Airdate: November 22, 2015
Directed by: David Boyd
Showrunner: Scott M. Gimple
Written by: Channing Powell (episode); Robert Kirkman, Charlie Adlard, Tony Moore (graphic novels); Frank Darabont (creator)
“Everybody’s got their problems ain’t no new news here
I’m the same old trouble you’ve been havin’ for years”
– Mellencamp and Green
John Mellencamp’s lyrics from what might as well be the theme song for tonight’s episode (see the link below the break), are appropriate on a number of levels. Most obviously, we have the walkers, clearly an “old trouble” the group has been facing for years now. Then, you have the problem with idiots abounding (how have people like Spencer – or, to be honest, Enid – survived this long?). And finally, in the case of the current season of The Walking Dead, it’s the same old problem we’ve been having the last three episodes (and a bit further back for the less generous than myself): sub-par outings with lots of niggling logical flaws and red herrings leading to nowhere. Tonight’s episode was, in my opinion, clearly better than the last two outings, but it was still nowhere near as good as what this team has shown itself to be capable of. Click through for my full review.
<<Spoiler Alert: The following review will discuss plot points of The Walking Dead S06E07, “Heads Up” – read more at your own risk.>>
Here’s some music to listen to as you read:
So the episode begins with no punches pulled, which I appreciate, opening with Nicholas’s “Thank you,” and quickly cutting to an angle that lets us see that it is, indeed, Nicholas’s steaming guts that are being eaten by the walkers, and not Glenn’s. (Fun Episode Fact: According to Steven Yeun on tonight’s Talking Dead, the crew used BBQ pork for the walker feast, and it rained heavily the night between shoots. They didn’t clean out the pork before the rain hit, so on the second day of hot, humid shooting, Steven/Glenn was on his back in fermenting pork and flies.)
Glenn eases himself under the dumpster, and nails the few walkers who have noticed him in the head before they can bite him. Then, it’s a waiting game, as he holds out overnight until the walkers wander off, distracted by various noises. The next day, as he pulls himself back out, Enid appears on a nearby roof and tosses him a bottle of water, which promptly hits the ground and splashes everywhere. He goes into the building and calls to her, but she has no interest in coming back to Alexandria with him. She takes off, and he chases her down, but now she pulls a gun on him – she really doesn’t want to go back to town. He takes her gun away, she calls him an asshole, and Glenn has a pretty good comeback: “You pull a gun on me, and I’m the asshole?” He tells her that he really doesn’t care if she wants to come or not – she’s coming, and he’s doing it because it’s what Maggie would want.
On the way back to town, Glenn and Enid stop by a helium tank hidden the day before (yes, only one day has passes since the zombie horde debacle of Episode 601, confirmed tonight by showrunner Scott M. Gimple, again on Talking Dead), and fill up a bunch of green balloons – balloons intended originally to indicate success with the herding. Enid remembers her parents, lamenting that she’s been orphaned by the zombie apocalypse, but Glenn sympathizes, pointing out that he’s most likely been orphaned by it too. They finish filling the ballons, and take them with them on their way to town. When they arrive within view of Alexandria, however, they see the half of the horde attracted by the air-horn from Episode 602’s attack on the compound, and Enid, disheartened, turns and begins to walk away. Glen stops her, and tells her they’ve got to keep trying, and that he’s doing this not for Maggie, but for himself. It’s almost as if we’re beginning to see a bit of Glenn the father-to-be here.
In Alexandria, several disjointed storylines rule the day. One or two seem to hold promise, but others are there to either instill a sense of tension, which comes across as both false and unnecessary, or to rehash character traits we’re already pretty familiar with. In the latter, we see Rosita training a bunch of Alexandrians and Eugene how to use machetes, and Eugene is predictably uncomfortable. He does have the best line of the night – she shocks him by clanging two blades together behind his back, and he says, “I’m a weapons novice holding a significant blade here and there are people in my proximity wearing open-toed shoes.” But that’s the only thing going for this scene. What, Eugene’s a coward? What, Alexandrian’s can’t figure out how to use a machete? New plot twists abound!
