The last time that viewers got to watch the Walking Dead, it left off on a tragic and shocking note with Carl being bitten and awaiting his fate. Unfortunately, but not unsurprisingly, what this mid-season premier turned out to be was us waiting a few months to get another drawn out, over-indulgent, and most importantly, emotionless goodbye to one of the original characters.
The Walking Dead has a long history of emotional goodbyes. The number of characters that viewers have said goodbye to is too numerous to list at this point after eight seasons, but the early departures were always handled with finesse, knowing when to cut the scene and provide the important emotional punch. That all changed with season six’s final episode that created their version of the infamous “Who Shot J.R.?” angle and the subsequent bashing of Glenn and Abraham by that “smiling jack” by the name of Negan at the start of season seven.
Since that moment, the series has been on life-support, trading in all subtext and ethical debate for a disjointed hodgepodge of action and horror tropes that do little to satisfy any viewer’s appetite for what the show once was.
The episode starts with another white, hazy montage with “Old Man Rick” in a bathrobe (as I said in my previous review, borrowed from the cinematographer of Robert Redford’s The Great Gatsby) and just gets more ridiculous from there. Next we see an upbeat(?) montage of Carl’s last days (which seem pretty packed to me; this kid gets more done in his last day then most get done any day of the week) and then the real “action” starts.
At this point, the episode becomes a study in cognitive dissonance: one focused on preaching peace and the other one on replicating scenes from Lee Marvin and Chuck Norris in 1986’s The Delta Force.
As far as the message of peace, this is delivered by Carl over the course of the entire episode. In fact, in the opening scene, Carl is shown writing a series of notes to all of his surviving friends and family. Turns out that he could have saved a lot of ink and paper because Carl gets to speak to virtually every member of the clan, imparting wisdom in a eloquent fashion like no other character who has suffered a zombie bite ever has. The amount of dialogue and the content of the scripting that Carl delivers is only present to create melodrama as a cheap emotional ploy, and it isn’t even able to deliver this in a Marley and Me sort of way (and before you say “This writer has no soul”, I want to let readers know that I just got misty eyed watching an episode of Star Wars: Rebels over the weekend, so I’m far from impervious to emotional ploys).
The best example of this misstep is when Carl says goodbye to his infant sister. The script that Chandler Riggs has to deliver is full of advice to a child that is unable to comprehend his words, so it is clearly trying to tug at heart strings, but the scenes falls flat due to the stilted dialogue. The one poignant piece when Carl “passes the hat” to his sister is ruined by additional dialogue that detracts from the gesture. The best scenes in the history of the show have little dialogue (such as season one’s scene between Amy and Andrea and Hershel’s sacrifice in season four) but at this point, the creators and writers have either forgotten this fact, or just don’t care. My favorite part of the episode was when one of the many cookie-cutter Negan clones (I think his name is Gavin) channeled my own feelings about the show I was watching by saying that it “always has to get dark and ugly. You know I don’t like this.”
Carl, Chandler Riggs, the cast, the fans, all deserved better than this drawn-out, emotionless mess. But if you are still only watching for the senseless violence, don’t worry, the previews show Carl’s message of a “beautiful world” all but erased, with Rick vowing (once again) to kill Negan.