Thoughtful & Abstract: The Walking Dead: “Dead or Alive or”

In which Shawn and Kim wonder was it just the title that was incomplete or was it the episode?

Shawn: Is this episode a Mad Libs where we get to fill in the final NOUN in the title? Was it a typo? Does it obliquely refer to one of the best Peter Jackson films or New Wave bands from the mid-Eighties?

DEAD OR ALIVE OR GABRIEL. It was interesting that the most consistent beginning, middle, and end of a story of the past few seasons was with Father Gabriel and Carson the Doctor. I don’t know how much screen time was dedicated to this story but it felt like the right amount. Rarely do I think they do a good job of parsing out the time dedicated to different characters but this felt just right. In a season that’s all about Saviors and death/rebirth and resurrection, I liked that Father Gabriel had decided that Carson was going to be the new prophet to lead them. His misreading of all the signs, warping them to fit his vision, was a pretty harsh indictment of religion. The future is a place that generally has punished those who have put faith in God. Just as Carson has this enlightened moment that Father Gabriel might have some Divine Inspiration, he reaches for the gun and is shot dead. I don’t recall a more satisfying chuckle that I’ve had from this show in quite awhile. There are no more Prophets or Saviors and if you put your faith in one, you end up sorting bullet casings in a munitions factory.

DEAD OR ALIVE OR DWIGHT. The good news is that if it’s Tara trying to kill you then you really are going to luck out here. First, Dwight looks like what the prisoners Maggie is going to starve out will look like in a few weeks – the dude needs a sandwich. Second, I need to always remind myself why Tara has such a bad attitude – it’s because she never got a fully developed side story of her kinda of, sort of having a crush on Denise who was then shot. Lucky for you, Dwight, we also have a not-fully-developed ability to just shoot your ass instead of talking about it incessantly. Only Negan gives longer speeches before killing someone than Tara. Then she lets Dwight get away and can’t even outrun him. I think I previously enjoyed our little Tara scenes but now she’s just annoying and only served to push Dwight back to the Saviors this week.

DEAD OR ALIVE OR EUGENE. We’re in the middle of the season. Carl is dead, Rick and Negan have an obvious meeting coming up at the end of the season, and now we need to vamp for time. How do we do that? First, we give Father Gabriel and Carson some buddy-movie time together. Second, we give Eugene some screen time. The man chews up dialog as well as anyone except Negan. And trust me, we are going to get a good dose of Negan this week. I’m confused by Eugene’s role anymore and frankly, I don’t care. It felt like he was going to go over to the Saviors and redeem himself for Abraham’s death. The heroes journey to redemption hasn’t borne fruit. Part of me is happy because that isn’t Eugene. He is steady Eddie. He will just go with the flow and things will even out. Every time he does something honorable, like let Father Gabriel escape, it will even out with Gabriel back into his factory. The bravado of his speech about the food and the wine felt out of place and just more of a time waste to get us to Negan walking in the door.

DEAD OR ALIVE OR DARYL. Is he even in this season? We see him for a couple minutes at best and pretty much just the usual “I don’t trust anything going on” Daryl.

DEAD OR ALIVE OR ZOMBIE. The lack of attention to some of the characters this season has had the benefit of some of the best gore effects in a couple seasons. The Swamp Zombies were awesome. I really wanted almost a full episode of trudging through the swamp in the dark with zombies popping up out of nowhere. That short scene gave me the thrill that I remember from the first couple seasons of our group getting themselves into situations that quickly got out of hand with the walking dead. Then to end it with Negan smooshing zombie guts all over Lucille made me a little giddy.

DEAD OR ALIVE OR NEGAN. Really? The bio-warfare zombie-guts thing never occurred to you, Negan? Because it was pretty clear from Season One that using the zombies against other folks would be a good idea. They’ve been used as defense. Hell, you used them for defense, why not offense? Last episode was when I thought this idea would germinate. There were a bunch of trapped Trash Heap Zombies just ready to be let out to cause havoc. It’s an interesting development moving forward because Negan is still a bit unpredictable but in general, it felt a little flat other than to give us some good gore.

