Saturday, January 28, 2023

‘The Walking Dead’ redeemed with mid-season premiere


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Story by Emily Austin // Contributing Writer

If you were upset by The Walking Dead’s rather lackluster mid-season finale, all can be forgiven, because its Valentine’s Day gift was pretty sweet (and gruesome).

Despite a few writing problems, some unrealistic action and one needlessly dragged-out moment between Glenn and Enid (are we not over the cheesy monologues yet?), there were some high points to this episode that propelled the plot into uncharted territory.

At the end of the last episode, tensions were high and the stakes are raised, but just when fans thought something terrible was about to happen, it fizzled. The opening of “No Way Out” (directed by Greg Nicotero) picks up where the prologue of Season 6 left off: Daryl, Abraham and Sasha are met by a motorcycle gang that claims all of their possessions belong to a guy named Negan. Anyone who thought this season was missing some serious Daryl action finally got it. While it may have been short, it was quite, well, explosive.

The episode then returned to Rick and the others, covered in zombie guts trying to escape. When Father Gabriel offers to take baby Judith to the church saying, “I’m supposed to. I have to. I will.” Rick seems quick and eager to hand her over to a guy he’s been throwing shade to, but I guess that’s what you have to do when you’re standing in the middle of a zombie parade. Jessie tried to get Sam to leave with Father Gabriel, but Sam insists he can keep going.

This seems like an odd character shift for Sam. Let’s keep in mind this is a kid who refused to leave the upstairs of his home and is terrified of the monsters. Suddenly he wants to endure through being among hundreds them, all while covered in their remains? It feels like obvious bait to be used for later, and fans most likely continued the episode knowing that Sam was going to ruin everything.

Carol has been taking a toll on Sam’s mind for quite some time now and, finally, he snaps. His whimpering attracts attention and soon he’s being swarmed. The sequence that follows sounds surreal and underwater as Jessie begins to shriek at the sight of her son being ripped apart. Carl holds on to her hand, begging her to come with them, but it’s too late. This may not seem like the best time to seek revenge, unless you feel like you have nothing left to lose. This is exactly what Ron does when he picks up a gun that fell during the chaos.

The Walking Dead group
Michonne (Danai Gurira), Jessie Anderson (Alexandra Breckenridge), Sam Anderson (Major Dodson), Rick Grimes (Andrew Lincoln), Ron Anderson (Austin Abrams) and Carl Grimes (Chandler Riggs) in Episode 9
Photo by Gene Page/AMC

And that’s when it happened. For the first time since Season 2 when Carl is shot by Otis (written by Frank Darabont), the bold choice was made of bringing serious harm to Carl (written by Seth Hoffman). “Dad?” he says as he lifts up his bloody face, revealing that he was shot in his right eye, giving a serious nod to the comic book series written by Robert Kirkman.

One serious problem that I have with The Walking Dead is their ability to drag scenes on until they lose their emotional impact, but this entire sequence takes place in about a minute. No long, drawn-out monologues here. It’s quick, the action is right to the point and it’s completely effective.

Rick and Michonne make it to the infirmary, where Denise begins to treat Carl. Even though Denise doesn’t get much screen time or a huge plot, the portrayal of her character by Merritt Wever (Zoey from Nurse Jackie) is enticing and real. In this one episode, we see her transform effectively from an awkward character, fumbling to make sense of her new role as doctor, into someone who manages to pull herself together to get the job done.

Meanwhile, Rick decides to go rogue, and runs out into the zombie horde to take them all out, one-on-hundreds style with a hatchet (much like Tyreese’s stunt in Season 4, but worse). Seeing this, everyone decides to unite together to deal with the problem with hand-to-hand combat. Yes, this includes the Alexandrians, Father Gabriel and Eugene.

While a fun idea, what’s the most unbelievable of this whole ordeal is that none of the characters who went out to kill the walkers died. Last time I checked, some of these people had zero fighting experience. We’ve seen even experienced characters die after facing around five walkers. Were those just freak accidents or did these weaker characters suddenly gain super human strength and catlike reflexes? I was relieved to see Sasha and Abraham show up with machine guns and Daryl make a lake of fire, because there would be no way to convince fans that Alexandria was saved through the sheer power of courage.

While the action was fun and a little silly, accompanied with a few questionable writing choices, it comes to a serious end when Rick gives a monologue to Carl, who is lying asleep on a bed covered in bandages. I know I said I’m sick of the monologues, but the one that ensued didn’t feel like a reason to fill up airtime or give a scene unneeded depth. It’s a truly beautiful moment between father and son that makes me anxious to see where it will be taken next.

Now, time to sit back and discover where our new threat, Negan, will take us.

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