*SPOILERS AHEAD … AND FUN FAIR ZOMBIES AND BACKPACKS, OMINOUS DEATHLY BACKPACKS*
Given that I’ve already made liberal use of the Dickensian idea of a tale of a two episodes, it seems only fair that I not repeat myself by riffing on the same thing, though goodness knows The Walking Dead has no such qualms.
Instead let’s throw in some Sesame Street allusions shall we? “One of these things is not like the other, one of these things is kind of the same …”
Granted this rhyming instructive ditty is drawn from a kids’ educational program and the show on the reviewing blocks is less childlike than grittily adult (or it aspires to be) but it’s more apt than you might imagine.
In “Say Yes” and “Bury Me Here” there’s a very real attempt to provide some muscular character development while also advancing the plot; in the former it succeeds beautifully, in the latter not so much.
“Say Yes” is essentially a love letter to the apocalypse.
OK not the apocalypse necessarily but to a relationships that came about and has bloomed because of it – Rick (Andrew Lincoln) and Michonne (Danai Gurira) who were off on a Saviors/Scavengers-precipitated scavenging mission for food, water and guns.
For a mission with a deadly serious purpose, the episode came with a whole of laughs, plenty of the requisite zombie-fighting action (including one scene where a fawn does a bang-up job of standing in for Rick on the undead dining table of choice, the ground) and some moments of genuine sweetness.
This was When Rick Meets Michonne or You’ve Got the Undead, a romantic comedy of the apocalypse where Rick keeps extending their road trip so they can spend more time-in-a-bubble with the woman he loves.
It’s “awwwww” at 50 paces and despite how cloying it might sound, it works and it works damn well.
Sure, there are some pretty dense moments when the casual killing of the undead, borne of much practice and years of studied indifference goes kind off but not fatally off the rails, but mostly it’s the fun of the fair, quite literally, as the lovebirds stumble across a wire fenced-off compound that has a whole lot of guns, ready-to-eat food, and an actual fun fair at its centre (no zombie clowns, thank the nightmare-inducing god).
By contrast, “Bury Me Here” was as grim as it comes, all death or looming death, bullying macho posturing and an inching closer to war.
Not a lot of fun, and very little, OK no, kissing and sex.
This was the end of times writ large, demonstrating some sweet tender moments yes such as when surrogate dad Ben (Logan Miller) shares a touching moment with young Henry (Macsen Lintz) who is learning what he can from Morgan (Lennie James) so he can be just like his big adopted brother (who gets spurned by a typically grumpy Carol, played by Melissa McBride, when he asks for more aggressive weapon training; the School of Carol, it seems, is CLOSED grrrrrrr).
It also saw Carol return to The Kingdom’s fold, and King Ezekiel’s (Khary Payton) embrace, so to speak (god knows what the erstwhile monarch sees in Carol but he really seems to like her).
Centre of the narrative, which saw Richard’s (Karl Makinen) death by “cop” and Ben’s accidental execution – so that’s two deaths for those people playing “Who will die next?” bingo; fun for the whole dysfunctional family!) – was Morgan who was struggling to cope with the fact that taking action against Negan (Jeffrey Dean Morgan), who was mercifully free from proceedings, would require him taking a life, or lots of them.
A pretty powerful philosophical struggle, one he has been engaged in for much of season 6 and 7 and one always destined to die a gruesome death on the altar of realpolitik and the nasty realities of life after civilisation has fallen and largely taken the niceties of human interaction with it (though not extended gun-collecting dates right Richonne?) but one lost almost entirely in a strangely inert episode.
The perplexing thing was that on paper “Say Yes” should have been the lightweight contender and “Bury Me Here” (Richard is nothing if not a meticulous planner even if Nostradamus he is not) the heavyweight champion; what we got instead was a reversal, with the former giving us robust character development and en edging closer to war as the Scavengers ended up with more guns, and the latter a fractured, scattered narrative that never really got where it wanted to go and missed much of the intended emotional resonance.
It was the best of intentions, it was the worst of intentions and in “Say Yes” it delivered up one of the finest, most well-balanced episodes of a violence-blighted season (next to “Swear” aka Tara’s finest hour) and in “Bury Me Here”, well a mish-mash of emotionally-dark moments that really never meshed into a searing existential whole.
Oh it was supposed to, what with Morgan royally – sorry King Ezekiel but he went full emotional monarch on you – losing it in spectacular fashion, not once but twice, yielding his pacifism for violence and losing a part of him in the process, a process stopped a little in its track by Carol rather selflessly offering up her hermit house, swapping for the cosy delights of the now weevil-free The Kingdom – but it never really got there even with some snazzy discordant visual back-and-forths and Morgan’s face hardening to the consistency of concrete drying on a hot summer’s day.
“Bury Me Here” was by no means a disaster of an episode but it lacked its preceding episodic stablemate’s easy emotional impact and truth, a coulda-been effort that illustrated once again how easily this show goes from brilliantly good to pretty much meh indifferent in the space of two episodes.
We got the narrative to inch a little closer to all-out war with the Saviors as King Ezekiel yielded to the inevitable, pushed by Richard’s botched plan and Morgan’s adoption of its intent, but not much more, a sign perhaps that The Walking Dead continues to struggle with balancing character moments, which when it puts its mind to it, it does quite well, and big, bold momentum-building set pieces, a potentially fatal flaw when you’re telling a storyline as expansive as this one.
- In the next episode “The Other Side” the drumbeats of war grow still louder but not before some ill-judged lone-ish vigilante justice and some unexpected visitors who have most certainly not come for tea …