The Walking Dead- Midseason Premiere Thoughts

Season 7 was of The Walking Dead was originally one of my most anticipated since it would focus on Negan, one of my favourite comic book villains and the best villain that The Walking Dead comics have had to date. Season 6 introduced Negan and ended with a money-grubbing tease that left a bad taste in my mouth and made me skeptical of what season 7 would offer.

The season 7 premiere featured a drawn out encounter with Negan that was obviously done to pad screen time, but I was willing to overlook it for the first episode. Then the second and third episode focused on The Hilltop and The Saviours respectively. It has always bothered me when The Walking Dead does this, instead of cutting between the different stories. Shows like Game of Thrones have far more characters and locations to deal with and do a better job of giving each party their necessary time. I have no problems with Tara and Heath as characters, but giving them an entire episode was ridiculous.

Some may argue that focusing on one location gives more opportunity for character development and builds anticipation for other story arcs. In this case, I beg to differ. Cutting between different stories during an episode forces writers to be more concise with their storytelling, so that an entire episode doesn’t end up serving as filler. Instead of 40 minutes (without commercials), writers are forced to use tighter writing to express the same story in 20. Or they can possibly stretch the different stories over multiple episodes.

The way it stands, the eventual conflict with Negan gets dragged out to episode 9 since three episodes didn’t show Rick and Alexandria at all. Since The Walking Dead is sticking to longer seasons (the past few have been 16) it seems the desire to reach a certain amount of episodes, instead of just telling a story naturally, interferes with the storytelling. The Marvel Netflix shows have a similar issue, since Marvel makes them all thirteen episodes. I felt like Luke Cage, in particular, could have been shortened. The midseason break also seems like a move designed to keep The Walking Dead on air as long as possible, especially now that other AMC hits like Breaking Bad and Mad Men have completed their runs.

I never considered The Walking Dead one of the best shows out there, especially since the acting is inconsistent at best. It ranges from great (Lincoln), mediocre (Serratos) to awful (Riggs). With all that said, I was not that excited for the mid-season premiere.

Firstly, I am sure that Gabriel didn’t actually betray Rick since it would derail his entire arc as a more committed member of Alexandria. When he is driving away in the car, I thought I was seeing things, but online articles have confirmed that someone else emerges in the passenger seat. Earlier in the season, we saw someone spying on Gabriel at the wall and on Rick and Aaron at the boat. It appears that person reached out to Gabriel, and is probably aligned with the community that confronts Rick’s group at the end of the episode. I loved Rick’s smile; the look of a man who has found his army.

I thought the group might be Oceanside, but Oceanside was previously introduced as a female-only group. In the comics, the group is co-ed and Michonne joins them for a while. Unless they’ve added men since their last appearance in the show, this appears to be a brand new group that was never shown in the comics. If they are a new group, it almost comes across as a deus-ex machina, but I’ll reserve judgment until the next episode. The show better not focus on another group for the entirety of the next episode.

Some fans have had a hard time grasping why Rick’s group didn’t want to fight back earlier. Hopefully this episode makes it clear they were worried about their lack of numbers, relative to The Saviours.  Additionally, Negan has made sure to consistently put Rick in a bind by making the lives of others tied to his. Yes, Rick could have beaten Negan to death with Lucille when Negan visited Alexandria, but then The Saviours would slaughter everyone.

Like the comics, Gregory is content to stick his head in the sand and submit to Negan’s rule. Xander Berkeley chewed some scenery in this episode, and hopefully we won’t see too much of that in the rest of the season. If his arc follows the arc from the comics, we’ll be seeing him around more and this show doesn’t need more weak acting.

While Ezekiel is happy to join Rick’s alliance in the comics, he is hesitant here due to the risk of losing everything they’ve built. It is a fear that Rick had as well, and it is likely Ezekiel will change his mind. Ezekiel’s refusal also brings up another issue. In the comics, Dwight is actually a double agent who is working with Ezekiel to take Negan out. The show has already hinted at Dwight’s animosity towards Negan, for taking his wife and burning his face. We know that his motives for wanting Negan gone are there, but it looks like he may not be a double agent in the show. This doesn’t bother me too much, since his reveal seemed like a last minute decision in the comics. If Dwight was a double agent the whole time, why did he kill Abraham if he didn’t really have to?

