And we’re off, back with Rick and crew. Last season, they suffered through looking for (and then losing) Beth, famine and dehydration, cannibals, and of course lots of zombies. We were teased throughout with Morgan’s reappearance, and he finally showed up just in time to see Rick put a bullet in the head of a murdering wife beating piece of scum. Which is where we more or less pick back up.
The episode uses a lot of flash backing, or flash forwarding, depending on how you want to look at it. And it starts with a bang; with our heroes looking at a quarry full of zombies. Very full. As in oh-my-God-that’s-a-lot-of-zombies full. Fun times in the apocalypse. I’m going to go with flash backs, assuming the quarry is the ‘present’ for our story, since the black-and-white sequences are all in the past from the OMG-Zombies moment.
A major theme in the second half of season five was that the Alexandrians weren’t ready for life in the post-apocalypse. It was almost implied that they didn’t deserve to be alive, which honestly I don’t really agree with. The apocalypse plays no favorites; there’s only the lucky and unlucky, the alive and the dead. Even super-prepper types can bite it, or simply run out of luck in a bad circumstance, at any time. But that same theme, the Alexandrians and their level of recognition of how different things are beyond the walls, was hit hard in this episode. We got some great scenes where they demonstrate they don’t get it, where they are being purposefully put (by Rick) in situations where they have to start learning it, and how some of them are fatally tripping over the speed bumps as they attempt to ascend the learning curve.
To me, the fun part about the Alexandrians is there’s probably not a really right answer. Deserve or not, they were alive behind their wall. They were lucky, absolutely, but it had worked. Would it have continued to work; unknown. Rick is a hard guy, because the apocalypse has turned him that way. But he’s not really wrong either. The world is different, dangerous, and deadly. Sooner or later everyone’s luck runs out; and you have to have a base of ability to fall back upon. That’s what he’s trying to impart upon the Alexandrians before their luck runs out. And it’s clear Rick more or less feels they’re already out of time; because he always assumes everything’s about to go wrong.
It’s sort of hard to argue with Rick on that point, even if other characters are rolling their eyes at him or looking on in askance.
One of these is Morgan. He’s a hard guy too. Lost at least as much as Rick, arguably more (Rick still has a breathing son). Morgan suffered a mental break, but seems better now. Cane like, which isn’t an un-fun thing for the audience to get to watch. And it’s a good contrast. Rick, again arguably, has suffered a mental break too. Rick didn’t descend into unresponsive catatonia like Morgan did, but he did lose his grip on any form of sanity for a while there. He emerged hard, brutal, and unyielding. Morgan has come out of his contemplative, thoughtful, and compassionate. But not in the annoying gets-himself-killed way; in the Roadhouse let’s-be-nice-until-it’s-time-not-to-be-nice way.
Throughout the episode, Morgan was clearly watching — dare we say judging — Rick. Some of the decisions and actions Morgan approved of or agreed with; others he seemed to be still considering. I’m not necessarily going to go all the way into assuming Morgan was disapproving them; but it struck me as very clear Morgan wasn’t eliminating a final judgement of “that was wrong” on the part of Rick in some of the events that transpired. To me it looks like we’re being setup for a season of Morgan trying to reach for and lead Rick back to a less brutal frame of mind. Rick is going to resist. And not just because conflict makes for good story; Rick’s brutal place has kept him alive, has gotten him and a lot of people he’s with through some really bad scenes. From Rick’s perspective, brutal works.
And we’re obviously being setup for not all of the Alexandrians being prepared, or willing, to trust Rick. That’s not to say all of them (or even any of them) will disagree with Rick or his goals or methods; but after what Rick did last season, not all of them are going to be ready to move past that. People hate being wrong. Happy little cloistered people hate reality too. Both of those factors are going to be weighing against Rick. He’s going to have to lean heavily on the rest of his crew to get the messages across to the town; because, right or wrong, Alexandria is going to hold his being right against him for a long time. They’re not saying he was wrong, or he is wrong; they’re saying they hate that he wasn’t.
It should be a lot of fun, if the writing stays as good as it has finally gotten once Gimple came onboard.
Carol is still playing Suzie Homemaker as a deep-cover spy, which is still funny as hell. And it’s working on everyone except Morgan, which is just one more cool point for Morgan. I agree with Rick that it’s useful for Carol to continue her role as an innocent, where she can liaise between the native Alexandrians and Rick’s crew. But it’s really excellent that Morgan wasn’t fooled by the act. Her response to him was fun as well. “Aren’t you sweet.” More or less a synonym of a classic Southernism “Bless your heart”, which is used as a polite way of cursing. If you don’t get it, you’re not Southern. But you don’t have to be Southern to understand that Carol was not exactly pleased to find her act hadn’t fooled someone.
Daryl as a guy who’s loyal to Rick, but not blindly so. Rick’s crew is Rick’s crew; they’ve been through quite a bit with him, and they all look to him as the leader. Even though most of them are quite skilled in apocalypse matters, they’ve collectively decided Rick is the guy. As Abraham said last season, “Rick knows every inch of said shit.” But that doesn’t mean they’re sycophantic when it comes to how they deal with, how they listen to or follow, Rick. They’re with him, but they have their own minds and their own ideas. We got a few looks from Michonne here and there about Rick, and a few more plus a small comment from Daryl to Rick about whether or not they should keep looking to recruit; enough to establish the point.
