Monday, October 31, 2016

The Well

Wow. My favorite episode in a long, long time. 

Spoilers. If you haven't watched Season 7 Episode 2 of TWD, please, hit your back button.

What we're seeing here is a lot of setup for future episodes. We're back to the Morgan and Carol story - which, if I'm being honest, was the only story-line that made season six worth it - and we're introduced to King Ezekiel (Who is also the voice of Cyborg. Can I get a booyah?), his tiger, and his subjects. 

It starts off where Carol and Morgan left off in season six, being rescued by the knights of the Kingdom. Carol is in bad shape and in a wagon of sorts and the new group is under walker attack.  Carol sees the walkers as they were in their former life - as people. It hearkens back to Morgan's time with Eastman who conveys that the walkers were people once - with lives and families. Maybe it's Carol's guilt or maybe it's something bigger. Even in this dark world, however, you can still live with with morals. It's the first time we've really seen this in Carol since Sofia staggered out of Hershel's barn. I think it's telling that she buries the walker inside her new house instead of disposing of it with fire. Burying the dead in TWD is closely associated with those whose conscience and humanity are in tact while cremation is associated with callousness and the loss of ones sanity and humanity. Carol, who once killed and burned two of her own on a rooftop, has come full circle, taking her place among those who are living, not just surviving.

Meanwhile: The Kingdom is peaceful - or as peaceful as anyone can hope in the zombie apocalypse. You have to wonder what is going on behind closed doors because every utopia prior had a dark secret. One can hope that The Kingdom is different. Yeah, Ezekiel seems crazy, but we later find out that it's all for show to keep society going. He's a good, moral, strong, African American leader: any of these traits are the red shirt of TWD world; he has all of them.

But they're under the thumb of Negan and friends. So, there's that. It would seem that Lucille has been at work here too. It is mentioned that a team left to scavenge and eight of them never returned. One can only assume that they met Negan's wrath - or psychosis. Ezekiel has plans, alluded to in his conversations with Morgan, to overthrow Negan's group. He knows that they don't have the means to fight Negan on their own - his people are soft and sheltered and they'll need help. Unfortunately it'll come in the form of Rick and crew who can't seem to figure out a decent plan, ever. In the mean time they're sending Negan tainted pork. 

The tainted pork caused a lot of confusion in the online discussions I've seen. Is he really crazy? Saving on pig feed? Spitting in Negan's preverbal cup? Do they not know that everyone is already infected? Last week I mentioned that a common literary device is to allude to ancient or common stories. There are a couple instances of this in The Well. Feeding the pigs tainted meat pulls from the Biblical story of Ezekiel, a prophet who foretells the fall of Jerusalem in 586 BC.

In the comics there is a war which includes Alexandria, the Hilltop, and the Kingdom against the Saviors (Negan's group). This year and last TWD is starting to head in the direction of the comics, (a disappointing creative choice in my opinion) and so that's probably where we're headed with the introduction of Ezekiel. Now when Biblical Ezekiel was trying to speak to the Israelites about their impending capture he bakes tainted bread - baking it in fecal matter to render it unclean- to symbolize the people of Jerusalem living in foreign, and therefore unclean, land. What does this have to do with anything?  King Ezekiel feeds tainted meat to the Saviors foretelling their fall. He is symbolizing to his knights that their lost members will be avenged and the Saviors will fall into their hands. I'm sure, based on Ezekiel's history with the theatre, that there is a Shakespearean reference, but it's been a long time since High school and I'm no longer well acquainted with Shakespeare.

The second allusion in this episode has to do with Carol. Throughout the episode, Carol is offered pomegranates by Ezekiel. At the surface it seems a little strange. Who likes pomegranates that much? Seriously. Pomegranates have a long history of symbolism. They symbolize prosperity, fullness, happiness, marriage, femininity, and fertility and are sometimes thought to be the forbidden fruit (that's right, not an apple). Obviously, compared to the other settlements we've seen over the years, the Kingdom holds the patent on prosperity on TWD, but that's not all. This particular subplot is brought to you by the story of Persephone and Hades. You can read that story here. Basically, Persephone is kidnapped by Hades and taken into the underworld to be his bride. While she develops feelings for him, she refuses to eat because if she does, she will be trapped there forever. But Hades is clever and before returning her to her mother, he offers her a pomegranate. Persephone takes and eats six seeds, binding her to Hades for six months of every year: here, but not here. Ezekiel offers Carol the pomegranate out of romantic interest (though I see 0 chemistry between them personally), binding her to him and the kingdom - here but not here - which, so far, Carol has presumably refused.

Interesting stuff this week. Next week it looks like business as usual with Rick and crew. I'm so excited. Can you sense how excited? Because I'm not.

Monday, October 24, 2016

The Wrath of Negan

Spoiler's ahead. But mostly criticism. Lots of Criticism. 

I'm in the minority, I know; my favorite season of The Walking Dead was season two. All the characters I liked were alive and what it lacked for in blood and gore, it filled in with story progression and character development. By the mid-season finale of season six...well, I'd pretty much given up on the series (as evidenced in my lack of blog posts).

