Sunday, November 22, 2015

REVIEW: 'The Walking Dead' - Glenn's Fate is Revealed While Rick Struggles to Think of a Plan in 'Heads Up'

AMC's The Walking Dead - Episode 6.07 "Heads Up"

Things in Alexandria are quiet, briefly.

A day after "Thank You" aired, I wrote a piece about how Glenn's potential death/survival could seriously destroy the show's credibility and the trust the audience has with its life and death stakes. It's a situation that would anger fans no matter what the outcome turned out to be. In that previous episode, the direction of that pivotal scene between Glenn, Nicholas and the walkers was very manipulative. It showed Glenn's death in a way that caused a very visceral reaction from the audience. The speculation began immediately that Glenn wasn't dead. The scene was shot with enough ambiguity to keep that hope alive. And yet, why tease such a thing? It just makes no sense whatsoever. The audience would be able to get over Glenn being dead with some time. It deviates from the comic books but it's always a good thing that the show is unpredictable and doesn't follow that designated path. But by keeping Glenn alive - with a very stupid and silly explanation - is such a disservice to the fans of the show. That's especially true considering the majority of the audience figured it out weeks ago and have been waiting an entire month to get confirmation.

Season 6 has been a very weirdly structured season of The Walking Dead. It started with two really great and tense episodes. Then, it did "Thank You" which caused the most uproar and speculation of the season so far - at least until "Heads Up." The next three weeks have deliberately avoided going back to that alley way to show what Glenn's fate really. Instead, the show used that time to do a brilliant Morgan-centric episode followed by two really lackluster and boring episodes. And now, answers have finally come. This episode doesn't wait any longer. The teaser brings the action back to that fateful moment. It shows Nicholas' body shielding Glenn from the walkers long enough for him to crawl underneath the dumpster. Over some time, the walkers just walk away. It's just silly and ridiculous. The show must want this character alive for some reason. But then, why do this massive fake out in the first place?

Glenn's survival really is such a mean-spirited trick to play on the audience. It's infuriating because it completely eliminates all notions of any character being able to die at any point in time on this show. It's reasonable to assume that Rick is safe for the longevity of the show. But everyone else should be capable of dying at any point in time. There was no story specific reason why Glenn still needed to be alive. Yes, Maggie is pregnant with his baby. But that has already created one story in a previous episode that was actually quite compelling. The show only feels confident in Glenn escaping this impossible situation because it has the cultural relevancy and influence to actually do it. Nothing it could do would turn away enough viewers to get the show cancelled. This show will live on as long as the creative team wants to do it. But this trick with Glenn was a foolish venture from the start. There wasn't any scenario where the show would come out of it looking great and smart. It could all just be teasing that Glenn's time is running out in this world. The stakes just get higher and higher for him. Sooner or later, he won't be able to survive. But even if that's true, it doesn't make the way the show choose to tell this story great.

It was frustrating watching the show over the past month wondering if this would be the episode that finally confirms Glenn's fate. Instead, the show kept delaying it until the penultimate episode of the year. His escape doesn't even really fit in the show's walker logic either. Why do the walkers just leave? They have been known to linger around when they know fresh meat is close by. Just look at what is happening at Alexandria right now! So why do they empty the alley so that Glenn can emerge unharmed and get water from Enid? It seems the only purpose of this story was to present a way to get Enid back to the community. She has been a fascinating character this season. She wants to distance herself from other people just so she doesn't get hurt when they die on her. Her "just survive somehow" mantra doesn't completely go in line with her later accusation that the world is trying to die and people aren't letting it. But still, it's hard to care about Glenn and Enid traveling back to Alexandria because it's just way too ridiculous. The show's credibility has been seriously damaged. It may never be able to get it back. It's willingness to do this story proves that the creative team really doesn't understand the way that the show is being consumed. Seeing as how the conversation around the show really ruined this twist.

Glenn being alive is the big moment of this episode and it happens right away. That definitely sets the mood for the rest of the episode. And yet, it's also hard to care about anything else going on. The suspense never becomes too high after that - until Spencer foolishly decides to find a way outside the walls. That's a stupid story beat because the show has already established a way to get out of Alexandria. People like Rick just need to talk to Maggie or Aaron to figure that out. So that takes a lot of tension out of that moment. It also doesn't work because Spencer isn't a character worth caring about. He wasn't in the episode at all leading up to that moment. It's hard to understand what he is thinking at all. It's more so a moment about Rick than it is about Spencer. He reacts in a very mean way. He needs to be the one to solve this problem and the people around him are largely just getting in the way. But he's stuck with them nevertheless.

And yet, a moment like that for Rick doesn't really work because it's hard to keep track of his emotional through line for this story. He wants to take his time to come up with the perfect strategy for dealing with the walkers on the other side of the walls. His last plan was stupid and didn't go so well. He wants to avoid making those same mistakes. But it's hard to understand that state of mind because of the way the show is telling stories this season. All of its plots have been damaged because the show starts and stops so frequently. Every episode this season has had a different focal part. With the cast as large as it is, that's a very necessary hassle in order to flesh out some of the supporting characters. But it's also makes things difficult to keep a track of because the show wants to keep the intensity high. The action of this season has been confined to just a few days. And yet, it's hard to remember everything that is going on because the show wants to look at things from many different angles. This episode does do interesting things with both Morgan and Carol. But it feels like forever since those two were at the focus of an episode's plot.

Of course, none of this really means anything because a wall in Alexandria has been knocked over. That came just after the citizens got hope that Glenn was alive and just beyond the walls. The walls coming down felt very predictable. It's another trick that the show has used before - throughout the prison arc, in fact. The show has always handled itself the best when in action mode. So that should create an interesting and intense midseason finale. But it still just feels like a formulaic twist. The wall came down so the walker herd could enter the city. A few more Alexandrians will die because they are unprepared for this kind of conflict. Some other semi-important supporting characters could die as well. Honestly, who would miss people like Father Gabriel or Rosita should they perish? But Rick, Carl, Daryl, Carol, Morgan and Michonne will emerge unharmed and more desperate to make this community work again. It's a story the show has done before and will continue to do as long as it's such a big success. It's just grown incredibly tiresome.

Some more thoughts:
  • "Heads Up" was written by Channing Powell and directed by David Boyd.
  • It's not clear enough if Enid is the reason why the herd of walkers leaves the dumpster where Glenn is. It is shown that some of them do walk away over time. But then that should been made more important as Glenn and Enid were traveling together. 
  • No real explanation is given as to why the walls of Alexandria are bleeding. Rick just uses it as an excuse to start reenforcing the structure. At least he has one ally willing to help him with that project. 
  • Ron is a real threat that Rick and Carl should be worried about. He now has a loaded gun and seems to be following Carl. That can only end badly - though probably won't end in Carl's death because he's too important of a character to die right now.
  • Deanna makes it a point to show Rick and Michonne her plans for the community after all of this is behind them. She could be seen as a crazy lady who doesn't see the world as what it really is right now. Or she could be very hopeful that Rick will find a way out of this for everyone.
  • Maggie's comment about Judith looking more like Lori was a bit weird and out-of-place. It only served to remind people in an abstract way that she is pregnant.
  • Rick, Carol and Michonne confront Morgan about his no killing policy and how that almost got Rick killed. It's a moment that only leads to consequences once Carol discovers that he is keeping a wolf prisoner. That's another story that doesn't seem to be going anywhere.