Monday, March 30, 2015

The Walking Dead Season 5 Finale, "Conquer," Recap

**This review is based off of the televised episodes (not the comic book storyline) of The Walking Dead, covering events that have already aired. May contain spoilers for those who are not caught up.**


All right, y'all. We made it. And so did our favorite WD peeps, which was a huge, but welcome, surprise after all they put us through in Season Five. That made us all (well, me) especially anxious heading into the finale, which producers and cast members warned would be a doozy. That amped up the tension for some already powerful, tense scenes where we got *really* close to losing Glenn, Rick and our beloved Daryl. (I can't even...)

The 90-minute episode started with a tense and brilliant re-introduction of fan-favorite Morgan, who had been trailing our intrepid survivors all season. We didn't know what to expect from Morgan, given his precarious emotional state the last time Rick, Michonne and Carl encountered him in Season Three's "Clear." Lennie James, the actor who portrays Morgan, has a compelling intensity anyway and he led this first scene brilliantly.

We don't know what to expect when he encounters the first live person we've found with a "W" on his head, who gives some insight on the Wolves mystery. He confirms my earlier theory about a group of humans who create zombies to do their dirty work, which - thankfully - was one of the only things I was right about. The "W" traveler tells Morgan that he plans to take everything he has and all that he is, and Morgan tells him that *probably* ain't gonna happen... before promptly beating this guy's ass, along with his buddy, Yoda-style with a handy wooden staff.

On the Talking Dead, Chris Hardwick said that apparently Morgan had been off training at the Jedi Academy, which sounds about right. I don't know where he learned all his crazy moves but it set the tone immediately for this episode, and for Season Six, really, that we have another kickass character for the show. After losing Tyreese especially, this was welcome news. The Walking Dead giveth just like it taketh away.

Since we already have a Samurai, Morgan appears to be eying the role of a Shaolin monk. He doesn't actually kill these two marauders, instead giving them sanctuary inside an abandoned car where they can recover and go on their merry way long after Morgan is long gone. This merciful decision, and Morgan's idea that all life is precious, will come back to bite us all in the ass later, but hey. Season Six, right?


Rick was sleeping off his latest Shane-esque episode under the watchful eye of Michonne, who had layeth the smack DOWN on Rick in the final moments of the last episode. This once again demonstrates she is really the only member of their group who could show that same level of leadership and strength as Rick's equal. She's doing whatever she can do to keep the peace, trying to keep it together, so they can all stay in this safe place that they have found with folks who don't quite grasp the gravity of the situation. If that sounds familiar, it's because it is. Michonne is now channeling Season Two's Rick from the farm, when he had to corral Shane right as he was going off the rails.

Also stepping into her own was Carol, who immediately assesses the situation, breaking it down for Glenn, Abraham, Michonne and Rick. She knows that Alexandria is full of innocent folks who just want to protect, with everything they've got, their happy ending. She knows how to use that to her advantage. Rick tells them what they have to do to "conquer" Alexandria, which perplexes both Glenn and Michonne - neither of whom want to resort to threats or violence to make their point, or secure their position in this new town. Carol has no such reservations. She's ready to do whatever needs to be done to ensure their safety in this new town, and the safety of everyone in it - both groups included.

Season Five will probably go down, for me, as the Season of Carol. This is where we see how far this character has come from the beginning. I feared for her all the way through this episode, which I expected to end much, much bloodier than it actually did. She's ready for war, and really... so are we. So when she shows up at Pete's door, with a friendly little casserole, and a big-ass knife, we see exactly how she's changed from the mousy little thing Ed the Asshole (EdHole) used to bully. In fact, Carol, though smaller and less obviously deranged than Pete, is wayyyy more threatening and dangerous when she delivers some not-so-friendly advice in a bone-chilling even tone. It promptly puts him in his place when she tells him she can kill him and there's nothing anyone will do about it, and he knows it. You know you've bitten off more than you can chew when Scary Poppins is laying down the law. "I want my dish back clean when you're done."

Maggie campaigns actively with Deanna to keep Rick as part of the group. Her husband, Reg, tries to assure Maggie that the only way they can survive is together. He wants to bridge the gap, despite the worrisome behavior exhibited by the members of our group... like say - SASHA, and her quiet, alone-time lying on top of a pile of walkers she's been collecting in a ditch. Girl's got some issues, but understandably so. She's torn between the desire to make it all stop, to make it all go away, and the innate desire to keep surviving at all costs.

We knew from the teasers that Daryl would encounter some trouble outside the walls, where he travels with Aaron to find new recruits for their idyllic little town. He gives some insight on the last people to be exiled from Alexandria, which remains the biggest threat for Rick at this point, again a throwback to Season Two and the decision Rick was forced to make to either exile, or execute, Randall.

Daryl and Aaron observe from afar a traveler in a red poncho, whom Daryl wants to track because he demonstrates survival skills. This doesn't really do much for Red Poncho Guy later in the episode, however, something I guess we all should have seen coming due to the color he wore, a nod, whether intentional or not, to Star Trek.

(I mean, really. Why on earth would he wear something so visible? One would think that, traveling alone in a world where you are hunted by BOTH walkers and humans, you wouldn't necessarily want to draw any attention to yourself.)

I kinda wish Nicholas was wearing something red, to be quite honest with you. I want this prick (Prickolas?) dead in THE worst way. He scales the wall and Glenn goes after him - without being armed - which was absolutely no bueno. Remember, we were promised that some sad times were a'comin, and with Daryl already out fifty miles away from safety, we really didn't need another one of our favorites in such peril, which happens later when Prickolas decides to SHOOT GLENN out of the clear blue sky.

STABBITY. Where's a grenade when you need one?

Quite fortuitously, Daryl and Aaron happen upon an abandoned food supply company with a bunch of what appear to be loaded trucks. This goldmine of a find promises enough food to feed their growing community. If it seems too good to be true, it totally is. We already knew that the Wolves were setting traps, and this one was a DOOZY, y'all. I have never been more scared for Daryl in. my. life. When Daryl springs the trap, which - btw- seems REALLY unDaryl-like, it unleashes dozens upon dozens of walkers that force our adorable little rats Daryl and Aaron into a handy abandoned car in the parking lot. Not helping things much is the discovery of a note that let them know, in no uncertain terms, they were in a trap and bad people were coming.


This nail-biting, edge-of-your-seat sequence was classic Walking Dead. I know all of us were preparing our riot gear when it appeared that Daryl had no hope, which they sold *convincingly.* My sphincter has yet to unclench.

Back in Alexandria, Rick himself is "sprung" from solitary confinement, returning home to Carl, who insists that Rick needs to do whatever he can to convince the Alexandrites to keep him around. "They need us. They'll die without us." It gives us some insight into how Carl is maturing in this new, disturbing world. Thanks to his "parents," i.e., Rick and Michonne, who has stepped in as a pseudo Mom in Lori's absence, (and doing it better, if ya ask me,) we see the best of both of these characters in Carl. It kind of makes me resent Jessie's presence, frankly. Yes, Rick has the hots for her. Yeah, she's pretty and has that whole wholesome Mom/damsel in distress thing going on. But I am soundly Team Richonne and have been since Season Three. There is more unexplored chemistry between Rick and Michonne than I've seen in Jessie and Rick, demonstrated later in that epi when Michonne tells him in no uncertain terms that she's got his back, and will go with him, regardless.

That's love, y'all.

Michonne is no Andrea. She's not going to swap the family she's chosen for a warm bed. She couldn't. And Rick knows that. That's why he comes clean to Michonne, because he knows he has to. He can and does trust her, letting her know that she was the one who could talk him down from the ledge and change his mind. Their bond runs deep.

Jessie who?