For what was mostly set up to be a time-waste episode – here’s a Father Gabriel story that ends up back where it started, here’s angry Tara and Dwight and Tara ends up defending Dwight and he ends up back with the Saviors, etc., Maggie is a hard ass until she’s a big softie, etc. – I was entertained and maybe that’s my new standard for this show. Dead or Alive or Diverted.

Kim: I generally don’t pay attention to titles. Had I noticed that it was unfinished, I likely would have accurately surmised that this episode would mean absolutely nothing at all in the grand scheme of things. Here is my one and only take-away from the show. Ready? Jerry is still alive, although we haven’t seen him. Deuces! He’s feeding the psychopath kid, so all is well.

Let me just skim over the actual show because it was a lot of nothing about nothing that really kind of irritated me. So, I’ll touch on a few things and then spend the majority of time harping on what they really messed up for the second time over the past two seasons. And it’s a big one. One that I’m not getting past in the near future, if ever.

So, we follow Dr. C to see that he ends up dead and Father G-Sauce is almost blind. This used up an incredible amount of the show that would have been far better served with…I’ll get there. Hold on. There was absolutely zero point to this, not even from a theological viewpoint. Sure, you may have found some pleasure in the good father’s faith not paying off at the end of the episode, but I thought the entire thing was a colossal waste of time. It serves one purpose and one purpose only and that’s basically to poke fun at people who have strong religious beliefs. And that’s great if you don’t share those beliefs, and very off-putting to those who do.

Now, understand that I love Daryl. Still. Always. But you now, what do you have him doing? You’ve got him trying to lead everyone everywhere, while being in control but not having any control at all. I mean he feels badly for yelling in front of a kid. *eye roll*. And who the hell does Tara think she is, taking everything into her own hands, only to turn around and be all, “No, Dwight is fine now” while Daryl is all, “I’m gonna kill the rat bastard.” So, what do I take from that whole swamp mess? Dwight can still walk among the Saviors, even standing right in front of Negan, although he said if he went back, he’s dead meat. Am I supposed to feel some sort of sadness for his situation? Because I don’t. I don’t care what happens to him anymore than I care what happens to the chicks who Eugene has waiting on him these days.

Maggie. Oh Maggie, for fuck’s sake. You were just told that you’re almost out of food, and that it gets worse if you include the prisoners in those numbers. And then Alexandria survivors show up, and there’s quite a few of them. Then you decide to share the food in equal parts with your prisoners. And the people from Alexandria. And all of the people who are already there. So basically, each person is getting one chunk of a Kit Kat bar and 1/2 of a potato each day? Is that how this works? And now you’re going to let them out, two at a time, to run around and play stick ball? This is the dumbest idea she’s ever had. Truly.

Now we can talk about Enid’s reaction to Carl’s death if we want, but that wasn’t unexpected. But here’s what the show missed and missed by a long shot. Remember back, what seems like eons ago, when Daryl found Carol again? And I was sitting on the edge of my seat waiting for him to tell her about Glen and Abraham? And it didn’t really happen the way that it could have? It was quiet and understated and everything else that culminated in a missed opportunity for a highly emotional scene. So, they all come rolling into Hilltop and we get Daryl mouthing “Carl’s dead” or something similar to Carol, and the only person with a huge reaction is Enid. You know, last week there was more emotion over his death from Negan than from anyone at Hilltop. I would have expected a little bit more from those people, especially Carol and Morgan. After all, they have been on this show since day one, just like Carl.

So, from what I am seeing from The Walking Dead‘s perspective, people no longer have emotions or take time to grieve the loss of loved ones. I’m not buying that. I think if the Apocalypse happened today, we’d still be grieving our losses a few years in. Life would still mean something to us, because if it didn’t, we certainly wouldn’t try to build any sort of a community. Perhaps this is their great parallel to life. We don’t really care about the characters anymore, so why should the characters care about each other? I’m still searching for a reason to continue watching. This week didn’t give me that. It’s just another sigh in the conversation about what was once one of the most amazing shows on TV.

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Shawn Bourdo

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