|Photo Credit: The Walking Dead / Gene Page
Behind comfy steel walls, getting into bed with the Hilltop Colony, and assuming the war with Negan is over, there's really nothing to do. As was evidenced from the opening of Twice as Far. Olivia takes rations checks every day. Morgan plays with himself in the field. Carol waits on Tobin's porch smoking and gripping her cross. Gabriel walks around the compound with a gun slung over his shoulder. And, people take watch: Rosita, Sasha, Eugene, Spencer, and so on.
But there's really nothing to do, except prove yourself. Which is exactly what Denise and Eugene tried to do, and the writers failed to.
Season six has been a mixed bag of emotions. To fully get the impact or rhythm of Part A, the first eight episodes have to be binge-watched on Netflix. There's no watching that week to week because it's too much style. And, Part B drums up sadness and anger for Carol's struggles and the loss of Deanna/Sam/Jessie, and joy for Richonne coming together. After No Way Out, all style was lost and substance was a very poor attempt.
Storylines and character development was started but never came to fruition. Every episode is gonna end on a cliffhanger, and that's what this season failed to do. People dropped in and out like flies. One or two were brought to the forefront, but the absence of others were horribly distracting. The plots and conflicts never felt cohesive, except that Negan is coming. Negan. is coming. We get it.
Probably unlike any show on television right now, The Walking Dead is a fan's show. While one fan can argue at the top of their lungs about season two/three/four/five was boring, another fan can argue about why it's useful. That's what keeps this show in tact - the constant debate between comic book fans versus non-comic books fans, what characters are willing to do to survive and how they keep pushing forward. That's what it means to be a fan: to feel evoked by what's going on.
Season six has been about the comic books and Negan, but most of all it was just numbing in terms of material.
Unlike the farm or the prison or even walking down the road for five episodes, Alexandria was like playing Plinko. Who were we going to focus on and what storyline would be relevant for fifteen minutes? The time and character jumps offered little rewarding evocation. Every other episode is either so on point you think you're hallucinating or so out of character you think you're seeing red and about to hit rage-mode. Good moments were sprinkled throughout but not a good cohesive plot.
Twice as Far was about breaking out of routine. Denise and Eugene want to be like their peers. They want to go beyond the walls and fight the simpleton boxes they're trapped inside. Denise wants to stop being so damn afraid. Eugene wants to graduate from Cowardice to Courageous. So Gimple and writers explored this. Message received.
But how the message was delivered revealed so many gaps.
It tried to be really poignant with foreshadowing. Unlike so many episodes filled with insightful easter eggs, this time around it was just old. The zombie with remnants of a baby locked in the pharmacy storage room. Hush Hush Hush written all over the walls in crayon. The walker Denise killed in the car not only had an empty baby stroller nearby but also looked exactly a mix of Lori and Maggie. Norman telling Denise as the beginning of the episode that if she went alone to the apothecary, she was gonna die alone. The random tidbits about a brother we never knew she had to strengthen her and Daryl's friendship. The focus on Denise was so strong, we knew her end was near. The episode wanted us to wait for something more to come around the bend, and it never arrived.
The writer's have put so much effort into creating an inevitably iconic entrance for Negan, the climb has resorted to being so long and unexciting. Female characters continue to die or leave or suffer so male characters can persevere as a lone wolf alone with his principles. Rick and Michonne just seem to be having celebratory coitus every chance they get to and pop out of their happy honeymoon when the crap hits the fan just to keep canon going. Meanwhile we've lost interest in Glenn and Maggie. Carl and Enid are nowhere to be found. When one side of the community is focused on, we want the other half more. That type of divide is not a good combination.
After the awesomeness that was The Same Boat, this episode also revealed the fatal flaw in television: capable, entertaining and enlightening female, POC, children and elderly will die to keep man pain alive. But that's exactly what we're gonna keep getting.
She left us? SHE LEFT US?!
Anyone else feel like Lex from Jurassic Park. I sure did.
In the aftermath of her and Maggie being kidnapped by the walkers, Carol returned to Alexandria - apparently with a renewed determination to leave.
