Sunday, February 14, 2016

REVIEW: 'The Walking Dead' - Rick Rallies the Rest of Alexandria to Protect Their Town from the Walkers in 'No Way Out'

AMC's The Walking Dead - Episode 6.09 "No Way Out"

With walkers inside the gates of Alexandria, Rick and the group are scared, outnumbered and things are only getting worse.

The Walking Dead has always been a wildly inconsistent show. And yet, "No Way Out" takes things to a new extreme where the quality of the show varies from minute to minute. It's tonal whiplash that makes absolutely no sense. One moment the town of Alexandria is rising up together to battle the walker herd destroying their community and the next time is being wasted on foolish deaths and scattered subplots that have absolutely no purposeful whatsoever. The show is so inconsistent with its own rules. None of it makes any sense anywhere. The show has done episodes like "No Way Out" before. A herd of walkers break down the barriers and threaten the community Rick has created for his gang of survivors. This episode doesn't work because the show has poorly defined what the rules of this universe actually are. That does make the majority of this episode a letdown.

The cover yourself with zombie guts and bloods to hide amongst them tactic was introduced early in the series. It is never used enough in order to get the protagonists out of sticky situations. But when it does pop up, the characters are apparently smart for thinking about it. But it's hard to track just how vital this is to their survival. Some people are able to roam around the town without zombie guts around them. In fact, more people make it to their destinations much more quickly than the latest plan Rick has concocted for his group. More importantly, three people die because Rick is slowly escorting them across town.

But that only leads to more problematic plot concerns with the show's own zombie logic. How loud does a sound have to be in order for the walkers to move in that direction? When it comes to Sam, all he has to do is start whispering and weeping for a couple of walkers to start eating him. Jessie lets out a cry after that and quickly because zombie food herself. That's understandable. Jessie's cry would be a loud enough noise to bring many of them close to her. But not too many that Rick can't work around them fast enough to cut Jessie's hand off of Carl. And yet, Ron then holds Rick at gunpoint because he just got his mother and brother killed, Michonne kills him with her blade and a shot rings out. But no walkers seem to turn towards the noise at all. Instead, it's played as a very melodramatic plot beat with the reveal that the stray bullet has hit Carl in the eye. Rick needs to carry him across the town to the infirmary and hope that Denise is there to actually do something. It further showcases the show's problems with the characters that have been around for a long time. With Jessie and her family, they are easy to be killed off. They didn't have all that much importance on the show. Yes, Rick is sad because he liked Jessie. But that relationship never actually meant anything. So, it's hard to be worked up about their deaths. They are literally just the latest people to die because Rick hatched some big plan for survival.

The show definitely has a Rick problem as well. He gets Carl to the infirmary in time to potentially save his life. And then, he immediately heads out the door in order to take on the herd single-handedly. It's played as him getting his frustrations over the situation out. But it's an incredibly foolish and stupid move that is treated by the show as a heroic moment. It motivates the rest of the survivors in Alexandria to leave their shelters and battle to take back their town. It's a rousing moment to see all of these people unite behind the common goal of survival. But it's also frustrating because Rick is at the center of the call to action plot beat. If one of the Alexandrians did the exact same thing, the show would have treated it as the stupid thing it is and killed them off with no hesitation. But because it's Rick, it plays as this over-the-top moment that unifies the town and brings salvation to all of them. That is just so misguided. Rick is not a great leader. He can survive in this world. But he has gotten plenty of people killed over the years simply because they chose to follow him.

Rick isn't the only person who plays as a big hero and savior in this episode. Daryl is like that as well. He, Sasha and Abraham find themselves at a stand-off with the latest thugs they encounter on the road. A tease that would be surprising to anyone who didn't watch the sneak peek scene that played during the first commercial break of Into the Badlands following the midseason finale. This scene plays as a big tease for Negan. He'll be the latest threat to the way of life Rick is trying to accomplish in this community. But right now, it's pointless. Daryl suddenly remembers that he has a rocket launder in the back of this tank and uses it on these thugs. It's a thrilling moment. There's no doubt about that. But that's about all it is. Later on, these three represent a big turning point in the battle with the walkers at Alexandria. They miraculously return right when Glenn needs saving. That continues Glenn's streak of being able to survive against the impossible. It's very irksome too. Plus, the show just acts like Daryl setting fire to the town's lake is the end for all of these walkers. They just walk into the flames and that's the end of them. But that's completely forgetting about the past where fire isn't enough to kill walkers. It's just so contradictory to what has come before.

So much of this episode plays as that. It is so serious about itself because the walkers have become a major threat to the community once more. You can tell it's serious because of the characters' needs to talk in grim monologues about survival and the very moody and tense score. It's really not all that effective. Again, the action beats work well. That isn't in question here. But the show has reached the point where it's no longer exciting just to watch Rick and the rest of the survivors beat the odds and win against the herd of walkers. It's just not exciting or interesting any more. That threat isn't in danger of leaving the show anytime soon though. But the human beats aren't particularly exciting either. The wolf Morgan was keeping prisoner had a change of heart in order to save Denise and then was immediately killed by Carol. The point is that maybe Morgan is right with his perspective of the world? Gabriel feels the calling to protect Judith for Rick. But then, he passes her off to an extra just to join the big battle in the end. Meanwhile, the big Glenn-Maggie reunion was a very anticipated event for this episode. Their separation was a huge part of the first half of the season. And yet, their actual physical reunion happens offscreen. That's such a disservice to the characters. It is nice to see Maggie realize that Glenn is still fighting off walkers to be with her. But then, the next time they are seen they are with Daryl, Abraham and Sasha enjoying the protection of the tank.

Again, not much of this plotting tracks all that well. But it's all suppose to be worth it because now Rick sees this community for what it really is and what it may become. These people are fighters and Deanna's future for this place isn't a foolish dream after all. That's nice. But it's hardly a perspective the show will value for very long. If it wanted to take this opportunity to start actual peace, it wouldn't have introduced the threat from Negan. Right now, more misery is on its way for these characters. And frankly, that's starting to mean less and less with each passing episode.

Some more thoughts:
  • "No Way Out" was written by Seth Hoffman and directed by Greg Nicotero.
  • The threat of the show killing off Carl just has no value any more. This isn't the first time his life has been in peril. He'll just now only live with one eye. But again, why should the audience care? It just shows that the characters from the early seasons won't be killed off anytime soon.
  • Time also has to be spent on Glenn telling Enid about what he meant about losing people even after they're gone. It's such a waste of time. It shows that he is a good influence on her. They make quite the team when they rescue Maggie. But it's still a big distraction. Plus, it plays weirdly when that sequence is intercut with Denise and the Wolf outside trying to find an opening amongst the herd.
  • Rick and company really made slow progress in getting across the community. The sun literally sets and they are still nowhere near the armory.
  • The show is purposefully pointing out that Morgan and Carol are two ends of the same spectrum. They both have lost their families because of this world. That has radically changed who they are. But that change took them in very different directions despite the similarities in their lives. It just seems like an awkward time to be bringing that up though.
  • Also, what a cheat that cliffhanger at the end of the midseason finale was! Sam was crying out for his mom amongst a herd of walkers. That moment doesn't even replay in this episode. The group is far away from the house and nothing bad has happened to them yet. Sam's fear still brings death to the group. But it was still a really lame and manipulative cliffhanger that ultimately had no value whatsoever.