The Walking Dead: Worth

"Just wanted to say a grateful enclave thanks you!"

If I were to choose a descriptor for the entire Saviors arc of The Walking Dead, it would be "wasted opportunity". We are drowning in wasted opportunities. Why couldn't we have been enjoying episodes like this from the off? Why did everything need to be stretched and pulled into long, ponderous scenes devoid of tension when we could have had episodes like this? Because this episode was pretty damn great.

Before we get to the meat of the review, I need to get something out: Noooooooooo! Simon! Why does your death hurt so much? I ask all readers to have some bagpipes playing on youtube or something throughout this review in memory of our dear departed psychopath. Goodnight sweet prince.


And flights of angels sing thee to thy rest. Okay, maybe I liked this loathsome monster too much.

Anyway, back to wasted opportunities. It's almost like a missive was handed down from on high: don't let things progress. Stretch things out. We need to keep promoting the "war" aspect of the show, because it makes for exciting marketing. So everything moves at a snail's pace until these final few episodes when things just rush. And the result of this desire to stretch things out and take absolutely bloody forever doing anything? Wasted opportunities. I can throw a stone and hit a wasted opportunity. Carl's role as a representative of the future? Wasted, he's dead. Gavin the conflicted Savior, who could have turned in a very realistic way? Wasted, he's dead so we can do the "psycho kid" plotline for a few episodes. Discovering how the Saviors really work, and how they could have built their little fiefdom? Wasted, all the Saviors and the Savior slaves love Negan regardless of how terribly he treats them. And now, the character of Simon has been wasted. I'll get to my disappointment about that in a moment, but first I want to be make it clear that this was a good episode. It had a few glaring flaws, but for the most part it was tight and tense with a scattering of genuinely fantastic scenes. But it also made me think of just how often The Walking Dead shoots itself in the foot. They are always coming to a fork in the road, and they never choose the road that takes us to the fireworks factory. We always stick with Poochie.

Negan isn't quite Poochie, of course. In fact, this was probably his best episode yet. Negan has been steadily improving as a character, and I've liked what they've done with him, but it just isn't enough. His character was built on a foundation of writing errors, so it might never be enough. If the show wants to recover, Negan needs to go, and I'm becoming increasingly certain that Rick has a better chance of dying than Negan. The writers frequently throw logic out the window in an effort to keep Negan around.

When I first heard that Jeffrey Dean Morgan was being cast as Negan, I thought that was pretty close to perfect. I knew him mainly from the Watchmen adaptation, where he turned in a perfect performance of a character that isn't far off from the comic book depiction of Negan: sadistic, charismatic, ruthless, in love with the sound of his own voice, and smarter (or at least more cruelly pragmatic) than everyone else in the room. Since his introduction, however, both Morgan and the character have struggled. This week, Gregory described him as a big personality, but that's never been true. He's not entertaining or frightening in his evil. We've had pure evil villains with no redeeming or remotely sympathetic qualities on television, and they've worked: Martin Keamy, Nicky Augustine, John Garrett. They never outstayed their welcome. They never took over a show, and the show never cheated to ensure they kept winning. Dwight should have every reason in the world to just shoot Negan in the back of the head: he could do it easily, and he could have done it way before this. When he told Simon that Negan would win, it felt like the voice of a man who knew the writers would move heaven and earth to save their beloved Negan.


