The Boob Tube Review: The Walking Dead Takes on the Bildungsroman by Alex Snider

Well, look what's limped back, wheezing and lurching unpredictably, into my heart! After binge watching the last half-season I'm giving our old girl another shot. Why, you ask, when my disappointment and frustration has been so meticulously documented?
First of all, not only did all the PoC survive the prison, but they were all further fleshed out leading up to the mid-season finale. Sasha and Tyrese became integral to the group, holding down seats on the leadership council along with Glenn. And along with D'Angelo Barksdale they were given story-lines that added layers to the overall plot. Even Martinez saw some character development before he took a 3 iron to the head. Your death wasn't in vain, T-Dogg!

Also, all eight episodes managed to avoid engaging any of the terrible stereotypical women tropes of which the show had become so fond. None of the women characters were hysterical, scheming, naggy, irrational, slutty, moody or incapable. And not a single lady got into an easily avoidable car crash. I mean, yes, Lilly did seem to have graduated from the same parenting class as Lori (the one that is shockingly lax about watching kids closely during a zombie apocalypse) but she was never characterized as A BAD MOTHER. The guys even stopped cock-blocking them from the sacred decision-making council.

And, at long last, the prison is done, destroyed, never to be repopulated. While seasons three and four haven't been nearly as boring as season two's soporific pastoral hymn, holding the characters in one locale ends up writing them into a corner. Having the survivors separated and scattered gives new life to the show and more options to the writers. High concept shows like TWD easily grow stagnant when the scope is too narrow. Life in the prison, like life on the farm, was becoming too easy and that just doesn't make for good entertainment. On the farm, the writers pushed against the staleness by infusing lots of personal drama but for whatever reason that personal drama boiled down to petty bickering and the weekly reheated offering of the ole' Sophia question.

Without the relative safety of the prison, the show is rife with possibilities. I really enjoyed that this episode focused on Michonne, Rick and Carl, it felt like a follow-up to season three's excellent bottle episode. In that episode we were granted a glimpse of Michonne, Rick and Carl's character that had been previously buried beneath clunky writing. The same goes for this episode, albeit more heavily for Michonne and Carl than for Rick. Their inner lives, motivations and fears were explored with nuance and care. Humanity has been presented cynically so far with survivors resorting to extreme violence against one another in a dog-eats-dog world but this episode we saw the strength and beauty in human connections. Carl and Michonne showed just how important relationships are in this world, they both tried to go it alone but in the end their reunion gave the show what has it's been missing: heart.

I'm interested in seeing whether the next couple episodes do the same thing with the remaining isolated groups. Delving deeper into the psyches of the remaining survivors would be a welcome change of pace and direction especially coming off the heels of two showdowns with The Governor and a season-long nap at Hershel's farm. We've watched hundreds of zombies get taken out, we've seen charismatic sociopaths convince peace-loving folk to wage war twice, we've witnessed too many convoluted bad decisions and we've heard more verbal masturbatory soliloquies than an Aaron Sorkin table reading. We are due for some psychological mining of the post-apocalyptic mind. I want to ask each character "whaaaaaaaaat is going on up here"?

Other thoughts: 

I hold the unpopular (based on a poll with an extremely shallow subject pool -- my friend with whom I watched the episode) opinion that Rick should check out. It's time that the show pick either Carl or Rick to be the main protagonist and at this point, Carl is the far more interesting choice. This episode illustrated that while Carl holds more responsibility than your average non-end of days tween while still being in the awkward throes of angsty, rebelling, bratty puberty.

At the same time, Rick's arc feels complete. I'm not sure where they can go with Rick now. He has grown as a character, overcoming his flaws (the hero-complex and distrust) and emerged as a fair, thoughtful and compassionate leader. The ghost of Lori forgave him and Hershel recognized his growth and offered the saddest smile in TV history as Rick pleaded with The Governor. The group will be safer and more peaceful if he becomes leader again but where is the fun in that? What is a premium cable show without it's tortured anti-hero? This isn't Friday Night Lights, we need the main protagonist to be complicated and conflicted and to fuck shit up. A show centered around Carl promises that and more. Seeing the zombie-infested world through the eyes of a child offers a fresh perspective on an old genre. Carl's mind is still developing and we've seen the ways in which he's still a child and the ways that this new world has hardened him. His growth will be shaped by his surroundings and predicament and where that takes him is something that I want to see. The question is whether the show can really give us that bildungsroman theme while his father is still alive.

