Perhaps the only real novelty left to The Walking Dead is in the show’s increasingly desperate efforts to find new ways of telling the same old story. A few important things happen this week, namely the end of the Scavengers and Simon betraying his boss, but what’s most immediately striking is the episode’s format: It’s broken into several segments, and each segment begins with a character’s name, presumably indicating that what follows is a piece of “their” story, for better or worse.
And it’s fine, for what it is. Well, maybe fine is being polite—it’s not actively bad, but there doesn’t seem to be much point beyond finding another arbitrary way to chop up the timelines and try and make this slow march to the grinder (literally, in some cases) that much more interesting. It could have worked better, as the show has proven itself more than capable of telling compelling narratives when it bothers to focus on someone for more than five minutes at a time, but if you took those names away and just aired this as is, it wouldn’t play much differently at all. Which is maybe the harshest criticism I can muster for the show’s ongoing trickery—it’s rarely outright terrible, but it hardly ever seems necessary, and the more time spent on it, the more obviously it feels like someone is trying to con us.
Take the first segment, following Michonne. In theory, it’s great—Michonne is a character who’s been vastly underserved in the past couple of seasons, and it would be nice if the writers found something for her to do besides support Rick/Carl. (Well, Carl’s dead, so I guess that won’t be as much of an issue anymore.) But in practice, the segment is as much about Rick as it is about her, and while it has a nice moment or two—I liked them trying to save the gazebo from burning down, just because Carl sat on the roof—nothing seems particularly specific to her. She’s sad Carl is dead, of course, and to be fair, the show did spend a fair bit of time trying to build up their friendship as something that mattered, but the use of that “MICHONNE” title card raises certain expectations that the following scenes don’t really deliver on.
But I’m being nitpicky here, critiquing a largely inoffensive device for no more reason than I’m not really sure what else to say at this point. Which is why (and talk about burying the lede), this will be my last review of The Walking Dead. After six and a half years, I’ve said just about all I can say about the show, and it’s (probably long) past time for me to move on. The A.V. Club will be continuing its regular coverage, so someone else will be stepping into my shoes soon enough. But you won’t have to put up with my griping anymore, and I expect that will be a relief for everyone involved.
Before I go, though, I might as well try and find some nice things to say about “The Lost And The Plunderers.” The end of the Scavengers was unexpected, in a good way. Given how the show keeps shifting more and more of its focus towards Negan, having one of his second-in-commands start to go against his orders creates an unstable dynamic that could be dramatically potent in the weeks to come; and given that the show often takes way too long to do anything, having Simon go from “frustrated” to “Fuck it, shoot ’em all” so quickly is legitimately refreshing, immediately raising the stakes from theoretical to practical.
It also allows for the impressively gory scene of Jadis grinding up the remains of her friends and followers in a giant trash compactor. The Scavengers were never all that interesting—just another group of smug, mopey twerps with a handful of strained affectations—and this is the most I’ve cared about Jadis in, well, ever. Seeing as how Rick abandoned her despite pleas for help, she’s yet another free agent with a grudge against both sides of the “war,” so presumably she’ll manage to do something horrible before the end. Maybe she’ll muck things up when Rick finally gets off his high horse and tries to talk peace with Negan.
As for the rest, Aaron and Enid’s efforts to win over another group to the cause seem doomed, given that Rick and the others stole guns from the group and Enid killed their leader. For a brief space of time it looks like Enid and Aaron will get killed for their efforts, but then Enid makes an angry speech, and they walk away with their lives. Aaron decides to stick around, for reasons. Again, the show’s inability to really establish a clear sense of geography or numbers makes it hard to get too worked up about any of this. Aaron is very insistent that they need the help, so we have to assume he’s telling the truth because he’s a nice man who’s never lied before. But it’s hard to shake the feeling that we’re going through the motions here because no one can think of anything better to do.
And then there’s Rick. Rick is upset, because Rick is almost always upset. His plans have once again fallen apart, and his son is dead, and even though his son’s death isn’t directly Negan’s fault, he decides to push his anger onto the Saviors because that’s better than being sad and guilty. It’s a weird final scene for the episode; Rick, after reading Carl’s final letter to Negan (and not reading the letter Carl wrote to him, apparently), calls Negan up on the walkie talkie to let him know Carl is dead, and to swear revenge for… something. Just a general sort of revenge, I guess.
Negan, on the other hand, is legitimately taken aback by Carl’s death (which is sort of hilarious; plenty of people have died this season, but apparently one kid with a silly hat and a missing eye is the only one who really matters). Of the two, he seems the saner. On a better show, that would create an unsettling conflict, forcing us to reconsider why we root for the people we root for—is it because they’re “better” or because we know them longer? Here, it just comes across as yet another step on the march toward full-on Negan-hood.
But you’ll have to find out on your own. I’d hoped that ending my gig here would give me at least a little inspiration for this final review, but it hasn’t worked out that way. I find myself flailing as much as ever to try and work up the energy to talk about any of this, which is a pretty definitive sign that leaving is the right call. Hopefully whoever steps in for me will be more engaged with the material, because you deserve a reviewer who cares more about this than I do. At the very least, you should have someone who can imagine a world where The Walking Dead is good again. I think I lost my ability to do that some point last season. Apologies for sticking around this long, I guess.
- Rick leaving Jadis to her fate is arguably deserved, given how many times she’s screwed him over, but it still plays out like a dick move. I guess it’s another sign about how far Rick’s gone, or something?