The Walking Dead: “Sing Me a Song” (S7, E7 review)

"Welcome to passive-aggressive summer camp Carl where activities include face ironing, misogyny and threatening violence while singing (image courtesy AMC)
“Welcome to passive-aggressive summer camp Carl where activities include face ironing, misogyny and threatening violence while singing (image courtesy AMC)

 

  • SPOILERS … AND WAY MORE SOCIOPATHIC POSTURING THAN IS GOOD FOR ANYONE FRANKLY

Yes Carl (Chandler Riggs), there is a Sociopath.

Granted that’s not as festive as the traditional “Yes Virginia there is a Santa Claus” but then the eight year old girl who was the subject of that famous editorial was never stupid enough to jump on a truck going to Negan’s compound, never shortsighted enough to stay on the truck when fellow traveller Jesus (Tom Payne) told him to get off it and probably way more savvy than to grab a machine gun, kill two of the members of the utterly misnamed The Sanctuary (Survivors’ Prison? House of Apocalyptic Horrors?) and allow himself to be captured.

In short, Carl is an immature idiot who decided that he, and he alone, had the goods to take on Negan, who remains as smugly annoying as ever, and end the calculating madman’s reign of passive-aggressive terror.

Naturally it caught up to him but rather than kill Carl, or iron his face, which was the fate of one poor survivor who dared to try and subvert Negan’s rule with the smallest of infractions (it involves a red hot metal iron to the face, which helps to explains Dwight’s, played by Austin Amelio, non-catwalk ready face), he taunted him for the entire episode, even getting him to sing a song while Negan walked back and forth with Lucille.

So Carl is stuck, Jesus isn’t and Negan continues with his annoying speeches about bringing civilisation through rules and punitive measures to the poor survivors of the apocalypse who have decided that trading fear of dying-by-zombie for dying-by-sociopath is worth all the neverending existential angst.

It’s not, of course; just ask Dwight who has to repeatedly watch as Negan kisses his former wife Sherry (Christine Evangelista), one of his harem of little black dress-clad wives, who are treated like possessions, a sickening triumph of misogyny in a world that has pretty much reverted back to an undead version of The Dark Ages.

It’s appalling behaviour by any standard, and while it goes some day to underlining that Negan is nothing more than a base, tinpot dictator driven by his genitals and a lust for power like all murderous bullies, you can’t help feeling that it says more about the twisted proclivities of a small part of The Walking Dead‘s gung-ho male fans than any treatise on the evils of dictatorship.

 

Negan is a monster sociopath that much is clear but his bleating about civilisation and rules rings as hollow as any tinpot dictator (image courtesy AMC)
Negan is a monster sociopath that much is clear but his bleating about civilisation and rules rings as hollow as any tinpot dictator (image courtesy AMC)

 

The reality is in season 7 that The Walking Dead is no longer that clever or incisive a show, if indeed it ever was.

Unlike its sister show Fear the Walking Dead, which takes its time to develop nuanced, interesting and measured portrayals of people surviving in the apocalypse, and the way in which humanity functions in a civilisation vacuum, The Walking Dead is all bold, graphic, form-over-substance brutality, its lessons writ large with crayon and little else.

In a fractured episode which rather poorly tried to give narrative space to Daryl (Norman Reedus), who was given a chance to escape his lackey hell by episode’s end (methinks Sherry at work again), Rick (Andrew Lincoln) and Aaron (Ross Marquand) who headed out to get food and supplies for Negan, Michonne (Danai Gurira) who took a Negan disciple hostage to yup, also try to kill the psychopath, and Rosita (Christian Serratos) who bullied Eugene (Josh McDermitt) to make bullets so she could also kill the Alexandrians’ latest enemy – YAWN – there was precious little time to do much more than inch the main storyline forward.

But barely, with an almost comical Keystone Cops-situation developing where everyone bar Rick is attempting to do away with Negan, in a strategy that reeks less of a systematic attempt to vanquish an enemy and more with rather self-serving notions of vengeance.

You can understand why they all want to do it but it’s all starting to look a little silly, narrative-wise, with everyone rushing around trying to off an enemy whose anger they stirred up with their ill-advised massacre of one of his satellite locations.

They brought this mess on themselves but rather than sit down and do some self-awareness testing and work out a way to comply in the short term with Negan’s demands while devising a way to get ride of him in the medium-to-long term, everyone is running around like headless zombie chickens.

It’s not a gripping storyline, it makes otherwise sensible characters look silly and half-arsed and frankly dissipates any narrative tension there might be.

Kudos to writers Angela Kang and Corey Reed for trying to advance a stalled, dead-in-the-water narrative but frankly all they’ve accomplished is to take away any tension there might be – honestly it’s not bad; for all his villainous posturing and passive-aggressive oneliners, Negan is rather a bore, a one-way ticket to a storytelling deadend with no way out but another violent cataclysmic showdown which The Walking Dead seems pathologically addicted to of late.

 

Daryl remains well and truly trapped as Negan's lackey ... or does he? (image courtesy AMC)
Daryl remains well and truly trapped as Negan’s lackey … or does he? (image courtesy AMC)

 

“Sing Me a Song” wasn’t a bad episode per se instead it at least moved the narrative chess pieces forward somewhat but it failed to spark, too diffuse in its focus and too repetitious when it comes to Negan who is a one note Big Bad with little in the way way of variation (as opposed to the Governor who was more layered and nuanced and who possessed a humanising backstory).

There honestly is anywhere for The Walking Dead to go narratively-speaking, a common lament of mine this season  and really the only way forward are ever-more violent “gimmicks” or ever-bizarre revelations (“Oh look this community eat only beaver pelts and ride dolphins to their underwater lair!”)

That is not the basis for any kind of show to rest on and bizarrely heretical though this may be to admit, Kirkman’s creation should take a leaf out of syfy’s Z Nation, which, though it may have started life as a Sharknado-esque parody, is developing quite a muscular sense of style and storytelling, and has something The Walking Dead does not – a compelling, sustaining through narrative.

The Walking Dead needs to develop one and fast because cardboard cutout, one note villains and escalating violence do not a compelling drama make – don’t forget that violent shows like Breaking Bad and The Wire were always underpinned by brilliant characterisation and sophisticated storytelling – and it would be a shame for the show to fizzle out on the back of ever declining, pointless storylines going nowhere.

  • And so we go to the mid-season finale with hearts heavy, and hoping and praying that someone somewhere has the nuclear codes to launch missiles against northern Virginia and … wait … what? … I mean that at least one of the comically solo people trying to kill Negan actually succeeds …

 

 

 

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