A review of tonight's “The Walking Dead” coming up just as soon as I go back to my apartment to read “War and Peace”…
“Now” is the series' tenth episode since our heroes arrived in Alexandria. In that time, only a few of the Alexandrians have gotten any real characterization at all, and some of them are either dead (Reg, Nicholas) or missing (Enid). The show's always had trouble servicing the larger ensemble, especially when it's as big as it is at the moment. (Every time Rosita appears or is mentioned lately, my first reaction is surprise that she's still on the show, just because they've done so little with her.) But the deck is already stacked against the Alexandrians in the ongoing philosophical debate with Rick's group, because we've known Rick and Carol much longer, and because we know that they're right. Having everyone but Deanna, Aaron, and Jessie be complete non-entities turns the debate from a rout into pointless savagery.
So “Now” is, like many of the post-prison episodes of season 4, designed to let us get to know some of the locals better, so that their interactions with the more seasoned characters will have more resonance. It's an admirable, necessary goal, but the execution is spotty.
In particular, the decision to have the entire season, up to and including this episode, take place in the same day hamstrings a lot of the different beats “Now” is trying to hit. That same-day structure has allowed the show to go back and forth between what's happening inside Alexandria and what's happening elsewhere (I assume we're due for a Daryl/Sasha/Abraham road trip episode in the next week or two), but the events and conflicts depicted here felt like they needed to play out across a longer time period to really hit the mark. That Alexandria's routine order is descending into chaos – including an attempt to loot the pantry, and a suicide by a woman who just can't deal anymore – only 20 minutes or so after the locals realize they're surrounded by zombies doesn't have nearly the impact it would if the episode had spanned even, say, a week. Yes, it says something that these people would give up that quickly, but the sheer amount of things that are happening in the space of 12-15 hours is now threatening to turn this season into “Wet Hot American Summer.”
A lot of aspects of the episode felt like they needed to have spanned at least a few days, if not longer. Sam's refusal to come down from upstairs, for instance, seems like much less of a big deal only a couple of hours after the Wolves literally invaded his home than it would even a day or two later. Similarly, why is Denise freaking out already over her latest patient's injury and his inability to wake up when Michonne and Heath can't have brought him in more than an hour or two ago? And even though Pete was killed a few days ago in “TWD” time – and, for that matter, even though Rick and Jessie have been circling each other pretty much since he arrived in town – it still seems abrupt, given recent events.
Though Tovah Feldshuh has some excellent moments as a woman who knows she's far better-equipped to lead in peacetime than in war (even when she has a zombie on the ground, she keeps pointlessly stabbing it in the chest), Deanna was already the best-established of the Alexandrians, followed in some order by Aaron and Jessie. By the end of “Now,” the only character besides those three who feels like any more of a person than before is Denise, and that's as much on Merritt Wever's performance(*) as on the writing about her nervousness and her attraction to Tara.
(*) I'd be inclined to say that it's also a benefit of my familiarity with Wever, but I've been watching Austin Nichols in a lot of things going back to Deadwood” and “John From Cincinnati,” and Spencer remains largely a non-entity, even after his hypocritical raiding of the pantry after he chased the other looters away.
It's a tricky problem for the show to untangle. The cast at the moment is way too big, especially given the series' historic difficulty at properly writing for more than a handful of them. Gimple and company are trying to turn the Alexandrians into more than cannon fodder, but with very mixed success. Then again, not all of the late season 4 character spotlights did the job, either.
Some other thoughts:
* So, the solution to the Rick cliffhanger from two weeks ago is just, “He sprinted all the way from the busted RV back to Alexandria”? Not a cheat, since our view of the terrain showed that he had a little room to run, but pretty underwhelming given the set-up. Also, are we still supposed to be concerned about his wounded hand?
* More annoying than the sidestepping of the cliffhanger was Aaron's plan to help Maggie go look for Glenn. If there's an alternate way out of Alexandria besides the fence, and if the community's survival at the moment is leaning entirely on Daryl, Sasha, and Abraham – who could be dead, for all these characters know – returning to lead the walkers away, then wouldn't it be wise to use this conveniently-placed sewer tunnel to, I don't know, sneak out and look for cars to do the same thing you're otherwise waiting on the others to hopefully, maybe, do at some point? Instead, Aaron devotes the route to Maggie's search for Glenn, and then Maggie – who, as many of you predicted, is pregnant – ruins it as an escape route by making all that noise. She's emotional and erratic, and I get that, but if Aaron's feeling so much guilt over leading the Wolves here, why wouldn't he be using that tunnel to try to save as many people as possible? Having mud-soaked zombies emerge in the tunnel as if they were wearing camouflage was a clever idea on the part of production, and much smarter than anything going through Aaron or Maggie's head.
* No Carol at all this week, so we don't get to see any of the Alexandrians' immediate reaction to her abandoning her secret identity and going full superhero.
* Morgan appears, but only briefly after last week's spotlight. You would think he'd have been just as eager to bury the Wolves as Jessie is.
* What kind of fluid is that supposed to be leaking through the wall in the episode's final shot? Gasoline from the crashed truck?
Before we go to the comments, it's time once again to explain how this blog's No Spoiler rule applies to this show:
1. No talking about the previews for the next episode.
2. No talking about anything else you know about upcoming episodes from other sources – and, yes, that includes anything Gimple and Kirkman have said in interviews.
3. No talking about anything that's happened in the comic that hasn't happened in the TV show yet. (Or anything that's been revealed, like character backstory and motivation.) As with “Game of Thrones,” the goal is to treat “The Walking Dead” TV show as exactly that, and not as an excuse for endless comparisons with the comics. If you want to talk about the comics, feel free to start up a discussion thread on our message boards.
What did everybody else think?
Alan Sepinwall may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org