As Tobin read her goodbye letter, to be honest when Melissa's voice-over started, I thought she was just breaking up with him. To which I SQUEALED like never before. Then rewinding that scene because my screaming muted her speech, it was just about leaving and for the others to not look for her.
Fans are taking her departure as a message that she wants to die. Does she? How can we not think this way? The Saviors are on their way. She knows what's out there. I don't think that's her outright intention - as if she's following her comic book death (suicide) but it's hard not to follow the clues - the "broken" relationship with Tobin, witnessing Daryl's demeanor change in wanting to kill the Dwight instead of letting them go, and killing other people to stay alive.
So like Homer disappearing into the hedges Carol leaves without anyone's knowledge. She's gone and Tobin discovers her Bon Voyage letter.
A major issue in Twice As Far is that Carol couldn't be honest with Daryl anymore. This seems to be the impetus to take off, moreso than the battle against the Saviors. That's how I'm viewing it anyways. I WILL GO DOWN WITH THIS SHIP.
The big moment last week was not only Melissa's performance, but that Carol could finally unveil herself to Daryl. She wasn't okay. He understood.
Fast forward to this week, and it's the opposite. Something tips her off and scares her to still be honest with him. To be honest, I think it's her love for him, not Toby (as everyone is reading it).
Carol unites with Daryl as he's looking over his bike. He declares that he should've killed Dwight and his friends. She knows he's right but she can't say it. Her beliefs are so skewed, her guilt and confusion strengthening, and that final mask gets put on. She can't be honest with him in that moment.
As she gives Daryl her cigs and leaves him to be, he asks, "What did they do to you?" The honest answer is nothing. They were kidnapped. There could've been a trade. Their lives were threatened. Someone had to make it out of that building alive, and Carol was putting all of her eggs in one basket that it would be them. No matter what.
But the way Daryl asks her is that she's completely changed before him. Her inability to agree with him about killing Dwight jars him. Something has changed. For the first time ever, he doesn't recognize her.
And, this is someone who has put on performances in front of Daryl before in season five. She starred in Alexandria as being clumsy with weapons and painting herself as happily married to Ed and loved being a community leader. She rewrote her history in order to infiltrate Alexandria, putting on costumes and telling lies. The rest of Team Family looked the other way, but Daryl knew what a ridiculous show she was putting on. He saw through all of that.
Now the woman in front of him, beyond everything she's done and is capable of, he can't recognize. Instead of her kidnapping bringing them closer, it separates them more.
This isn't the first instance Daryl and Carol have flipped sides. Consumed is the epitome of their conflict when Noah stole their gear; they struggled to kill him and give him second chances. Of course, cinnamon roll Noah isn't anything like Dwight or the Saviors but that struggle is still staring them in the face. To kill or not to kill, that is the question.
The issue here is that, for a moment, she couldn't be real with Daryl on the porch. When they're burying Denise, her words fall in on deaf. He's consumed with revenge and rage, and another innocent person is gone. It's time to go.
I can't love anyone 'cause I can't kill anyone. Carol's heart is more on the line than anything, more than her guilt, and attempted repentance and conflict about killing people to save their food, medicine, supplies, and family. Maybe a part of her doesn't want to live anymore, but moreso than that, a part of her dies when other people die too.
Carol is in so much pain, my head hurts. My biggest fear is that like Morgan, who we should left behind in season four, the writers are going to rabbit-hole Carol so much, fans are going to think we should have left her behind in season four. I don't want to see her go, but goodness the writers will not let this woman have some reprieve. Maybe, at some point, we should just let her be.
You know what's great about Eugene and Abraham? Not much thought is required when they're on-screen. These two - their friendship, their quarrels, their one-liners - are the comic relief.
Of course, the common denominator for Eugene to Denise is that they are own their own missions to prove themselves - to go out looking for supplies, to face their own fears and the preconceived notions other people have of them, to graduate to another tier of survival-dom. Even though Eugene didn't clock out in No Way Out, Eugene still wants more validation in his survivor skills.
