Every week for the sixth season of AMC’s post-apocalyptic drama The Walking Dead, Lenika Cruz and David Sims will discuss the latest threat—human, zombie, or otherwise—to the show’s increasingly hardened band of survivors.
Sims: It seems every season of The Walking Dead has to include a dud like this one—an episode that keeps time and lets its characters catch their breath after suffering through their latest traumas. There are zombies at the gate, Alexandria’s citizenry was just ravaged by the Wolves, so why shouldn’t the show take 45 minutes to dwell on that? Well, because it’s really boring—or at least when it’s written this way. “Now” saw Rick return to camp, Glenn not return to camp (still no word on him, unsurprisingly), and the rest of the Alexandria survivors try and pick up the pieces.
There were some other unsurprising twists: Maggie is pregnant, upping the tragedy quotient if Glenn really is gone, and Rick and Jessie finally pulled the trigger on their surely doomed romance, which has been brewing since before the death of her husband. At Rick’s hands. This is why I don’t like The Walking Dead getting too wrapped up in the domestic lives of its characters—the soapiness quotient is too high to handle. I understand that there’s some dramatic necessity to registering the impact of the Wolves invasion. Nothing like that has ever happened in Alexandria, so it’s worth exploring. But it all felt a little cheaply done.
Rick and Jessie don’t have a ton of chemistry—it’s hard to buy Rick having real chemistry with anyone in this town considering the amount of craziness he’s unleashed upon them. Yes, he probably had a point about the populace being soft and coddled, but it’s a little harder to defend his clearing of the zombie pit now that he’s brought thousands of them to Alexandria’s doorstep. Rick has been all about toughening up the townspeople, and “Now” had several dull exchanges around that topic—with non-characters like Aaron, Spencer, and Ron wrestling with the carnage the Wolves wrought, and the challenge now posed by the zombie horde. Yes, they now better understand the emotional sacrifices necessary for survival, but couldn’t they have just figured that out off-screen?
There were exactly two memorable sequences this week. The first was the journey to the sewers and the encounter with the weird underwater zombie, encased in some calcified shell. That was a well-designed monster, and The Walking Dead knows to include at least one of those in its dullest episodes. There wasn’t much to that scene, but at least it had a little suspense and a cool zombie. I also thought Deanna’s breakdown near the end of the episode was well staged, even as part of me wanted to scream at her to stab the damn zombie in the head rather than the chest—I know the Alexandrians are relative novices, but that’s basic stuff, Deanna.
Still, Tovah Feldshuh is an asset to this show as an actress, and Deanna’s been through a lot lately, losing her husband, her leadership position, and now her citizens to many encroaching threats. That breakdown let her unleash a lot of those pent-up emotions and reaffirm her commitment to the depleted Alexandrians, although I wonder how long she’s going to hold on to her sanity. An interesting subplot to the whole Alexandria affair has been Rick’s alliance with Deanna and the acidic effect it’s had. I wonder when she’ll put two and two together and start blaming him for what he’s brought to her door.
As interesting as the last season-plus has been on The Walking Dead, “Now” helped underline that the show hasn’t developed any new interesting characters since arriving in Alexandria. I appreciate that we have an openly gay man in Aaron, and the casting of Merritt Wever this year as Denise seemed inspired, but if the show is shedding some of its original cast (again, Glenn’s status remains mysterious), it’s going to need some supporting players to step up and take their place. There’s no sign of emerging stars among this bunch, and there was nothing in “Now” that really held my attention as a result. It’s not something to get too worried about yet, but it might be a cause for concern that the season’s first episode lacking in action and focused on deeper characterization fell so flat.
Cruz: David, you and I strongly disagree about just how deplorable #Glenngate is, but we at least align on this point. Not only has the show failed to develop any new interesting characters, but it’s also started making me apathetic about characters I used to be invested in (Deanna, Jesse, Daryl, Sasha). Maybe this is because everyone’s split up, and the only way—short of little action bursts or bottle episodes—the show drives character development is through those agonizing one-on-ones. This episode, we had Spencer and Deanna. Deanna and Rick. Rick and Jessie. Jessie and her son, who’s apparently too scared to walk a few steps downstairs for a plate of cookies. Carl and Ron. Ron and Rick. Tara and Denise. Aaron and Maggie were maybe the least boring of the week’s pairings, if only because of the cool sewer zombies.
The show has thrown these kinds of dull, catch-our-breath episodes at viewers with such regularity that I question whether The Walking Dead is wasting the potential of its premise. This is the zombie apocalypse. It’s almost unthinkable how much original, daring storytelling the show could do with that. Instead the series defaults again and again to padding its arcs with “what is the meaning of life”-type questions. Those inquiries might be deep at first or second or even third glance, but when every conversation is about “you do what you gotta do to survive” and “yes we can rebuild and still keep our humanity,” it’s boring. Imagine if every other episode of Breaking Bad involved Walt waxing morose about morality or the corrupting effects of ambition, with Jesse or Skyler. Instead, that show wove its emotional and philosophical bits into the broader narrative; it didn’t pretend those elements could make for good storytelling on their own, because they can’t.
And then imagine how amazing The Walking Dead could be if it seriously pursued a storyline about finding a cure, or if the gang ventured back into the city, or if any rebuilding attempt lasted longer than a season and a half—and then addressed these existential questions as it went along. (I don’t watch Fear the Walking Dead like you do, David, but it seems like that show is doing something fresh and inventive along these lines.) The Walking Dead is such a ratings monster; at this point, the show writers can probably do whatever they want, so I’d love to see more experimentation on their part. Anything to avoid another episode like “Now.”
Right after I finished the episode, I thought about how angry a lot of fans were going to be, first because almost nothing happened, and second because Glenn’s fate is still unknown. I was skeptical of your claim before, David, that the show would hold off on revealing an answer until the midseason finale (it’s preposterous on so many levels), but at this point, I’ll admit that I wouldn’t be surprised. A total lack of urgency permeated “Now,” even with thousands of zombies at the gate, even with half of Rick’s crew missing. Denise thumbed through War and Peace before having a medical epiphany (she realized after several hours that the proper way to treat an infected wound is to drain the pus). Rick and Jessie shared a tender kiss. Denise and Tara shared a tender kiss. Carl pushed Ron, who fell and was seized by such malaise that he just kept lying there on the grass. That’s kind of how I felt.
It’s possible the individual dilemmas that arose will prove more compelling once they unfold in the coming, likely Glenn-less, weeks. For example, I couldn’t tell if Ron was genuinely seeking Rick’s help; I can totally see him sabotaging the Grimes family down the road, especially if he finds out his mom is hooking up with his dad’s killer. And then there’s Enid, who’s either gone forever, or (probably) is involved with the Wolves somehow. Perhaps Deanna and Spencer will fully part ways, or maybe someone will stumble into the house Morgan locked the Wolf in and get bit. How will Maggie’s pregnancy go, now that the stability of Alexandria is quickly evaporating?
I explained last season how I don’t think “slow” necessitates “bad.” Last week’s terrific Morgan episode was fairly “slow.” But the frustration that I temporarily suspended for “Here’s Not Here” is back, because the events of “Now” didn’t justify why viewers should wait yet another week for the Glenn mystery to clear up. I understand the value of seeing the Alexandrians go through the same traumatic realizations that Rick and his crew did earlier on in the series, but the show’s execution makes me feel like I’m watching more of the same—identical insights the show proffered in every preceding season. Hopefully, now that it’s got this out of its system, it’ll stop making excuses and regain some momentum.