Daryl and Aaron share a bonding moment of their own in the car where they're trapped. Daryl admits that he feels more like himself anywhere but Alexandria, even in that cramped little car where peril looms inches away from his handsome face. (Yes, I love him. Get over it.) Aaron admits that Daryl was the reason he chose to bring his group back to Alexandria. (He loves him too. So there. :P ) When Daryl decides he needs to make a run for it, despite the fact that the car is covered with snarling, hungry walkers, Aaron tells him that they do it together or not at all. As we brace for the two turning into zombie chow, Morgan shows up to save the day. I've never been happier to see ANYONE in that whole damn show, especially when his quick thinking and magical staff gets our guys to safety on the other side of the fence. Aaron immediately offers that they all go back to Alexandria, but Morgan makes it clear he's on his own mission. He's tracking Rick Grimes, for whatever reason, and he innocently offers the map to figure out where he's going. From the look on Daryl's face, we know that's probably back to Alexandria. (Yay!)

Oh, Father Gabriel. I've never wanted a man of the cloth to bite it so freaking bad. You committed what felt like an unforgivable crime, betraying our group to Deanna just like Judas. When you went out, alone, unarmed, to invite death - I was truly hoping you'd find it. Instead, like Sasha, the fight to survive kicked in just in the nick of time, denying us all the very satisfying idea of watching you be torn to shreds just like your congregation once once.

But no. You returned to Alexandria in one piece and - oddly - without one speck of blood on your pristine white shirt. It's much cleaner than your hands, which are stained with the blood of everyone who crosses your path. That you left the gate ajar, with no thought to anyone's safety, was classic Father Gabriel. If we didn't have you to fuck things up, just where would we all be?

Oh right, SAFE in a zombie-less, walled community. Thanks for nothing, Gabe. #stillnotoverit

Showing much more forgiveness than I can apparently muster this episode were Abraham and Eugene, who finally got to chat about their painfully strained relationship over Tara's sickbed. Abraham actually musters an apology of all things. It was gruff but sincere, showing his growth from the suicidal soldier without a war he was when Eugene first happened upon him. It was a nice little moment before everything started falling to shit.

Again, classic Walking Dead.

Prickolas shows some growth out beyond the walls, abandoning his gun for a knife to handle a walker. So he can be trained. Still don't care. He gets promptly tackled by Glenn (YAY) and they get a few good licks in before Prickolas once again leaves someone for dead when a small horde shows up. Again he puts our Glenn in peril, and AGAIN I'm ready to go through the TV and slit the douche bag's neck my own damned self. I felt relatively sure going into tonight's episode that our Glenn was safe and sure to survive. He'd been on the Talking Dead in recent weeks, which I thought for sure was a dead-giveaway that he'd be in the clear. A fan favorite like Glenn would get a proper send-off, I was sure. And there's still that whole ugly business with Negan coming, where Glenn played a big part of his introduction in the comic book. Yet despite that, I truly feared for his safety this episode, which made it even more stressful to watch. I know it's going to hurt to lose Glenn one day and I ain't ready. There. I said it.

Rick soon discovers the open gate, realizing at once that a walker, or several, have infiltrated the town. He skips the community forum that night track down these walkers before they get to anyone, particularly the ill-prepared Alexandrites he's been charged now, by his son (and probably his own conscience,) to protect. They are clueless to this as they gather to argue his fate in their fine hamlet. It's up to Maggie, Carol and Michonne - and even Abraham in his unique poetic way - to make inroads for the absent Rick. "Who he is is who you're gonna be, if you're lucky." Little do they all know it means learning how to shove a gun right through the brain of a walker in one of the nastier Finger Shields moment of the episode. (Ick.)

Meanwhile Sasha, our sharpshooter, has taken a mental health moment to find sanctuary in the makeshift church, turning to Father Gabriel (ick) for emotional and spiritual guidance. Instead he harshly condemns her behavior, telling her that she doesn't deserve the safety she now enjoys within the walls. He stokes her emotional instability by invoking images of Bob and Tyreese. This doesn't go well for the near-suicidal priest, who finds himself at the hands of a woman equally at the end of her rope.

I may or may not have been yelling, "Do what you gotta DO, girl!" at the TV. But I'm not bitter. :/

Maggie channels Hershel a LOT in this episode, using reason to reach the fearful Alexandrites. When Deanna shares with her community that Father Gabriel had come to her, to warn her about the group, it becomes clear that Maggie did not and would not act on this information, though she was privy to it the minute it happened. This comes into play when she happens upon Sasha holding a gun on Father Gabriel. When Father Gabriel finally owns his most heinous act, leaving his whole congregation to be torn to bits just outside the church walls that kept him safe, it is Maggie who reaches out a hand to him, literally, to pull him up from his lowest point, literally. She is the spiritual center for these two lost people, holding them together in a way that would have made Hershel proud. Her act of mercy mirrors her husband's as he has Prickolas at gun-point, with the sniveling little weasel begging for his life. (WHAT ABOUT NOAH, YOU ASSHOLE? HIS SCREAMS STILL RING IN MY EARS.) I may or may not have been yelling, "Do what you gotta DO, baby!" to the TV. As mad as Glenn was, as well as Steven Yeun NAILED that performance, he didn't shoot the fucker point blank like he deserved. Instead he leads him back to safety arm in arm, typical Glenn. I fear that Glenn's act of mercy, not unlike Morgan's, will come back to haunt them all in Season Six. I trust Prickolas about as far as I can throw him at this point. But who knows what kind of justice he will face when he gets back to Alexandria?

Things are changing there by the second after Rick hand-delivers a walker to this frightened community meeting, taking a cue from Carl to "make them listen," to what he has to say. Reckoning back to his Ricktatorship speech of Season Two's finale, his "How many of you do I have to kill to save your lives?" speech makes it crystal clear that they need him, and he'll do what he needs to do to keep them safe whether they like it or not.

Enter Pete, wielding Michonne's Katana. :/ In a scene taken almost straight from the comics, Pete slits poor Reg's throat and he dies in his wife's arms. Deanna, overcome with her grief from her back-to-back losses, gives the green light to Rick to do the dirty deed she could never do. Leave it to Rick to finally get ONE gratifying death of the finale. He doesn't waste a second to waste Pete right in front of everyone, including Jessie. And of course this is where Aaron and Daryl happen upon the gruesome scene. They have returned with "All life is precious" Morgan, who is STUNNED to see how far Rick has come since the last time they met. It is truly an "Oh Shit" moment worthy of a season finale.

Given the Wolves are now virtually at their back door, fifty miles away but armed of the knowledge of their community and what all they possess, this deftly laid drama promises to make Season Six interesting to say the least.

I, for one, was glad to see Michonne put the Katana back on her back where it belongs. We know she'll need it.

Though the episode was expanded, I did not think it dragged for one minute. It had enough suspense, and I was terrified enough at what might happen, that I was on the edge of my seat the whole time. When it ended I took several deep breaths, glad that all of Rick's group, particularly the five (or six, really) that we started with in Season One, are still breathing. Even so, I'm kinda glad we get a break till they start the craziness again in October. Whether these "wolves" are two loners who just figured out a way to survive with their zombie army, or are a part of a larger, more dangerous group (Negan,) remains to be seen. There's plenty of time to speculate as we all catch our breath and put Season Five to rest at last.

I'll just say I'm excited that we have the full crew + Morgan to handle what comes.

And I guess that's it for now. See y'all again in October!

Monday, March 23, 2015

The Walking Dead recap "Try"

**This review is based off of the televised episodes (not the comic book storyline) of The Walking Dead, covering events that have already aired. May contain spoilers for those who are not caught up.**

I won't lie. Season 5 of The Walking Dead will, for me, go down as the most emotionally taxing. Honestly I was numb going into last night's episode. After everything we've been through, from the Termites, to Father Gabriel, to gaining and losing great characters like Noah, (#inmourning #ineedahug) and losing old favorites like Bob, Beth and Tyreese, I have to admit that I'm more apprehensive than normal when Sunday rolls around. Anything can happen, and things have been setting up like a powder keg every episode since they arrived at the Alexandria Safe Zone.

