Why put Carl in charge? I guess he did his best, but this was a question that I kept thinking about during the overlong and underwhelming mid-season finale of The Walking Dead. “How It’s Gotta Be” felt like a real middling episode that served as the culmination of all the poor choices that had been made throughout these first eight episodes. It hasn’t all been bad, but rather than head into the winter on a high note, “How It’s Gotta Be” almost seemed to be making a point of highlighting the significant issues involving filler story, poor direction, and character decisions that range from unmotivated to idiotic.
The best thing to say about Rick and the gang is how they strive to be great heroes. It’s admirable, even if Rick thinks far too much of himself but often shortsighted, and at worst, dumb. It speaks to the plan which took up the majority of this season. Based on the outcome, it seems as though walling in the saviors with a herd of walkers was the only thing planned down to the tiniest detail, while everything after relied on a lot of hope and crossed fingers that the payoff would happen. Sure, Daryl and Tara may be somewhat responsible for ruining the plan (with help from Eugene), but even then, this plan was always going to fail given the show’s lack of understanding presented to the audience about the next steps and conventional wisdom in regards to how drama works.
I can understand how The Walking Dead was always going to find Negan getting the upper hand at some point. I said as much in my first couple reviews of the season. That in mind, given how little happened when it comes to genuinely worthwhile events, it just seems frustrating to have spent so much time watching a series of episodes where the writers had a few things in mind and had to pad everything else out. It meant getting to see some side stories, such as one where Aaron’s lover is killed, but it also meant having the same conversation about prisoners with Jesus multiple times, unneeded bickering between Daryl and Rick and a waste of time spent on Michonne, Rosita and Morgan working on their issues.
Keeping the focus on this episode, with an extra twenty minutes thrown in, much of the issue becomes clear when noting how much time is spent with the slow motion, intense face close-ups. Rather than ramp up the intensity, a lot of time is spent watching danger be announced early and having occasional reminders that people are traveling to different places. For an episode that already misses out on delivering a tenser experience involving the Saviors’ revenge plan, it’s getting hard to keep being excited about these extended episodes when all the time is wasted on nothing.
Speaking of the Saviors, this week they have bounced back to being a strategic group of killers and have magically gathered the numbers needed and found themselves re-energized enough to launch multiple attacks on all the different sites and take control of the situation. The scenes with Simon almost work the best, as Steven Ogg is one of the more compelling actors on this show, but it is almost entirely undercut by the death of a nobody. Simon shoots someone in the head, and it has no impact, as I could not tell you a thing about the person Bear McCreary’s score really wanted me to feel something for. Later on, Maggie buries this guy, after shooting a Savior prisoner in retaliation and I once again find myself being concerned about how little of an effect this has seemed to have on me. It makes no greater point about the prisoner discussions with Jesus. Instead, it just feels like a pause before having the same debate again down the line.
Everything else is so disparate that it makes no difference as to which plot thread I call into question. Aaron and Enid get caught in Oceanside because their plan was always a terrible one (and it resulted in a significant death you likely forgot about because it was so loosely focused on). Eugene decides to help Gabriel after a week of compelling struggle with his character that goes out the window. Ezekiel finds his mojo and blows up some stuff. Morgan is around. A lot of these elements are all left open, but you also get plenty of Carl.
So yeah, Carl has been bit, and the episode spends a lot of time making us wonder why Carl is acting like the worst version of himself until giving us that reason why. Depending on how focused you were on Chandler Riggs’ age and education plans, you may have had some idea that he could be taken out of the show. Regardless, credit can be given for this bold choice. Not to get into it, but the Graphic Novels have made certain characters like Carl seem untouchable, so I wouldn’t have thought TV Carl was going to be on the chopping block in this sort of way.
Sadly, it’s not the most impactful choice, no matter how many crying Rick moments we’ll be forced to deal with later. I’ve mentioned how Riggs hasn’t always been the one to deliver much for me in the drama department and with the show finding less and less for him to do, it makes a level of sense. The more significant issue is how major developments on The Walking Dead seem to revolve around which character may die, as opposed to game-changing story turns involving settings, allegiances, etc. I welcome the second half of this season more for seeing what Rick will do without Alexandria (since it burnt down), as opposed to the results of Carl’s apparent death.
I must also mention the direction. For a show I’ve held up for at least providing its audience with excellent zombie action/apocalyptic visuals, “How It’s Gotta Be” was a poorly shot episode shrouded in darkness and confusing geography. There was little “fun” to be found in the Savior siege and firefights that took place. And while not a bloodbath, the lack of any real deaths beyond a few saviors continued to show how much I missed the suspense of older and smaller scale episodes that knew how to do a lot more with fractured storytelling.
The Walking Dead has pushed hard on making the “All Out War” storyline work, and it’s been mostly disappointing. I want this show to do good by one of the more exciting threads from the comics as well as deliver on the inherent potential of Rick taking on Negan. However, when it comes to watching a new dumb thing for Rick (or anybody) to do, multiple weeks at a time, I can’t not dwell on it. At eight seasons in, The Walking Dead still has creative ideas to work with, but it so often seems like its running on fumes, which is unfortunate. With a steady drop in ratings, I’ll be curious how many viewers make like Carl and exit after this mid-season finale. I’ll still be hanging on, but I hope I have more luck than poor Neil (that’s who Simon shot in the face, assuming you already forgot what made Maggie so upset, which is likely).
- Zombie Kill of the Week: There may have been only one walker death this week, and Michonne was responsible. Nothing great about it, but it happened…
- After last week’s episode, the garbage people decided to duck out immediately.
- Jerry lives!
- Dwight gets to hang out in the sewer with his new friends. Upgrade?
- Ezekiel has succeeded in wasting the giant head start he had to escape, I guess.
- “Oops” – Eugene had some fun moments at least.
- Daryl finally got his vest back.
- Rick’s latest dumb move: He knows the Saviors have invaded, so he returns to his own house to see if Carl, Judith or Michonne are there, only to be surprised by Negan. What are the odds!?
- RIP Coral.
- Everyone enjoy their holiday celebrations this winter. I’ll be back in February and hopefully much warmer towards those episodes.
- Thanks for reading and feel free to hear what me and a few other fans of the show have to say about the series on The Walking Dead TV Podcast.