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The Walking Dead Recap: “Strangers” (Season 5, Episode 2)

My copy of last week’s season premiere¬†was missing a crucial post-credits element: a masked man on the tracks follows an X carved into a tree just after Rick and crew pass; he takes off the mask to better see his surroundings, and it’s none other than Morgan. A blast form the past, looking considerably less nuts than last time we saw him. So far in season five, it appears everything’s coming full circle.

In this week’s edition, our newly reunited crew of misfits look on from a “safe” distance as the fire burns at Terminus; billowing smoke fills the sky. From the opening moments, the pacing feels a little off. The cameraman trains his focus on the Good Guys as they walk – always walking – and then slows everything down. While this could be used to indicate the repetiveness, the monotony, of their lives on the road, it’s not terribly effective. Tara’s breasts bounce in slow-mo, and the expression we’ve all come to associate with Rick, his stone-faced, hollow-eyed stare, carries our crew forward through the woods. Exciting it is not.

The opening minutes of the episode feature people talking and not talking; they’re not yet revealing the things hidden beneath the surface. Tara hasn’t told Maggie she was with the Governor at the prison, and it’s eating away at her. Rick admits he shouldn’t have banished Carol “to this,” and now they’re joining her in it. Carol gives a tiny smile and nod at his genuine apology and gratitude. She saved their lives, and her actions have redeemed her…to everyone but herself, it seems.

Tyreese, who now considers Carol an ally and confidante despite what she did to his lover, tells them he’ll talk to the crew and make sure everyone accepts her. “They don’t have to,” says Carol. But Tyreese insists they do have to accept her. Unity is important, understanding and respect even moreso, in the new world. However, he doesn’t want to tell anyone about the girls – about what happened to Lizzie and Mika. “I just need to forget it,” he sighs.

Carol repeats this assertion to Daryl as they stand watch in the night. He’s eyeing her, waiting for her to speak. “I can’t. I just need to forget,” she tells him. Daryl hears something (or feels it), and leaps to his feet to check it out. Even though his skin is crawling, he decides it’s nothing – but a silhouette passes in the darkness.

On the road the next morning, Bob and Sasha play a word game: she names off the hardships of their new lives, and Bob counters with the sunny side of it. “No privacy,” Sasha says with a sly grin, and Bob replies, “A captive audience!” and kisses her. Bob’s constant optimism is getting threadbare, though. He was only a minor part of the last season, but we know from his early behavior – from the way he risked everyone’s lives in order to chug some booze – that he’s no angel despite what he portrays to everybody else.

Jesus can't help you here, bud. Photo credit Gene Page/AMC.

Jesus can’t help you here, bud. Photo credit Gene Page/AMC.

Suddenly, screams for help pour from the woods. The crew follows them at Carl’s insistence and saves a priest, perched on a boulder surrounded by walkers. The last time we caught sight of any religious iconography was before Beth disappeared, and that’s no coincidence. The priest’s name is Gabriel, and he vomits everywhere to show his gratitude. After checking him for weapons (despite Gabriel’s protests that “the word of God is the only protection I need,” to which Daryl murmurs, “Sure didn’t look like it”) Rick asks him the three key questions:

“How many walkers have you killed?” None.
“How many humans have you killed?” None.
“Why?” “Because the Lord abhors violence.” Read more

The Walking Dead Recap: “A” (Season 4, Episode 16)

First things first: did the writers really think a corny, Western-style one-liner like that was going to satisfy us? Rick Grimes is no Walter White, and Andrew Lincoln and the showrunners are frankly not capable of making something like “They’re screwing with the wrong people” into the stuff of legend. It is no “Tread lightly,” that’s for sure. The finale as a whole was clumsy and unsatisfying. Everyone in the episode was asking “Who am I? Who are you? Who are we?” But the age-old existential dilemma doesn’t power the action; it hinders it. And as they’re all wondering who they are, they don’t stop to think about whether they’re walking straight into a trap.

Walking Dead Rick

Monsters all. Photo credit Gene Page/AMC.

“A” bounces us from past (at the prison) to present (on the road), as the writers are wont to do these days. This episode’s jumps from past to present and back are effective; they reinforce the point that nothing gold can stay. In the opening sequence, we flash back to the halcyon days trapped between the chain link fences of the prison. Hershel’s still alive and Maggie’s smiling as they return from a run. Everyone’s content, pleasantly calm as the prison crew pokes the walkers through the chainlink with crowbars. A jarring cut to the present focuses on Rick’s bloody hands and face; he sits with his back against a truck, staring into the space beyond the camera. The last time we saw him like this, it was after he beat the hell out of Tyreese. He crouches in silence, and the camera lingers long enough on his face for us to wonder where Michonne and Carl could be.