With only one episode to go before the 90-minute finale, we knew that a couple of issues had to come up and - honestly - several people have got to go. "Try" addresses a couple of these issues, in a very odd, disjointed WTF manner that left my whole family wondering what the hell we had just watched.

It started with an odd memorial for Aiden, Deanna's son, who bit the big one on the last episode.

(That shallow pool listened to NIN, really?)

Deanna is understandably distraught that her son didn't return from a run. But is she necessarily surprised? If I have one complaint about the Alexandria storyline, it's that it's being written as too black or white. Aiden was clearly an idiot who cared more about how his dick was swinging than doing his job. After roughly two years of this kind of "more balls than brains" leadership, he'd have killed himself long before our group showed up. So the question isn't, "Did Rick's group kill Aiden?" It's more, "Why are we so surprised it took him two years to kill himself?"

Granted the Alexandrites tend to get each other in dire situations and then bail, saving their own skin first. But I'm having a little bit of trouble suspending belief that, as ignorant as they are portrayed, they haven't all just died already.

He shot a grenade, people!

("Well, Ginger... to be fair he didn't see the grenade." Maybe... but he was unloading his weapon on a walker in full riot gear, drawing more walkers with the sound. How is it that Maggie, who was raised on a freaking farm, knew to get close and use her blade, and the dude with ROTC training kept shooting? I mean... honestly. I can't even.)

More evidence of stupidity... the pressure cooker that is the Good Surgeon Pete, who shows up creepy and drunk more often than not. When Rick takes this issue to Deanna, she admits that she knows he's got a problem but he's a surgeon, dammit. And she's willing to keep someone around who is emotionally unstable for the benefit of the group as a whole. Not sure how having a drunk, emotionally unstable surgeon is better than having no surgeon at all BUT this is the current rationale of leadership in Alexandria.

If you go back several episodes where our group was on the way to Alexandria, Aaron even tells Noah (#momentofsilence #stillinmourning) that they have a "brilliant" surgeon named Pete at the compound who could help him with his limp.

So Aaron, who prides himself on being able to tell the good people from the bad people, is clueless to how bad Pete really is AND he's extolling his brilliance as a surgeon when the dude can't even stay sober in the daylight?


That Aaron is the smartest of the Alexandrites doesn't bode well for *any* of them, frankly.

And Nicholas. I can't even get into Nicholas. If I had been Glenn, there would still be traces of traitorous fuckhead's face on the cement near the warehouse where Noah died (#momentofsilence #fuckrevolvingdoors.) That's not how Glenn rolls, though, even when he had to watch the brutal death of a treasured new friend/brother. After a bit of research, I came to realize that Glenn has no human kills. You remember those three questions, I'm sure. How many walkers have you killed? How many humans have you killed? Why? Well, Glenn has not yet been forced to deal with a human in this way. Even in "Four Walls and a Roof," he and Maggie stood back in shock while Rick, Sasha, Michonne and Abraham went feral on the Termites who dared to show their faces at Father Gabriel's church. (#judas #lookattheprettyflowers) Glenn also showed a great deal of trepidation in Season Two's "Nebraska," where Rick used deadly force on a couple of sketchy strangers they happened upon in a bar, searching for Hershel.

In fact, the only human that Glenn seemed on board to execute was Season Two's Randall. It caused a rift between him and Dale right before Dale's untimely demise. Maybe he's still carrying that guilt? Maybe he just isn't that kind of guy? Either way... his insistence to save Nicholas, while noble, I fear will come back to bite him in the ass eventually.

I always have mixed feelings when I realize that Daryl will be playing a bigger part in the episode, especially since he's spending more time outside the walls of Alexandria than inside. He and Aaron are out on a scouting mission, which - like I said, doesn't bode well that Daryl is going to have to compensate for the ineptitude of one of the Alexandrites. They don't recruit anyone else, but the mystery of the "W" walkers deepens when they find a naked woman tied to a tree. In one of this episode's only real Finger Shields moment, a couple of things become clear. One, this woman was put there on purpose, likely by someone who brutalized her first. She was likely alive when it happened, and left there for Zombie Chow (bait?) in a manner eerily similar to Carol's terrifying bedtime story for Sam weeks ago. When they raise her head, they see the "W" marked in her skin, right around the time she starts to rouse as a walker.

First thought: whoever is doing this is purposefully turning people into walkers, and branding them for some unknown reason. A sadistic fuck to be sure, and our guys are right there on his or her tail. Greaaaat. Are the "wolves" that are coming a zombie army, rather than a group of people? Are zombies being "raised" to infest/overrun decent communities and then dismembered and torn apart later after the deed is done? Consider what happened to Noah's (#momentofsilence #nicholasmustdie) community, where it was burned out and raided, leaving behind dozens of dismembered zombies as some kind of sick calling card. The Governor has already set a precedence for this back in Season 3, where he busted down the gate of the prison with a van full of walkers, to infiltrate the fortress and scramble those who lived there, leaving them vulnerable for a takeover. And if this is the purpose of The Wolves, just who the heck is the sick mind leading them?

(I don't think I'm ready for the answer to this question.)

Another problem I had with last night's episode was the continuing Shane-ification of Rick Grimes. The poor guy has been through some stuff and we can all sympathize. But it seems as though the Rick who walked through the gates at Alexandria is not the same Rick we met at the beginning of Season Five. Even in Season Four's finale, where he ripped the throat out of Claimer Joe with his teeth, he experienced that WTF moment of "Who am I? What am I becoming?"

I refuse to believe that this world has turned our favorite Officer Friendly, who always led with loyalty and honor, would immediately latch on to someone like Jessie. Yes, she does represent the feminine ideal to someone like Rick. We already know he has a thing for delusional damsels in distress. And yes, we know that he has little tolerance for those who hurt others because they get something out of it. But I'm having a bit of a problem with the idea that he's willing to kill a man to get to his wife. That's way more Shane than Rick. I know that this world has taken a lot from Rick, but I should hope his inherent character isn't one of them.

This isn't a matter of survival. Not really. Rick could beat him down (and did, hallelujah,) and do the job he's there to do as constable... keep law and order in their fledgling society. No, Rick wants him gone, out of the way, finito. Carol got right to the core of it when she told Rick, "I know why YOU want him dead."

I find it just has hard to believe that Pete is just *now* getting out of control. Sure, he finds Rick a threat. But he also tried to intimidate Carol as well, and Deanna already knew that he was hurting Jessie (which means he probably wasn't doing a whole lot to hide it.) For the Alexandrites, his skill-set is worth turning a blind eye. That's empowering for a sociopath, which it is clear he's turning out to be. So why is this just *now* coming to a head after years of idyllic Virginia compound living?

Sadly for Rick, he's showing a few psychotic tendencies of his own. "KEEP WALKING." (Shudder.) This led to the brutal beat-down at the end of the episode. True, Pete did start it. ("Ah. Stupid man.") He was relentless as he pushed Rick to the edge, maybe thinking of the two men, he was the more valuable to Deanna than the brand new constable and thus, would avoid being exiled like Rick is now likely to be.

Rick promptly loses his shit and turns a gun on the Alexandrites who try to intervene with his doling out some Shane-like Georgia justice. His rant, which is largely (sadly) on point - that they are too naive and clueless to survive on their own - was cut short when Michonne clocked him from behind, fulfilling her duties as co-constable. It is also the first "betrayal" of loyalties, where she turns on Rick in order to preserve the community they now share.

