You’d think by now that I’d be used to The Walking Dead’s decompressed storytelling, but realizing this week that Rick’s plan to deal with the rock quarry herd is going to be the main storyline for the first half of the season (if not beyond) took me by surprise. The Great (Doomed) Zombie Migration is a good hook, but in the premiere, it seemed like a crisis that would be resolved in a couple of episodes. But here we are, five episodes in, and the crisis is on-going. Oh sure, the boundaries have changed; we’re now dealing with a splinter group that broke off from the main herd (splitters!), and the quarry itself is no longer relevant. But it’s only been, what, a day? two? since Rick had his big idea. That’s impressively slow.

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The slowness has given us more time to get to know the Alexandrians, and to delve into Morgan’s backstory, with mixed results. As discussed last week, “Here’s Not Here” was an absolutely fantastic entry, one of the best episodes the show’s ever produced, and learning just what’s driving Morgan feels like it will be extremely useful for as long as he remains on the show. (Please may that be forever.) When it comes to the Alexandrians, though, the problem remains that most of them just aren’t that interesting to watch.

In setting up a conflict between them and our main cast, the writers pushed hard to make sure one thing, and one thing only, was clear: the town folk are soft and unprepared for the real challenges of the post-apocalyptic world. They were the comfortable elites existing in their own snug universe, and then Rick and the rest crashed into that fantasy, crushing it just as everything started to fall apart. That’s fine for a one off story, and the show hasn’t been shy about thinning the Alexandrian herd to make a point. The trouble comes when we’re expected to care about any of these people, when nearly all of them are little more than walking stereotypes.

It’s not that Rick’s group is super well-rounded, but they have the advantage of extra time for characterization, and the fact that all of them (apart from Eugene) are so good at what they do makes them more interesting to watch, even when they aren’t doing anything particularly important. This is just a version of the crisis that hits most TV shows eventually—the writers introduce new characters to keep things from becoming stale, but those characters often feel just a little off. Change is hard to take in a medium which prides itself on stability, and to an extent, the Alexandrians suffer from a simple inevitability of perception.

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Whatever the reason, I just do not care about nearly all of these people. “Now” is a collection of vignettes following various characters as they face a new threat: the splinter herd that Rick was trying to lead away in the RV now surrounds the town, effectively trapping everyone inside until Daryl, Abraham, and Sasha get back and can lead them away. This isn’t a bad concept, given that it’s a new danger for our heroes to face. Alexandria’s biggest asset (its security) has been turned into a potentially fatal flaw, and tensions are bound to flare.

Unfortunately, it’s not easy to sell the threat of a siege in a location this large, especially not as quickly as the episode tries to sell it. The weakest scene has the locals freaking out over canned goods, and while the concept makes sense (at first sign of serious danger, everyone falls apart), that doesn’t make it worth watching. The nameless citizens of the town, the ones who pop up randomly whenever shit goes down, have some of the worst actors I’ve seen on the show, and this latest group is no exception. Without any shred of complexity to their behavior, and without any charisma to speak of, they turn into a mob of idiots who I’d be perfectly happy to see dead.

Deanna is at least well-acted, but her arc in this feels like a retread of everything we’ve seen her do this season (and the end of last), and the scene of her son yelling at her felt forced and unnecessarily didactic. “Now” has a fair amount of dialogue, and once again we find ourselves in the land of the “everyone literally expresses the meaning the writers are trying to convey with this scene” exchanges. Having Spencer spell out the exact center of Deanna’s guilt (whether or not that guilt is justified) doesn’t do a whole lot. The later scene of her attacking and failing to kill a zombie till Rick shows up and does it for her is equally direct in its meaning, but at least, we get a monster and some tension for our troubles.

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Watching Jessie’s oldest son spar with Carl and finally warm up to Rick was… I dunno, I’m trying to like the kid, and there are clearly extenuating circumstances behind his behavior, but he’s such a twerp that I find it difficult to get invested in anything he does. At least Carl has reached a sort of mopey plateau. Ron is just the worst teenage cliches wrapped into one, and I have no doubt his apparent decision to be cool with Rick will lead to him, I dunno, panicking and shooting someone down the line. He’s just that kind of nitwit.

Oh, and Rick and Jessie made out, finally laying to rest once and for all any hope that the writers might recognize the depths of Rick’s creepiness. Much love to them both.

It wasn’t all bad, though, and the two good plotlines in the hour were, while not enough to make up for the rest, at least good enough to make you feel like your time wasn’t being wasted. Dr. Denise (who I didn’t realize was Merritt Wever, because I’m a terrible human being) (“I’m a terrible human being.” -The A.V. Club) finally saved a patient! And then she kissed Tara, which I’m really hoping means the two of them are now a couple, because that would be adorable. While most of Denise’s story arc feels like a retread of her last appearance—she’s stressed about being a doctor, Tara says buck up—the fact that her efforts result in a positive gain this time around is a good pay-off.

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There’s also Maggie’s efforts to go to Glenn’s rescue, an arc which fails to give any concrete answers about Glenn’s fate, but still provides just enough closure that it’s conceivable the writers might leave things as is. Glenn’s probably dead anyway, and watching Maggie and Aaron risk their lives to go after him, only to decide in the end that they can’t, at least gives some justification for the show’s weird “Mmmmmmaybe Glenn’s dead and mmmmmmmaybe he isn’t” outside commentary. Aaron once again proves to be one of the show’s most fundamentally decent heroes, punishing himself for his inadvertent connection to the Wolf attack, and Maggie is doing well enough now that she’s able to accept “no closure” as a kind of closure in and of itself.

Also, she’s pregnant, which is the most obvious twist the show could’ve given us at this point. It’s fine, and will certainly lead to some interesting complications in the future, but I’m still not sure what to make of Glenn’s end, if he really is dead. (I can see it going either way this point.) It’s been so long since the show lost a major character that it’s likely any death would’ve felt anti-climactic, and the idea of having someone get killed without anyone there to witness it isn’t a horrible idea. But right now, it doesn’t feel quite finished, and it’s hard to tell if that’s intentional. This is not a show that typically deals with narrative ambiguity, and to have such a prominent example hit in this context is more distracting than it is affecting. Still, Maggie and Aaron make a good team, and the moderate optimism with which their story ends this week is satisfying, even if it is potentially misguided. But then, on The Walking Dead, optimism is always misguided.

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Stray observations

  • It’s not a huge surprise, but Steven Yeun’s name remains missing from the opening credits.
  • No Carol at all this week. Boo.
  • Boy, Rick’s plan has really worked out great, huh. (Actually, it’s worked out just well enough that he doesn’t look like a complete moron. It’s a decent bit of plotting. The writers need complications, because a plan without complications would make for dull TV, but they also need Rick to remain on top in Alexandria, so we get this: a lot of bad timing and worse luck.)
  • Speaking of Rick remaining on top, you could do a decent drinking game with every time a non-Rick character loudly tells someone else how great Rick is. It would be a lot easier to appreciate the character if it didn’t feel like he was being shoved down our throats.
  • “I don’t get to know what happened, I don’t get to know why it happened.” -Maggie

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