Morgan reunites with Rick for the first time since Carol’s disappearance from Alexandria, and his own hesitation to go to war seems to have impacted Ezekiel’s decision. Although Morgan is willing to kill in self-defence, it seems the fear of all the lives that will be lost in the war makes him hesitate to join an all out war. The only positive thing to come out the meeting with Ezekiel is his offer of asylum for Daryl. This episode also made me wonder if Daryl will find Carol and convince her and Ezekiel to join the war.

While Rick doesn’t get what he wants from Ezekiel, he does came across explosives that he plans to put to good use against The Saviours. Rosita appears to have learned some valuable things from Eugene, and this appears to be the start of an arc that is meant to make us root for her character more. However, I still despise her character. Her sheer stupidity in trying to kill Negan with only one bullet got someone else killed and got Eugene taken away. Her attitude to Sasha also fails to make her endearing. Also, there’s the fact that she was in a relationship with Spencer of all people. The girl’s got poor taste.

Have to say I am more excited for issue #165 of The Walking Dead comic, than the next episode of this show.

The Walking Dead- The Return of Filler

It’s Walking Dead season, so I hope you can all bear more The Walking Dead articles. I have previously shared my very strong praise for season 7, and I still stand by my praise for the first four episodes of the season. I did not like the fact that episodes 2 and 3 were entirely devoted to one location and group, but I figured that could be excused if the show cut down on the rest of its filler. One of my biggest issues with other seasons were entire episodes devoted to more minor characters. Episode 5 got us back to familiar territory, with a focus on The Hilltop and Carl and Enid (my most hated couple on the show). Now episode six gives us an episode devoted to Tara (Alanna Masterson) and Heath (Corey Hawkins). I am happy to see Corey Hawkins on screen again after he killed it as Dr. Dre in in Straight Outta Compton, and Tara has consistently been one of the more level-headed characters on the show. This episode still comes across as filler.

I don’t have a problem with the time given to minor characters, I am bothered by the insistence on developing them in one episode instead of splitting it up among multiple episodes. Rick’s struggle with Negan is a central part of this season and we went two episodes in a row without seeing it because the show runners insisted on avoiding it. Just like the cliffhanger, this seems like a maneuver that is meant to guarantee higher ratings for later episodes.

Some may argue that the singular focus allows us to become more attached to the characters and let them shine. Firstly, if an entire episode is devoted to a character we don’t care about that much (relatively), it can make people care less about the episode and make them impatient for the return of a favoured storyline or character. Even though episodes 2 and 3 were pretty good, I couldn’t help but shake this nagging feeling as well.  Of course, if the episodes were edited differently we would still have the same runtime. However, I feel as if the desire for filler makes writers add more storylines and interactions that help to justify a full episode for a character. At least ten minutes could have been shaved off episode 3 without impacting the main takeaways from the episode. The same goes for episode 2. It’s the equivalent of padding an essay with flowery words and phrases to reach a word limit.

All characters and locations have been reintroduced at this point so let’s hope we get more concise storytelling from this point on. It’s disappointing to see a season start so strong, only to fall back to the same things that prevented the show from truly being great. There were red flags in the first episode as well, namely the dragged out encounter with Negan. However, I ignored it, blindly hoping that the show was getting the filler out of its system. I was wrong, and now we’ll see if this season gets up to the quality of 6,5 and 1, or slides down to 3 and 2.

What are your favourite seasons of The Walking Dead?

 

The Walking Dead: Season 7 Thoughts

I got around to watching episode 7.2 on friday and just uploaded a YouTube video with my thoughts on it. I wanted to use this blog post comment on episode 7.2 but also season 7 and The Walking Dead as a whole. So far, this season has the makings of a great one and has the potential to be one of the best, if not the best.