This was your real WTF moment of the episode. Michonne evolved quite a bit in this episode. Earlier in the show, we saw Michonne lying on her nice new bed with crisp, fresh linens, still fully dressed, ready to go at any given moment, showing that even in this seemingly safe environment, our Michonne is still in there somewhere. But when she and Rosita go out looking for Sasha, she fails to take her Katana with her. (Both scenes are a masterclass in "show don't tell," btw. Kernels of brilliance in an otherwise unbalanced episode.) Right before the epic #GIRLPOWER scene where Sasha, Rosita and Michonne take down a horde all on their very own, we see Michonne mentally process her timeline in flashbacks, where she goes from hooded stranger dragging around "pets" to the woman she is now: a protector... a nurturer. She's going to do what needs to be done to protect those she feels called to protect, which is what happened with Sasha.

It was that nurturer who decided to knock Rick out so he wouldn't get himself, or the rest of them, ejected from this new bastion of safety/civilization.

But it does hint at a breakdown of the group. If Deanna decides to exile Rick and Rick alone, who will stand with their venerable leader, and who will stay for the illusion of safety that can be found behind the walls in Alexandria? After their time on the road, when they were without food and water and at the brink of their own survival, who of this group will forfeit running water, electricity, walls and community to follow a virtual madman? Even Carl tried to rein his father in. If given the choice to keep Judith safe and be loyal to his father, if those are two competing ideas, which will he choose?

These are the questions we're left with as we race towards Season Five's finale which, once again, threatens the sanctuary where our survivors have found themselves.


Normally I'd bitch loudly about their going back on hiatus so quickly after returning to air. (Feb. 8 - March 29... really?) I'd have plenty to say about the long wait till (likely) October before we get more new episodes.

Frankly, y'all... I could use the break. This season has been a doozy. It *terrifies* me what's to come. (And we all know what's to come. His name is Negan and, if it plays out like I fear it will, will likely be the jumping off point for this particular WD fan.) I'm mired in the muck, as it were. And as we're losing all the characters who promise hope, who promise humanity, who make us care, I'm wondering what point there is to keep watching. Eventually they're all either going to die a martyr or live a villain, and much sooner rather than later at this rate. Some we barely get to know before they're gone, speeding through characters just to build up a body count.

Beth and Bob, I get. Tyreese and Noah? Missed opportunities.

The things I love about the Walking Dead have been sadly scarce this season. The pacing has been all off for me this time around. It started when, after the half-season buildup to Terminus, the issue with the Termites was virtually solved in the opening episode. Our people have been floundering from one setting to the next ever since, and then when they get somewhere they can more leisurely explore the key draw to The Walking Dead (what happens to humanity when civilization breaks down,) everything happens all at once, like a box of fireworks that detonates prematurely. I wouldn't have minded a slower burn at Alexandria, where the people weren't so flipping stupid that the destruction of their bubble is so freaking imminent. The way it is now, it feels like we're burning through key events in the comic to get us closer to the next "money" shot, relying on constant, shocking deaths of beloved members of the group to keep the buzz going.

It just doesn't feel as deliberate and well-laid out as before. This episode, which accelerated the problems with Pete while dropping entirely the issue with Father Gabriel, felt disjointed and ill-fitting. Last week's episode, though we lost Noah (#momentofsilence #nicholaslookattheflowers,) was much more of a representation of what this series has to offer in terms of emotional payoff.

Needless to say I'm scared of next Sunday's episode, ominously titled "Conquer." I may have to turn it into a drinking game somehow just to get through the damn thing.

Given that Rick has ordered that the walls be reinforced, and Sasha was picking off a growing horde of walkers right at these questionable walls, I feel about 87% sure that a breach of said walls is coming in the finale. This theory feeds into the Walkers as Wolves theory mentioned above. IF, at that point, what Alexandrites remain might actually prefer a change in leadership, trusting Rick and his group to keep them safe from the "real" world beyond their gates, which would not only stabilize the characters but facilitate some of the storylines from the comic book.

If I had to give odds on this group's survival, I think we can expect the following deaths next week:

1. Nicholas. Whether he's killed or exiled, he's gots to go. (My theory: since he's already had experience on the outside of the walls, I think he'll be exiled and end up with another community, which he'll fuel against Alexandria thanks to a hefty grudge, which will ensure drama for next season.)
2. Father Nicholas. I actually prefer they exile this wolf in sheep's clothing (ooo - it just hit me that may be the overall theme for the season, with him precipitating the Wolf invasion to come...pretty sneaky, sis.) Frankly there's no better karma for him to face the outside world on his own after he A. turned his back on his own flock and B. tried to get our group kicked out.
3. Pete. And it should be Carol. Period.
4. Jessie, because it could likely be the thing that shocks Rick back into, well, Rick. He can't be rewarded for his Shane-like behavior by getting the merry widow all to himself. (Although I do say they'll likely have some pretty animalistic sex next Sunday, and I'm OK with that. Get Rick laid. It may relieve some stress.)
5. Sam. I actually would prefer to see Sam live and Carol return to her mom roots a little bit. They have great chemistry together and it'd be nice if she had a kid that didn't up and die on her. BUT...
6. Carol's likely on the chopping block as well. It has arguably been her season, from her triumphant return to the group at the Season Five opener. Her behavior isn't unlike Rick's at this point, and there will likely be a reckoning for that. She's stoking Rick as well, which threatens to make it even more explosive. (I think, had Daryl been there, he would have tried to reason with Rick to find another way to handle Pete, like he did when they went to rescue Beth. Ever since he freed himself from his brother, his loyalty comes second to what he thinks is right.) They could use her killing Pete as a testament of how far she's come from the timid battered wife she was with the show started, and then let her go out in a blaze of glory WD style.
7. Sasha. This one seems a *little* obvious and would be a loss for the group given her skills as a sharp-shooter, but Sasha clearly has a death wish in her new Bob-less, Tyrees-less world. Since she's had the hardest time acclimating to Alexandria, and I think with or without a wall breach, our group is going to stay in Alexandria through next season, it makes the most sense that she falter.

For the record, I hope I'm wrong about both Carol and Sasha. I'd like it if we didn't lose ANYONE from our core group in the finale. I'm just not mentally prepared. But if you think about it, Season 4 was the only season finale where nobody died, Claimer Joe and his fucktard bunch of #motherdicks notwithstanding. (Season One: Jacqui. Season Two: Jimmy and Patricia. Season Three: Andrea and Milton.) With the full canvas we have now, I am 1042% certain that next week's Talking Dead "In Memoriam" section is going to be a mile freaking long. If it's the top three people mentioned above, I'm OK with it.

So that's it. One more episode to go and then we can rest. Next week I'm bringing cupcakes, teddy bears and glitter... just in case.

Monday, March 16, 2015

The Walking Dead Recap "Spend"

**This review is based off of the televised episodes (not the comic book storyline) of The Walking Dead, covering events that have already aired. May contain spoilers for those who are not caught up.**

Seriously. You should go now. Venting and heartache to follow.

Okay, guys. That... was a rough one. I feel like every episode should end with a psychiatrist saying, "Here. Show us on the doll where the Walking Dead pulled your heart out of your body this week."

"Spend" opens to Father Gabriel once again taking his place at the makeshift altar of another congregation. He's welcomed with a gift and a note from one of the Alexandrites, which seems to upset the priest. We'll get to why later, where we can all gleefully plan a demise that isn't quite so heartbreaking as the one we faced tonight.

The episode started with a "money shot" of Daryl on his new bike, which was the last feel-good moment we had in this episode.

Feast your eyes, take a moment and center yourself.

They were throwing us a bone to prepare us for the loss we were all going to face by the end of the episode. Sadly I had unwittingly been spoiled about this horrific, heartbreaking ending by hitting my Twitter tab out of sheer habit two hours before the show aired. (Damned PST.) My eyes fell on the trending topics, which included "Everbody Ate Chris", and I knew with a sinking heart that one of my favorite new characters was about to become Zombie Chow.