It's a testament to the (generally but not universally) sharp writing of this particular episode (and the long overdue decision to humble Negan through confrontations with both Jadis and Rick) that this is probably Negan (and by extension Morgan's) best episode yet. He was the kind of character we should have seen right away: creepy and vile with a hint of mournful complexity just beneath the surface. The problem is that when Negan was introduced, and for every episode up until the war began, he seemed entirely aware that he was just a thieving bully. The idea that he was ever interested in pursuing a greater good, that he valued people as a resource, is laughable. They should have planted those seeds earlier. But, like I said this was a good episode for Negan. He was genuinely scary as opposed to goofy. That last scene between him and Dwight was shuddery as hell. His short talk with Michonne might have been Morgan's best scene on this show, ever. He's so, so much better when he's playing a character instead of a cartoon character. Morgan even managed to rise above the writing, such as when he just finished killing Simon. Maybe I'm mistaking his look of exhaustion, but he sure seemed bitter and even saddened that he'd had to kill his oldest ally. His delivery of "what an asshole" seemed so weary, like he knew he had to play up the Negan persona even though it was the last thing in the world he felt like doing. I wish we'd gotten to know Negan and Simon's relationship better. Were they friends? Something close to brothers? Was Simon really the Shane to Negan's Rick? And now we come back to the "wasted opportunity" aspect of this season.

I've made no secret of the fact that I love Simon and Steven Ogg. At the show's lowest points this season, Ogg has managed to elevate the material by being scary, fun and way more intriguing than Negan. He always has something going on just beneath the surface that makes every scene with him incredibly tense. That scene with Gregory was just spectacular; I loved that Gregory tried to adapt to survive, trying to act like a bullying Savior might, and Simon was actually impressed enough to keep him around. And when Simon thought he might get the bat, he didn't make excuses nor did he beg. He solemnly obeyed and prepared to meet his maker. I shouldn't feel sorry at all for a brutal psychopath like Simon, but Ogg made me feel for him, and that's quite an achievement. He's an actor with an abundance of natural charisma.

The fight was brutal but hard to swallow. Are you telling me that heavily muscled Simon wouldn't have just obliterated skinny, spaghetti-arm Negan right away? It was like watching Billy Corgan fight Terry Crews. So, honestly? I'm pissed off that we lost Simon and Ogg. It was a wasted opportunity in more ways than one, and every scene with Simon made me wish they'd gone a different direction.

I know I'm armchair writing, but I can't help it. The best thing that this episode could have done would be to have Simon kill Negan. The writers like shock value, and it would have been very shocking indeed. It also would have made sense. Simon is clearly stronger, and wouldn't it be so perfect to have Negan undone by his hubris? And his own death would come at the hands of not Rick, but a disgruntled underling, harking back to the realism this show used to strive for. Hell, even if they don't want to kill Negan, why not oust him and his loyalist Saviors? They seem to want to redeem Negan and keep him around, and as big a mistake as that would be, I can think of nothing better than a team-up with Rick against an even more evil adversary to make it happen. Steven Ogg has been killing it week after week, and he was doubtlessly the MVP of this episode. Maybe even the season, although Jadis and Dwight would be close competition.

Anyway, enough with the Saviors and on to the less interesting parts of the episode. Like's start with Oceanside, which was boring and repetitive. What was Aaron's plan? Starve to death on the outskirts of Oceanside so they'd eventually find his body and feel bad? And the Saviors haven't bothered Oceanside for a long time. Whenever Rick's people meet up with them, something bad happens. The Saviors are history as far as Oceanside are concerned; they're not a recurring threat. The Oceanside plot has, like many other plots, been stretched out to the point where it's boring, illogical and repetitive. We've seen it all before: someone goes to Oceanside, tells them they need to fight, they refuse. I know they'll say yes this time, but only because we're near the end of the season.


Oh, Eugene, Eugene, Eugene. The question of whose side you're really on wore out its welcome a long, long time ago. We've seen so many scenes where Eugene is conflicted. Ooh, what will he do? Stick by his friends? Betray the Saviors? His actions don't line up with any internal logic, so the audience has no hope of guessing. Really, though, he'll come through. We all know he will, right? That's what the cul-de-sac plot with him, Daryl and Rosita meant. It's also why they brought up that Gabriel (bless him) was sabotaging bullets. So Eugene will be a deciding factor in defeating Negan. I feel like he made his choice, finally. But like Oceanside, I just don't think we needed to see about eight bloody scenes of the exact same thing.

