Last week, things got busy and I wasn’t able to write a recap for the episode Heads Up. What did I miss? After weeks of wondering whether or not Glenn was alive, it turns out he was. They made that into a full hour somehow. Start to Finish is the eighth episode of season six which so far clocks in at ten hours less commercial breaks. All of that has been leading up to this moment, the zombie herd breaks through the walls of the Alexandria safe zone. Shit, as they say, is about to get real.
Except instead, The Walking Dead pads that shit out and ends the midseason with more cliffhangers. As a reader of the comic book, I have a fairly good idea of what happens next without having to wait until Valentine’s Day to find out. But I seriously have to wonder how much abuse fans of the TV show are willing to take. Because this is getting ridiculous.
As the show’s most popular character, you would think The Walking Dead would go out of its way to spotlight Daryl Dixon as often as possible. But this season, the show has made the puzzling decision to sideline its star while parceling out story fragments as slowly as possible. In Always Accountable, we catch up with Daryl as he and Abraham and Sasha complete the mission they started in the season premiere; 6 episodes and 7 hours of television ago. That mission, in case you have forgotten, was to drive 20 miles down the road. Seven hours of TV to cover a 20 mile drive. I can think of no better way to sum up The Walking Dead than the fact that it is traveling at less than three miles an hour.
This is the show we’re watching now. The writers are told to stretch 30 pages of a comic book into ten hours of television. There’s not enough story to go around so entire episodes are stitched together out of filler. It’s like biting into a sausage filled with sawdust. Some episodes, like this one, are not allowed to advance any storylines in any significant way. So instead, characters make speeches. I didn’t want to see it before. It’s not that I couldn’t see it. I could. I didn’t want to. Because seeing it would mean admitting that the writers of The Walking Dead are just jerking viewers along. And nobody wants to admit to being jerked around. But my fellow citizens of Viewershipia, we have been jerked.
I don’t know about you, but I get very wary any time The Walking Dead runs more than sixty minutes. The typical episode is heavily padded to meet the usual runtime. So any time the show runs long, you know you’re facing a lot of filler. Here’s Not Here gives the audience an hour and a half of Morgan’s backstory. In theory, this should be interesting. Morgan is a fan favorite character. But in execution, the show delivered ninety minutes with absolutely no new story. Everything that was revealed about Morgan’s transformation from crazy dude to Jedi knight, we pretty much knew already.
Thank You is one of those episodes of The Walking Dead that seems to be designed to work up a frenzy on social media. Perhaps the show runners anticipated that their ratings would be in a slump and this was an effort to give the series a bump? (Just to clarify, I’m kidding. But the timing of the stunt seems to be good considering the show’s ratings have been on the decline.) If you haven’t seen the episode and you haven’t already been spoiled by your FB friends, turn back. Spoilers follow.
Last week’s extra-long season premiere focused on Rick’s efforts to herd thousands of zombies past the Alexandria settlement to… well, he never really said. But presumable somewhere else where they can be someone else’s problem. Rick’s scheme was beyond risky. It was stupid. Any sane person would have found a way to kill all the zombies while they were contained. The hubris of Rick’s zombie herding plan was exposed when something as simple as a honking horn turned the now-freed zombies directly where Rick didn’t want them to go. Ooops.
My assumption at the time was that the Wolves, a mysterious group of villains, had been monitoring Rick’s activity and intentionally sounded the horn in an attempt to sabotage him. In this episode, we find out that the real explanation is far more mundane. And stupid. Like just about everything else that happened. There was a lot of stupid to go around.
Coming off of the six week slog that was Fear the Walking Dead, the bar was set pretty low for last night’s season premiere of the parent show. A little zombie action goes a long way on a zombie show. And First Time Again featured more zombies than ever. But it turns out that there isn’t a direct correlation between zombies on the screen and audience excitement. Because despite the presence of thousands of zombies, the episode was a bit of a snoozer.
In last week’s episode, Daniel tortured Andy – the one seemingly could soldier and his daughter’s boyfriend, until he finally confessed that “Cobalt” (a concept so important that the episode took its title from the operation) was a code word for evacuating the safe house and killing all the innocent citizens who remained. It was a plan that raised more than a few ethical concerns. Would soldiers who had previously devoted themselves to protecting their country really turn on American citizens for no apparent reason? It turns out, no. They won’t.
Based on the evidence provided, it would seem Andy lied about the meaning of Cobalt. Or probably more accurately, it was easier and cheaper for the show to ignore the information it had just devoted an entire episode to. Because instead of having to sneak out of the safe zone under the noses of armed guards, The cast of Fear the Walking Dead just rolled out the front gate. Naturally they left the gate wide open to virtually guarantee that their unsuspecting neighbors will be killed by zombies. This is the level on which the finale of Fear the Walking Dead operates.
“Show, don’t tell.” How many times have you heard this phrase used to describe one of the most basic rules of storytelling. It’s far more effective to show the audience an action than to have someone tell the audience about it. Here’s another one: “A picture is worth a thousand words.” So why then does Fear the Walking Dead insist on having characters tell us everything that it should be showing us? Because it’s a lot cheaper to have an actor in a chair describe the fall of Los Angeles than it is to film it.
At the midpoint of Fear the Walking Dead‘s six-episode first season, the story leaps ahead nine days. Nine days in which nothing much appears to have happened within the suburb our characters are living in. Based on what was presented in this episode, they could have skipped ahead at least 10 days. Because not much happened this episode and all of it was totally predictable.
At the start of the episode, there is a full-blown riot. People are looting and burning down buildings. Why? I get that there were police shootings and we know from recent experience that police shootings can lead to rioting. But isn’t anyone remotely concerned about the zombies? We see people being eaten by other people in the street. Don’t looters think that’s weird? Doesn’t the sight of walking dead people make them think maybe it would be a good idea to stop reveling and setting buildings on fire for a minute? It’s pretty obvious that what’s going on is not your garden variety police shooting. Body camera footage doesn’t usually include the victim getting up and shambling towards police as they open fire.
Which brings us back to the show’s silly conspiracy theory. All of this could have been prevented if the government had just shared what they knew about what was happening. They have clearly known what they were dealing with for days now. How many lives have been lost by keeping the general population in the dark. Obviously, you don’t want to create a panic. And maybe you keep some details secret. But at a minimum, you let people know that there is a disease and that the people who catch it can be dangerously violent.
The brilliance of the pilot episode of Fear the Walking Dead may be that it set the bar for the series so low that the second episode couldn’t help but feel like a massive improvement. Just by virtue of the fact that So Close, Yet So Far Away was 30 minutes shorter, it was tighter and less bloated. Were there problems with then episode? Is this a Walking Dead TV show? Of course there were. But at least this episode managed the minimal task of holding my attention for the duration of its run-time.
The premiere episode of the spin-off series, Fear the Walking Dead, was titled Pilot. Autopilot would have been more appropriate. Zing! The parent series, The Walking Dead, does one thing really well: zombie gore. For five years, the creative genius behind the series’ practical effects have found new and creative ways to give audiences goose-flesh. Where The Walking Dead tends to fall down a lot are areas like plot, pacing and character development. The pilot episode of Fear the Walking Dead demonstrate what happens when the creators of The Walking Dead dedicate an hour and a half of television to all of their many weaknesses while barely teasing their strengths.