Has there ever been a drama, never mind a hugely successful drama, on American TV with so many episodes that are clearly what I’d call “interstitial”? For TWD fans, every hour starts with a silent 15-minute countdown: If nothing interesting happens during that time to set up a story arc, that old familiar oh-god-they’re-going-to-spend-the-next-45-minutes-navel-gazing-about-feelings sinking feeling begins to set in. And there’s nothing you can do but gut it out, check the box when it’s over, and hope that next week will be better. I’ve reached the point in trying to rationalize these “nothing happens” episodes where I wonder if the writers aren’t trying to convey the tedium of life in the zombie apocalypse by making us suffer an hour of grinding monotony ourselves. “See how bored and frustrated you are right now? Imagine how much more bored and frustrated Rick is.” They can’t make you smell the zombies’ rotting guts, but they can make you wish you were dead.

The alternate theory, that the writers are using the interstitial episodes to show off their range, is too terrible to contemplate. Here’s the Atlantic on character development TWD-style:

Grief is complex and sometimes deadly, but “Them” went about showing the group’s mourning in the most tedious ways possible: sadness-stricken Sasha charging at the horde of walkers and ruining the group’s plan to simply toss them over the bridge; Daryl stabbing himself with the smoldering end of a cigarette to make himself “feel” the loss of Beth (come on, he deserved better than this); and Maggie … grumbling at Father Gabriel.

The one cliche about grief they didn’t use was having one of the characters hallucinate about departed loved ones appearing to him, and that’s only because they used that cliche last week for the big Tyreese send-off. The lowlight was Papa Grimes, a guy supposedly smart enough to have survived a planetful of cannibal zombies and maniac warlords trying to kill him, suddenly having an epiphany that his crew is also a “walking dead” of sorts, an irony that’s been apparent to viewers since about 20 minutes into the show’s pilot. The whole hour was really just a pretext to get him to say that line, as if the revelation was so momentous that it required a full episode of exposition to justify it. I honestly blushed from embarrassment at the cheesiness. You’re better than this, Andrew Lincoln.

They finally gave us a moment of action at the very end, when the zombies stormed the barn where Rick’s crew was hiding and everyone had to band together to bar the door — metaphor alert! — but even that didn’t work. How did they hold the zombies off? Later it’s revealed that a bunch of trees fell during the storm, crushing some of the zombies, but the trees didn’t seem to have fallen very close to the structure. And it looked like there were a *lot* of zombies out there trying to push in. Where’d they all go? I guess, in an interstitial episode, we’re not supposed to sweat the details; the attack on the barn is just a metaphor, nothing more, and therefore the deus ex machina in the form of the storm and falling trees is also a metaphor, that God is watching and still pulling for the survivors. Looking forward to seeing Rick piece all of that together into another epiphany five or six years from now.

Exit question one: They couldn’t have spent 10 minutes showing off the crew’s hunger and despair and then introduced the ominous “friendly” do-gooder from the final scene? Exit question two: What was with that bound and gagged zombie in the trunk? Did the zombie outbreak interrupt a serial killer who was out on a hunt?