With Abraham in tow, they leave Alexandria to a factory where Eugene believes they can start making bullets from scratch. This is some Damn fine genuine outside the box thinking, as Abraham puts it.
The ginger isn't wholly convinced Eugene can take care of the dirty military deeds like he can - pretty much do anything worthwhile. Thinking out of the box isn't the first tool anyone would think is necessary in surviving the apocalypse - but it's gotten Eugene pretty far. Even with all of his eccentricities, it's gotta count for something.
So Mr. Lucille Ball still questions Eugene's changes. It's merely about "flipping the script in a shaped environment for maximum longevity" or something like that. So when a Metal Head walker comes along, pretty much the X-Men Juggernaut, Eugene is pining to get down to business. He struggles, Abraham steps in to do the deed and Eugene's had enough. Dibs is dibs.
Just as Rosita tells Daryl she doesn't want to baby-sit Denise, neither does Eugene want to be watched over or underminded. He arrived at Stage Two of survival a long while ago and wants his friends to recognize it already.
In splitting up, as Denise/Rosita/Daryl are on their way back home, Eugene is captured by Dwight and his cronies. Abraham stays nearby like an older brother trailing his sibling home from schooling.
That out of the box thinking cements Eugene's tactics even more. Waiting for the perfect moment and creating the perfect distraction, Eugene takes a big ol' chunk out of Dwight's penis which causes mayhem and fury as bullets start to fly. Dwight makes it out alive as Team Family carried a wounded Eugene home.
People think that surviving is all physicality - how many whacks with a machete you'll throw or guns you'll fire. But I guess for Eugene it's also just thinking a little differently than everyone else. When you can see way to survive, you gotta fight your way towards it, and perhaps think your way too.
That's pretty much what Eugene's big moment was: biting someone's crotch. It was iconic, and hysterical, and shocking. It didn't add anything to Eugene except the lengths he'll go to to survive. Which is pretty huge considering how he used to be. Long-gone is he the wimp running down the street and making up fictional missions to survive, or allowing other people to step in and die for a lie. He saved Tara. He held Nikolas at gunpoint on the on drive back in Spend. He wimpered a little in taking Rosita's weapons class but he didn't clock out. He's not clocking out anymore. That's pretty cool. Eugene's got manhood. Literally.
Denise's death left me numb.
She had a pleasing presence. One of the few surviving Alexandrians to care about. Her relationship to Tara ended too short. But everything now ends too short.
I'll miss her. She reflected all of us on The Walking Dead. Every fan wonders how they'd survive in the zombie apocalypse - all-rage modes like Rick, silent killers like Michonne and Daryl, transformed survivors like Carol. Each has their own issues that makes them weak and strong. But Denise was another nervous little birdie who somehow made it, like Beth and Tyrese, and was trying to step up to the plate without knowing all the rules to the game yet.
But she was also a means to the showrunner's end.
Denise was good. She was changing. Impetuous and silly in her plot to face her fears just by killing a walker. But that's what people need to do these days to realize something about themselves: square off against the fleshy jowls of walking dead.
She shouldn't have been a red shirt. She was funny and brave; she was in love, a doctor, saved Carl, and was forming friendships. She died getting a gift for her girlfriend and trying to overcome her anxiety. She was also built up for sympathy and as an underdog to root for just to see her killed off. Merritt Weaver expressed knowing that she was a one season character, and it's true. Most Alexandrians are on a time limit. We're gonna lose people in this fight leading up against Negan.
But then there's that question of if a character gets killed off, it's only a matter of when. So if someone stays long enough, the attachment gets stronger and then fans are really screwed.
Characters getting killed off is not an issue. It's the how. Deanna went out "great". Tyrese too. Merle. Herschel. But Noah? Nikolas? Andrea and Lori?? T-Dogg? Axel and Oscar? And since I'm the only one in her camp, Beth? No.