I kind of envy that earlier me, who had no idea how far the WD creators were willing to go to rip my still-beating heart out of my chest THIS time around.

It's been a tough season. So far we've lost four significant characters in some pretty horrific ways. The main precursor, the "Cloister Bell" if you will (extra points if you can identify THAT fandom,) is that those who are the kindest, the sweetest, the most determined to hang onto their humanity are the ones with the biggest targets on their backs. Show you care and you're DOOMED! DOOMED I tell you.

Though I already knew Noah was SOL when the episode started, I'm fairly sure I could have figured it out from the little tete a tete he shared with Reg. He's thinking long-term. (To quote Eddie Izzard, "Ah. Stupid man.")

God bless Glenn's heart... he sure tried to take charge in their little mission for supplies. And had Aiden not been a complete freaking idiot, maybe it wouldn't have gone down like it did. Suffice it to say, any team that had Eugene AND the clueless Alexandrites in it was just asking for trouble. Boy, did they find it.

The scenes through the warehouse were as Walking Dead as you get. They were tense and scary as hell. With these kinds of numbers, we knew that everyone wasn't going to make it back. Honestly, while I wasn't heartbroken to lose Aiden, I was surprised that he was taken care of this quickly into the story. But then again, he was, as I said, a freaking idiot. I'm surprised he lasted as long as he did in that world. He was our first casualty of the episode, which was also our first finger shields moment of the show.

In fact, Aiden's the reason everything went to shit at the warehouse, and I blame him entirely for losing Noah. So while his death was brutal and graphic, that was one I could watch again, thinking *you deserved it you stupid jackass.*

Rule #6 of the Walking Dead: ALWAYS LISTEN TO GLENN.

Things weren't so hairy back at Alexandria, where Rick was occupying himself with a simple case of vandalism. Sexy neighbor Jessie discovered that her owl sculpture had been destroyed in her garage, which surprised her, saying "Things like that don't happen here."

What can I say? Our gang is a bad influence. This is especially true for Sam, the kid "Scarol" tried to traumatize in our last episode. Now this kid has decided to cozy up to Carol like a cat homes in on anyone with an allergy. Carol makes it clear that she's not some warm and cozy den mother, doing her best to repel this kid before he gets too attached.

Carol has already learned that bad things happen when she gets too attached to kids.

Instead she ends up with an eager pint-sized minion. Of course it takes an eight-year-old to figure out that there are things far scarier in their town than their new residents.

Abraham is having some issues with Alexandrites too, as they head out to get materials to reinforce the walls. Walkers appear, because of course they do, and the Alexandrites are woefully unprepared to handle it. Abraham is willing to step in where everyone else is willing to check out, up to and including leaving one of their own behind to be torn apart by a horde. What they don't know is that Abraham thrives on the battle of it all. He's in his comfort zone as he swoops in as a hero soldier and single-handedly saves the girl and salvages the whole endeavor.

Because #motherdick, that's why.

This ensures yet another of our group ends up in a position of authority. Reg cautions Deanna that this kinda sounds bananas, but she relents anyway. She knows that they need these people to survive. Still... the seed of doubt has been planted, one that even Maggie cannot fully dig up.

Rick gets a little cozy little meet and greet with Pete, who is clearly under the influence and clearly erratic as a result. He tries to empathize with Rick's loss while asserting that the Alexandrites, though sheltered and clearly delusional, have experienced losses of their own.

Seeing how they interact with the outside world, that comes as no freaking surprise to any of us.

What did come as a surprise was Eugene's unselfish choice to save his injured friend Tara. Lo and behold there's a hero under that Tennessee Top Hat. The same could not be said of Nicholas, who ditches his leader, along with Glenn and Noah, to save his own sorry ass.

Last week Carol showed us that more self-serving side when she threatened Sam. The difference is that she is trying to *protect* the Alexandrites as far as she can, she just wants to protect her group should they prove to be a danger to her family. Somehow Sam seems to understand this because he keeps going back to Carol despite her being scary and off-putting. It quickly becomes clear that there's something that scares him even more. Carol, as a domestic abuse survivor, pinpoints exactly what that might be. When she goes to the house later to check on Sam, and Jesse, she faces off with Pete, who tries to intimidate Carol. Thanks to her Mary Poppins routine, he thinks he can. ("Ah. Stupid man.")

Okay, y'all. It's about that time. We need to talk about the Revolving Door scene. The creators have said that the more that they like a character, the more significant they make the death. I have to say that the Revolving Door is probably the worst of things we've seen thus far. Yes, it was claustrophobic. Yes, it was scary. Yes, it was tense as hell before anything actually happened. But once it started to happen, it was relentless. That it was a character that we liked made it drag on even longer, which prolonged our pain. First there was Dale... then there was Hershel... then Bob... then Beth... but Noah's graphic death (which you're not spared even with finger shields, BTW,) especially how it impacts poor Glenn, was heart-wrenching and soul-crushing. My son, who has never turned away from one scene on the Walking Dead, said that was one he could probably only watch once. It was that traumatic.

It wasn't just Noah that they tore apart. It wasn't just that cute kid from Everybody Hates Chris. No, Noah's death was far more symbolic. It was hope that they tore apart, ruthlessly and without apology. We know this in exquisite detail when we see that notebook that Rex gave Noah, and there's only one sentence written. "This is the beginning."

I need a moment...

Here's a chihuahua salsa dancing just to take our minds off it:

When the Governor beheaded Hershel, I declared in that moment that he needed to die before that episode was over. That's how I feel about Nicholas, who was two punches away from leaving our crew there as zombie fodder.

The same can also be said for Father Gabriel, who showed up on Deanna's doorstep to warn her about our group. This was the same group, mind you, who saved his stupid ass on more than one occasion, putting themselves at great risk to do it. Yet this ungrateful son of a bitch actually actively campaigned to have them removed from this new paradise because "they didn't deserve it."

I guess that only applies to people of the cloth who leave their entire congregation to be torn to bits and eaten alive right outside the church keeping one man safe.

#motherdick. #justsayin

Fortunately Maggie overheard this turncoat's betrayal. I think it's fairly certain that Father Gabriel's days are numbered. It just goes to show you can't open your door to anyone spouting about angels and Satan even after the zombie apocalypse.

So here's how it stands for this season to end satisfactorily:

Nicholas: #hastodie
Pete: #hastodie
Father Gabriel: #hastodieslowly #shouldhavebeenhimnotnoah

Needless to say, the safe haven of Alexandria is about to reach the breaking point. After everything we've been through already this season, I'm positively terrified to see what happens next week.

But tune in, I will.

Because #motherdick, that's why.

Monday, March 9, 2015

Empire "Unto the Breach"

I have a confession to make. I'm one of the many addicted to Fox's new drama EMPIRE. I caught the last 20 minutes of the pilot, and that was all I needed to get happily immersed in a new show.

Honestly, unless a series promises to be completely kickass, I usually don't bother with TV programming. I have my set favorites (Doctor Who, The Walking Dead, The Fosters, The Big Bang Theory and Modern Family - along with Idol and AGT,) most of which I started to watch because someone else was watching it (usually my hubby.) It takes a *lot* to impress me with new show simply because I don't have a whole lot of free time to squander on watching TV. It generally serves as background noise only.

As a matter of fact, I'm extraordinarily picky about which movies I watch and which new books I read, probably the pickiest person in my whole house. I've never been the kind who will turn on something poorly crafted just to laugh at it. I don't have that kind of time to waste. Plus bad or lazy storytelling usually pisses me off. To me, storytelling is as intimate as sex. I'm not looking to accumulate notches on my bedpost just because they're there and they're convenient. I want to be blown away. I want the eyes-in-the-back-of-my-head, mind-blowing, sheer orgasmic glory of being fulfilled beyond my wildest expectations. I dare creators to impress me because I want them to. Nothing else matches a well-told story. That means if I get excited about something, I consider my very high standards surpassed. Such is the case with EMPIRE, which titillated me from the get-go, especially with the caliber of talent they had to bring that concept to life. I filed it away immediately as a To Be Considered program. Still, I didn't really even tune in that first night, opting instead for a new episode of Modern Family (Mofy,) figuring I could catch up on Empire in my own time.

