or someone, we first have to feel their presence.
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Last week we saw Ezekiel nearly hurl himself to his death and we thought it was all because of his loss of Henry and Carol and the Kingdom.
Tonight we learned he has a rather massive tumor in his neck. Thyroid cancer, most likely, and not a damn thing to be done about it, no matter how badly Siddiq wishes he could help.
Poor Ezekiel. Hes had such a rough run over the past few seasons. He lost almost all his fighters in the war against the Saviors, and in one fell swoop, no less. Then his adoptive sons, then his wife. Even his tiger was killed. Everyone has lost someone over the course of this show, but Ezekiels trials seem particularly grim.
Siddiqs had a rough time of things, too, and I suspect next week will put him (and Daryl) into some sort of grave danger. He decides to head back to Alexandria when he learns that Rosita isnt well.
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We spend no time in Alexandria or Oceanside this week, but we do pay a visit to the Whisperers. We learn, without a doubt, that they have been behind the various attacks on our heroes. Lydia didnt think her mother would send small waves of zombies, but thats exactly what shes been doing. Sending zombies, sabotaging Hilltop, and so on and so forth.
One of her goons questions this method. Why not land a killing blow instead of nicking away at them, he asks? Alpha puts it to a vote and then cuts the tendon at the back of his knee when the vote goes her way. Thats democracy, she hisses.
Its a teaching moment, you see. She cuts him again and points out that you can still nick someone to death, before handing the blade to Beta to finish the job. It seems to me that pretty much any time someone goes against Alpha she just kills them, even if its a fairly innocuous suggestion. Youd think that the Whisperers would stop making suggestions or speaking up at all fairly quickly. In fact, Im not really sure why we keep seeing Alpha kill off her own people this wayweve learned, long ago, that shes a murderous psychopath. We dont need to be reminded of it again and again.
For whatever reason, this murder doesnt sit well with Gamma, who takes the newly minted Guardian with her for whatever task she was off to do. Along the way, she has flashbacks of her sisters deatha death she caused when she saved Alpha from her, tossing her into the throng of nearby zombies where she was promptly devoured.
Apparently this is bothering Gamma, who might just have a heart, after all. She leaps forward, stabbing the Guardian and tackling it to the ground, stabbing it over and over again and cutting herself in the process.
Thats when Aaron shows up and tosses her some bandages. Im not sure whats going on with Aaron this season. One minute hes brashly charging into battle, or purposefully trying to rile up Negan. The next hes helping one of his enemies, kind of like the old Aaron might, using diplomacy rather than violence, to achieve his goals. Hes kind of all over the place.
Gamma takes the bandages but doesnt speak with him, instead running back to Alpha where she shows her her bandaged hand and tells her that the man with the metal arm gave them to her. A man with a metal arm might be useful, Alpha says. Shes hoping that the smart ones will come over to the Dark Side once they realize all is lost at their own communities.
She has another visitor on the way, it so happens. At the end of the episode Negan, now decked out in his classic leather jacket and wielding Lucille, crosses the border into Whisperer territory. Its the dead of night and he makes a racket, calling for the little piggies to come out, the Big Bad Wolf has arrived.
When they do he continues the nursery rhyme. Im gonna huffsplat goes a zombie headAnd puffsplat goes another and so on and so forth until suddenly hes grabbed from behind and thrown to the ground. The Whisperers have arrived.
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Its a great ending to the episode, and I continue to find myself utterly flabbergasted at how much Ive come to like Negan and how eager I am for him to go bring the pain to Alpha. Negans transformation, from a very bad man to a sort-of-good man is something I had a hard time imagining, but it works remarkably well on screen.
I actually think the show is doing a really good job at creating sympathetic characters, and at just making older characters more real. Daryl, for instance, is just so much better than hes been in years, probably since Merle was still around. In this episode he even tells Connie a story about Merles anticsfishing on private property in a stolen boat while getting so drunk he almost drowned and Daryl was forced to save him, only to have him tell his little brother Dummy, go get the beer.
This is great, partly because Daryl tells this story vocally but also using sign language and writing out some phrases like private property. Its just one of many ways that Daryl has transformed from a grunting, brooding, almost mute non-character into a real person.
The pacing is slow, no doubt about it, and partly this is because I still think The Walking Dead would be better if each season was 10 to 13 episodes long instead of 16. Filler is filler, even when its still pretty watchable. Its the whole idea of having to keep emphasizing over and over again how evil Alpha iswe get it. At a certain point it just becomes redundant. Lots of little redundancies litter the show still, though I think the three communities filled to the brim with so many characters comprise the most glaring of these. We dont need three communities. We dont really need scenes with the blacksmith complaining to Alden that the Whisperers knocked down Hilltops wall.
But these are largely pretty minor complaints in what has become a much more gripping, well-produced, well-written show in the past two seasons. I still think it needs an end-game and that the pacing issues make it feel like were not really getting anywhere, but Im enjoying the (slow) ride nonetheless. I keep describing these episodes as solid which they absolutely are. Im just not sure that with all this clutter the show will ever return to being as great as it once was.
What did you think of tonights episode? Let me know on Twitter or Facebook.
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Reviewed and Recommended by Erik Baquero