Spoilers ahead. In the mid-season premiere of AMC’s The Walking Dead, the writers killed off characters with story left to tell, protected characters who have met their narrative end episodes ago, and wrote in at least one absurdity. Let me explain.
But before I get started, I must admit I’m never sure what to expect from The Walking Dead. Sometimes it appears to be a critique of our culture, sometimes it feels like a soap opera, and sometimes it’s clearly a unrelenting gore-fest. Zack Handlen of The Onion’s A.V. Club has a similar conundrum:
My problem, I think, is I keep expecting The Walking Dead to have a consistent narrative philosophy. I don’t mean in some kind of high-minded, “what does this all really have to say about America?” kind of way. I just want there to be a point behind the misery and death and seemingly endless stream of gore.
Perhaps it’s a strength of the show that it can take on different tones. In any case, here’s what I mean by the wrong characters died.
Whoever played the character which accosts Daryl, Sasha, and Abraham was awesome. The delivery of his lines was menacing and comedic. The voiceless goons around him I won’t miss, but I do think it’s a shame he met such a quick end. However, if the show is willing to kill of a character this good early in the Negan storyline (I haven’t read any comics), I’m excited for what’s in store. Especially considering that whoever this Negan is is unlikely to take too kindly to having his people blown to bits: that was a declaration of war.
It’s still a shame he died however, and for a reason I think many fans may disagree: it was Daryl who should have died. For a crew of on-guard and in-control goons to not realize Daryl disarmed their buddy and then have him grab a rocket launcher is very unlikely. The reason it happened is not so much that Daryl has narrative potential left or because it’s a likely occurrence (not that this matters much in a zombie apocalypse TV show), but because Daryl is a fan favorite and it makes a great opening. It was stupid, but man was it a surprise and wholly entertaining (a theme which is repeated later in the episode by Daryl again).
Jessie and her family
The Walking Dead is mainly the story of the Grimes family, and so when Pete (i.e. “Porchdick”) began fighting with Rick and Rick began flirting with Jessie, the ensuing death was inevitable. The decision to stop Pete was a morally tough one for Rick because while it was the right thing to do, it would strain his political capital with Alexandria. It was made even more morally murky because of his feelings for Jessie, which themselves were hard because of what happened with Lori. One of the ways that Rick could grow as a character was to learn to love again, and this is what was interesting about the Jessie storyline, especially considering the relationship Rick had with her children with Pete.
Unfortunately, I feel, this all came to a screeching halt within the first five minutes of the mid-season premiere, where the rest of Jessie’s family meet their end. Her youngest son, Sam, absolutely was going to bite the dust, Carol assured that very early in the season. Ron, however, had a tense but interesting relationship with both Rick and Carl, and I’m sorry to see that end. I’m surprised to see Michonne so unrelenting in ending the life of a teenager, just like Carl, as well. I would be shocked if this doesn’t have an effect on her later.
Ultimately, I at least don’t think Jessie should have died: it cuts short would could have been an amazing way to develop Rick’s character, and she had a lot of potential in her own right. Her brutal coming-of-age in the bloody murder of a Wolf to defend her family showed that she had strength and resilience. I find it much more likely that other Alexandrians would have died than Jessie’s dying, and I think it would serve the plot better to get rid of some of the less tough characters that clearly haven’t grown like Jessie has.
The younger Grimes is the natural successor to being the narrative center of The Walking Dead. In this episode, we see this fact cemented as a plot armor which keeps him alive despite being shot (albeit accidentally) in the face. I don’t follow the comics, but I understand that he received a similar injury there. However, despite my being a bit cynical about his plot armor, I appreciate how this happening to Carl grew other characters: first, Michonne really shows her love for Carl by first murdering someone his age to defend him and then giving him a kiss of the forehead before leaving his side to kill some zombie; secondly, Rick’s soliloquy to Carl on his son’s almost deathbed was incredibly moving.
Denise and the Wolf
I don’t know how this fits in with the rest of the story. Both Denise and that Wolf has interesting character development left, especially considering that the Wolf validated Morgan in the end by saving Denise despite it resulting in his being bitten. Here’s Vox’s Todd VanDerWerff on Denise and the Wolf:
The Wolf’s eventual death is particularly notable for the way that the spirit of trying to save others filters out first to the Wolf (who turns back to help Denise when she’s almost certainly dead) and then to Denise (who offers to save his life). Ultimately, Carol shoots the Wolf, and he falls prey to the horde.
I think really who should have died here was Carol. Sure, she has some conflict left to settle with Morgan with regards to the KILL KILL KILL philosophy vs. the “all life is precious” point of view, but I don’t think there’s as much there as there was in seeing how the Wolf could turn out to actually be good like Morgan said or to ultimately validate Carol’s attitude. Carol went from being an abused wife to a distraught mother to a vicious survivor, but I’m just not sure there’s anything left for her. Her takedown of Terminus was almost comical in its ruthlessness, and I don’t think there’s much left for her to do.
Bryan Bishop at The Verge has some spot-on analysis of what’s wrong with Glenn’s story in this episode:
But then, for some inexplicable reason, Glenn started going a little nuts, and (apparently) decided to sacrifice himself even though he could have easily kept running. After all the nonsense last year, it looked like Glenn was going to die after all — just a huge, flaming middle finger to the audience. But THEN! In came Sacha and Abraham, miraculously saving Glenn with a hail of automatic weapons fire and a goofy one-liner. TWD managed to take an already cheap, eye-rolling moment and make it even cheaper.
With this in mind, I don’t think that unlikeliness of cheesiness of this sequence is the biggest writing crime here, but rather it’s putting Glenn in such a silly situation so soon after the dumpster fiasco at all. In my opinion, it would have been better to have this part of the story be mostly about the reuniting of Glenn with Maggie, which we don’t really get to see because of all the silliness. The look that Maggie gives Glenn, with the audience knowing that she’s pregnant, was absolutely heart wrenching, and this was cheapened by an unnecessary action sequence in an already action-packed episode. So while I’m glad they didn’t kill Glenn, if they’re going to keep putting him in these situations, they should just do it.
I said at the beginning of this piece that Daryl should have died in lieu of Negan’s snarky associate, and I think that Daryl’s actions later in the episode only validate this further. Sure, it’s damn awesome to pour gasoline out of a big tank, fire a rocket into that gasoline, and sit back while all of your zombie problems are burned away. Cinematograph-ily and narratively, this was a welcome and exciting surprise. But practically, what a joke: Daryl pours valuable gasoline onto a lake and then proceeds to fire a rocket into the lake when literally a match would have sufficed.
The reason this happened is obvious: Daryl is played out as a character. He started as the wild and unfriendly but good-hearted survivor, and we really saw that good-heartedness grow and develop over the seasons. Throughout, he always had little to say but did let his actions speak for him. But because his character has nowhere to go from being good and “cool”, the writers have had him become more brooding and more “cool”. While he’s a fan favorite, I think that his “awesomeness” in the latest episode only goes to show he has no more story left to be told.
Perhaps I’m wrong, though, and all in all, I wholeheartedly enjoyed the latest episode.