This review contains spoilers.
8.8 How It’s Gotta Be
There’s rarely a reason for a television show to go longer than its typical running time. If it’s a show like Game Of Thrones, who are making miniature movies and trying to cram a significant amount of material into a shorter amount of time, it makes sense. If you’re a show like The Walking Dead, there’s not a lot of need to go past the usual running time because there’s going to be plenty of opportunities to tell the rest of the story in future episodes. The Walking Dead has been on eight seasons at this point, and isn’t going away any time soon; despite the slipping ratings, it’s still one of the most popular programmes on cable and it has to be a huge money-maker for AMC given the amount of commercials that can be crammed into an episode.
So the extended mid-season finale of The Walking Dead feels longer than it is, thanks in no small part to some very strange decisions to pad out the episode. Specifically, there’s a LOT of staring at nothing from pretty much everyone. The show opens and closes with montages of close-ups of people staring into middle distance at nothing. In the middle of the episode, just in case you haven’t gotten enough, there’s more staring at nothing. It’s all supposed to be moody and evocative, showing off the emotional turmoil of the group and its members, but it just ends up being a guessing-game, a who’s who of characters that may or may not be easily told apart.
Of course, there are a lot of great things scattered in between the shots of staring, if you can see them well enough in the dark to make them out.
That’s another criticism of The Walking Dead as of late. Things are so dark on screen that it’s difficult, if not impossible, to tell what’s going on at certain points. When you add onto the darkness the fact that scenes are obscured by smoke (both from grenades and from explosions), and you get an episode that’s difficult to follow along at times. Enid shoots someone for some reason, but it’s not particularly clear why she’d shot Natania unless you watch Talking Dead and see the freeze-frame shot of Natania holding a spear over Aaron. When the Saviors overtake Maggie’s column of Hilltoppers, Simon shoots one of the people in Maggie’s vehicle. At first glance, it looks like Jesus, but it turns out to be one of the no-names filling in background scenes. In Rick and Negan’s fight, it’s difficult to determine who is who.
When it works, as it does in Carl’s sneaking trip through an exploding, flaming Alexandria, it works very well, but it’s difficult to tell a story when it’s difficult to see just what is going on.
Not helping the confusion is the fact that How It’s Gotta Be jumps between any one of two dozen characters at any point. You have the three savior groups restoring order, or trying to. You have Carl and his father discussing the future because of reasons. You have Maggie trying to run Hilltop. You have Ezekiel squaring off with the Saviors. You have Rosita and Michonne. You have Aaron and Enid trying and failing to reach out to the Oceanside community. Rick’s very quickly abandoned by the Junkyard Gang. That’s easy enough to do when it’s someone recognisable, like Simon or Negan himself, but for a lot of these characters, they just don’t look distinctive enough (or I simply don’t care enough) to keep track of them, and some of the choices made by Michael E. Satrazemis this week aren’t making that easy.
Between offing redshirts and then having a main character randomly show up bitten at the end of this episode, The Walking Dead has a serious lack of teeth when it comes to removing major characters (and most of those seem to die either when they’re finally starting to hit their stride or because the actor wants off the show or both in the case of Chandler Riggs). Anyone can die at any moment in a world like this, and the fact that Negan wants the rebellion leaders captured alive gives them all an extra layer of invulnerability. Yes, Carl being bitten is shocking, but it’s the wrong sort of shock. It feels random, and it feels like the sort of thing that Carl wouldn’t be able to hide—by this point, shouldn’t he be on his deathbed like Gabriel?
Granted, the secret bite is a trope of the zombie genre, and it gives Carl a better reason to offer himself up to Negan as a sacrifice (a nice scene handled very well by Chandler Riggs and well-written by David Leslie Johnson and Angela Kang). Carl knows he’s already dead and this is an easy way out. However, from a show standpoint, a move like this is going to completely rearrange Rick Grimes as a character and scatter most of the comic book arc to the wind. Rick’s only reason to live has been Carl this whole time; Carl is very much still Rick’s driving force and I’m not sure Judith and Michonne are enough to keep Rick sane in this new world.
Perhaps more crucially, Carl has been one of the driving forces behind this new civilisation. He’s got an entire plan to save Alexandria, and people respect him enough to listen to him and carry out his plan. Clearly, he’s become something for his people to rally behind in the absence of Rick, even if the only person who sees that potential and acts on it is Negan. Rick still sees Carl as a little boy. No doubt that colours the perception of Carl by his old friends, too. Only an outsider to the group can look past the bad hair and floppy hat and see that Carl is just as strong a leader as Simon or Rick, if not stronger.
And now, that’s all for naught. Perhaps it’s just as well; I would never deny a person the opportunity to go to college or explore other career opportunities. While Carl has had two or three good episodes this season, for the most part, he’s been ignored or pushed aside in favor of other characters. The Walking Dead is a strangely crowded show for a show about the ravenous, faceless, hungry dead. Being bitten by a zombie is a pretty reasonable way for a character in this world to die, even if it’s treated like a cliffhanger than a legitimate character-altering moment.
Carl won’t be gone after this; there’s a whole second half of a season out there, and Carl can still play an important part in it. He might be dead in weeks or hours; The Walking Dead has never bneen concerned with consistency, particularly where zombie bites are concerned. One thing’s for sure, if they clear this up with a dose of antibiotics only to have Carl meet the fates of Abraham and Glenn, I’m going to be absolutely livid.
US Correspondent Ron Hogan has thought about growing a mullet, but a mullet and a giant beard might be too much hair on one face, and he’s not getting rid of the beard. Find more by Ron daily at PopFi.