We also get more of Rick being – surprise! – a pushy jerk. He pulls down notices Father Gabriel is putting up about a prayer circle, because. We get him completely undermining Deanna in the one happy moment she’s had since losing her husband and one son, when she presents him with her plans for Alexandria’s future expansion, and he tells her he’s got “bigger problems.” Because. And he yells at Tara. Why? Because she helped save another jackass’s life, when Spencer decided to make everything good and single-handedly grapple-line himself over the walker horde, so that he could lead them off with a vehicle. Dumb, and he almost dies, but Rick and Tobin manage to pull him back up, while Tara head shots a whole bunch of walkers at distance with a pistol. Seriously. She must be the greatest natural shot alive. The cool thing about the whole Rick yelling at Tara thing, is that she doesn’t take it from him, flipping him the old bird. Good for her. There is one lone case where Rick actually deigns to help someone in Alexandria, and it is mind-numbingly stupid. It makes Spencer’s plan to head out on his own look almost well thought-out.
Remember two episodes ago when Jesse’s angry elder son Ron asked Rick to teach him how to shoot? Remember when you, as a savvy viewer, thought to yourself, “That’s a really bad idea. Good thing that Rick doesn’t trust people and knows this kid likely has a chip on his shoulder because of that whole killing his dad thing, not to mention the fact that Carl has effectively moved in on Ron’s girlfriend. Yep, good thing he’ll see right through this suddenly sycophantic youth’s basely poor attempts at manipulation.” Surprise! Rick not only agrees to help him, but he brings Carl along for good measure, Carl who has little nuggets of hard-won wisdom, such as “You have to be strong enough to wait for your bullet.” What the hell does that even mean? And do neither of them see the open disdain in Ron’s eyes? Or wonder why he’s so eager to get his hands on live ammunition? Nope, and in fact, Rick let’s him keep a gun to get “used to carrying.” Super leadership skills there, Rick.
This is only made worse when Ron goes to the armory/quartermasters to get some real bullets. He distracts Olivia, and sneaks in to grab the ammo. Thing is, we see the armory is unlocked and opened up – it doesn’t even matter that Rick gave him a gun, as he’s free to grab whatever he wants. And why is Olivia still in charge of the armory? Carol knows exactly how effective she is, having stolen guns from under her nose before, and having to hold her hand through the Wolves attack. Now that Carol’s cover is blown, and the Alexandrians to a person have been exposed as the useless bunch that they are, why haven’t Rick and co. placed the weapons under better protection? Put them in Carol’s house – no one is getting near them.
We also get the Morgan storyline, which does a whole bunch of running-in-place tonight. First, there’s Rick and his attempts to have a meeting. He walks by twice and says, basically, “Hey – let’s talk, but later.” Seriously. What is the narrative purpose of having these drive-by conversation salvos? They serve absolutely no purpose, though I suppose it’s intended to create tension, much in the same way your spouse or partner saying, “We need to talk” but then not doing so would raise tension for you. Or frustration. Maybe frustration is the better term. Sometimes leaving something hanging can effectively create tension in an audience, but here it is grossly manipulative and without purpose.
Morgan does eventually face a meeting, wherein we get Michonne’s one scene of the night. Rick seems on the verge of asking Morgan to leave Alexandria, because Morgan is insistent that “All life is precious.” Michonne is clear – kinda. She says, “Things aren’t as simple as four words; I don’t think they ever were.” More pithy sayings without any real meaning. I feel bad for Michonne actress Danai Gurira, as this is not the first time the writers have saddled her with a weird pseudo-philosophic saying that doesn’t parse out, but in her defense, she does deliver the lines with a wonderful gravitas. Once before the meeting and once after, Morgan goes into the doctor’s office, hesitant to explain why he is there both times, but finally coming clean that he needs Dr. Denise’s help – but not for himself. The first visit he tries to help instill faith in Denise, but she’s still shaky and nervous, lacking confidence. We also get a cool mnemonic she’s using to try to memorize infection symptoms – FWoPP’RS, which stands for Fever, Warmth, Pus, Pain, Redness, and Swelling.
