After a successful rescue attempt within a marginally less successful rescue attempt, resulting in the deaths of Oscar and that girl in the short shorts (both of which make me sad, Oscar because he seemed cool, and short shorts girl because she was totally the most deserving), Merle and Darryl are reunited. This season re-premiere of The Walking Dead, titled “The Suicide King,” shows us the aftermath of everything involved in that intense and awesome sub-finale. I am just inventing so many terms here.
As a change of pace, I’m going to try a different format for writing the rest of this season’s episodes. I’m going to list my top three most and number one least favorite parts of the episode. So, let’s Spoil some Beef.
Number 3 Best: Merle. That whole conversation involving Merle, Michonne and the Clan was well written (Merle’s racist jabs suit his character and, well, they were pretty good) and equally well acted. It brought to the surface all the tension that had been building since Season One. These aren’t characters that need to posture and be all passive-aggressive with one another; these are characters that can full on get up in each other’s face. Also, in the last entry of Spoiled Beef, I predicted Darryl’s death… which may have been shooting a little too high. But the point was to emphasize Darryl’s need to be removed from the group dynamic. He’s a crutch character who’s too good; he’s respectful, a good fighter, useful both against the living and the dead, has the good of others in mind, and has rescued over half the cast at some point. Darryl being taken out of the Clan puts us in the same place as Rick and co. How will they get by without arguably the most important gear in the machine?
Number 2 Best: Carl. Watching the (Oh my lord, I just noticed the appropriateness of keeping Tyreese’ group under lock and key. They’re prisoners!) new inmates, manning the gate, clearing out the occasional zombie, all in a day’s work for Carl. I really didn’t care for him before, but he’s emerging as a great character this season because he represents the infinite malleability of a child. What I mean by this is that a child doesn’t ever know better until he learns, and from there, looks back on his previous self and realizes how he’s grown. There are some memories we look back on and are glad they went the way they did, that the decision we made was the right one. Other times we think, “The hell was I thinking?” What’s crucial in both these respects is to be in touch with who we are now, and say, “That was then, this is now, what does it fall to me to do?” Carl took up the responsibility amazingly so far, just like his father asked of him.
I hope we get to see more of his perspective as time goes on. I’m predicting that he’s going to be a factor in the decision making process. In fact, I’m going to guess that more often than not, he’s going to end up saying an idea none of the adults would have thought of, the idea that they will all go with. Kids do that in TV.
Number 1 Best: The Zombies. They didn’t have a huge presence in this episode, admittedly. But when they did show up I loved how they were utilized. In the opening bit, Darryl and Merle fight them off back to back (so very bad ass of them) and the resulting carnage was excellent. Their invasion of Woodbury was silly (more on that in a bit) so I’m going to skip that. For me, the best use of them was when they weren’t attacking or being attacked. Rick, Glenn and Maggie have a tiff on their way back to the camp, Glenn dispatches on and wails on it. As they’re arguing, we can see the zombies roaming about in the background, slowly inching their way towards the characters. It’s unnerving, and is excellent for being such a grounded depiction of how they’ve shaped the natural ecosystem.
This isn’t the world of the survivors; this is the world of the dead. What we’re watching is a glimpse into a group of people who are miraculously surviving in spite of them. The world is such a bigger place than they know, and there are so many stories just like this going on all over. Seeing even one zombie mosey about like it owns the place (and it does) complicates any positivity with that ever-looming sense of dread.
Number 1 Worst: The writing.
The writing was never credited as the best part of the show, and the issue isn’t the use of television tropes or cliches. You look at a show like Community: it’s scarily original, but continues to embrace those tropes like a time honored tradition. The problem is that compared to the comics (a medium equally expected to represent action over words), the characters don’t feel half as compelling because they just don’t communicate like real people. You don’t need to have someone walk up to someone else, start a conversation, then exit. You can start a scene in the midst of a conversation already underway, so we can see a critical moment during their chat. This is not a dumb show; this is a smart show that feels like it’s afraid its audience isn’t going to understand the characters if they had more compelling things to say. I say, so what if they don’t? They’ll watch it again if they have to.
I don’t want to be a snob, I really don’t. But a lot of moments in this episode needed writing that was a little more “Walking Dead” and a little less “Primetime Drama cliches.” Case and point, Andrea is talking with the crowd in Woodbury, and everyone’s pissed off, and scared. You would think she might state some cold hard facts about the situation, that their best bet is to stay put and fortify. But instead she delivers a speech that’s beat by beat something out of a high school sports movie: “We need to persevere, dig deep and rebuild not just our walls but our souls.” And that’s just one in a dozen other conversations where I’ve heard these same lines from other characters in other situations on other shows. Pardon the appropriateness of this expression, given the context, but we need some new blood.
See you next week.