Post-credits, we return to earlier that same day. On the tracks, Carl wonders aloud if they’re going to be able to tell the folks at Terminus who they are, like, really. Rick understands exactly what he’s asking, but he can’t answer that. How do you say who you are when this is who you are? None of them feel like they’re good people, and how could they? Read more

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Director : Jordan Vogt-Roberts.
Producer : Thomas Tull, Jon Jashni, Mary Parent, Alex Garcia.
Release : March 8, 2017
Country : United States of America.
Production Company : Warner Bros., Legendary Entertainment.
Language : English.
Runtime : 118 min.
Genre : Science Fiction, Action, Adventure, Fantasy.

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The Walking Dead Recap: “The Grove” (Season 4, Episode 14)

Well. This week’s episode of The Walking Dead was a doozie, eh? When I woke up on Monday morning and googled The Walking Dead, the first few headlines to appear were “Did AMC go too far?” and “Was last night’s episode a misstep?” Due to some Facebook and Instagram spoilers I was pretty certain we were going to see Lizzie bite the dust. Following Alanna Masterson (@lucytwobows), as it turns out, led to following Lauren Cohan (@laurencohan), and their creepy Instagram fans (“PERF!” “Ugh WHY CAN’T I BE HER?!?!?!”) gave some stuff away. If it’s any consolation to those of you who think the show “overstepped,” it also fell short of what the books did here.

Tyreese, Lizzie, Judith Walking Dead

I can’t be the only one who cringed EVERY TIME they left Judith in her arms, right? Photo credit Gene Page/AMC.

The episode opens on a seemingly serene scene (I’m feeling onomatopeoic today, apparently): the camera watches from inside a dusty window as two girls scramble about in the yard; a staticky record croons, and a kettle crescendos to a boil. I dunno about you, but I spent this scene squinting at my screen, trying to decide if this was play or chase – or some combination of the two. How right I was.

After the credits, we cut to Carol and Lizzie watching over Tyreese as he sleeps on the railroad tracks. Lizzie matter-of-factly tells Carol she could take Judith if there’s trouble…urgh. When Lizzie asks, Carol tells her about Sophia (remember Sophia, the reason for shitty, terrible season 2?). “She didn’t have a mean bone in her body,” Carol says. “Is that why she isn’t here now?” inquires Lizzie. This kid who’s so out of touch with humanity somehow hits that nail right on the head: only the mean survive the apocalypse. Read more

The Walking Dead Recap: “Welcome to the Tombs” (Season 3 Episode 16) (4/1/13)

After a frustrating third season full of jerky accelerations and sudden brakes, The Walking Dead brought the crazy to a jarring, effective halt in last night’s season finale. Facebook’s Walking Dead page teased me by coyly posting that 27 people would die last night – and the writers certainly made good on the shock value. The finale neatly wrapped up (almost) all the loose ends, got rid of the various characters who’ve annoyed the bejesus out of us all season, and instead of ending on a cliffhanger, gave our little posse a little peace and quiet for once.

Walking Dead Carl

Even if Rick doesn’t always remember who he is, Carl remembers. Photo credit Gene Page/AMC.

The opening shot of “Welcome to the Tombs” is an effectively eerie zoom out from extreme close-up of the Governor’s iris. He winds up and punches the camera in the face, drawing the viewer directly into the drama. The “previously on” blurb, which reminded us that Andrea is still strapped to his torture-dentist chair, indicated the subject of his violence would be our blond waffler…but it isn’t. It is Milton, who I guessed last week wouldn’t be long for this world.

Poor Milton, ever the good guy. He asks the Gov what his daughter would think of him now. Honestly, the Governor answers, “She’d be afraid of me, but if I’d been like this from the start she’d still be alive.” This is a trope in last night’s episode; characters ask themselves “What if?” repeatedly, and discover the only way to know for sure is to preemptively strike. After beating the living hell out of Milton, his assistant and confidant, the Governor forces Milton to kill Andrea. When the good doctor tries to strike against the Gov, Phillip stabs him three squishing, unnecessarily gory times, twisting the knife. He steps out the door, knowing Milton will come back to life shortly and do the deed anyway. “In this life, you kill or you die…or you die and you kill,” he quips.