The fact that Denise does go to help Morgan draws Carol’s attention – you know, Carol, the only one who is still acting intelligently in the whole world right now? She drops off Judith with Jesse (and has a brief but interesting conversation with her young protege, Sam, who is still too afraid to come downstairs. When he asks if killing makes you a monster, Carol replies, “The only thing that keeps you from becoming a monster is killing.”) She goes to where she saw Morgan and Denise disappear, and uses her “borrowed” set of keys to open the door, only to face Morgan. “Who have you got locked up in here,” she asks, refusing to pull punches. Unfortunately, we’ll get his answer next week, as this happens right at the end of the episode, as a fairly dull episode suddenly takes a turn for the dramatic.
Before addressing the various climactic events, it’s important to note that interspersed between the scenes inside the walls, we get a series of shots of the old watchtower, where Spencer was when the truck came at the gate during the Wolves attack. The building is cracked right up the middle, and each time we get a brief glimpse, more shingles and boards fall off. I wonder if this might be foreshadowing? Well, if they’d shown it once, it would have been foreshadowing; however, when they show it five separate times, it becomes heavy-handed and unnecessary. The inevitable collapse in the episode climax elicits more of a groan than a gasp.
So in addition to the potential Morgan/Carol stand-off, we also see Ron stalking Carl, pulling the now loaded gun from his waistband, and Maggie, keeping her vigil, sees Glenn’s bunch of green balloons go rising up over the treeline, and she knows exactly what they mean. She runs to where Rick is trying to reinforce the wall near the tower, but once she gets to the wall (which is still bleeding, although Rick doesn’t seem to think that’s such a bad thing), we get a screeching of nails popping and boards falling – the old church watchtower is finally falling down, and it predictably crashes toward the wall, taking out two or three sections, opening things right up for the walkers to come in. This could have been a great cliffhanger for next week (and it’s still a pretty good one, anticipating some heavy action to come), but it fails to fully hit the mark due to the heavy-handed approach throughout the episode. Look at the watchtower. See that crack. Oh, see that? A board fell down! Oh, and another! Yep, the crack is pretty big. Creaky noises? We got plenty of those too. Bleh. Treat the audience with a bit more respect, please.
Not the worst episode of the season, but certainly not of the quality shown in the first couple this year. It was good to get the Glenn thing done early. I was 95% certain that he wasn’t dead, and frankly the camera shots and edits in Episode 603 were grossly manipulative, keeping information from us simply to ramp up tension that could have been built more effectively in other ways (for example, don’t show the guts being eaten at all in 603 – just the crowd of walkers over the bodies. Angling it back and making it appear ambiguous is cheap.) That said, I understand where Gimple was coming from, and his desire to give us the same sense of uncertainty (and relief) that the characters are feeling is a noble gesture, so I can’t fault him on motivations. Plus, how can you hate a man with as epic a beard as he’s sporting right now?
Next week is the mid-season finale, and it is being set up to be memorable, what with the Ron/Carl issue, the Morgan/Carol standoff, and walkers coming through the walls, with Glenn, Enid (and presumably for next week, Daryl, Abraham, and Sasha) stuck on the other side. And who’s to say that all of that loud diesel truck driving back to Alexandria hasn’t attracted other unwanted attention? Could Wade and his boys, or worse, Wade’s boss, be far behind? We’ll find out in a week, and here’s hoping that the show continues on the steadily improving trajectory we’ve seen the last couple of weeks, after the absolute debacle that was Episode 605. It’ll take a hell of an episode to wash out the bad taste in my mouth.
Steve’s Grade: B-
Emotional me wanted to give this episode a higher grade for giving me back Glenn, but logical me was not terribly impressed with much that went on tonight. Here’s hoping that this has all been a set-up for an amazing mid-season finale next week!
Here’s another song about walls falling for your listening pleasure: