The Walking Dead Review Episode 15: This Sorrowful Life

Shamble On Header TWD Ep 15

The latter half of Season 3 of The Walking Dead is, to me, best described as a see-saw.

For every well-executed push off your teeter-totter partner makes that sends you up on a thrilling ascent, often holding on to the handle for dear life during the adrenaline rush, there’s a half-assed, poorly executed one where they seemingly couldn’t be bothered to really think things through, and decided to see what would happen if they just pushed with, say, one leg, which barely gets you up off the ground.

Or tried to just lazily draw out the ride until the bell rings, signalling the end of recess and the play session.

I’ll be blunt: I’m almost at my breaking point with some of the inconsistent logic and poor storytelling that’s been on display in TWD as of late.  I literally watched the first half of ‘This Sorrowful Life’ with a stone face and was almost tempted to just shut it off mid-way through.

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I was never one of ‘those’ fans of the comic who cried foul when the show’s storyline deviated from the comic — some of the decisions in the show, such as keeping Shane around much longer and to subsequently wreak more delicious havoc, were sound ones.

The introduction of Daryl and Merle Dixon as new faces was inspired, and even the existing cast of characters were given new nuances: the Carol of the comic was largely bland with no real defined personality, as opposed to Melissa McBride’s great turn as a stoic victim turned never-again survivor.

But the current Woodbury-slash-prison arc, which was perhaps one of the best of the comic, is increasingly frustrating and disappointing.

This is largely because of some serious structural changes in the plotline: in the comic version, Rick’s motivation to keep things together and defend the prison at all costs was because Lori was pregnant and trying to survive on the road was becoming increasingly difficult.

Even though holding the facility was problematic — even more so because the characters in the comic hadn’t turned so heartless and allowed some of the prisoners who were already squatting there to try to co-exist with the group (which turned out to be a big mistake, but is also preferable to inhumanely letting other survivors die along the side of the road, then looting their remains) — there was a sound quality of what Rick was trying to do.

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After months of living a minute-to-minute existence in a hostile environment, where hope was evaporating as quickly as supplies and ammo, the prison gave them a chance to have something to work towards beyond surviving one more day in a world that was trying to kill or maim them, literally, at every turn.  Dangerous or not, if they didn’t find a way to get off the road and catch their breath, they were going to collectively collapse.

The fact remained though, is that Rick personally needed this to work in the worst way, as the fate of his wife and unborn child was on the line, and every snag they hit in keeping their new base of operations weighed heavily on Rick.

While it may be a spoiler of sorts for those who haven’t read the comic, Lori didn’t die as early in the storyline, but rather at the climax, as a final rub-salt-in-emotional wounds that writer / creator Robert Kirkman has become famous for.

And we also saw exactly what Woodbury and the Governor were very early on.  (I wish I could say more on that, but there’s a key moment that may still happen in the final episode of the season, and I wouldn’t want to spoil that for anyone.)

There was NO questioning that they were the enemy, no talk of treaties or truces — it was about when the final lopsided showdown, with our heroes at a great disadvantage, would take place and who would manage to walk away.

This is all relevant because the show has gotten so far off course of the original intention of the comic and trying so hard to create false tension with their all-new ‘alternate reality’ . . . and none of it is satisfying.

I don’t need the show to exactly mirror the comic: but on the other hand, I do expect it to be GOOD and not full of original, never-before-seen plot holes and character inconsistencies you could drive a city bus full of moaning cadavers through.

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I absolutely hate what the show has done to Andrea.  It had potential to be interesting — walking on thin moral ice to have some sort of safety and comfort in a world gone right off the cliff at top speed and straight to hell with no hope of coming back from the trip — but it was handled so clumsily, reducing Andrea to basically a complete, almost drooling idiot and sacrificed to the convience of hitting particular story beats.

The heart and soul of The Walking Dead is the characters.  This is what makes it WORK, that we get to know these people intimately, we care about their struggle to survive and the increasingly difficult decisions they face to do so.

Take that away and what you’ve got is the world’s longest B-horror film.

In good writing, you establish a character, you endear them to the audience, and you let them drive the story: you don’t have them jump through hoops just to achieve a specific end goal.  If you ignore what you’ve established, it becomes trite and really just a waste of the audience’s time — why invite us to spend all that time giving these fictional constructs such distinct personalities if you’re just going to have them do whatever you need them to, no matter how out-of-character it is, in order to manipulate the various forces in the story to a specific point?

The plot has to coexist with the characters.  Good writing — especially in a long-form story such as a comic book or a television show –is giving the illusion that whatever choices you made as the writer, the characters themselves drove those choices.

To the audience, it turned out the way it did because that’s the end result of the characters’ actions, which are driven by their personalities that you’ve carefully established in large and small ways.

The very idea that Rick would seriously consider, for more than about ten seconds, the Governor’s offer of peace if they’d turn over Michonne, quite frankly goes way beyond my suspension of disbelief.

