***Spoiler Warning: Discussion of The Walking Dead events through Sunday’s “Now” follows. If you’re not caught up, back on out.***
Up until last night, the sixth season of TWD has been one of my favorites. Fast-paced, frenetic, and more focused than it might ever have been, for those of us who’ve stuck with the series, we know it’s not just some depressing, incessantly spewing death vomit; it’s a study of life. How do we keep going when we’re against a seemingly unstoppable force? What keeps us believing in good when we face nothing but pointless, empty violence? What separates the Michonnes and the Carols, the Ricks and the Daryls from those Alexandrians in the food pantry, ready to give up and die?
After the absolute heart-pounding madness that was “Thank You” left us wondering about the fates of two main characters, I didn’t mind that we slowed down a moment and focused on Lennie James’ Morgan Jones. Forcing a cleansing breath, the writers sent us into the same contemplative state Eastman foisted upon Morgan; he came out the other side a changed man, and some of us had our own stop-and-see the beauty moment. Whether what happened to Morgan and Eastman was affecting or merely expository may have been an individual experience, but it was the perfect time for an episodic sherbet (aka palate cleanser — thanks Chris Hardwick). That said, when we planted our keisters in front of the screen this week, none of us expected to end the hour with no answer to the questions we had two weeks ago.
First, I’m fine about the little hand game they place. Haha, joke’s on the comic readers and those in the know; it’s like the writers got a chance to turn the tables (that’s a Game…of Thrones reversal of fortune play) and use reader advantage against the audience. On its own, the hand injury that went nowhere is worth a chuckle, but to just whisk Rick away from the RV predicament felt like a total cheat. It doesn’t matter that we knew he’d find a way to get himself out of there unharmed; that was a moment we should have been returned to. Part of the thrill of TWD is seeing how characters escape tense or seemingly inescapable situations, and no, I’m not talking about that false-ringing tunnel scene with Maggie and Aaron (we’ll come back to them in a few).
Conversely, the Glenn situation is easily resolvable in our own brains. Most of us believe Rhee is still alive, either having crawled out from underneath Nicholas’ distractingly delicious body, or through the miracle of character hallucination POV (whether Glenn’s or Nicholas’). We don’t necessarily need to see how that happens — though it would be cool if we did — and chances are, Glenn will tell Maggie the story himself, when and if they have their tearful reunion scene. The problem here is that we should have been witness to that particular moment — or at least the beginning of such a scene — by the end of last night’s “Now.” Instead, we were rewarded for our patience with a filler episode, emotionally hollow in every way.
While she was an interesting character when Deanna was first introduced, Alexandria’s leader has all but crumbled under pressure. Since we’ve already seen her fall apart several times over, it’s not interesting to watch Deanna veer back and forth, especially since we’ve no reason to be invested in the character (don’t even get me started on how she could still not understand you have to stab a walker in the head). Frankly, the only town residents who are compelling are Jessie (due more to her relationship with Rick than the character, herself), and recently introduced Denise (the excellent Merritt Wever), who has a great and compelling dilemma that the writers are taking time to explore. I’d have rather spent the minutes taken away for that empty Maggie and Aaron tunnel scene with Denise and/or Tara. Whether it’s the writing or that something is amiss with Lauren Cohan’s delivery (I had a problem with her breakdown over Beth’s death, as well), there was nothing that rang true emotionally when Maggie’s pregnancy was revealed. Expected or not, that scene was as empty as most of this hour felt.
In a season that started off so well, putting us off with filler like “Now” is a slap in the face, not only to the audience; it’s self-sabotage by the writers as well. We’ve come too far, you’ve come too far to resort to what feels like cheap tricks. When a series has reached its sixth season, and manages to stay at the top of the cable viewing charts, it’s silly to play the drag-it-out, is-he-or-isn’t-he dead game. The audience fully expected a return to at least some of its main characters this week, with more than an “Oh hi, I’m back!” from Rick, and at the very least, a hint of Glenn. Heck, if we had to stay in Alexandria, where were Carol and Michonne? Why are we in the food pantry with a bunch of people we’ve never seen before?
Next week looks like we’ll finally see what’s going on with Daryl, Sasha and Abraham, which means maybe we won’t find out anything about Glenn. Instead of mounting tension or dread about his situation, dragging out the *mystery” may work against the writers and diffuse our emotions; by the time he reappears, will we care as much? And if Glenn’s fate isn’t resolved until the mid-season break (or worse yet, until the series back-half return), the series will have burned away its great sixth season momentum. Come on, Walking Dead, you’re better than this.