As a personal aside, I kind of think it’s a shit move by Rick to stop recruiting. Well, okay, let’s be clear. If Rick is saying, should other people appear at the gates, he won’t let any new people in; then it’s a shit move. If he just doesn’t want to send people out purposefully looking to bring newcomers back, I don’t know. If he’s saying scavenger crews who go out looking for supplies should actively discourage any newcomers from coming back to the town, I don’t know. Alexandria doesn’t have a mountain of food. I doubt we’re going to get into the logistics of the food situation, but I seriously doubt there’s an endless supply of it. So there is a limit to how many people Alexandra can support. And, accordingly, the town will continue to need to send people out to bring back supplies. They won’t be able to just hunker behind their walls for the next several years or whatever.
I say it’s a shit move because Rick and crew were, repeatedly, on the verge of going out. They literally, the dictionary definition, starved or dehydrated to the point of near death last season. They’re now recovering thanks to the shelter afforded by Alexandria’s security and supplies. For Rick to say “everyone else not already here, fuck off” is kind of a shit move.
However, as the show has already covered in prior seasons; people are dangerous. Surely coming this season, we’re going to get into some Wolves storylines that will reinforce that yet again. But to cut off all contact, to greet all strangers with gunfire . . . I just don’t know. Maybe I’m a foolish optimist, but that’s just a hell of a way to go through what’s left of life. It would also be a pretty boring story too; if they just sit behind the walls and fire on anyone who comes near. If that happens (which I seriously doubt) the only stories we’d get would be problem-of-the week (we’re out of tuna, we need a McGuffin for the generator, etc…) or soap opera (Joanie and Jimmie are cheating on their spouses with each other; why can’t I take a turn guarding the wall – I want to shoot strangers too!) and so forth.
The Glenn and Nicholas arc . . . okay, didn’t see that coming. And it’s a really good example of my storytelling rule of “good gamers, bad storytellers.” Or, as I’ve also said before, the post-apocalypse version “good survivors, bad storytellers.” Last season, I thought Glenn should’ve killed Nicholas. I would’ve. Had I been writing it, I would’ve killed him; had I been there in that situation in ‘real life’, I still would’ve killed him. The guy was bad news, was trying to commit murder, had demonstrated he was a coward (but the worst kind; Eugene is a coward but tells you, over and over; Nicholas was one but lied and insisted he was a brave badass) . . . there was no reason not to kill him. None at all. A cathartic wrap-up, a bit of closure for the audience; Nicholas would’ve died.
Except, having spared him, we get what has already shaped up as a very interesting redemption arc. And, in this episode, it was abundantly clear Nicholas has turned his leaf and is trying really hard to right himself. To learn, to grow, to become a better man. That’s an interesting bit of story. There’s going to be good fun to be had here. Glenn is trying to save Nicholas, and Nicholas is trying to grow. Maggie is struggling between loving her husband and respecting him. She says “Glenn saves people”, and not in a dismissive or annoyed way. She says it in a way that’s a little sad, a little “well it is what it is” manner. It’s clear Maggie would see Nicholas dead too, were it up to her; but if she gets onboard Glenn’s “save people” train with regard to Nicholas, that’s more interesting story we get to enjoy. Very good call by Gimple.
Carter played out in a different way. More cathartically for us in the audience. He was the conflict character for the episode, the one opposed to Rick and Rick’s plans. He was going to murder Eugene. There was little that we could really identify with. Rick in this episode wasn’t being crazy-Rick, or out-of-control Rick. Everything Rick did and said was toward the goal of safeguarding Alexandria and the Alexandrians. And Carter was more or less in the way most of the time. Yes, Carter did pitch in on the 8-ball fence; but he was still in opposition. He got his end, exactly as Rick has been saying all along. Even after we got Rick’s little monologue in response to Morgan, Carter still went down. He died because he couldn’t adapt to the apocalypse. Alive only because of luck, because of the massive chain of circumstances that had spared Alexandria; he died when he couldn’t make the transition away from suburbia. I bet he’s not going to be the first.
I think it’s pretty clear that’s going to be a reoccurring theme this season; the Alexandrians either adapting, struggling to adapt, or failing to. Some of those failures will result in deaths. I bet some of those lethal failures will even result in the failing Alexandrian taking someone who’s already adapted with them. Because that’s how it goes when there’s zombies; they’re area-effect weapons. When they get invested in an area, they tend to hit broadly. Make a mistake, and you’re not just risking your own life but those nearby.
On the Talking Dead, we got a bit of good juice about the episode in and around the fluffier pieces that fill in. Gimple and Nicotero talked about why they played with jumping time back and forth in the episode, and why they went with black-and-white to distinguish the flashbacks from ‘now’. We also got some excellent discussion from Gimple about Rick and Morgan. It was really refreshing to hear them talking on a craft level about the story of the show. Audiences have learned that, far more often than not, show runners and show writers have actually no clue where their creations are going (Battlestar Galactica, Lost, many others). For season 6, Gimple seems to not be in that group; he seems to have thought carefully about how things are going and where he wants to take them. So refreshing.
And so good. Walking Dead is back! Until next week, eat more brains!