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nowar

Put it bluntly, it’s poor, lousy, lame @#$%ing writing because Rick, while rattled by the death of his wife and the pressure of leadership, is NOT an idiot — but for the sake of this episode and the story arc as a whole, he, like Andrea, was completely lobotomized.

Rick said it himself: he knows the Governor, the kind of man he is.  Rick Grimes might’ve been an unassuming small town sheriff before the end of the world, but he didn’t hold that position, even in Podunk, Georgia, without knowing how people think, and what the end result was likely to be.

Giving Michonne to Blake would give them absolutely NO leverage whatsoever.  As a tactical decisions, it was as bad as handing over half of their ammo — Michonne has proven her worth on the battlefield, and proven that she has earned her place.

If I had to pick one of the group to have my back in a dangerous situation, the only person I might put higher than Michonne on the list is Daryl.  Anyone disagree?

I doubt Rick would, either.

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And you don’t need to have a master’s in psychology to know that when dealing with a predator like Blake, any sign of weakness is an invitation to keep coming back to raid the chicken coop.  The only language he speaks is force, and like a mad dog, he’s not going to stop coming at you until you’re dead, or he is.

The only real choice you have is to get away from Governor Cujo, not try to placate him with tossing a handful of Michonne Strips over the fence and just go on with your backyard barbecue, hoping for the best.

No, Rick did what he did solely for the sake of being able to deliver what I’m sure was expected to be a stirring speech on how they needed to do the right thing and be the ‘good guys’ — after several jarring, forced examples of them being anything but.

Seriously, guys, that’s so heavy-handed and amateurish and not at all what we started out with.

Like some deus ex machina, the hand of God finally reached down from the heavens and Monty Python-style, opened the top of Rick’s skull on a hinge, and plopped a brain back in.

Or maybe he and Andrea were sharing one and it’s finally Rick’s turn to have it, since she’s a little tied up at the moment.

Just as bad is Hershel and Daryl’s acceptance of Rick’s foolishness.  I’ll give Daryl a pass because a) deep down he figured Rick would come to his senses and it was better for Rick to come to that realization on his own, and b) he’s in a precarious position with Merle, trying to be diplomatic and going along with a bad plan as a way of scratching Rick’s back.

hershel

Hershel, though . . . his reaction should’ve been to hobble away from their little clandestine meeting, gather up Beth, Maggie and Glenn — maybe try to get Carol and Michonne — and say they were leaving.  If Rick wanted to be a moron, he could do so with his kids and the Dixon Bros. and see how well that worked out for them.

That I would’ve gotten behind and even forgiven the trespasses against Rick’s character.  Hershel just quietly standing by on his crutches while Michonne is handed over to be tortured and killed  . . . no, sorry.  I don’t even buy that Hershel would follow Daryl’s lead and let Rick draw his own conclusions.  Hershel shouldn’t have even taken the chance that something might go wrong.

This show is rapidly becoming a cliche-ridden, sloppy daytime soap opera with zombies, rather than the taught, thought-provoking post-apocalyptic drama it started out as, and hopefully at some point soon that stops, or I’m out.

And then we’ve got Merle’s exit, which I have mixed feelings about.

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Characters die in this show, and maybe there was some satisfaction in Merle getting that final turn from heel to face and shot at redemption, but the whole set-up just seemed ingenuine, as well as removed what might have been one of the most potentially interesting characters from the mix.

Maybe this was more Michael Rooker’s decision than the producers or writers, so I’ll give them the benefit of the doubt, but to spend all this time building up Merle’s role just to cut it short without any real payoff seems like a waste.  Merle’s last-minute heroics weren’t enough to really win me over and have his death deeply affect me, and while the scene was not without its impact, tacked on to the tail end of the mess of the first half of the episode, it really didn’t do much to reedem it.

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And Glenn wanting to marry Maggie, as well as snagging a ring off a walker’s hand, was a nice touch . . . but is it just me, or did Glenn miraculously recover from his Merle-inflicted wounds overnight?  It is difficult to judge what the exact time frame is between episodes anymore, but it seems like he should still have a fading shiner.

Cheap shots and nitpicking aside, I really hope the next season turns things around, and I’m more looking forward to the season finale next week to just end this chapter of the saga than anything — which is NOT what I expected when we saw that glimpse of the prison at the end of last season’s finale and my mind was fairly blown.

Just a suggestion to the folks running the show: you’ve got a great story right there for you in black and white in the comics.  Keep a stack of the graphic novels in the writer’s room so you can refer to them and see just how good this concept can be when you’re not out to put your own ‘original’ wouldn’t-it-be-cool-if stamp on it.

The back end of this season is an absolute mess that’s borderline unwatchable at times because the premises and motivations are so flimsy and tossed off that only the fact that there’s a stellar cast — and that we’ve got three dozen hours invested in this thing so far — is keeping the wheels from falling off.

I’ve got nothing at all against deviating from the path of the comic, just damn well have it make sense instead of throwing darts at a bunch of index cards taped to the wall to see who does what next.

— mal

basedon

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