SPOILERS FOLLOW … AND ZOMBIE HORDES SHAMBLING ALONG LIKE LONG PUPPIES
The more you watch The Walking Dead, which returned from its season 6 hiatus in spectacularly over the top zombies-to-the-left-zombies-to-the-right-and-right-in-front-of-you-oops-too-late fashion, the more you’re left with the unsettling realisation that Rick Grimes (Andrew Lincoln) and his family of cobbled-together survivors are exactly like … Jessica Fletcher from Murder She Wrote.
Wait … what?! How do two vastly different shows, one a gritty, post-apocalyptic drama about the undead blighting the world of the living, and the other, a cheesy though adorable series about an older mystery writer solving crimes with a happy episode-ending laugh, have even anything remotely in common?
Well, and thank you for asking since it makes the segue that much easier, it’s largely because wherever the core protagonists in both shows went, trouble followed. Lots of messy trouble. In the case of Jessica Fletcher, how anyone invited her anywhere ever again once the bodies began stacking up on every freaking stop on her itinerary is quite beyond me.
But you could equally ask the same question of Rick and his benighted gang who seems to bring havoc, mayhem and the end of all good things wherever they go. Goodbye Hershel’s farm. Goodbye prison. Goodbye Woodbury (granted it was ruled by a cold-blooded sociopath but otherwise it was a pretty cool deal all around). and now goodbye Alexandria.
At least, as it once was anyway.
As “No Way Out” opens, as apt a title as you’re likely to get, zombies without number are swarming the once-picturesque streets of dearly-departed Deanna Monrow’s (Tovah Feldshuh) idyll in the apocalypse, the living are holed up in houses staring out fearfully – well mostly – and the world, once more and with monotonous regularity seems to be coming to an end.
And who’s at the centre of it all? Why Rick, Michonne (Danai Gurira) – who to be fair is often the only spouting usable wisdom and who if heeded, would avoid many of the Fletcher-like debacles that befall anyone who meets the extended Grimes family – Carol (Melissa McBride) and on and on and on.
Honestly if I was anyone in the apocalpyse – yes even new Big Bad Negan (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) who should run the other way, taking his Saviors with him – I’d steer clear of Trouble Thy Name is Rick Grimes and embrace a zombie instead.
Yes a zombie who frankly less of a chance of dying a miserable, awful death than paling around with everyone’s most-scarred ex-sheriff.
Impressively spectacular though “No Way Out” was – everything from Daryl (Norman Reedus) laying waste to Negan’s unhinged henchmen to the big Witness-like group zombie rampage that cleared the streets of Alexandria of the undead, if not their bodies was epic with a Fletcher-approved capital “E” – it spelled out again and again that Rick wrecks everything.
Now you could well argue, that sooner or later all the places they have trashed would have seen their end come anyway, what with it being an apocalypse and all which is more adept at killing off than building up, but even so, as books like Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel make clear, surviving the end of civilisation isn’t just possible and starting again, it can actually happen.
Humanity isn’t quite as stupidly nihilistic as The Walking Dead, for all its laudable dramatic chops and well-executed storylines (for the most part) would have us believe, and eventually, most of humanity, out of sheer necessity if nothing else, would find a way to rebuild civilisation even if it was a mere shadow of its former self.
To be fair, “No Way Out” makes a stab at Orphan Annie “The Sun’ll Come Up Tomorrow” territory at the end when Rick sits by Carl’s (Chandler Riggs) bedside, waiting for him to wake up from having his eye shot out by a very angry Ron Anderson (Austin Abrams) – he had a pretty good reason OK? – and begs him to live so he can see what this world will become.
It’s about as sunny-side up and gee-whiz ain’t-life-a-grand-and-wonderful-thing-maybe as The Walking Dead gets, and was an understandable reaction to almost losing Alexandria, definitely losing Jessie (Alexadra Breckenridge) and Sam (Major Dodson) to the latter’s zombie freakout moment – as gratuitous a death as The Walking Dead has ever offered up; shocking yes but the result of some fairly conveniently lazy writing that prioritised shock value over dramatic momentum – and watching everything go up in flames (well the zombies anyway thanks to Daryl lighting the lake up with gasoline and set it on fire).
And after everyone came together to superhumanly remove the streets of the town of any and all zombies in one of the more viscerally-thrilling, if not THE MOST, scene the series has ever offered up, the sense of fightback and common purpose almost overwhelming (even if the kill rate was a tad unrealistic and cartoonish), and SUCCEEDED, it makes sense that Rick might finally see that what Deanna offered up may not be so pie in the sky anyway.
It was an uncharacteristically upbeat to end what had been a tremendously-intense episode, and follow near escapes for Glenn, Denise (Merritt Wever) – not so much for the Wolf who’d taken her hostage; thanks a bunch stupidly-idealistic Morgan (Lennie James) – Rick, Carl (minus one eye; hello bodaciously piratical eye patch) and Michonne, and you might hope augurs well for there being one less town on Rick’s Murder She Wrote-ian list of geographic, possible-home casualties.
But we all know Negan is near, as well as even more bad guys without number, and so it’s only a matter of time before all the good work of Abraham (Michael Cudlitz), Sasha (Sonequa Martin-Green) and Daryl saving the day with petrol and RPGs and everyone else joining in to Whack-a-Mole/Zombie is pretty much going to be for nothing.
And that my friends is the existential dilemma that confronts this show.
Yes, it’s about the end of the world, which generally isn’t all sunshine-and-roses and is presaged on the idea that humanity is a nasty piece of work and deserves everything it gets and then some.
It all makes for great drama and The Walking Dead makes dramatic hay while the undead sun shines pretty much every chance it gets but the bleak comics source aside, the series is going to need to find some way to balance the nasty and the deadly with more than one bedside articulation of hope it if isn’t going to disappear up it’s collective “life is SH*T” backside.
Because impressive though “No Way Out” was, and it most assuredly was with the night scene alone, flawed though it was with some dumb decisions by key characters, worth the price of admission, The Walking Dead risks becoming a broken record of despair and death if it doesn’t acknowledge that after the deluge comes the drying out and the chance to genuinely rebuild where life isn’t a zero sum game.
It if fails to do that, then you risk the idea of Rick and Jessica Fletcher being soulmates of the most unfortunate kind, less a great way to hang a review together than a reality and no one wants to see that happen.
Unless of course Rick can do a great head tilted back episode ending laugh and then well, all will be forgiven.
- Will life get better? Will there be breathing space? Maybe … maybe not … the promo for next week’s episode “The Next World” is a tad equivocal on that point.