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Review: The Walking Dead 8x11, “Dead or Alive Or”

Aaron Neuwirth reviews The Walking Dead season 8, episode 11, "Dead or Alive Or," where a man of science debates a man of faith.

In case you haven’t noticed, The Walking Dead is a profoundly nihilistic show. For whatever reason, the writers like to throw in reminders of this all the time, and sometimes they really make sure every single viewer knows this. “Dead or Alive Or” is built on the premise of how much the world has changed for the worse by pitting classic rivals against each other. In addition to other plotlines in this table-setting episode, we get a new look at what happens when you put a man of science up against a man of faith. The results should be obvious, as I’ve already reminded you how the show likes to reinforce its nihilism constantly. That said, it makes for one of the numerous compelling aspects of a Rick-less episode.

Credit goes to Seth Gilliam this week. I’ve enjoyed the arc his character has had over the course of this show, particularly in the more recent seasons. Once both Gilliam and the writers got better control over what Father Gabriel needed to be, he’s been an odd and intriguing presence on this series. Perhaps not essential, but this week finds precisely what it needs to have us thinking about his perspective in all of this. Having been sick and now suffering from damaged eyesight, plus a fever, the idea of following a disabled man and the panicked Dr. Carson allowed for plenty of nice moments.

Now, given that this is The Walking Dead and the show has already established Siddiq as another character with medical skills, no, the eventual death of Dr. Carson was not too surprising. However, it was the buildup that utilized irony, serendipitous moments, and cruel matter-of-factness that made this whole predictable plotline worth it.

The debating between the two about Gabriel’s belief that God was guiding them could have been throwaway material to serve as a reminder of Gabriel’s faith, but it allowed for chemistry to form between the two, further adding to how dramatic things will end up. A suspenseful walker sequence has added weight because of how the show plays with expectation. And finally, the cruel twist that this gunshot is what signaled the Saviors to their whereabouts was a perfect final stamp that plays well with Gabriel’s saddened, “No,” as he was driven back to the Sanctuary, beaten down by life.

Three other plots were going on this week, but this portion of the episode was a good highlight on how well The Walking Dead can work when singling out some of the members of this ensemble cast and not having the primary focus be on whether Negan or Rick is the leader with the bigger…gun (or bat). As we’ve also spent a lot of time with Gabriel this season, it further works to show just how well this series delivers when focused on characters that have had enough to do, as opposed to just throwing some ideas to characters who have been underserved.

Dwight and Tara led the more straightforward portion of the episode. As they walk through the woods with Dwight, Rosita and the rest of the Alexandrians, Tara is having plenty of thoughts about finally killing the man who murdered her beloved Denise. Much like my praise for Gilliam, however, what makes this plotline work is Austin Amelio, who has grown into the Dwight character, now that he has some angles to play. Being so clearly regretful for his actions and wrestling with the challenge of switching sides, Amelio gets to play a lot of emotions on his makeup covered face, and it serves him well. I have certain thoughts on how the character works in the comics, which is not always an issue for me, but Dwight’s representation initially rubbed me the wrong way. Now, I’m onboard with the struggles he faces, especially now that he’s reluctantly back at the Sanctuary, further proving his allegiance to Rick and the gang.

If much of “Dead or Alive Or” has characters questioning their abilities to survive in such a horrible world, the activities at the Hilltop at least find some ways to show a sense of hope. It’s the usual sort of thing that has us tricked into thinking The Walking Dead will eventually find a happy ending (spoilers: it’s still the zombie apocalypse). Maggie is currently dealing the depleting numbers of food supplies, but learning about the death of Carl (and the saving of Saddiq) has her looking towards making positive choices in regards to the prisoners. Morgan and Carol have a lil’ psycho killer in training, but decide it’s best to lie to him about who killed his brother, hopefully preserving a little bit of innocence in him. These are moments that do speak to why Rick’s side is ultimately the good one, especially given the latest crazy idea coming from Negan.

I actually did enjoy this week’s version of Negan that the writers decided to let Jeffrey Dean Morgan play. Yes, I do find him inconsistent, but this is my preferred take, as he puts on the big show for the sake of Eugene, staying in character and feeling imposing just by way of the camera angle on him and Lucille. Of course, the end of this episode gets into the real juicy part where Negan explains his latest plan. Here’s another area from the comics that I’ve always felt uncomfortable with, as it feels like a war crime. Negan’s plan for his Saviors to weaponize walker blood should be an effective one, but I am curious if the show will have time to explore the morality of this sort of tactic.

As an episode setting up the stakes for where things are headed, “Dead or Alive Or,” is one of the darker ways to establish the road this series is traveling down. People are punished horribly for their attempts, and the war is about to go into a whole other level of violent levels. Was this an effective episode though? Sure. We see enough of the characters closed off from others for the sake of telling a few well-handled stories. Even though we were walking through the woods again, better this than a continuation of how Rick’s plans don’t always work so well. Nice to have that break, before we get back to the art of All Out War.

Dead Bits:

  • Zombie Kill of the Week: Gabriel pulled off a blind headshot on a zombie. That’s good enough for this week’s honors, even if it did get him captured and Dr. Carson killed.
  • Yes, I will now on call the kid Hardcore Henry.
  • Gregory now thinks evacuation is the best option. Good eye roll moment for Maggie.
  • Swamp zombies – fun!
  • The death of Dr. Carson was expected, but I did enjoy how brutal and unceremonious it was. I also don’t expect Negan to take that news very well, but we sort of passed over that moment.
  • Hey, that Saddiq is a nice guy!
  • “My brow will soon be in need of wiping.” – Some solid Eugene putdowns at the end of this episode.
  • 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.

Written by
Aaron is a movie fanatic and loves talking about such things…a lot. He is from Orange County, California, but earned a degree or two at UC Santa Barbara. He describes himself as a film reviewer, writer, podcaster, video game player, comic book reader, disc golfer, and a lefty. His mind is full of film knowledge and random trivia, but he is always open to learning more, whether it’s through box office stats, reviewing Blu-rays from The Criterion Collection or simply hearing first hand from filmmakers and others about various productions and behind-the-scenes tidbits.

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