Is there another show on television that routinely — routinely — throws away entire episodes on obvious filler like TWD did last night? The only reason there’s not more anger among the fans is because we’re all used to this now. Once or twice a season, the story arc will screech to a halt and we’ll get a full hour of the cast talking about, and doing, nothing much in particular. I think of these episodes as “holding patterns,” where the writers know where they want to go — in this case, the big reveal about whether Glenn lived or died — but they can’t get there yet because the important stuff’s being saved for the mid-season finale. They’ve got time to kill, so that’s what they do. They kill it. (There were a lot of hours like this, as I recall, back when the show was set on Hershel’s farm and the Grimes gang had to search and search and search for Sophia, never suspecting until the big reveal that she was dead in the barn.) So ephemeral are the holding-pattern episodes that, within five minutes of the show ending, I can barely remember what happened. I have to think hard afterward to bring the details back. “Maggie announced she’s pregnant and … what else? Oh, Rick finally kissed the blonde. And Deanna’s turning to the dark side. And there’s some sort of lesbian subplot now. And Deanna’s whiny son stole the crackers.” Anything I missed? Why devote much thought to a grumble thread when the writers didn’t devote much thought to the episode?
This is true, though. It ain’t just the Democratic Party that has a thin bench these days:
Not only has the show failed to develop any new interesting characters, but it’s also started making me apathetic about characters I used to be invested in (Deanna, Jesse, Darryl, Sasha). Maybe this is because everyone’s split up, and the only way—short of little action bursts or bottle episodes—the show drives character development is through those agonizing one-on-ones. This episode, we had Spencer and Deanna. Deanna and Rick. Rick and Jessie. Jessie and her son, who’s apparently too scared to walk a few steps downstairs for a plate of cookies. Carl and Ron. Ron and Rick. Tara and Denise. Aaron and Maggie were maybe the least boring of the week’s pairings, if only because of the cool sewer zombies.
Who was the last genuinely interesting minor character the show introduced? Don’t count Morgan; he was introduced in the series premiere. Abraham Ford, maybe? Aaron’s … kind of interesting, I guess? One reason the writers are so invested in “the Ricktatorship” and the core gang is because they haven’t developed anyone else in ages. Even Maggie, a show veteran and the emotional focus of last night’s show, has virtually no role anymore except occasionally weeping for dead or missing family members. There are six people who keep the show moving — Rick, Carol, Daryl, Glenn, Morgan, and Michonne, and frankly Daryl and Michonne haven’t had much to do in awhile either. (The previews for next week’s episode suggest a Daryl comeback, though.) Imagine what strange and wondrous new people we might be meeting if the holding-pattern hours were occasionally devoted to introducing new characters instead.
If last night’s show had a purpose at all, it was to remind us again that Alexandrians have been sheltered from the apocalypse and therefore aren’t very good at this stabbing-zombies-in-the-brain thing. A glutton for punishment would rewatch the 10 or so episodes since Rick and the gang showed up in town and count how many times that point has been made either in dialogue (“you don’t know what it’s like out there!”) or in little set pieces, like the Alexandrians constantly getting people killed on their amateurish raids outside the walls or struggling, as Deanna did last night, to dispatch a single zombie. My favorite bit was her peering at the wall in shock as hundreds of zombies pounded on it from the other side, as if it was only dawning on her now — months or even years after the fall of civilization — that there are a lot of these things out there. The Alexandrians aren’t “untested,” they’re nincompoops, and their nincompoopery has a purpose: It makes Rick Grimes look like even more of a bad-ass by contrast, which is what “The Walking Dead” is mainly about nowadays. That was also the point, I assume, of that dull bit in yesterday’s show where Spencer and the other locals raided the community pantry. So weak is their survival instinct that they’ve convinced themselves that the walls will fall at any moment, in which case they might as well eat all the food and drink all the booze now. Rick the Lionhearted would never do that. And neither would his hot new girlfriend. I take it that’s why Jessie has killed someone in each of her last two episodes (first the Wolf in her kitchen, then the zombie neighbor). She’s not a candy-ass like the rest of the Alexandrians. She’s a budding warrior. If you want to ride with Papa Grimes, the leader of the pack, you need to prove you’re willing to cut someone when need be. She’ll make a fine second Mrs. Rick.
Lowest moment last night, by the way: Rick telling the Alexandrians at the beginning of the show, “The wall’s gonna hold together. Can you?” Not only was that an unusually heavy-handed example of the show telegraphing the theme of the episode, it’s also Rick at his peewee-football-coach worst. He hasn’t had a line of dialogue that lame since last season’s unforgettable revelation that, come to think of it, he and his gang of desperate, hungry survivors are sort of “the walking dead” themselves. Sheesh.