Meanwhile, the prison folks are gearing up for battle. Carl, who’s been relegated to the woods with the disabled and young, is thoroughly pissed off at Rick and pulling away. Glenn mentions to Rick that he’s never seen Carl this angry before, not even after Lori…and Rick dismisses him: “He’s still a kid, it’s easy for him to forget.” Carol and Daryl are companionable; she comforts him, telling Daryl that Merle “gave us a chance.” This is about all the mourning you’ll see for Merle, which is actually infinitely appropriate. After that sudden change of heart and martyrdom, he deserves a few lines and a brief moment of silence…and that’s about it. Dude was still a racist, sexist, gaslighting, brutally violent assassin. RIP Merle.

Walking Dead Michonne Daryl Carol

How to proceed from here? Photo credit Gene Page/AMC.

Michonne takes a moment to show Rick she understands his position. He had to think about handing her over; obviously, he did. If there’s one thing Michonne is good for, it’s a level head – and her level head knows even the most beneficent gentleman (or woman) on the face of this post-apocalyptic earth would have to think twice about sacrificing his own family for the sake of a veritable stranger. Rick, for what it’s worth, tells her “You’re one of us.” It’s not the last time we hear this.

In Woodbury, the Governor is gathering his forces. Tyreese and Sasha warily tell him, “We’ll fight the biters, but not other people.” Sounds familiar, yes? “Don’t kill the living” has been Rick’s motto up until this season. The siblings offer to stay and defend the children, and if he wants them when he returns, they’ll be there. Sasha’s nervousness is obvious when he approaches them with a big fuck-off gun – and hands it to Tyreese before thanking them for their service. They’re beginning to realize something’s not right in Woodbury (duh).

Walking Dead The Governor off to battle

If only they knew their fate… Photo credit Gene Page/AMC.

The Woodbury soldiers are not screwing around – they go at the prison with artillery shells, massive machine guns, and basically every weapon you can imagine. The guard towers shatter, walker heads explode, shells tumble to the ground en masse…but everybody’s gone. The Governor discovers an open, highlighted Bible, Hershel’s personalized message: “And shall come forth; they that have done good, unto the resurrection of life; and they that have done evil, unto the resurrection of damnation.” How very Easter-appropriate.

In the Governor’s outpost/torture chamber, from the place where he is dying a slow, miserable death, Milton tells Andrea she can get some pliers if she scoots her right foot back far enough. He faked weakness, dropping a tray even as the Governor looked on, to ensure Andrea had access to a tool that might help free her. The question, mid-episode, is whether Andrea can liberate herself in time to keep zombie Milton from attacking and killing her. He tries his damndest to stay alive, and takes the opportunity to ask why she stayed in Woodbury once she knew her friends were out there. It’s a smart narrative move – and a question we’ve all been asking ourselves this season. She tells him she nearly killed the Governor after Carol suggested it, but changed her mind at the last minute. “I didn’t want anyone to die,” she says. Once again, it isn’t the last time we hear this.

At the prison, Rick’s crew ambushes the Governor’s soldiers. Using blaring alarms and exploding grenades, they frighten the soldiers back out of the prison before opening defensive fire. Beneath all that weaponry, these people aren’t soldiers at all. They’re citizens, frightened and exhausted, trying to survive by following a psychotically charismatic man. Carl, Hershel, Judith, and Beth wait in the woods. After fleeing battle, the youngest kid among the Woodbury contingent comes upon them. He tries to surrender his weapon to Carl, who shoots him in the face. “I’m sorry you had to do that,” Rick says, and Carl shrugs him off. “That’s what I was there for.” Hershel stays back to tell Rick, in no uncertain terms, that Carl didn’t need to kill the poor kid. Rick argues for Carl’s innocence (once a kid, always a kid), and Hershel, to his credit, stops Rick dead. “I’m tellin’ ya, he gunned that kid down.”

