The Walking Dead
Season 6, Episode 9 - "No Way Out"
Andrew Lincoln, Steven Yeun, Melissa McBride
Regular airtime: Sundays, 7pm
US: 14 Feb 2016
Generally speaking, I’m one of The Walking Dead’s biggest fans. Maybe not a plaster-my-wall-with-posters sort of fan, or a Rick-tattoo-on-my-shoulder sort of fan, or even a go-as-a-zombie-for-Halloween sort of fan, but from an academic perspective, I’ve always felt Walking Dead is of the best shows on television, maybe one of the best ever made. It’s certainly right up there with Breaking Bad, The Wire, and the under-appreciated-for-its-level-of-brilliance Battlestar Galactica (see Portlandia’s brilliant season two sketch on Battlestar Galactica binge-watching if you don’t understand the Battlestar Galactica phenomenon). This season has produced some great moments if you care about television from that kind of academic stance. I was especially impressed by the one-off episode “He’s Not Here”, in which we learn exactly who Morgan (Lennie James) has become since we last saw him and why. There have also been strong performances from a number of unexpected places, including Tovah Feldshah as Deanna Monroe, and Katelyn Nacon as Enid.
So I say this with all due respect and awe for The Walking Dead‘s accomplishments, but there have been moments this season when I’ve been frustrated with what seems to be either a lack of ideas or a general laziness on the part of the writers and producers. It all began with the “Glenn stunt”. There’s certainly nothing wrong with cliffhangers—they have a long and distinguished history on television: J. R.‘s shooting at the end of season three of Dallas, Mulder trapped in an underground boxcar at the end of The X-Files‘s second season, Picard’s assimilation by the Borg at the end of season three of Star Trek: The Next Generation. But leaving the audience wondering is one thing; convincing the audience of something entirely untrue is something else again. Part of what has made The Walking Dead amazing up to this point is its realism, signaled chiefly by its willingness to kill off characters, even beloved characters, without warning. Over the past couple of seasons, however, it’s become clear that The Walking Dead has reached its limit in terms of the risks its willing to take. Some people apparently just aren’t expendable. And yes, maybe that’s ultimately our own fault—I’ve pointed out on a number of occasions that I’m done the day Daryl (Norman Reedus) dies—but even so, the show loses much of its urgency when it refuses to take chances.
More than just dulling the show’s edge, though, is that what happened with Glenn (Steven Yeun) smacked of the producers trying to have their cake and eat it too. Fair enough if you decide to keep this sacred little band alive and together from here on out, but don’t pretend you’re willing to kill them off—and certainly don’t actually kill one off and then bring him back. Do soap operas even do that sort of thing anymore?
Then again, they pulled a similar stunt at the end of the midseason finale, one that should have had a pay off in Sunday’s premiere of the second half of the season, but that mostly just turned into a mess. As Rick (Andrew Lincoln) and company try to sneak through a massive crowd of walkers, we see a shell-shocked Sam Anderson (Major Dodson) turn to call for his mother, and we are certain he’s about to bring the walkers down on everyone when the screen goes black. Like everyone else, I fretted over how they would all manage to escape from this apparently inescapable situation. When the action resumed this past Sunday, however, the producers chose to ignore that cliffhanger altogether. Things turned out badly in the end for Sam, his mother, and his brother, but only once Rick and Carl (Chandler Riggs) were safely away from the fray, enough so their escape wouldn’t pose a logistical problem in the plot line.
And now there’s what might be called the “Carl problem”, which occurred this week. Here’s the issue: we’ve seen this play out before. It’s a plot point so clumsy that it reminds us a lot of what’s happening now has happened before. We’ve seen, for instance, this escape plan—involving wearing walker body parts—before. Here again is a conflicted doctor, not really even a doctor and full of self-doubt, yet determined to save the day (see Herschel’s [Scott Wilson] efforts to save Carl in season two).
Where does that leave us in the end?
Interesting plot threads still remain; the struggle between Morgan and Carol (Melissa McBride), for instance, continues to fascinate, particularly in that it plays out against the backdrop of the town’s citizens (and even Eugene [Josh McDermitt] and Father Gabriel [Seth Gilliam]) finally making the decision to stand and fight. There’s an interesting father-daughter kind of relationship developing between Glenn and Enid. Of course, there are always new people and groups to encounter, characters that hold the potential to raise new questions about the nature of humanity in this post-apocalyptic landscape.
As my wife likes to point out, one of the pleasures of the show is how they continuously find new ways to top themselves in terms of gore. This week, that played out as the largest battle yet seen between humans and walkers.
In short, I haven’t given up my faith in this show, but I’ll admit I’m worried. Much like Battlestar Galactica wasn’t a show about space, this isn’t a show about zombies; it’s about people. If the producers have run out of things to say about people, best to admit it and move on. Can it do that if it’s lost its nerve to kill off central characters? I don’t know. But it probably wouldn’t hurt to take out Glenn, or Maggie (Lauren Cohan), or even Rick. I’d be remiss, though, if I didn’t reiterate: Daryl stays or else.