The Walking Dead returns to mediocrity with “Go Getters”

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Spoilers ahead for the latest episode of The Walking Dead, so if you aren’t caught up with “Go Getters,” feel free to take care of that now. I’m fine waiting – I can use the time to crush a dude’s Camaro with my tractor.

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After a strong start to their seventh season, The Walking Dead seems to be falling into a rather mediocre rut. Last week’s extended, Negan-centric was a bit of a chore to get through – even if Jeffrey Dean Morgan continues to shine as the nefarious Negan – and this week’s offering, “Go Getters,” wasn’t any better. Don’t get me wrong here – the show is far from producing the active annoyance I’ve felt toward it in seasons past, but lets be honest here: after debuting the highly anticipated Negan and his Saviors, The Walking Dead is slipping back into its old habit of showing several episodes worth of milquetoast storytelling, peppered with occasional moments of near-or-actual greatness.

And with “Go Getters,” it’s happening in spite of the benefit of spitting the episode into two different storylines: Maggie and Sasha at the Hilltop, and the Carl & Enid Roadshow (more on all this shortly). For whatever reason, Walking Dead showrunner Scott Gimple has almost always chosen to let a given episode unfold from one character’s point of view, or from within a single location. This is a vapid and tedious approach to telling a story that involves many players; imagine if Game of Thrones spent an entire episode focusing on, say, Walder Frey artfully insulting his family (okay, that would actually be pretty awesome, but you get my point). If we’re supposed to believe that, with the addition of several new characters and locations, the world of The Walking Dead is getting bigger, then it’s probably not a bad idea to actually show the audience what you want them to believe.

I appreciate Gimple’s attempt to shake up the narrative this week by cutting between two different stories, but I feel it’s too little, too late. It had been so long since we saw anything at the Hilltop that I had to lean too heavily on the “previously-on” segment that preceded the episode itself, which is never a strong sign for the integrity and interest of a story. If we had a scene or two taking place at the Hilltop in earlier Season 7 episodes – nothing earth-shaking, but enough to remind us that the place still exists – I would’ve had a much easier time jumping back in. I’m having trouble connecting with or caring about what’s happening because of the cinematic whiplash I feel when I’m jerked to another location every time a new episode airs. Maybe the inter-cutting of storylines in “Go Getters” is a sign of things to expect from the show moving forward, but in the meantime, lets jump into tonight’s episode.

Image: Gene Page/AMC

Image: Gene Page/AMC

“Go Getters” begins with Maggie awakening in the infirmary at the Hilltop colony, and we learn this is the first time she’s been conscious and lucid since Glenn was killed. Sasha takes her to visit Glenn’s grave, where she places Glenn’s watch, which was originally given to him by Maggie’s father Hershel. This scene was meant to be an emotional gut-punch as we commiserate with Maggie, but like with so many times with Maggie in the past, her response to the death of a loved one felt forced and unearned.

This is not an attack on actor Lauren Cohan; she has always brought a well-realized, existentially complicated edge to Maggie’s character. No, the failure in her character falls squarely on the shoulders of The Walking Dead‘s writers, and Scott Gimple in particular. Think back to Beth’s death. In the several episodes between their separation at the prison, and their subsequent reunion after Beth’s death in Slabtown, we heard nary a peep from Maggie about being sad and uncertain about her little sister’s whereabouts. Then, when she sees Beth’s body, she breaks down, and rightly so, but it felt dialed in because there was no emotional framework for that scene to depend on. It was the same when she visited Glenn’s grave in “Go Getters”; instead of feeling something meaningful when Sasha produced Glenn’s watch for Maggie, I only felt disdain for Gimple at the ham-handed attempt to oversell a moment that should have gone down easy, if bitterly. Again, had we been closer to Maggie in the episodes between the premiere and “Go Getters,” the scene very likely would have worked.

Image: Gene Page/AMC

Image: Gene Page/AMC

The best scenes inside the Hilltop were the ones involving Gregory, the Hilltop’s de-facto leader, and Simon, Negan’s “right-hand man.” The character of Gregory, played to smarmy perfection by the ubiquitous Xander Berkeley, adds a certain flare to the typical “coward in the apocalypse” archetypal character we’ve seen so often in seasons passed. The only reason he’s still alive is because his people are complacent and fearful enough to let it continue, but after his very conscious – and unnecessary – decision to turn Maggie and Sasha over to Simon, it seems his days as leader are numbered, and Jesus heavily implies he wants Maggie to take the reins. Though I dislike Gregory as a person, I’m loving him as a character; in a world full of seriousness and sadness, he’s just the kind of low-rent slimeball this show needs. He brings a degree of levity into a dark story that desperately needs it, even if that levity comes with equal portions of hubris and cowardice. With that said, I’m glad he got his just deserts when he tried to turn over Maggie and Sasha.

As far as Simon is concerned, I wouldn’t care if The Walking Dead suddenly became an hour-long showcase of the character. Actor Steven Ogg, who’s had recent smaller roles on shows like Better Call Saul and Westworld, is probably best known for his amazing voice work as Trevor Phillips, the meth-head criminal with a heart of gold from Grand Theft Auto V. Ogg distills the character of Simon into something that resembles pure menace, which is best showcased by the uneasy meeting between Simon and Gregory. I’ll be interested to see what happens to Simon; he’s seems happily subservient to Negan, but he also possesses a brand of intellect and charm that could potentially pose a threat to Negan. Though he may never try to overthrow his boss, Simon makes one wonder how truly in control of the Saviors Negan really is.

Image: Gene Page/AMC

Image: Gene Page/AMC

Though the Hilltop storyline takes up much of “Go Getters” run-time, we have to talk about the other plot unfolding in the episode. If the Hilltop segments were plodding, then the scenes between Carl and Enid were refreshing. Of course Carl was going to follow Enid, but his destruction of a perfectly good car to kill a single zombie seems like an asinine waste of precious resources, even for a teenager. But their talk about Carl’s reasons for wanting to kill Negan (he says he’s glad he remembers what Negan did to Glenn and Abraham because it will make killing Negan easy) served to underscore the larger thematic and characterological paradigm of The Walking Dead as a whole: the story is just as much about Carl as it is about Rick.

I don’t think I’m out of line in saying this show, when at its best, is about Rick’s emotional journey, nor do I think I’m off base when I say that much of Rick’s journey is motivated by Carl’s well-being. For Rick, Carl’s well-being is measured by nothing more than how safe Carl is on a day to day basis. But somewhere in all of that, Rick came to terms with the fact that Carl has spent most of his life living in a zombie-infested apocalypse, and is, in many fundamental ways, desensitized to the bloodshed and attendant emotional response. The kiss Carl shared with Enid – clumsy, apprehensive, and real – was a welcomed development for his character, as well as Enid’s. Maybe I’m just an old-fashioned softy, but it really was nice to see this sort of connection in a world that so often prevents them. Let them roller-skate, I say! Their burgeoning love may end up being prevented after all, however, now that Carl has stowed away on one of Negan’s trucks, heading for an uncertain future. But hey, at least Jesus has his back.

 

3/5 stars: Though it had some great scenes, “Go Getters” ended up being one of many The Walking Dead episodes in which its parts are better than the whole.

 

 

 

Last modified: November 21, 2016