Here’s the point in the episode where the feces truly strike the perennial fan. After fleeing the prison, the Governor stops his cadre of frightened citizens to convince them to go back…and they refuse, wondering rightly why on earth they’re going in with guns blazing for a half dozen people who’re just trying to survive, same as they are…”We’ll fight biters, but not people,” someone says, which harkens back to Tyreese and Sasha’s previous assertion. To everyone’s surprise (and my profane exclamation), the Governor opens fire and cuts down twenty or so people in one go. He then takes the time to shoot some of them in the head so they don’t come back – what a gentleman. One woman lies very still beneath a dead body, saving her life…for now. The Governor leaves Martinez and one other soldier alive. The two are obviously afraid but continue to follow him even after that massacre. This single scene accounted for about 25 of those 27 deaths.

Walking Dead Carl Rick

One of the things we’ve been missing this season… Photo credit Gene Page/AMC.

In the next scene, the writers grace us with a little bit of what was truly missing from this season. Rick, stumbling through his own personal hell, hasn’t bothered to notice that his kid isn’t a kid anymore. Carl, for whom “it’s easy to forget” according to his dad, remembers everything. When Rick tries to tell Carl he didn’t have to shoot that kid, Carl eerily lists all the times someone thoroughly messed up and didn’t kill another person, all the deaths that could have been prevented. Carl, as it turns out, is very tired of asking “what if?” and has turned toward killing so he doesn’t have to lie awake wondering about it.

Milton finally succumbs to his gruesome injuries, and then oops, he comes back again. He shoves himself into a standing position, and if this were a Romero film his guts would tumble out of his gullet, but alas, AMC is still subject to the censors. From behind the closed door, both Milton and Andrea release bloodcurdling shrieks.

Rick, Michonne, and Daryl go after the Woodbury crew, hoping to end it all…and on the road, they encounter the scene of the massacre. The woman who survived tells them exactly what went down, and when they reach Woodbury they’re spared. We can finally exhale; extracting the Governor from the situation means that Tyreese, Rick, and the citizens of Woodbury are exchanging information for once. If only everyone had known, from the very start, what was going on behind the scenes in Woodbury; how different things would be. The three of them enter Woodbury to find Andrea, knowing now that she had escaped but not made it to the prison.

From beneath the door of the torture chamber, a pool of blood sits, coagulating. They open the door, expecting the worst…and they find it. She’s bitten, feverish and anguished. Rick assures her she’ll always be one of them (once again, not the first time we’ve heard this sentiment in this episode). Michonne strokes her hair, but that level head prevents her from saying it’ll all be okay. They all know it won’t. I’ve been vocally annoyed with Andrea this season, but I appreciate the writers’ attempt to make sense of her frustrating inaction. She, better than Merle, redeems herself at last. “It’s good you found them,” she says to Michonne. She repeats, “I just didn’t want anyone to die.” After she tells Rick she has to kill herself, she smiles a bit and says, “I know how the safety works;” it’s an emotional reference to her early exploits learning to shoot with Shane. She sadly eyes Daryl and Rick. “I tried,” she says, and that’s as much as she needs to say. Michonne holds her hand and stays with her while she commits the final act. The camera artfully pans out the door, where Tyreese, Daryl, and Rick stand still as statues, waiting for the gunshot which finally comes after a lengthy pause.

What choice does Rick’s crew have, but to bring back all the women and children from Woodbury? The prison is the safest place for them, and these, after all, are the good guys. In the final scene, Rick looks up at the walkway where Lori has appeared to him all season. This time, though, we, at least, don’t see the ghost of his wife. Is this perhaps a sign that he’s conquering his demons? The episode ends on a shot of a makeshift grave, symbolizing all the death we’ve seen thus far – and all the death that’s sure to come. (Didn’t the first season also end on a similar shot?)

The episode was well done, brilliantly paced, and smartly written (though repetitive). It mostly wraps up the Governor’s storyline – he has lost his followers, and thus, one hopes at least, his power. Unfortunately, the writers didn’t show us where he went or what happened to him and his two final soldiers…so he could reappear in the next season like that bouncy clown – you punch it, it won’t stay down. This episode extracted the people we expected (Milton), and the ones with whom audiences were vocally frustrated (Andrea). Andrea was given her moment to shine, and Carl’s character was given much-needed time to reflect on his development this season. The finale sets up Carl and Rick to be completely at odds with one another over the importance of mercy, and saddles our prison crew with a whole lot of people who need protection.

Walking Dead The Governor

Cyclopean villainy: where are you now? Photo credit Gene Page/AMC.

How did you feel about the season finale? What frustrated you, and what thrilled you? Did you expect so much carnage, and how do you think the next season will pick it up? Share your thoughts in the comments!