But what kind of fan just gives up because of one poorly executed season? Not this girl. On October 23rd, I settled in to watch the season seven premiere in hopes that my loyalty would not be in vain. Season seven. What can I say about season seven? If last night's show was indicative of the season as a whole (which Kirkman's interview on The Talking Dead inferred), I would describe it in one word: Disappointing. That's the first time I've said that about the premiere episode.

At this point, it's all about the money for these clowns. The Talking Dead. Fear the Walking Dead. Those stupid one minute things during the commercial breaks. All. The. Merchandise. Don't get me wrong, I think they should make buttloads of money - as long as they continue to tell a compelling story. Sadly, they don't.

Let me give a comparison. The Walking Dead seasons 1 - 5 vs seasons 6 and 7 are like Tangled vs Frozen. Stay with me. Tangled came out in 2010. It took them six years to make Tangled and tell Rapunzel's story. From the original German tale, they took a character with two sentences of dialogue and gave her depth and a couple of songs. Though isolated and emotionally abused, Rapunzel is industrious, quick thinking, caring, loyal, trusting, and lovably quirky. Her one-page source material is beautifully orchestrated into a 100 minute coming of age story that hearkens to the Disney Renaissance. Then there was Frozen. Frozen is loosely based on Hans Christian Anderson's The Snow Queen where a brave, young girl ventures out to save her dear friend from the clutches of the evil Snow Queen (a weather-controlling, child-abducting faerie) where she overcomes three villains before her daring rescue and escape.

Here's how I think the planning for Frozen went. Marketing went down to the production department and said, "Hey, The Princess and the Frog was a wash and Walt's kids are mad they can't buy that 5th island this year. You have two years to make something new - and don't forget to appease the feminists... and go." Then they barfed up a story, removing anything resembling a decent story and character development, wrote way too many songs (earning themselves a ton of awards for lyrics like "Don't know if I'm elated or gassy but I'm somewhere in that zone!"), then they marketed it to death. I can't stand Hans Christian Anderson's writing and it was still 1,000 times better than Frozen. Frozen was just lazy. The worst part? Nobody cared. That's what Kirkman did to The Walking Dead. At some point someone said, "Hey, lets just follow the comics. Our fans are loyal. They'll stick around as long as we keep throwing Olaf t shirts blood and gore in their faces." 

So about last night's episode: they took Negan - this presumably most sadistic of evil men - and gave him a bat and a cliff-hanger. They marketed it for months. Then they killed off Abraham. I could deal with that. His character is by far the most intimidating and it would make sense for Negan and crew to take him out first. Abraham went out in true Abraham style - stubborn, strong, and cursing. Yeah, it would've beem nice to have time to develop feelings for Abraham, but whatever. This is a world where tomorrow isnt a promise for anyone. But after overplaying the whole suspense angle all spring and summer, they couldn't just leave it at that. They had to kill off someone else. Couldn't be Daryl. He's too much of a fan favorite. 

It wouldn't be one of the girls because, lets face it, it's the apocalypse and without affirmative action, girls are only useful for one thing. Samiches...Can't be Rick or Carl because then the show would be over. So they kill off Glenn because cannon.

In previous seasons, the comic's story-line took second seat to a well written story. I mean, Billy and Ben become Mika and Lizzy to propel Carol's character and Judith is still around because she gives the survivors hope and a reason to keep fighting. Andrea died way too early (thank goodness) and Daryl wasn't even a character! Now? Even if it doesn't translate well to the screen and even if it's boring and predictable, the comics are adhered to with the faithfulness of a Harry Potter fan.

Now a good story is at the mercy of the sacrificial pillar of comic fanboys. You wanna know what would've made a better story? Killing Glenn under the dumpster part way through season six. That would've been better. Better still? In season two Maggie calls Glenn "walker bait" after he fishes out the well zombie. It's a nick name that then-meek Glenn opposes. But Glenn is now a better man. A fitting and more touching end to Glenn's story arc would have been to save Maggie and their infant son by sacrificing himself as walker bait. Instead, they took the anticlimactic route and offed Glenn at the business-end of Lucille - just like in the comics. Then they added a cool prosthetic eye and threw in some flash backs and dream sequences via Rick so the common core generation wouldn't get too confused. 

The Walking Dead was once a story of Hobbesism,  where, without the all-seeing eye of authority and social mores, conscience and kindness die and the living fail to differ from the monstrous dead. Now it's blood and gore and jump scares because intellect, it would seem, has already been killed by the mindless hordes of the walking dead.

*Update. I was waiting very impatiently for Rob Bricken'a take over on Gizmodo. I love that his posts are more than just a recap because, duh, I already saw it, and I love the insight he has.  Anyway, it's a good perspective over there and the comments are the best on the internet, really. I wanted to say that, yes, I picked up on the Rick/Carl:Abraham/Isaac component. Alluding to ancient and commonly known stories is an often-used writing device. Keep that story in mind, it may come back at some point.  One more thing, I'm pretty sure Maggie and Sasha took the truck and everyone else took the RV.