I honestly liked this episode a lot, so I apologize if I'm coming across as too negative, but I feel like any enjoyment and good writing is marred by the shaky foundations upon which the Saviors arc was built. That said, this episode was tense and had me both on edge, immersed and even emotional, which The Walking Dead hasn't been able to do for a while. If they keep up this level of writing, maybe the show can recover.

Bits & Bobs

- Laura the tatooed Savior is who Negan picked up. I'm glad to have her back, especially since we lost Gary the background Savior.

- C'mon, Maggie, did you have to put Gregory back in the cage? He was actually pretty brave this week, standing up to Simon and then returning to the Hilltop with the message. I can't help but love Gregory, Xander Berkeley just makes him so endearingly wretched. Maybe I just really enjoy the most horrible characters?

- It was nice to hear Chandler Riggs' voice, even if Carl's plea for peace between Rick and Negan was plainly horseshit. You know who isn't going to get to go on nice walks, Carl? Glenn, Abraham, Sasha, Emmett Carson, Denise...

- It was confirmed that Simon was responsible for the massacre at Oceanside.

- Aaron's gentle head collapse after his rain monologue was silly as hell.

- According to Dwight's map, there are 110 Saviors left. It would be nice to have clear numbers on both sides, since both Rick's people and the Saviors seem to have an endless supply of manpower.

- I hope I don't seem like I'm ragging on Jeffrey Dean Morgan too much. He's a wonderful actor, but it takes a certain style to make what is essentially a cartoon supervillain (pause for Watchmen irony) entertaining in a show like this.

- Weekly suspension of disbelief goes to Simon announcing his coup outside in plain view, and the invisible Saviors on Negan's side. And of course, the idea that Jeffrey Dean Morgan wins a fight with Steven Ogg. I read an exit interview with Ogg, and both he and the interviewer seemed a little worried that the audience wouldn't buy it.

- The highlight was, as if I hadn't made it obvious already, Steven Ogg's Simon. Ogg, we'll miss you. May you get a show that appreciates your talent. Also, exceptional work from Jeffrey Dean Morgan this week, and what little we got of Xander Berkeley was (as always) solid gold.

Quotes

Gregory: I've achieved too much! I-I-I've suffered too much! I've survived too much for it to end like this! I've lashed myself to the bow, seen through the storm, and I have been reborn as a-a certified shit kicker! I make things happen! I've always made things happen. And it's not gonna end with me wandering off into the wilderness with my dick in my hand. I put things together when everything fell apart, and I can do it again. I will do it again. You know, who the hell are you to tell me I'm done? Yeah, you think you have the juice? Well, I am the juice!
It was a nice try, Gregory. I actually really hope he gets some solid character development. A Gregory redemption arc could be fun.

Negan: You gonna make a move, or is that it?
Simon: No move to make.
Sad, but dignified.

Negan: Planning on killing me. Like, what else am I gonna do besides crush the guy's throat?
One of the few genuinely funny Negan lines.

Eugene: Time to do something useful with our pathetic lives.
If this isn't a call to sabotage, I don't know what is.

Three out of four secret maps to treasure/victory.

2 comments:

Billie Doux said...

I totally get your frustration, Jonny. Even though I also thought this was the best one in awhile. And Simon? Best walker transition ever. He was like a pit bull, growling and snapping. Lol.

And I'm also a fan of Jeffrey Dean Morgan's. He was adorable in Grey's Anatomy. And he made such an impact in the first season of Supernatural that his character is still a presence there, twelve seasons later.

The Oceanside stuff has indeed gone on forever, but I do like Aaron. And I liked the reminder that just surviving without shelter is nearly impossible in this 'verse. I kept expecting him to get bit, and he's a character I absolutely do not want them to write out.

Patryk said...

They will probably also keep Dwight, why else would Negan not kill him right now. I bet he's gonna survive or they'll use him to get us to hate Daryl if he kills him like he wants to all season long.