While last episode showed a lot of good stuff, it seems we’re back to a question that The Walking Dead may as well have about itself as it slips into mediocrity: is it “Dead or Alive Or”…?
1. Acts of God
Father Gabriel Stokes’s arc in this episode defies reason. Following the revelation of Carl Grimes as a prophet two episodes ago, it seems that the showrunners really want to delve into the supernatural, since the sheer amount of things that happen with the priest and Doctor Emmett Carson, who may as well be Fox Mulder and Dana Scully, respectively.
Rather than pay much attention to luck (until the very end), the rather delirious Gabriel gets a sizable amount of almost empirically supernatural aid. He can hear some kind of “bell” that leads him to a cabin that has life-saving antibiotics. He can suddenly see a sign about traps (let alone be aware that Emmett is about to step in one despite being far away), despite being unable to read labels right in front of him or even letters. He can step on the same traps that Emmett activated without doing so himself. He can make a truly miraculous headshot on a walker despite being legally blind. He suddenly has a piggy bank fall with a map to where they need to be, along with car keys, when they need it.
If the writers said that Gabriel Stokes were a cleric from a fantasy story, that statement would be completely believable at this point, and far more believable than the sheer number of coincidences. Realism cannot handle this level of luck on television in most cases, and it seems to shift the show into another genre altogether instead of the classic zombie horror it has been before this half-season.
2. Self-Imposed Stupidity by Vengeance
While Tara Chambler’s quest for vengeance is understandable (far more than Team Daryl from season 8A), the sheer number of times the show seems to try to go out of its way to show Dwight is not evil has become ridiculous. The audience knows he’s not bad, and the writing refuses to acknowledge the tedium of this “what if he isn’t?” dance.
Yes, Tara has every reason to hate Dwight, given he killed her girlfriend Denise. However, when she goes out of her way to send him on a snipe hunt for walkers who could even potentially be a threat simply to get him into a place to execute him, she loses all sympathy. It’s not that her position is not valid (though honestly, it probably isn’t anymore from a purely practical standpoint): it’s the fact that she’s using resources and wasting viewers’ time with a vendetta and assassination mission that can do absolutely nothing but harm their cause.
That said, there is fault on Daryl Dixon and Rosita Espinosa as well. Who in their right mind would leave Tara and Dwight together? It would have made far more sense for Dwight to take Tara to help, and he is the one to call her out on letting their guide/captive go through her harebrained murder scheme, given he is well aware that the Saviors can turn him back with enough comforts. If anything, half of the blame can go to them.
3. One Specialist at a Time Rule
At one point early on, there was a rather racist rule implied regarding minorities on this show: only one could be in Rick’s group at a time, to the point of one dying in the same episode as another coming in. While that seems to have gone away, there seems to be a replacement: one specialist at a time.
This rule is most clearly seen in this episode regarding doctors. According to the writing, all doctors are interchangeable and equally valid, despite the fact that there are different specialties. Denise is dead? Oh, that’s fine, we have Emmett Carson. We found another moderately competent medic in Saddiq? Carson’s on the chopping block like his brother, and in a far stupider way. The method of Carson’s death, grabbing the gun of a Savior while in plain sight of another, is even stupider when one considers that he had competent situational awareness (barring the bear trap he couldn’t have known about without checking the sign) before that moment. The only person who couldn’t have seen both options was Gabriel, who again, is most likely legally blind.Continued below
The fact that Saddiq makes a mention of his medical know-how, as limited as it is, in the end of the episode only serves to reinforce this rule, and makes the entire group seem smaller as a result despite not really actually being that way. This distinction is especially ridiculous when taking into account the sheer number of people in the alliance. Nobody else could have any medical knowledge? For a broadening group, this team of redshirts seems to be just that: a team of redshirts with the occasional semi-decent aid.
4. Gettin’ Medieval
The most interesting development of the episode comes at the very end, bringing it in line with the comics a bit more. Negan decided on a change in tactics after something of a “eureka” given by Eugene Porter (who seems to still be fully Savior and increasingly sexist to the wives despite his apparent turn to good back in the midseason finale).
Rather than continue to use the “limited” munitions supply, he opts to make modified weaponry, turning melee weapons and perhaps even bullets or crossbow bolts or what have you into infection-granters. Given the undead seem to spread by way of their matter getting into someone’s skin or something similar (not their food, as is merely digested), smearing undead guts on a weapon is a surefire way to get anyone who is injured even once by said weapon to be inevitably turned, especially if hit in an area of the body cannot be easily amputated, such as the chest, shoulder, or neck.
This change of pace was sorely needed for the show, as it was starting to turn into a very boring and rote war scenario. Having the undead brought into the battle, into the methods of weaponry, really helps to shift things over to a more intriguing style of combat.
5. Isolated City on a Hill
While the Gabriel situation is the weirdest, the Dwight one the most repetitive, the doctor one the most frustrating, and the Negan one the most interesting, the situations at the Hilltop are by far the most boring of the entire episode.
Maggie is turned into a “we need to not feed our prisoners” quasi-villain just to learn a “lesson” about leadership, and turns around on Gregory’s comment about their inability to fight back easily with a “how can we lose” attitude is all too prominent among Rick’s people. How can they lose? Well, for one, there’s the fact they’re still low on food supplies and have a medical officer who barely knows much of anything, let alone munitions. Think we should count the other ways they can lose (and often have)?
While Henry’s arc for the episode had a chance to be interesting with how he dealt with his first kill, Morgan’s actions are so across-the-board that none of it works. He goes from “Henry is totally fine after killing someone” to “I have to lie to this kid to keep him from becoming a psychopath” without any on-screen reason for this change. Let alone the fact he blamed everything on Gavin, who is the least likely of the Saviors to have done that, and it just makes the whole thing seem like a waste of everyone’s time, just a way to use up some more of the episode’s runtime.
While it may be a stretch to be annoyed this hour was not the one lost instead of what Daylight Saving’s Time actually removed from the clock, this episode still shows a downward trend yet again. Things aren’t looking good for Season 8B.