But then I turned it over after Mofy just to see if it lived up to the hype. That was right around the part where we learned that Terrence Howard's character had just been diagnosed with ALS and given three years to live. (Dramatic.) I meet Cookie, played by the incomparable Taraji P. Henson, and realized the beating heart of this show was the conflict between a homophobic entertainment mogul and his gay son - in a community where LGBT are not often welcomed/accepted. That last little bit was enough to pull me into the show. I love the idea of ballsy, in-your-face, thought-provoking, paradigm-shifting programming. EMPIRE immediately promised to be all that and more. I promptly messaged my BFF and told him in no uncertain terms he HAD to watch the pilot, which we did together.

We were hooked. We got our husbands hooked. It's a brilliant show that has shattered all records week after week as more and more people tune in. Wednesday has become just as much Must-See, Plan-Around-the-TV night as Sunday. The Walking Dead has a brand new show nipping at its once untouchable heels.

There are several things that make the show so good. Each episode walks you through several key themes: music, family and power. These are heady topics with rich, fertile ground to toil where we get to see how flawed and complicated the patriarch of EMPIRE truly is. Lucious Lyon is portrayed by Terrence Howard, who plays him a bit like a cobra you never know when and where he will strike. Once a street thug, he's now one of the most important and respected men in music, having built his empire from the ground up. We are introduced to him as he's trying to turn Empire, his entertainment label, into a publicly traded company. He wants credibility and respectability, which now has a deadline courtesy of his dire diagnosis. And he shows, from that pilot episode, he'll do *anything* to protect Empire while he's there to protect it.

Preoccupied with legacy, he must choose which of his three completely different sons will take over at the helm of his company when the worst happens. There's his oldest son, Andre, played by Trai Byers, who is currently the CFO of Empire Entertainment. He's college-educated and business-minded, seemingly perfect to step into his father's shoes and run the family company at any given time. Unfortunately for the ambitious Dre, Lucious wants an artist to be the face and voice of the company, which leaves him out by default. (The fact that he married a white woman, however, was the last nail in that coffin.) Second son Jamal, played brilliantly by Jussie Smollett, is probably the most talented of the bunch, who would likely be a shoe-in if it were not for the fact he is a homosexual, something that Lucious inherently despises. The history between them is complicated and heart-wrenching.

Finally there is the youngest son, Hakeem (Bryshere Y. Gray) who is talented like Jamal, and - unlike Jamal - is favored by their father as being the true Empire progeny. He's brash, edgy and much like Lucious probably was back in the day. Unfortunately for Lucious and for Hakeem, he's nowhere near ready to shoulder the responsibility of Empire on his very young shoulders - which puts Lucious in a bind. He's not a stupid man. He knows what he needs to do to make a solid decision for his company... he just doesn't want to do it.

Throwing a big ol wrench in all his plans is his ex-wife Cookie (Henson.) After spending 17 years in prison, going down for a crime that virtually started Empire, she's back for what's hers - including her sons, Jamal in particular. She doesn't give a rat's ass if he's gay and she never did. In fact she favors him for being sensitive, mature and arguably the most talented of their three sons. She's a music producer at heart, knowing how to make hit records and get things done, and she's no match for anyone on that show from Lucious to his brand-spanking-new fiance, Anika (a.k.a. "Boo Boo Kitty.") She knows what is best for Empire, and for the Lyon family itself, and is willing to throw it down on a weekly basis to protect both.

The writing, acting and particularly the music all work together to tell this story amazingly well, but let's just get real. We're all tuning in to see what Cookie will say or do next. (#TeamCookie) Originally the hubs and I crossed blades on whether or not Cookie was the devoted Mama Bear she seemed to be, or just a self-serving con artist in her own right. He felt she was playing her sons for her own agenda. I argued that her agenda is, really, their agenda... so she's just T.C.B. and doing what they're too stupid/pig-headed to do, using their own weaknesses against them to get the job done. She's manipulative, but ultimately she's doing what is best for all of them - so I'm OK with her methods.

The true heart of this show is Jamal, who is sensitive and stronger than Lucious will ever give him credit for being. He proves, week after week, that regardless of what his father might think of his sexual orientation, he is 100% man. He's strong enough to stand up to his father and fight for his place at Empire. So far, this first season is a coming-of-age story for Jamal, in determining who he is going to be as an artist and as a man. This was especially true in "Unto the Breach," when the whole family had to band together to save Empire from a sneak attack from Luscious's bitter enemy, Baretti (played by 80s icon Judd Nelson.) After one of many betrayals from Lucious, Boo Boo Kitty Anika trades alliances to Baretti, taking talent from Empire with her when she goes, but stopping just short of telling Lucious's foe exactly how vulnerable he is.

The family scrambles to keep Empire together, but Dre is a ticking time bomb. His behavior is erratic and self-destructive. Unbeknownst to his family, he suffers from bipolar disorder and has decided to stop taking the pills that his wife, Rhonda, insist that he take. He's been falling apart for weeks, and he bounces all around this episode between manic episodes and fits of rage that were hard to watch. That he does all this in clear view of both the family and the employees of Empire make the situation even more of a game-changer. He faces off with his father, reminding Lucious that he knows his father's dirty secrets, in a not-so-veiled threat to get what he wants.

Jamal, who recently earned his father's wrath for publicly coming out, is forced to keep the whole family from falling apart, once again demonstrating an unyielding, graceful strength suited for running Empire. Lucious will never give him credit for how passionately he does what is needed to be done for the family he loves.

When he performs "Conqueror" with the guest star of the week, Estelle, you can feel his resolve fortify. I've seen this duet countless times, and am moved to tears each and every time.

This hip-hop soap opera is unafraid to tackle any juicy topic, diving in both feet with betrayal, sex and angst. It combines the danger of the gritty streets to the splash and decadence of an entertainment dynasty, while tackling relevant social issues by putting them right in your face where you can't ignore them. The public can't get enough. Eight weeks unprecedented growth in ratings ensure that Empire has come to stay.

Since I have no idea where they're going - and anything can happen - so am I.

The Walking Dead "Forget"

**This review is based off of the televised episodes (not the comic book storyline) of The Walking Dead, covering events that have already aired. May contain spoilers for those who are not caught up.**

We started our latest episode of The Walking Dead with Sasha, who has had a bad run of luck in Season 5. She's never been the biggest optimist of the bunch, so each hit she's taken has leveled our strong heroine to the point that she's ready to snap at any point. Whether she's aiming to take out every Walker she sees, or she's willing to go out herself in a blaze of glory in suicide-by-zombie, our girl is walking a very fine line between sanity and snapping.

But what would sanity look like in this new world? That's the question that has been subtly posed by the introduction of the Alexandria Safe Zone. The people that live there are as close to normal as the viewer would expect to find, working, raising families, safe and actually happy within the confines of community. Only now, by season 5 of the zombie apocalypse, normal doesn't look so normal anymore. It looks suspicious and scary. That suspense drives these new episodes as we struggle to make sense of this new place, assessing if it's really what it seems to be (sanctuary) or yet another ticking time bomb.

Rick, Carol and Daryl congregate very quickly to make their own plan either way. Now that Rick has infiltrated local authority as the new constable, he's in a position to assert what he thinks needs to be done to protect the place. Deanna, though quick to invite Rick and his group to be a part of her community, even handing over power immediately (and naively,) still balks at something as simple as putting a guard on duty to protect the walls. Her motives are still unclear and suspect, even after we meet her husband, Reg.

