A few months ago (our time), Rick had a plan. He knew there was a quarry full of zombies near Alexandria, and he thought it would be a good idea to divert the herd from town. Sort of an advance strike to forestall catastrophe. But, ha ha, funny story, Rick’s plan actually managed to split most of town’s most effective fighters up, leaving them vulnerable when a new threat struck—and, okay, you’re gonna laugh, but that new threat, in addition to murdering a lot of people, also managed to attract part of the zombie herd towards Alexandria, thus bringing about a smaller version of the very problem Rick was trying to avoid. Which was bad enough but everyone was dealing with it until a tower, weakened in the earlier attack, collapsed, bringing us to where we are now.

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Thanks, Rick. Thanks a whole bunch. You’re a peach, you know that?

The problem isn’t that Rick is a determined dumb-ass who’s big plays nearly always end in disaster. That’s not great, but it’s a legitimate character type, and, if handled well, could be a savage satire of hubris and entitlement. The problem is that despite his never ending series of fuck ups, Rick remains the go to hero for just about every character on the show.

The only people who disagree with him either wind up dead or else are so infuriatingly stupid themselves that the disagreement carries no weight. Deanna, who gets bit this week and finally ends her time on the show (I guess we could see her again later, but she’s not long for the world regardless), hands over the keys of the kingdom to this man who has destroyed her paradise. Sure, not everything that has happened is Rick’s fault, but at the very least, you’d think folks would be taking his word with a grain of salt instead of swallowing it all without chewing. (That metaphor got a bit weird. Apologies.)

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“Start To Finish” has a chaotic, even thrilling opening, showing the immediate after-effects of the wall collapse and the locals desperate struggle to find shelter. Then we settle into a long, tedious siege as various conversations boil over into conflict, and Jessie’s dipshit older son Ron (as opposed to her crazy younger son, Sam) tries to shoot Carl. He makes a mess of things, but neither of them ends up dead, which means it’s a fight that could still break out at any time, lucky us.

Deanna and Michonne bond over Deanna dying, and it would be lovely, were it not for the fact that we’ve seen at least a dozen of these “piano plays softly while dying person imparts words of wisdom” scenes by now, and they’ve lost their magic. The show still looks and sounds great, and they know how to frame a scene to look impressive, but even impressive framing can’t make up for a lack of story, and there’s just nothing going on here that doesn’t feel like a stall.

Oh, I suppose Morgan and Carol finally battling out is something, although the writers decide to go in the least interesting direction imaginable. Morgan beats Carol, but the Wolf beats Morgan, thus proving Carol’s point; the Wolf kidnaps Dr. Denise and forces her outside of the house, which is sure to go well for them both. Look, it was clearly going to end badly the minute we learned Morgan had taken a Wolf captive and was trying to re-educate him in how to be a human being, because that’s the kind of show this is, but the way it goes badly is just so goddamn dull. Maybe the Wolf and Dr. Denise will escape the town and she’ll somehow manage to turn him around, but for right now, the whole thing feels like a dead-end. Maybe Morgan needed more time with the prisoner; right now, though, he looks criminally misguided, in a predictable, familiar way.

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If I sound frustrated, it’s because I am. This was an empty, calorie- free hour of television, providing no new information, and failing to deliver much on thrills or character development. After seven episodes of rising calamity, the dam finally bursts, and nothing much comes of it. Oh sure, Deanna is dead and Morgan and Carol are probably going to have words later on. (Maybe Rick will banish Morgan or something, I dunno.) I hope Dr. Denise is okay. But I’m not much concerned about Rick and his group making their way to the armory clad in zombie guts, no matter how many times Sam says, “Mommy?” There was so much stalling going on, and we end with nearly every situation in doubt, with no sense of closure to help drive us forward to the next crisis.

Sure, a bunch of cliffhangers sounds like a smart way to close things out for the year, but none of this is promising us the sight of anything new. All we have to look forward to now is clean up work, and while I’m sure the back half of the season won’t just be Rick and the others making their way to the armory, precious little in this episode suggests otherwise. The only scene tonight that sets up a new storyline happened after the credits—happened, in fact, ten minutes after “Start To Finish” had actually ended. I’ll talk about that in the Stray observations, but judging this hour on its own terms, it’s full of clumsy, stupid people doing clumsy, stupid things.

So: Alexandria is most likely dead. Which should be a shame, because this is a town that offered the promise of a fresh start, a hope for the future, but then, that’s kind of what this show is all about, really. It finds hope, and it punishes you for it. It would be easier to mourn if more than two or three of the people in town had made any sort of impression at all. At one point, Deanna tells Rick that they’re all “his” people now, which is pretty much true by default, but that doesn’t make the comment any less funny. So once again Rick blunders into a situation, makes it worse, and ends up in command to do more damage. This would be easier to tolerate if the damage wasn’t so numbingly tedious.

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Stray observations

  • So, that post-credits scene: Daryl, Sasha, and Abraham are stopped on the road by a group of hard-cases. Their leader tells our heroes that they don’t own the truck they were driving, or the fuel in the truck, or any of their weapons. Everything they thought was there’s belongs to a man named Negan. The hard-cases are clearly part of the group that Daryl ran into earlier, and the Neganites are sure to be the next big enemy facing Rick and whatever remains of his town. It’s a great little scene, and it does in two minutes what the entire episode couldn’t accomplish in forty-five: makes me curious to see what comes next.
  • I thought Ron was Jessie’s most useless child, but Sam is putting up one hell of a fight for the title. Listening to creepy music (doesn’t he know that the only time anyone plays something like “Tiptoe Through The Tulips” is because something horrible is about to happen?), freaking out over everything, and, if the final moments are any indication, about to ruin Rick’s plan for escape—the kid really runs the gamut. (You could argue this is a compelling portrayal of PTSD, and I don’t think the actor is doing a bad job with what he’s been given, but regardless of the legitimacy of his trauma, the show has made him into yet another obstacle, one whose psychological breakdown is really only relevant in how it keeps other people from getting what they need.)
  • Carl, with his one good line in ages: “Look, I get it, my dad killed your dad. But you gotta know something: your dad was an asshole.”
  • Glenn and Enid are still out there, in case you were wondering.

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