Seasons 1 and 5 rank atop my list for the moment. I didn’t hate season 2 as much as many others did, mostly due to Jon Bernthal’s performance as Shane. However, there were a lot of other things that left much to be desired. Andrea and Lori were absolute cancer to the show and it generally got better once they were gone. The Governor was a pretty strong villain and the prison showdown is one of the show’s greatest highlights. I wasn’t that big a fan of The Governor’s continued story in season 4. The show returned strong with the group finding Alexandria in season 5, demonstrating the contrast between Rick’s battle-hardened group and the sheltered Alexandrians. This aspect of the show resulted in some of the best conflict since it wasn’t necessarily a single villain. There was Pete of course, the alcoholic, wife-beating surgeon who was suspicious of Rick’s intentions with his wife. However, the entire season did not revolve around this conflict. Rick’s group, and Rick in particular were simply the target of widespread mistrust. The Wolves came across as filler and were very forgettable villians imo.

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Obviously reading the comics prior to watching some of these later seasons impacts my perception of them. I am not one of those people that will bash an adaptation if it is slightly different, but I think it is fair to call the writers out on changes that I believe did not improve the show or serve any functional purpose. Season 5 could have been the same, if not better without The Wolves. Their biggest impact was bringing the herd to Alexandria, since they caused the truck crash that led the walkers to the community. However, this could have happened another way. If I remember correctly, the herd in the comic is only brought to the community by the sound of gunfire, which could have come from the internal conflict that permeated season 5.

Season 6 built on this mistrust but also added a love triangle and teen drama with Pete’s son, who was a weak actor and a whiny brat character we have seen numerous times before. This subplot brought the show down greatly, with the only good result being the loss of Carl’s eye. I always wondered if the show would ever go through with this development, and although I felt bad for Carl, it was great to see it happen. Carl’s appearance plays a big part in his more pessimistic attitude in the comics and his relationship with Lydia in the comic’s Whisperers storyline, which follows Negan’s. We will see if the show ever incorporates this relationship.  The highlight of season 6 was “No Way Out”, where Alexandria must confront a herd. This episode also gives us another allusion to Negan, with an appearance by The Saviours. The season then ended strong, with the first appearance of Negan.

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All this is to say that the quality of the villains significantly impact the quality of a season. Many of the season 2 supporters I have spoken to say they liked the season mostly due to Shane, even if they found other aspects of the season dull. Season 1 mostly focused on the zombie threat and the characters adjusting to their new world, which is often one of the most interesting aspects of apocalyptic stories. With season 7 we get an introduction to Negan that is dragged out in relation to the comics, but is still very powerful. We do not only see Negan beat people’s brains in with a bat, we also see him break Rick mentally. What I always liked about Negan is that he may seem like a raving lunatic, but he is also very calculated and methodical. In the comic he made sure not to kill Rick because he didn’t want to create a martyr that could inspire the others to fight back. He realized the leader needed to be broken. We see Negan do that with finesse by the end of the episode, showing a guilt-ridden Rick who is at one of the lowest points we’ve ever seen him in.

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One thing that continues to bother me about the show is the way they will often focus on one character, set of characters, or location for the entire duration of a show. In “No Way Out” the show switches between Glenn and Enid, to Sasha, Abraham, Daryl, to the rest of Alexandria. With good editing and writing, the show can seamlessly transition between these stories of varying interest and bring them all together at the end. Instead, we get a focus on Negan for the first episode. The dragged out confrontation then comes across as filler that is meant to hold us over to the next episode. The second episode focuses on Carol, Morgan and The Kingdom. Judging from previews, the third will focus on Daryl and The Saviours. When a show has this many characters, it simply does not make sense to spend a whole episode on one or one group. Shows like Game of Thrones may do this at times, but GOT characters weren’t all together at one point. GOT isn’t following a group that got split up, it is following different characters with different goals. With TWD, focusing on one character per episode forces you to pad the season with extra episodes that could easily have been condensed. Of course, more episodes, means more opportunity for ratings and more money. It is the same logic as the season 6 finale. The show runners knew they wanted to condense the action when it came to “No Way Out”, but they seem content to drag out the opening of this season. I am hoping that the desire to maximize profit doesn’t continue to yield filler and nonsensical subplots. If those two things are kept to a minimum this could possibly be the best season of The Walking Dead.