I have to admit that I was surprised to meet Reg. The way she spoke of him last week led me to believe that he wasn't around anymore. Or maybe that's just what I've come to expect from this show. It's rare to see complete families, like Jessie and her brood. I think most of us suffer some weird form of post traumatic stress courtesy of this show, which regularly pulls the rug right out from under us. I don't know about y'all, but the night scenes, even behind the wall, freak me the f*ck out. I keep waiting for the terror of their world to sneak up behind them and catch them all unawares.

Needless to say I support Rick and his plan. And who better to execute that plan that sweet Den Mother Wannabee Mary "Carol" Poppins? I maintain that she's the most lethal member of their group - which she demonstrates in a terrifying way this particular episode. We'll get to that in a minute, where we gather for a much needed group hug as we talk about The Scene.

Despite all the big things that happen with our major characters this epi, to me, "Forget" belongs to Daryl Dixon. He isn't about assimilating into this new weird community. That sort of thing would have been foreign and frightening to him both before and after the the apocalypse. He escapes whenever he can, only this time he gets a very unexpected (and unwelcome) companion. Aaron catches up with Daryl outside the wall, "huntin' wabbits," but it's quickly clear that Aaron has another agenda. He wants to get closer to our Archer. They attempt to catch Buttons, a rogue horse, and this shared goal makes them a team working together to protect each other when they run across a small horde. (This hungry horde makes quick work of Buttons, which... I can't even.)

This feels so much more like The Walking Dead we've come to know than the crazy Walking Dead Dinner Party happening in Alexandria. I will say that Rick Grimes cleans up well... and apparently Jessie thinks so as well as they "share a moment," despite her being married to the community doctor, Pete. Thanks to Chris Hardwick (or C-Hard) from the Talking Dead, this #porchdick from the previous episode comes across as congenial when formal introductions are made. The relationship between Pete and Jessie is strained, though we still don't know why. Jessie seems more aware than the rest, she understands how absurd their attempts at normalcy are in this post-apocalyptic world. But she also has a pretty good argument as to why it's necessary. Unlike Lori's attempts way back on the farm, to maintain the comforts of the world before, Jessie doesn't seem burdened by this task. She has a hopefulness that appeals to Season 5 Rick - maybe a little *too* much.

It dawned on me over the last day or two that Rick is channeling Shane in some pretty interesting ways. Shane once asserted that Rick was too weak to lead, that only Shane had the balls to make the hard decisions. Rick has proven himself, since Season 1, that he is the right one to lead, but it has come at a cost. He's no longer idealistic like he once was so long ago. He's been through too much. He's lost too much. He's turned into a Rick Grimes who will take what he wants when he wants it, like that stolen kiss at the awkward dinner party.

Slightly less awkward was the dinner scene with Daryl and the Gays, who adopted our wayward Archer. They understand what it means to be the odd man out and inherently Daryl understands this. For the first time, perhaps... ever, Daryl is understood and accepted, without having to prove one damn thing. Aaron simply "knows" what kind of a man he is, and he trusts him. This touches Daryl in a way that melted my heart, even if it does put Daryl outside the gate more than he is inside.

Okay, y'all. Group hug time. I love Carol. I'm sure many of you love Carol. She'll do anything - and I do mean anything - to protect her group. And she can do it looking like the mother next door, wearing her floral sweaters and her pearls, and still manage to scare the ever-lovin' crap out of anyone in the process. Her scene with young Sam was one of the most terrifying scenes The Walking Dead has produced. Her final scenes with Lizzy were heart-wrenching enough because we knew that Mother Carol, the one who had loved and lost Sophia, had to do the one thing no woman should ever have to do. She had no choice, and Carol comes through in those situations better than most. By the time we get to Alexandria, Carol is hardened by the experience enough that she can threaten this innocent boy who found himself at the wrong place at the wrong time and we believe her. We know she doesn't want to do the things she so convincingly threatened, but she could. Which makes it even scarier. (To be absolutely honest, the only reason I got through the scene at all was because I was running that Eddie Izzard routine "Cake or Death" through my head the entire time. Desperate times call for desperate measures.)

The #Carolscookies scene was awkward and intense and physically uncomfortable because we know that she needs to ensure that Sam won't tattle to his mom. We want her to succeed in her mission. We know she has to. But how far are we, as an audience, willing to go to see that happen? This scene answered that question. It seems like we are as much the dangerous outsiders as our group.

And that's where our gang finds themselves as the episode closes. Michonne retires her trusted katana, well within reach but no longer attached firmly to her back like an extra arm. Daryl refuses to carry one of Carol's ill-gotten handguns. He's ready to try, to give the place a chance. Meanwhile Rick assesses Jessie's tense domestic situation with an automatic hand to his gun, in an almost Shane-like possessive gesture.

When the episode ends, Rick is at the wall that separates the more idyllic Alexandria, a place for his children to actually grow safe and protected and - for lack of a better word - normal, and the world he's come to know in the last few years. That world has completed who he is as a man and as a survivor, for better or worse. It is a stunning juxtaposition of the two realities... and ultimately it shows that it is Rick himself who gets to choose which will prevail.

Of course we all know that nothing idyllic can last long in this world. The previews next week promise to introduce the conflict and the drama that we've all become used to in the last five seasons. We'll get to see more of our newcomers, including Father Gabriel and the epically coiffed Eugene. In a show known for its body count, that might not be a good thing. Gird your loins as we race ever closer to the March 29th finale, which Norman Reedus promises we'll be crying/yelling at the TV by the time it's done.

Did I also mention that he's going to be on the Talking Dead season finale as well?

The good news is that we made it through this week fairly intact, with no losses to the group.

The bad news... there's still three more episodes to go.

Till next week!

Monday, March 2, 2015

The Walking Dead "Remember"

**This review is based off of the televised episodes (not the comic book storyline) of The Walking Dead, covering events that have already aired. May contain spoilers for those who are not caught up.**

Season 5 has been a rough one for our intrepid survivors. We've lost three major characters pretty close together, which has my whole family watching each new episode with great trepidation. Each of us wonders how the writers plan to rip out our hearts next. We are just as weary as Rick and his crew when they reach the Alexandria Safe-Zone, a community seemingly untouched by the horrors that exist right outside their gates.

Simple comforts like running water, electricity or clean, stocked houses are just as foreign to us as Rick's group. The juxtaposition with our feral little gang is striking. Unlike their arrival to the farm in Season Two, where everyone still had traces of what the world was like before, all of this "normal" is frightening as hell. Each of them handles it in very different ways, though their cohesiveness generally remains strong throughout the episode (up to sharing one house without divvying up private bedrooms. It's a Walking Dead Sleepover!)

We start the episode with Rick and Deanna, the leader of the Alexandria Safe-Zone. Deanna is a former Congresswoman, which immediately makes us suspicious of her and her motives. Power is often established by titles, lest we remember what happened with The Governor. And they have a pretty cushy setup that hasn't been ravaged by marauders or zombies, which is kind of amazing given everything Rick and his group has been through. Two years without any major dust-ups, even though neighboring communities have been torched and run over? Seems suspect, given what we've seen of them so far. Rick even says at the beginning, after Sasha handily blows the head off of a walker heading towards the gate, "It's a good thing we're here." He doesn't trust their ability to keep them safe from the moment he walks in the door. Deanna reiterates that their inclusion to the new community is both deliberate and rare. Rick tells her point-blank they shouldn't be letting anyone through the gates, because it's all about survival now. He tells her that he's done some awful things to protect his family and himself. Methinks that's her only warning of what's to come if they fail to keep Rick's group safe.