Denise had wanted to break free from Alexandria for a while. Her asking Daryl to look for certain supplies is now a way to look back on how she always wanted to go out. And, how their friendship built. It felt like brother and sister, (and honestly didn't need extra context about Denise's own brother Dennis to make it feel complete. It already was). Like most female friendships on the show, we didn't see Denise interacting with Rosita that much. We're supposed to assume what goes on behind every episode. Denise wanted them to go with her to make her feel safe and strong. And she did.
Then in the midst of her grand soliloquy, she took an arrow in the eye. By Dwight, who Norman should've killed.
Because she's a doctor, she served a purpose. Carl is still alive because of her. Eugene is still alive because of her. It's her insatiable want to go outside the walls that she thought of Edison's Apothecary where more supplies might be; to go outside of Alexandria because there was nothing to do; and she wanted do something because she was scared.
Once upon a time, Tara was scared too. Joining up with Glenn, he helped her become brave. She, in turn, encouraged Eugene to be brave. And he made it to Stage 2 survival. When she and Denise shared their initial feelings, it's what made Denise come out of her shell and to have a loving relationship - just like Glenn and Maggie, Richonne and Rick.
The Walking Dead is a bit like Mean Girls: You get pregnant and you die. You fall in love and you die. You stay single and you die. Literally, do anything and die anyways.
You walk outside, you risk your life. You take a drink of water, you risk your life. Nowadays you breath and you risk your life. You don’t have a choice. The only thing you can choose is what you’re risking it for. - HershelSo, why did Denise have to die for a can of soda - exactly? Because it was to give to Tara who went on a run. But she lost her life for a can of soda? So, I ask really? And to escalate the man pain left over from Beth's death that wasn't accurately or deeply dealt with?
Yes, she did it proving something for herself and giving an impassioned, if not, naive speech. Don't get me wrong: I loved Denise. She was like a fawn learning how to walk; a newbie wanting to get to Stage 2 just like Eugene but it was wrong place and wrong time. But in a flash she was suddenly in the starring role as Bambi's mom. There so much more left for her and for Tara. I wish she'd said I loved you. I wish she hadn't been so scared. But that was the beauty of Denise: she was terrified of being a doctor, so she became one. She was terrified of letting other people die for her, of not doing enough. So she went out there, she got more than enough in supplies...but that wasn't good enough.
What was the takeaway here? To prove that being behind the walls can feel too safe and people are inching to face their fears. Okay, but is it smart to make someone take reckless risks for a can of soda? Even if it was for Tara? Denise was smart and seemed to be measuring gains versus losses, which is why it was hard to buy her going after a walker because of what might be inside a freakin' cooler. Even if she wanted to be like her peers and to stop being afraid. It was silly.
Was I starring in a Snickers commercial and my alternative personality was Jim Carrey in Dumb and Dumber? CAROL IS GONE. DENISE IS DEAD. OUR PETS HEADS ARE FALLING OFF. *eats a Snicker* Nope, I still feel like Carrey.
Denise's death runs further than the forced poignancy the show tackles. It's showing that female characters, singularly and in a relationship or friendships, is asking too much. That too many characters are confined as red shirts we will love and actually know by their name but forever wish they were bigger parts of the whole. You didn't deserve this.
Oh So Pretty, Rosita.Additional Thoughts:
+ Hope I didn't bum anyone out with this post. But this one really got to me.
+ WHERE THE HELL IS CARL. OR AARON.
+ Norman Reedus not knowing how to drive a stick shift? Best piece of fiction on a zombie apocalypse show.
+ At least Rosita moved onto Spencer, and Abraham and Sasha are giving it a go. Perhaps we skipped the stupid aftermath of their relationship's falling apart? Perhaps two complex and layered women aren't going to fight over a man?
+ In that short scene where Sasha was on the watchtower, and Rosita took over someone else's shift, Sonequa Martin-Green was amazing. She didn't have a line of dialogue. She just a glance down at Rosita at the gate and then into the horizon. You could feel the tension and her heavily weighing her options.
"I have choices. You have 'em too. It could be 30 years for us here, and that'd still be too short." Damn Abraham. You know how break a heart and win someone else over, don't you.