The Walking Dead Season 7 Premiere

I have previously shared my thoughts on the season 6 finale of The Walking Dead. I thought that the ending was downright insulting and one of the most despicable rating grabs I have ever seen. Such a move would have been warranted if The Walking Dead was struggling in terms of viewership: It is one of the most watched shows on television.

Negan’s introduction is one of the most notorious in comics and his introduction to the show was highly anticipated mostly for the death that would ensue. To deliberately hide this development until next season insults comic book readers and the general audience. Some people say a cliffhanger was a great idea, but understand that the series still could have had a cliffhanger without a terrible call of duty view ending. A cliffhanger is an ending that leaves something unresolved, and usually refers to a situation where a character is left in peril. In the comic, the issue ends with the group crying over Glenn’s battered body. That would have been a cliffhanger as well; characters are left in a dangerous situation and a plot point is unresolved. In my opinion, that would have been much more powerful.

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I avoided watching the premiere live on sunday specifically because I didn’t want to reward the show-runners with ratings after the move they pulled. I watched the premiere about thirty minutes ago, and after taking a bit of time to gather my thoughts, I needed to share them.

SPOILERS FROM THIS POINT ON

Firstly, the double death was a surprise. It was a very prominent fan theory but one that I never paid much attention to. Two deaths seemed like overkill but after watching the episode I liked the way it was executed. I had Abraham’s death spoiled for me on social media, but he was also one of the ones I expected would die. After the ridiculous dumpster incident I didn’t think Glenn would die, but it seems like the show-runners like to mess with their fans.

Not only did Glenn die, but he died just like he did in the comic. Everything from Negan’s dialogue to him, to Glenn’s last words, to the grotesque result of the first hit.

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IMDB was surprisingly rife with users wondering why Rick let Negan kill someone. Although it is obvious that everyone would die if Rick tried anything, some people truly need to be spoon-fed. Daryl’s actions give us the clearest demonstration of what happens if  anyone doesn’t sit and accept what is happening.

Daryl is shown to be more impulsive at times, so his actions do fit the character. I knew AMC wouldn’t dare to kill him, since he is arguably the face of the franchise more than Rick is. Also, he has more teen fangirls who might stop watching if he dies.

I now wonder what Daryl’s arc will be like this season. I’m thinking we may see him struggle with survivor’s guilt, marking a shift towards a less confident Daryl. Since Daryl and Abraham are now both gone (one dead, one with the saviours) it also brings up the question of which character becomes Rick’s new right hand. Perhaps it could be Sasha, or even Gabriel for all we know.

Speaking of hands… In the comic, The Governor and his men cut off Rick’s right hand. Negan’s emphasis on the importance of a “right-hand man” got me thinking that Rick might suffer more pain by the end of the episode. By this point in the series, I never thought the show would go that route. Then Negan asks Carl to come forward. Once he started wrapping the belt around Carl’s arm, my mind drifted back to the comics again.

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This moment is a fake-out but the show-runners are forgiven. For the first time in a while, someone from the core group of characters died. I would have been livid if a relatively minor character (e.g. Aaron or Rosita) died after months of waiting. Additionally, comic book readers get a great nod the comics. We also see the extent of Negan’s mind games. Since I read the comic first I couldn’t help but feel like the meeting with Negan was dragged out due to all the extra events. However, the purpose of the meeting remained the same. Negan wants to break Rick, and he does it in spectacular fashion. Here we see Negan’s calculating mind at work, just like the comic. He knows Rick is a respected leader, and doesn’t want to make him a martyr by killing him.

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Overall, Jeffrey Dean Morgan delivered on the hype. We also got to see a small hint of the relationship that might develop between him and Carl, if the show-runners follow the comic down that route. I still feel like the cliffhanger stunted the impact of this episode but I am happy to say that I am excited for another season of The Walking Dead.

