Even the best episodes are made to suffer when they’re bloated.
In another oddly elongated episode, we explore a ton of great material (while getting bogged down by a lot of cutting room floor material). Who had the bright idea of doing that again?
Starting off, It’s weird to see Michonne regress back into this “lone wanderer” character she used to be — there isn’t any sense in it… and it’s the most boring part of the episode (though “making bullets” with Rosita and Eugene is a close freakin’ second).
Seeing the unlikely team up between Carl and Jesus is engaging. Later, the pairing of Carl and Negan is sublime. It finally gives Chandler Riggs the acting showcase he’s desperately needed for a long time. Even Gabriel and Spencer is strong and unique, having conversations only their characters could. There’s nothing generic here or skippable — having Gabriel and Negan’s ideal visions of purity and happiness juxtaposed together. Even Rick and Aaron has value at expanding the world and lore.
With Carl and Negan, it’s interesting learning more about the Sanctuary’s inner workings; it’s intriguing, disturbing, and never fails to be entertaining (even at this critical, penultimate juncture). Jeffrey Dean Morgan continues his incredible, near Shakespearian portrayal of Negan, giving us more quotable lines in a single episode than Abraham did in his entire run (sorry, Abe). The chilling rendition of “You Are My Sunshine” by Carl is a showstopper, as is Negan’s repeated taunting of him. Unlike the comic book, this is a Carl that killed his mom a few seasons ago. That’s a moment that’s played up excellently by Negan — he uses it to show Carl that it was the moment that made him a badass. This is the brilliance TWD needs every week.
The only vignettes that don’t gel with me is Michonne and Rosita & Eugene — these groupings will have plenty of time later to have their stories told. Why worry with them now, considering the preview of the midseason finale?
The musical segment near the end is outstanding and hysterical. Negan’s comedic grin plays with the segment beautifully. Music has been criminally underused this half of season; the only one that comes to mind that was memorable is “Easy Street” (and that’s memorable because of the incessant drilling from that episode).
It’d also be criminal for me not to acknowledge that final shot: Judith on Negan’s lap! Due to Judith’s comic fate, we were never treated to such an outstanding moment of intimidation. I can’t wait for Rick to see that.
However, what The Walking Dead needs to learn is more is not necessarily better. American Horror Story showed strength in its restraint this past season with its Roanoke iteration; 10 episodes and “double casting” characters due to its documentary/re-enactment format. I used to rejoice for a 90-minute episode announcement, anxiously awaiting the pre-release buzz. The show has had two 90 minute episodes (and a weird, slightly extended episode with “Swear” last week) to little fanfare or announcement.
Michonne’s segments don’t fit tonally with this episode. Rosita and Eugene don’t fit tonally with this episode. Both story segments could be cut for this episode and saved for a supersized mid-season finale (which, heh, that’s also going to be 90 minutes).
I’m still believing that the series is sabotaging itself with repeated missteps… and it’s sad. The show has a powerhouse in Negan, yet it’s the old moving parts that’s slowing this train down.