I went to bed grumpy last night. Why? Because I’d just watched the most recent episode of The Walking Dead and it really bugged me. I haven’t been reading a lot lately, but I’ve been consuming a lot of television so I find myself deconstructing the writing aspects of the shows almost as much as I mindlessly enjoy them.
A few of you might remember a while ago I discussed how the framework of the Walking Dead simply doesn’t allow for a character’s narrative arc to be resolved in any way which doesn’t involve their grisly death. The primary reason for this is that the world the writers have created is a world where going it alone is unadvisable, so the prospects of a character deserting the rest of ensemble to seek their fortunes elsewhere doesn’t really make sense. Correlated principles would also suggest that leaving your friends alone is also not an ideal choice of action. Both of these things occurred last night and, from a narrative standpoint, that bugs me.
TWD is now in the latter half of its fifth season. Much of the original cast of survivors no longer count themselves among that demographic, and many of the new recruits have had their mettle tested to the point where it’s reasonable to believe that these remaining characters are the ones who know how to survive. They’re the ones willing and able to make the practical and sometimes difficult decisions which have to be made in order to continue to live day to day in the aftermath of the zombie apocalypse.
As if in effort to hammer this point home, the previous two episodes show our cast blindly assaulting and emerging victorious over an armed and largely unknown enemy. The act of launching an attack against an enemy you know nothing about is a risky choice in itself, but the writers included enough platitudes about it being “us or them” that at the time I didn’t really realize how stupid that was. The episode immediately following that revolved around and pair of characters taken prisoner who turn the tables on their captors and defeat them, utterly, despite starting out bound, gagged, and utterly unarmed.
Now the narrative I’m supposed to be following, according to some articles I’ve read, should have me questioning whether or not our main ensemble of characters are still the good guys. They’ve demonstrated themselves to be the dominant power in their area and are using that clout to extort food and supplies from a neighboring colony. They launched their attack at night and killed most of the bad guys in their sleep. Stuff like that, things which are supposed to make me, the viewer, go, “Hmmm, maybe Rick and gang aren’t as good as they used to be.”
But after last night’s episode all I’m wondering is if the zombie virus is maybe slowly consuming the brains of the living as well as reanimating the dead, because that whole episode was a string of stupid, easily avoidable decisions from start to finish.
I’m going to try to do this without too many spoilers, but reader beware.
The episode focuses on two groups of survivors which make the decision to leave the safe confines of their walled compound to scavenge supplies in the world outside. That’s all find and dandy, we’ve known for a long time that supply runs are a thing they do. The difference here is that, for some contrived reason, each group (there are five characters in total involved, a group of two and a group of three) brings with them someone who has been historically portrayed as necrocidally-inept; that is, they’re no good at dispatching zombies. Both characters had, sort of, reasons to be out there; one was to assess the state of the machines in a nearby factory to decide if they could manufacture ammunition there. If that character was the only one with the expertise necessary to make that call, then at least him being there makes some sense. The other was to go to a pharmacy and help the more capable character determine which medicines to grab. This ends up being a non-issue since once they get there they just grab absolutely everything; as you would, because why be selective? The characters even steal a glance between them as if to say, “We were always going to do this, there’s no reason for you to be here.” But I’m getting ahead of myself.
On the way to the pharmacy, the truck carrying three characters comes across a downed tree in the road. Keep in mind, this is like two years after the apocalypse, if there’s still any medicine at the pharmacy it’ll probably still be there the next day. So just turn around, go home, and come back with the tools/manpower necessary to move the tree out of the w… Wait…
Oh, you’re going to just leave the truck there and walk the rest of the way. That seems like a sensible decision. It’s not as though the area is clearly populated by other people who might steal your truck. It’s not as though we’ve seen you routinely encountering strangers in the vicinity around your home. The truck will probably be fine. Besides, it’s just a short jaunt along these train tracks that cut through the forest to where you want to be anyhow, it’ll be quick, you can j…
What do you mean you want to go the long way around on the road? Why not take the train tracks? You realize you’re on foot now. Your time spent in the super dangerous wilderness has just increased tenfold and you want to take the long way? Fine, just stick together and everything will b…
Why are you splitting up?! I can’t even make jokes about that! Why is one person taking the train tracks while the other two take the road? That’s madness.
Meanwhile, at the machine shop, our other heroes have become embroiled in a verbal sparring match wherein the one is very bad at killing zombies has asserted he can to kill zombies and then proceeded to fail at killing a single zombie. To be fair, this particular zombie was wearing a plot convenient metal skullcap, but as we’re later shown, you have to be resourceful when dealing with the recently deceased. Conventional machete-based methods might not always suffice. The result of this lesson learned? Well, of course these two characters get into an argument and the actually competent character completely abandons the other and tell him he can find his own way home. Why would you do this?! Interabang!?
Please bear in mind that I’m not so invested in this show that I’m mentally screaming at the characters. I’m screaming at the writers. There is no reason for these characters to be splitting up. These are supposed to be the smart ones, the ones who have lived this long because they don’t make these kinds of irrational decisions. But, alas, poor decisions abound and the end result is most everyone getting home by the skin of their teeth thanks in large part to one character’s willingness to bite a guy in the dick.
And then, just to cap off ow much this episode annoyed me, it ends with another character (heretofore uninvolved with bad decisions) having a crisis of conscience and deciding that she’s no longer willing to kill in order to help her group to survive and that if she stays she’ll have to, so she sets out on her own. This is, of course, completely neglecting that there is another member of the group who stays with the group and remains completely unwilling to kill. We’ll have to wait until next week to discover how many people get killed in order to talk her out of her stupid decision.
I dunno, I’ve been loyal to this show since episode one, and I actually started to like the direction it was going. It looked like we were going to be moving into a sort of feudalism with zombies thing. With neighboring colonies trading and politics and intrigue and that sort of thing and I was excited about that; but it seems like the writers are struggling with the transition. Like they’ve got a lot of characters who were great when the show was more nomadic and they don’t know what to do with them now that it’s settled to some degree. So these characters are just manufacturing danger for themselves like post-apocalypse adrenaline junkies and watching it is just… ugh.
Anyway, point is, I’m putting “Manufacturing Danger” on my list of things not to do.