This review contains spoilers.
Are you ready for an episode of The Walking Dead in which we see a whole lot of completely unknown people who supposedly escaped from the prison die in horrible ways? Or to find out that they’ve died in horrible ways, while our major characters continue on undisturbed? If so, then do I have an episode of The Walking Dead for you! The prison is still burning, somewhere Carl is eating a giant can of pudding and whistling the theme to The Andy Griffith Show, and lots and lots of familiar faces begin straggling out of the prison and heading towards, well… that remains to be seen.
Last week’s episode was focused squarely on the show’s core relationship and its second-most-popular character (that’d be Michonne). This week’s episode focuses on the show’s only semi-functional romantic relationship (Glenn and Maggie) and its break-out star (Daryl). Much like last week’s episode, the B story involving Maggie and Glenn – though not together, they’re very much connected as they’re looking for one another – is more satisfying than the A plot, in this case Daryl and Beth with a bit of Tyreese and his three children.
Certainly, it seems like writers Matthew Negrete and Channing Powell have a better handle on the Glenn and Maggie-related scenes, rather than the opening with Beth and Daryl. The show still doesn’t know what to do with Beth, but they’re pushing her on us anyway. She narrates most of the first quarter of the episode in voice-over, relentlessly hectoring Daryl to go off and search for survivors when they could really stand to, I don’t know, make tracks away from the zombie-infested prison where all their friends and family might have already died. Beth’s narration is apparently entries from her diary, closer to the beginning of the third season than the end of the fourth, and her hopeful nature and urge to keep on going is admirable, but I also have nothing invested in her character at all. She likes Tom Waits, but aside from that, she’s like white girl T-Dog (RIP, #neverforget), but not as much fun.
Director Tricia Brock presents this episode in a pretty clear, straightforward manner, rather than cluttering things up with being too showy. Sure, there are the requisite exploding heads and a bus full of zombies who tumble out of the emergency exit like clowns out of a circus car, all of which are practically required on The Walking Dead these days. There is a lot of tension, especially when Tyreese leaves his charges behind to go and help two random guys who may or may not have been from the prison group, and there’s a brief moment where I had flashbacks to one of the more “A Very Special Episode Of” story lines on M.A.S.H, but aside from those bits, Brock mostly films this episode straight, letting the actors do their thing and letting the script do the lifting. The notable exception is the back half of the episode, where we cut from Maggie to Glenn.
From the moment he wakes up at his guard post, presumably knocked unconscious during the firefight with the late Governor’s people, to the end of the episode, he’s the person who gets the most attention. There are several cool tight close-ups of Glenn’s face, or his hand holding the assault rifle, but the coolest shot is a great shot from Glenn’s point-of-view as he throws himself into a crowd of zombies and very slowly wades through the grabbing, snarling hordes. It’s pretty harrowing, and the way the camera shakes within the helmet as we see exactly what Glenn would be seeing is a very effective piece of shooting (and a clever idea that the show hasn’t gone to before, as far as I remember).
Robert Kirkman has promised that a lot of the danging plot threads from the prison, specifically that of the person feeding rats to zombies, would be resolved in the second half of the season, and teasing that one of the emotionally-damaged zombie-naming girls might actually take a human life on camera is a really awesome choice to make, even if the show chickens out before having a ten-year-old commit murder. Pieces are still being moved, but as Tricia Brock makes clear with her establishing shots, the prison survivors are all basically within shouting distance of one another. Thankfully, it doesn’t seem like they’re going to draw things out beyond the next couple of episodes, while introducing some new wrinkles into the show in the form of some sort of promised sanctuary on up the railroad tracks.
I hope they don’t find it any time soon. The Walking Dead works really well when the characters are on the move, and not so well as when they have some farmhouse to hunker down into. The prison worked better than the farm, so perhaps the show is learning how to put characters into a relatively stable location—thereby saving money—without sucking the life and drama out of the situation. It would just be too sudden to have them lose sanctuary, then immediately find it again. Maybe the best course of action would be to keep the groups on the road, possibly running into Unfriendly Forces, while saving Terminus for the season finale. It’s different for the show to end on a high than on a low note, but maybe it’s time to shake things up?
Read Ron’s review of the previous episode, After, here.
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