As inevitably happens on The Walking Dead, the action happens in fits and bursts. And when they end, its with the jolt of a slammed brake pedal. Just like Season 5A, the first three episodes are action-packed before descending into lackluster soap opera and melodrama in the next five. The fourth episode acts as a bottle; last week’s Morgan-centric outing mirrored last season’s Beth-centric. “Now” focuses on Alexandria in the aftermath of the Wolves attack and amid the incoming herd.
The episode continues the Scott Gimple era of focusing on only a few characters each week which is equal parts pragmatic and frustrating. The primary players this week are Rick, Maggie, Aaron, Jessie, Deanna, Spencer with support from Carl, Ron Sam and a bunch of Alexandrian redshirts. Michonne and Morgan pop up for cameos while the adventures of Daryl, Sasha and Abraham outside the walls are left for next episode.
Rick reaches the gates of Alexandria just ahead of the herd drawn by the horn from the Wolves’ truck (SIDENOTE: How the hell did Rick escape the surrounded RV? The magic of a deleted scene? Writer apathy?) and the town is surrounded. It’s at this point I realized this whole season has taken place in one day, which we the audience have experienced over five weeks now. While the Alexandrians experienced the Wolves attack mere hours previous, it feels like a new day for us. That is the danger of Gimple’s style of compressed storytelling.
Maggie teams up with the guilty Aaron to find Glenn but frustratingly, like Daryl’s random side-trip in Episode 3, is rendered meaningless. It’s literally a go-here-then-go-back narrative and by episode’s end the status quo remains relatively unchanged, give-or-take a pregnancy, keeping everyone in stasis while the story waits to once again kick into high gear come finale time.
And really, that encapsulates the problem here. The Walking Dead, as its designed with its half-season, eight-episode story bursts, is really meant to be binged. Case in point, the #IsGlennAlive debacle. Stringing the audience along when all the episodes are there is one thing but when the inevitability of Glenn’s survival is so high, it saps the current drama of stakes. Maybe this is a Millennial entitlement concern born of a Netflix era but the shamelessness of this Is-Glenn-Dead story is blatant.
There’s a lot of speechifying this episode from Rick, Jessie, Aaron Spencer. Aaron feels the need to publicly confess his guilt over accidentally leading the Wolves to their door and Spencer continues to win points and lose them in equal measure with the audience, as if the writers’ themselves can’t decide over who the hell this guy is. Rick and Jessie meanwhile both bring their oratory powers together via mouth fusion (a.k.a a “kiss”). Can you believe Lori died over three years ago? Andrew Lincoln is a patient leading man.
Tovah Feldshuh’s Deanna is vast improvement over her male comic counterpart Douglas and I hope she avoids his fate (which, narratively, would fall at the end of this half-season). Developing these (doomed) characters is almost a necessary evil in the survivalist horror genre The Walking Dead occupies – executing it well is nigh-impossible, but as the cast grows and changes it gets harder to invest in these moments unless the character clicks. As the show does the enviably task of rebuilding its roster of zombie bait, its a constant challenge to, you know, make this stuff interesting.