The Atlantic’s resident “Walking Dead” fans are in raptures over last night’s episode but I’m having trouble finding something to say about it. It was an interstitial hour, a running play for short yardage in an otherwise exciting, high-scoring season. All they were doing last night was setting themselves up for the game-winning field goal, next week’s mid-season finale. Hard to judge if that play worked until after the kick, no?
One welcome surprise: Tyreese and Daryl overruling Rick’s plan to raid the hospital by insisting on a prisoner exchange instead. That’ll end up backfiring, of course; in the “Walking Dead” apocalypse, ruthless force is always more effective than negotiation, a lesson that Rick needed four seasons(!) to learn. (Ironically, he’s now the leader of the “kill ’em and let God sort ’em out” camp.) But it was nice for once to see Papa Grimes not receive mindless deference from his groupies. The big action set piece, the “napalm zombies,” was … imaginative, although I have misgivings about it. The show deserves some slack in having to come up with fresh new grossouts after so many years on the air but last night’s was too close to slapstick. It felt less like something that might happen even within the loopy parameters of this show’s universe and more like a video-game level that some programmer came up with. (“Mission: Avoid the zombies stuck to the ground while eliminating the bad cops.”) Daryl tearing off one zombie’s head by the eye sockets and using it as a club played like some demented gonzo Adam Sandler gag. It was campy, not scary. And listen — if we’ve reached the point where we’re going to have “Yakety Sax” zombie scenes, can we at least spare viewers the lame scare of Daryl being thisclose to getting bitten while that cop had him pinned to the ground? Daryl Dixon’s not going out like that and we all know it. Apart from Rick, he’s the show’s supreme hero. When he dies, it’ll be gloriously in an act of sacrifice, not ignominiously by having his face gnawed off by a zombie that’s literally stuck to the ground. Bogus teases like that only remind the audience that the show’s not as daring as it’s cracked up to be in killing off main characters.
And yet, it’s still more daring than most shows are in that regard, especially in mid-season or season finales. So here’s your chance for predictions: Which TWD regulars end up dead next week? Before you answer, read this verrrrry interesting post from io9 last Friday noting that Norman Reedus, a.k.a. Daryl, spent a full hour crying before filming the final scene, so emotional was it for him. I’ve seen at least two commentators online speculate that that means Beth, who spent an episode bonding with Daryl, is going to die. If bonding is the emotional metric here, though, then I would think it’s Carol who’s going to die. After all, she and Daryl are closer than Daryl and Beth are. Let me blow your minds, though, and suggest that … maybe Daryl himself is a goner next week. It’s hard for me to believe Reedus would be so overcome emotionally by the thought of losing a comrade on the show that he’d cry for an hour, but if he was filming his last scene for a show on which he’d spent years working and that had made him a star? Yeah, I can imagine a catharsis over that. Hope it doesn’t happen, though, if only for the producers’ sakes. The fans have promised to riot if Daryl dies, and I think they mean it. Besides, he hasn’t even come out yet!