Wednesday, March 23, 2016

TV Review - The Walking Dead Season 6 Episodes 11-14


  The middle four episodes of AMC’s The Walking Dead current half season took on a far more serious tone than the comic-book like first two episodes. After the miracle escapes of episode one and dealing with the hijinks of escape artist Jesus from the nearby Hilltop Colony in the second episode, Rick Grimes and his band of zombie apocalypse survivors took a road trip to the Hilltop Colony, a mostly peaceful self-sustaining village located on the site of a former Living History Farm.

  Our intrepid band is running so low on food stocks in their walled off Alexandria community that den mother/warrior Carol has taken to making sugar cookies using acorn flour and beet sugar. Our group hopes to strike a trade deal with the Colony and Hilltop leader Gregory offers the option to trade food for labor which is rejected. It looks like a deal cannot be made until it is revealed that life on the Hilltop Colony is not as idyllic as it first appears. The Hilltop gives 50% of all their food, livestock, and scavenging finds to a group called the Saviors and their leader Negan. What does the Hilltop get for half of their possessions? They get protection from the Saviors with protection meaning the Saviors won't attack and kill them. A frantic Hilltop resident named Ethan comes to Gregory telling him the Saviors said the last load was light and his brother was being held captive until he brings them Gregory’s head. Ethan then stabs Gregory and tries to kill Rick, who shoves a knife in Ethan’s neck which provides a sample of Rick’s fighting qualities as well as drenching Rick in Ethan’s blood.

  We met some of the Saviors in the first episode of this half season when they were killed by Daryl and his rocket launcher in a cartoonish scene. Rick and company strike a deal with Gregory to kill Negan and the Saviors in return for the same 50% cut that the Hilltop was paying the Saviors.

  In the fourth episode Rick talks the town into taking on the challenge by telling them that they would be running up against the Saviors eventually and by striking first they would have the element of surprise. A raid is performed on a Saviors compound. Rick’s group infiltrates the compound and murders every sleeping Savior they can find while the rest are killed in firefights after they are discovered.

  Rick’s lookouts are captured at the end of the episode by another group of Saviors and held in an abandoned slaughterhouse. The fifth episode entails their improbable escape replete with the symbolism of Carol sharpening the edge of her rosary cross to cut free of her duct tape bonds. More Saviors arrive and are tricked into a ‘kill room’ where Carol burns them alive by throwing a lit cigarette butt into the gas soaked floors proving once and for all that cigarettes are killers.

  This story arc marked a sea change, turning our zombie apocalypse survivors from a group trying to survive and preserve their humanity into premeditated killers. Rick has killed strangers going back to Season 2’s ‘Nebraska’ when he gunned down two men in a bar that were trying to gain access to his farm but normally Rick and his group require provocation before resorting to killing. The ‘Terminus’ group was savagely killed in season 5 but that was after they tried to eat Rick and his group (even going as far as to snack on Bob’s leg). What struck me was how the entire town (except peace-loving Morgan) went along with the plan to kill the Saviors in return for food. There was some hesitation on the part of a few when it came time to actually kill but when the firefight ensued it was every person for themselves and the killing was done without hesitation.

  The main question in my mind is whether Rick and company would have gone in for the trade if their first encounter with the Saviors hadn’t happened. Their first encounter with a member of the Hilltop Colony was with the escape artist and master of deception ‘Jesus’ who has only proved that he is shifty and not totally honest. Hilltop leader Gregory seems to be a sleazebag and I wouldn’t doubt that he deliberately sent a light load to try to cheat on the agreement he brokered. I’m sure the heroes of our tale have a moral superiority to the Saviors but after agreeing to a murder for food trade that superiority is razor thin at best.

  The sixth episode of this half season started showing the monotony of daily life for Grimes & Co. in Alexandria with the same guard tours, supply checks, etc.. For reasons that can only be described as plot development Denise the town doctor insists on going on a run to a pharmacy at a nearby strip mall. Daryl and Rosita accompany her and even let her take on a zombie trapped in a car in order to liberate a cooler that ends up containing a prized six pack of soda that Denise can give to her girlfriend when she gets back from a supply run. Denise makes a speech about how she faced her fears during the supply run when the calm is interrupted by an arrow going through her eye by way of the back of her head, killing her instantly although she was able to almost complete her last thought. The arrow is revealed to be shot by Savior Dwight who encountered Daryl in the first half of the season. Dwight and an entire crew surround Daryl and Rosita. Things are looking grim for out heroes but Daryl regularly faces tough scrapes and is rescued by a pair of his group that was on an unrelated mission as befitting his status as a fan favorite.

  The arrow through the eye is an iconic moment in the comic book although it happened to 3 season veteran Abraham instead of Denise who is just the latest of a long line of Alexandrians to meet their demise this season. The suddenness of the death made me jump out of my chair during the show and while I think that the long time regulars are safe there is the feeling of foreboding that the imminent debut of Negan will make the showrunners want to have a more impactful death.

  Season 5 had the deaths of 2 long time characters (Tyreese and Beth) with newcomer Noah meeting his demise with two episodes left in the season. There haven’t been any old-timers dying this season (Denise was introduced this year) but there are two episodes left before months of waiting for season 7. After a pair of hokey and contrived episodes to start the current half season the last four installments have been riveting, tense, and suspenseful. There is universal anticipation of who if anyone will die next and what a cliffhanger would look like. I can’t begin to hazard a guess although with the departure of Carol from Alexandria because she doesn’t want to kill any more I could easily see her being captured and part of either the cliffhanger or the signature moment of season six. Either way I will be glued to AMC on the next two Sundays for what has turned into a phenomenal half-season.