One of my favourite books of all time is Cormac McCarthy’s post-apocalyptic novel The Road. Following the story of a boy and his father as they make their way towards the ocean, it provided me with a sense of dread and despair that hasn’t been matched since, not even in its own 2009 film adaptation. Long stretches of hopelessness and misery prevail, making it an incredibly depressing and hard book to read. But every so often, McCarthy gives the characters a break, providing something incredibly small and taken for granted in the civilised world like a can of coke, and turns it into a powerful and heartwarming moment.
The Walking Dead, while almost certainly not operating on the same level of success, makes attempts to replicate this formula. It’s incredibly depressing and heavy in the first half of the season, especially the events in “The Grove”, broken by smaller moments – the candy bar bet and Glen and Maggie’s reunion come to mind in this weeks episode. But while the show makes a valiant effort at this juxtaposition, the multiple character trees make for a viewing whose pacing feels off.
Let’s start with one of the biggest plot points, but ultimately the least satisfying conclusion to a story arc – the Maggie and Glen reunion. What should have been a fairly large and momentous occasion feels weak and a little bit forced. That’s not the problem with the episode itself per se, nor is it with the actors themselves – it’s a matter of timing and characterisation. Over the course of the past seven episodes, their story features in three prior, so we aren’t given enough time to really feel their absence. Alongside this, Maggie and Glen aren’t given a hell of a lot of material this season outside of “we love each other”, the sole driver for their actions.
Another character who wasn’t really given a lot of characterisation over the past season was Daryl, at least until the past few episodes. Content in leaving him as a strong, loyal, rogue with a heart of gold character for much of this season, the past few episodes have really delved into what used to drive Daryl before the outbreak (traveling and doing the odd illegal job with Merle). That allowed for this episode’s team up with the gang that Rick had a run in with much more believable, with Joe stepping in as the family element that Daryl craves, albeit as more of a Merle type figure. While it will be obvious who Daryl decides to side with when they eventually meet up, it does allow for an interesting look at other dynamics that are less family focused.
While the moments of tension are welcome and a necessity in a show like this, The Walking Dead has its problems with pacing. So far the first half of the season was heavy with a fairly dark tone: the plague, Carol’s murder, and the Governor’s assault fairly relentless in execution. This second half feels less like an extended epilogue rather than a cohesive half, with a substantially lighter tone, bar last week’s fairly dark episode. It doesn’t feel like there’s a build to a proper climax that is worthy of the mid season, and while these character vignettes are welcome, the structure of the season feels off.
The Walking Dead took a larger risk this season, and risks are always welcome. I find that I harp on the show more than a lot of people, but I genuinely enjoy the fact that a show about zombies has made its way into the mainstream. The end of the world is a fantastic place, and the writers need to take more advantages and risks like this to keep the show fresh.
Besides, Terminus will get its due in the finale. Who wants to bet they are cannibals?
A couple of observations
- Abraham, Eugene and Rosita are slowly carving out their own little part of the show, and their crew feels a lot like the anti-bandits. Tough, but fair and a hell of a lot more compassionate.
- The Michonne-Carl scene was fantastic. These two are really coming into their own despite problems with both before.
- Zombie of the week: The one in the cave that had the holes in it made for a neat shot.
- I wrote this review not having seen the finale, and I realise that I jumped a few episodes. I played catch up in time for the finale, and I will return to the previous episodes after “A”, particularly “The Grove”. So I will see you all soon!