 

Glenn’s Role in The Walking Dead

This is another post I wrote for comicommand.com–  https://comicommand.com/2016/04/07/glenns-role-in-the-walking-dead/

The Walking Dead comics are now on issue 152, and one of the comic’s most iconic moments came in issue 100. The character of Negan, the leader of the Saviours, appeared for the first time and beat Glenn to death by bashing his head in with a baseball bat. Not just any baseball bat, but a baseball bat wrapped in barbed wire that is affectionately referred to as Lucille.

The season six finale of The Walking Dead is now behind us and AMC’s decision to leave the identity of Negan’s victim a mystery has already been the subject of heavy criticism from numerous fans, myself included.  The decision appears to have been motivated by a desire to maximize the ratings for the season seven premiere and is a prime example of greed trumping art. Thinking about the dissatisfaction of the premiere also got me thinking why Glenn’s death is such an iconic moment in the comics. The Walking Dead featured the deaths of numerous main characters, so it is not the death itself that shocked and saddened audiences.

A key theme of the comics is the loss of innocence. This is most salient with Carl Grimes, who is seven when the events of the comics begin. Once reunited with his father, Carl quickly learns how to shoot a gun and soon displays a level of emotional strength and callousness that frightens his father at times.

While Rick’s group is on their way to D.C, one of the children, Billy, kills his twin brother. Billy doesn’t realize the impact of what he’s done, he simply reassures Andrea that his brother will come back since Billy didn’t ‘hurt his brain’. Through Billy, we see what can happen to an impressionable child trapped in this world. This fact is further driven home when Carl executes Billy while the rest of the group is sleeping. When Carl admits to Rick that he was responsible for Billy’s death, he is quick to argue that none of the adults would have been able to do it.

In many ways Glenn was one of the most innocent of Rick’s group. Despite their post-apocalyptic circumstances Glenn was one of the few members of Rick’s group that never killed another human being. Of course, this was not due to an outspoken moral objection on his part, but circumstances simply never presented themselves for a kill. As depicted in the show, Negan ambushes the group while they are on their way to another community. While Rick planned the trip in order to recruit more muscle, Glenn and Maggie were going in order to start a life together at the community. For Rick, Maggie and Glenn’s relationship was a sign that “…something good could still come out of all this.” Rick remembers Glenn as someone who saved him from being killed in Atlanta and repeatedly risked his life to get supplies for the group. Simply put, “Glenn was just…so good.”

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The second and arguably more important aspect of Glenn’s death is the crushing realization that the group is not as powerful as they thought. After meeting another community, The Hilltop, Rick’s group learns of the protection racket that the Saviours run. In return for clearing the area of walkers, the Saviours take half of The Hilltop’s supplies. The deal is also the only thing preventing the Saviours from attacking The Hilltop. Rick is quick to offer his group’s help to get rid of the Saviours, in return for setting up a trading relationship with The Hilltop. Some fans were quick to write off the offer as poor writing in the show, since it seemed like a rushed decision on Rick’s part.  However, Rick’s offer seems like an obvious one considering their circumstances. Their community, Alexandria, is running low on supplies such as food and medicine but Rick has confidence in the manpower he can offer. By this point in the comics, the group has defeated The Governor, cannibalistic hunters and several other threats that the world threw at them. After over a year together, thwarting these threats, the group came to Alexandria: a community that was literally and figuratively sheltered from the horrors of the outside world. Surrounded by numerous people who had never killed a walker or another human being, it became too easy for the group to see themselves as nearly invincible. Rick even refers to Negan and the Saviours as “hot air” prior to meeting them, arguing that he and his group have dealt with their kind before.

Rick’s outlook on the world isn’t poor writing, it is hubris. Like Icarus, Rick’s hubris is followed by a fatal fall. Once Rick and his group are on their knees, surrounded by Negan’s men and waiting to see who Negan decides to kill, it is made painfully clear that they do not have the world figured out as well as they thought. Once Negan makes his choice, Rick can only sit and watch while Glenn’s head is reduced to a messy pile. Negan lets them know that their way of life is over: “Might have even been a long time since the last person died before we came along”.

While the group stay on their knees crying over Glenn’s death, Negan lets them know that their first supply offering is due in a week.  As Negan says “Ta Ta” we see Glenn’s body lying on the ground while the group cry a few feet away. That is how you do a cliffhanger.