Note that he doesn't ask her the three questions, which leads me to believe that he does see how inept/naive they are. He practically transcribed what they could expect from their group - which, at the very least, would re-establish leadership and power. Everyone has an agenda, using others to survive. This line is repeated twice in the episode, which sounds like a warning against outsiders in general... but keep in mind those in Rick's group are the outsiders now. (Her question of whether he was warning her about his group or already looking after hers went unanswered. With Rick, it's always been more about what he *doesn't* say.) Almost immediately he accepts the hospitality, even gets cleaned up in a titillating shower/shave scene that was long overdue. God, I hated that beard. I'm not a fan of beards overall, but Rick was a few months out from joining ZZ Top. This established the primal, throat-chewing Rick, so much so I kind of forgot what kind of hottie was living under there. In a show that routinely has me peeking out behind finger shields, it was nice to have something pleasant to look at for a change. (More of that, please.)

Sadly, we didn't get a naked-in-the-shower scene with Daryl, who refuses to acclimate into this new community as easily as his fearless leader. From the moment he kills a possum on the way into the Alexandria Safe-Zone ("Brought dinner,") we're shown - repeatedly - that Daryl refuses to compromise the person he's become in the wake of the zombie apocalypse. He's there for the others, not himself. "The boy and the baby, they deserve a roof. I guess."

To be fair, Daryl wouldn't easily acclimate into this kind of Mayberry scene prior to the world falling apart. This reestablishes him as an outsider who doesn't fit in, where his behavior stands out against the "normal" setting. He's smart and quick-witted, so the audience buys the tension he's selling - that this place is too good to be true.

Michonne, however, wants to believe that this is a place they can stay and even thrive, which is a stark difference from how she felt about Woodbury upon first arriving. She didn't like the Governor, she didn't trust the facade of security and normalcy - she was a lot like Daryl upon entering the Alexandria Safe-Zone. Now the long-suffering Samurai just wants to believe, to hope... something she once ridiculed in Andrea, who so quickly drank the Woodbury Kool-Aid.

So what has changed? The most glaring difference is that she's not the same person who arrived at the prison in Season 3. She's opened up to Rick and his group, adopting them as family. This was why she opted to find them after the prison burned. She *couldn't* go back to the person she was. Rick and particularly Carl knocked down her formidable walls one by one. One gets the feeling that there's an extremely protective mother figure under all that badassery. With Judith and Carl to protect, she knows they can't stay on the road. But, as we learned from the last episode, her desire to find shelter and safety doesn't override her keen sense of self-preservation. When she asked Aaron the three questions, we knew our katana-wielding Michonne might desire safety, but she's not willing to sacrifice her common sense for it. (Unlike Andrea.)

Also unlike Andrea, Carol is playing a master strategist in this new community. She's come a lot way from the mousy little victim she was in Season 1. Everyone has an agenda, or so Rick says, and Carol was playing a part from the moment she took off her gun. We knew what she was doing the minute she talked so lovingly about Ed during her interview with Deanna. She played it off with such finesse no one in this clueless town would ever have an inkling that she can go Rambo at any minute and single-handedly wipe out a whole community. Unlike Michonne, who carries her sword like an appendage, Carol can still camouflage herself and fly stealth, which appears to be exactly what she's doing by involving herself with the community.

She encourages Daryl to play a part as well, but he ain't having it. I, for one, hope she makes good on her threat to hose him down. (I love you, Daryl. Please take a shower.)

Carl, who has spent the last few years of his young life on the road in survival mode, doesn't know quite what to do now that he's surrounded by kids his own age, who are allowed to be kids their own age. They talk about things like school and video games and Carl is completely out of his element.

Carl later tells his father that these people are weak and he doesn't want their group to become weak too. They get to flex their muscle when they head over the gate, Rick to fetch his hidden gun (which is gone,) and Carl to chase after Enid, another teen "from the outside," who disappeared beyond the gate for reasons yet unknown. Instead of being angry with Carl for leaving the fortress of their new home, he accepts his presence outside the gate silently as they take on some errant "roamers."

There's nothing like father-son bonding when you get to ram a steel rod through the heads of zombies.

One of conditions of living in the Alexandria Safe-Zone is that each of them gets to have a "job." The Good Congresswoman holds off assigning tasks for Rick, Michonne and "Mr. Dixon." Glenn, Tara and (oddly) Noah are selected to go on a run with her son, Aiden, and his buddy, gate-keeper Nick. Aiden's a Talker from the get-go. He brags about his ROTC qualifications, calling their weapons 'sweet biscuits.' Fairly soon into their journey beyond the walls, we figure out that Aiden is completely full of shit, totally inept in doing the very thing Glenn has been doing from Season 1, Episode 1. And Glenn is rightly bothered by it, especially when it nearly costs Tara her life. (*Finger Shields Alert: Under Your Skin Walker.) Aiden tries to squash the rebellion immediately, but the timid little pizza delivery guy is long gone when Glenn (rightly) lays Aiden on his ass for being an arrogant jackhole.

Things very briefly turn to shit when Daryl tackles Nick during the scuffle that ensues. Rick has to contain the angry Archer, who paces like a caged tiger before finally stalking off in disgust after Deanna, who sides with the outsiders and with Glenn (and even thanks him for punching her son,) assigns Rick and Michonne to be the law in their humble little community. Both readily accept.

(Remember what I said earlier about titles establishing power? That's *Constable* Friendly now.)

I have to admit I had forgotten how much I missed Sheriff Rick until he walked out in that uniform. He's not the same man that he was before, not by a long shot. And we know this by the end of the episode, despite all the physical changes. He tells both Carol and Daryl that he's "trying it on for size," (i.e. playing the game.) He also lets both of them know that the weakness of the community doesn't bother him. His group is too strong to be weakened... and if it comes down to it, they'll take the Alexandria Safe-Zone as their own.


Like our group, I think we viewers are road-weary. We need a place to stop and catch our breath, and the Alexandria Safe-Zone seems as good a place as any. (For now at least, we all know how these things never last.) My biggest concern, obviously, is Daryl. Deanna already told Rick she had to exile three men, which she considered a "death sentence." Rick and his gang already proved that those who are willing to do anything to survive generally do, so that isn't necessarily true. If Daryl resists assimilating, which could be seen as posing a threat to her community, Deanna could exile Daryl as a result, which would remove him from the canvas without necessarily killing him, though everyone might assume he was good as dead.

(No one said, "If Daryl disappears, we riot!" Loopholes, people. Loopholes.)

But even if he was able to blend in at this point, if that were part of some bigger plan, like what Carol is doing, the question is could he? Even in Season 2, when they had the sanctuary of the farm, he opted to stay off to himself. He needed a purpose to earn his place in that group after Merle disappeared. Back then it was locating Sophia. After the prison fell, it was protecting Beth. What is Daryl Dixon's purpose now, particularly when Michonne has replaced him as Rick's right hand in the new group? It's entirely possible that he doesn't even know, which will make the coming episodes a challenge for him. He's subtly being distanced from the group, which worries me going forward.

For now, at least, our group made it through another episode without a major loss. At this point in the game, that may be the biggest win. With only four more episodes to go until the season finale, my hopes are not high that it will last.

Two questions going further:

1. Ron told Carl that Enid was from the outside, too. Deanna had already told Rick that they hadn't let anyone else from the outside in for a long while. How long has young Enid been a part of the Alexandria Safe-Zone? And where does she go when she hops the gate and roams on the other side of the safe walls?

2. There are all sorts of warning bells regarding Jessie's husband, who didn't seem all that welcoming when he talked to Rick during his late night walk. Jessie never mentioned a husband during her little visit to Rick, where she offered to go into a half-naked stranger's house to "cut his hair." That, and Mike's "overly strict" father mentioned by the kids, as well as Aiden's overinflated ego/superiority complex, hints to discord already running through the community. Is that why Deanna was so eager to invite their group inside the walls, and virtually hand power over to Rick?

Guess we'll have to wait till next week's episode, the ominously titled "Forget," to find out.