Our last episode of The Walking Dead focused to the problems Tara and Heath encountered with the hidden village of women known as Oceanside. While Tara was eventually able to make it back to Alexandria, Heath was seemingly lost in the woods, and the town of Oceanside continued their lives hiding from the ones who were responsible for the loss of the men in the village: Negan and the Saviors. While that installment wasn’t the best the show had to offer, to put it lightly, this week’s episode manages to up the stakes in terms of quality by focusing on Carl stashing away in a supply truck back to Negan’s headquarters. The last time we saw the Saviors proper, they had just finished taking half of the supplies from Alexandria, a practice they’d be doing on a weekly basis, but little did they know that the Grimes boy and Jesus had managed to hitch a ride. Unfortunately for Jesus, the pair had different ideas as to strategy, as Carl decides to take the fight directly to the Saviors rather than gain more intel.
Carl makes his grand appearance to Negan and company by opening up on them with a machine gun from behind the crates he was hiding behind. After dispatching two of Negan’s men, Negan himself makes an appearance and manages to have his men overwhelm the young Grimes, starting us on a journey into the Saviors’ residence. We’ve seen a lot of how the community operates, though this episode shows even more of its seedy underbelly, especially regarding Negan and his wives. While Jeffrey Dean Morgan’s Big Bad of the season continues to be a worthwhile blend of scary and charismatic, there are times when it is laid on a tad thick in terms of just how evil this guy really can be. So while Negan burning “rule breakers” with a scolding hot iron may be a bit nerve wracking, it’s the interactions that he has with Carl that manage to shed some light on the inner workings of his mind. Almost exhibiting a bizarre father/son relationship in “Sing Me A Song,” Negan pushes Carl’s buttons by making him sing, having him remove the bandage over his eye (revealing the hideous scar Carl received from last season), and following Negan around like a lap dog awaiting for the inevitable shoe to drop.
Chandler Riggs’ Carl has always been an interesting case study, as we’ve seen a young boy grow up during a zombie apocalypse. Riggs has managed to bring us a character that is emotionally strong, yet almost, as Negan puts it, a “serial killer in the making” in that he’s needed to completely give up his childhood, replacing it with a survival instinct that makes him emotionally stunted. His conversations with Negan here show us a teenage boy attempting to hold it together in one of the most dire of circumstances, and when he breaks down after the leader of the Saviors demands he shows the remains of his right eye socket, you can’t help but feel sorry for him, and it makes for an emotional scene. Daryl meanwhile finds himself unable to help as his being in close proximity to Carl mean the two can’t make any sudden moves in fear of the other’s safety, which makes for a nice twist.
While Carl is acting as Negan’s right hand man, the episode also follows the path of several other Alexandrian residents. Spencer, the son of the now dead leader of the small community, manages to stumble across some newfound supplies to give to the Saviors, while also complaining to Father Gabriel about Rick’s leadership. With Spencer’s insubordination, it’s a road that the series has been down many times before, seeing someone begin to break down in the “Rick-tatorship” and eventually take a shot at the “king.” Sometimes, this has made for an interesting story beat, especially with Jon Bernthal’s Shane in the early seasons, but here it just seems monotonous. Spencer doesn’t nearly have the character and appeal that someone like Shane did, with his insubordination leading to another problem of the show right now in that we just have too many characters to keep track of.
As it stands, we have Alexandria, the Saviors, the Kingdom, Oceanside, and a slew of other rogue stragglers, which amounts to dozens of characters to keep track of at any given time. I know that The Walking Dead has set something of a pattern for itself in that it’s slow-burn storytelling until the big reveals of the season premieres, midseason finales, and season finales, but there’s a right way to go about this and a wrong way, with the AMC series usually falling into the latter. As the show darts from character to character, we’re left with long periods where entire storylines are completely forgotten, and you’re left wondering who some characters even are when they make a return appearance (which was something of the case with Tara and Heath having been gone for nearly 8 months in real time). As it stands right now, we’ve had three episodes go by with the Kingdom, Ezekiel, Claire, and Morgan having not shown up at all. Again, while the idea of slow-burn storytelling is one I can appreciate, it simply doesn’t work as well in The Walking Dead as it could. Take an example like Breaking Bad where the story of Walter White and Jesse Pinkman was presented in a way that was slow to start, but also extremely interesting at the same time.
Our episode ends with Carl being taken back to Alexandria with Negan, awaiting Rick’s return as Rick and Aaron stumble across a lake that is fit to bursting with submerged zombies, but also much needed supplies. Ultimately, while this episode suffered from some of the problems that the series has felt for some time, it manages to be a worthwhile installment thanks to the characterization of Carl, along with the interactions of Rosita and Eugene, as she forced him to make a bullet with Negan’s name on it (though not literally). In the future, Walking Dead sorely needs to start working on its time management and start reducing the unruly number of cast members who currently make up the roster.
Blood and Guts
– Rosita was just ruthless with Eugene, but maybe it was the kick in the butt he needed following Abraham’s death.
– If anything can be said about The Walking Dead, while it may have some character and pacing issues, the world that’s been established never fails to be interesting. I would love to see a series that was able to do something similar to an anthology structure that gives us peeks into different locales in the world while this zombie outbreak is happening. The boat in the middle of the lake, surrounded by zombies, looks like it had a great story to tell.
– Jesus “hiding” on top of the truck toward the end of the episode got a good chuckle from me
– My favorite moment of the night was Negan enjoying the spoils of Alexandria, while also tormenting Carl. I don’t think that I’ve ever seen a character in fiction be so happy discovering tap water before.
– Negan’s goon: “Guerrilla stuff…like warfare you idiot.”
– Negan: “You are adorable. You pick that gun cause it looks cool?”
– Negan: “Kid, I’m not going to lie, you scare the SHIT out of me.”
– Negan: “You see that? Respect. Cool, huh?”
– Gabriel: “What you’re saying doesn’t make you a sinner, but it does make you a tremendous shit.”
– Negan: “It’s like talking to a birthday present!”