Great headline, no? Alas, it’s not mine but Jim Treacher’s. My headline for this post was going to be “Jesus saves,” which is a solid B, I’d like to think. But when someone hands you A+ material, you take it.
In case you’re reading this despite being one of the many millions who’ve given up on the show because it’s constantly running in circles, let me make you feel bad by telling you that you missed one of the great set pieces in “Walking Dead” history, a zombie ambush of our heroes triggered by the undead tumbling en masse down a hill buffoonishly. You need to see it to believe it (and you can, per the clip below). In fairness, shuffling off a small cliff is one of the few ways zombies *could* conceivably catch the living by surprise by generating the velocity needed to get the jump on them. Done right, I think this could have been a tense and effective confrontation. Done the way it was done, it looked ridiculous. The zombies should have gone head over feet down the hill or skidding on their heels, not rolling on their sides like kindergarteners at recess. Although now that I think about it … no, zombies going head over feet ragdoll-style would have played even more comically. There’s just no way to do a “cannibal ghouls tumbling out of control” action sequence that won’t make the audience bust out laughing, is there? But points for trying. The genre deserved at least one “cadaverlanche.”
The rest of the episode trod the well-worn ground of survivors struggling with how ruthless they should be towards their enemies. They’ve been pounding that theme for at least five seasons. Viewed broadly enough, it’s the theme of every episode of the series; the writers just explore it more overtly at times than others. Rick himself seems to cycle through “ruthless” and “civilized” stages with no apparent rhyme or reason. He’s constantly trying to domesticate the world around him (Farmer Rick, Sheriff Rick in Alexandria), then inevitably ends up brutalized and traumatized by the ruthlessness of some predatory group before reverting to ruthlessness himself to defeat them. The show’s doubled up on that theme now by forcing it on two different pairs of characters: There’s the “Jesus versus Morgan” conflict on whether to execute the Savior POWs, which has already descended into manual combat, and there’s the developing “Rick versus Daryl” conflict along the same lines. Daryl wastes Morales without a second thought, then breaks Rick’s promise to let the Savior behind the tree go free if he surrenders by shooting him in the head. (Maggie is as yet undecided.) You would think they’d all have learned enough hard lessons about killing your enemies when you have the chance to side with the Morgan/Daryl view on this, but protecting Rick’s image as a good man trying to stay good is the central preoccupation of the show. Having him fully embrace the ethos of executing prisoners would complicate that. So Rick, inexplicably, seems to be on the side of civilization again even though he and his gang *just* mobilized for a fight to the death with the Saviors.
Because Rick is such a bore I find myself enjoying Ezekiel’s bombast more and more. He’s ludicrous but his jovial faux-confidence seems like a recognizably human response to the anxiety of leadership in a situation as unfamiliar as paramilitary warfare. His delight when the Kingdom’s ambush of the Saviors comes off without a hitch, miraculously, is infectious. The show did a nice job of building the viewer’s confidence that maybe he and his squad would be a potent weapon against Negan before pulling the rug out with that ambush by the Saviors in the final scene last night. A *lot* of the Kingdom’s troops must be dead now. What that’s going to do to Ezekiel and his pretend confidence, assuming he survives, is a matter of real suspense. The way the writers handled Eric’s send-off was also surprisingly well done given the conventions of the zombie genre. When a beloved character (or a character beloved by a prominent character, as Eric was) resurrects, he or she is always, always shot in the head by a friend or lover to spare them the indignity of wandering the earth as the undead, scavenging for human remains. Not this time. Aaron could have chased after zombie Eric and put him down but instead he’s dragged away as Eric lumbers towards the woods. Offhand I’m not sure I’ve seen that before in a zombie movie or television show. If the audience has invested emotionally in a character, even a little bit, that character is not allowed to zombify and then join the rest of the hordes to roam aimlessly. It was haunting watching Eric recede in the distance towards the fate that awaits everyone in zombie world, like seeing a soul pass to the other side.
And oh, if you’re keeping score, yes of course there was a confrontation between two antagonists in which one clearly could have killed the other but lost the opportunity because he insisted on talking for too damned long. Usually the show reserves that lame gimmick for when Negan and Rick are face to face but this time Morales couldn’t stop blabbering and got a Daryl crossbow through the skull for this trouble. Right, right, he was told to take Rick alive if possible, but he knew how dangerous Rick was. If you find yourself alone with Papa Grimes, you take the shot. Immediately.