The first half of the show, I thought that there was going to be the sound of zombie's moanin' and groenin' in the background to amp up the tension. Then I realized it was just Rick struggling to breath.

Why is it that I feel like 90% of Rick's screen time consists of him staring at his own anguished reflection? I don't think there has been any other instances of tortured mirror stand-offs but, man, did it feel familiar.

To me, you are perfect
The reveal of Michonne's baby broke my heart. Maybe I hadn't been paying attention to the meagre scraps of Michonne's identity we've been given so far but I had no idea that she had a kid. I'm sure we're going to learn more about her past in the upcoming season and I'm sure it will make me real sad. But if there's one thing I excel at, it's getting overly invested in fictional character so I'm in.

Also very sad that her super fine husband will probably never grace the screen again. Ugh I miss him already :,(


Moving forward:

I predict that Lizzie as the mastermind behind the Vitruvian rat and she killed Tyrese's girl and Carol took the fall for her. Gonna make for some awkward nights around the fire when Tyrese finds out (which in classic TWD style will probably be in three seasons).

I realize that outside of the world of television criticism wishing death upon babies makes me a monster, but *quick disclaimer about how much I love babies* I really hope that Judith is gone for good. Babies on TV are almost always dead weight. And a baby on a zombie show? There is no good way of writing that baby. There's no rewarding character arcs or satisfying plots to glean from pre-verbal zombie-bait. Best case scenario, it's a Friends situation where the baby is always conveniently off with a babysitter (which on TWD would be Beth so maybe that would be killing two birds with one stone? Something to think about...).

More flashbacks and dream sequences! I want to see our pals dressed in something else. I want to see them happy and I want my heart-strings to be pulled once it's revealed just how much they've lost. TWD has always excelled in the simple moments that juxtapose the past with the present. Carl encountering a normal boys room perfectly illustrated how overwhelming different this world is.

Also more sex.

Don't know how quickly Rick will be able to heal since Hershel is dead along with his supernatural healing abilities.

Carl's struggle with that zombie upstairs was some tough medicine for me. As someone who is at this very moment surrounded by stacks of hundreds of books, my future death flashed before my eyes as all those books hindered Carl's fight. I always assumed that if I were to be killed by my books it would be a Principal Skinner-buried-alive type situation but now I'm worried about my ability to fend off zombies  in my living room.

Time for a Kindle
Let's hope the days of mindless villagers have perished alongside The Governor. One of the more frustrating parts of the last two seasons has been his ability to work regular, peace-loving folk into a murderous froth. Why his last group would follow him when he was a mysterious new dude who's arrival neatly coincided with the death of two leaders is a plot hole the size one of the blown out prison walls.

More confusing is the writers' insistence on disallowing characters to share any relevant information. Why Rick wouldn't share pertinent details of their last run-in with The Governor (torture, imprisonment, sexual assault, war mongering, mass murder) is perplexing and displays the ongoing laziness of the writers. Please, let this trend be in the past! Let us move on to an age of sharing relevant information and pick up the pace of the show! Let the zombies amble, not the plot!

One more pedantic squabble: Obviously I've a well-documented history of *maybe* paying too much attention to details within TWD universe (I'm still trying to sort out how Shane was never called out on his excessive showering) but why is it that the head of Hershel was still chomping but when Michonne (and others) regularly behead walkers it's the final death? Wouldn't all those zombie heads still be 'alive', too?

I'm going to miss Hershel, his folksy wisdom and his pony-tail.

Good night, sweet prince

Read the next episode recap here.

Alex Snider watches a lot of TV. Follow her on Twitter where she'll be super active for a week then be quiet for months – she's a social media cicada.


Dorianne said...

I agree that Rick's gotta go but I also still hate Carl. I want Michonne to find Carol & start a lesbian separatist apocalypse survival commune. Except what about Daryl? OK then, a bisexual separatist apocalypse survival commune.

Alex Snider said...

I've been 'shipping Daryl and Michonne for a while now (there are so many adorable gifs from press tours where the actors seem so smitten with each other) but the addition of Carol takes it to the best possible level. Sploosh!

Post a Comment