If you haven’t seen The Walking Dead season 6 episode 14 on March 20th, 2016 this post contains spoilers!
You’ve been warned!
A couple of weeks ago I talked about how The Walking Dead did a good job with breadcrumb storytelling through the season, leading us quietly to the infiltration on a Saviors base and the questions it brings to the plot. This week I’m going to talk about how The Walking Dead did a horrible job of storytelling with falling into a hole many writers stumble into, the abyss known as show vs. tell.
This is not a recap of the episode. There are recaps all over the internet if you’re interested. Instead, I’m focusing on the episode’s primary characters, Denise and Eugene, and how the show failed both of them as well as the viewers.
Denise and Eugene act as a mirror. Both are cowards. Both have survived to this point by standing on the shoulders of others. Eugene was extremely lucky to come across Abraham right when the big red tank needed to fill a hole in his heart. Denise extremely lucky to have driven towards Alexandria and was given the advantage of high walls and a big pit to act as a walker mote. Both have been growing in confidence and skill and both believe they have something to prove.
Denise convinces Darryl and Rosita to take her an apothecary, which may have a pharmacy. Having the rare skill of saving lives isn’t enough in her mind. She also wants to prove she can help in other ways. This is unnecessary. Doctors are like food, water, and shelter in the dangerous lands of the zombie apocalypse. She deserves the protection she receives by doing her job.
We also have Eugene going on a walk with Abraham to… where are we going? Where is this place exactly and when did we learn it was there? Is this in the Saviors base? That seemed pretty far away from Alexandria. Eugene is almost eaten by a full metal zombie in trying to prove he can fight, then pushes away one of his closest friends by being a jerk.
Abraham, with his always tactful eloquence, points out to Eugene what I just pointed out about Denise. He may have lied about knowing the science behind the walker plague, but he is smart and he does have knowledge that is useful to the group. If he can make bullets, that’s just as important as shooting those bullets in a straight line. He deserves protection.
The show leaves Eugene alone in this mysterious metallurgy factory. This episode is really about the pharmacy, right? Besides, if we go with Denise we also get to hang out with Daryl. Who doesn’t want to hang out with Daryl? Even Denise chose to walk with Daryl instead of Rosita after the “tracks or scenic route” disagreement, but to be fair, Rosita’s primary emotion is annoyance. (I was glad Rosita is getting more screen time. I hope this continues.)
The pharmacy is full of medicine, and dead babies… and key chain license plates. Denise chooses Dennis, the name of her dead brother. We get to sit on the sidewalk with Denise contemplating her cowardice. We get to see Denise wrestle a Walker for a cooler. We get to see Denise proclaim her empowerment and then she is shot through the back of the head and dies.
Everything we just learned about Denise, her entire arc, ends here. All that remains of her story lies with Tara, who is gone until next season. That is another problem with this death. We don’t even get to see her girlfriend, the most important relationship in her story, go into major grief mode when the death is fresh in our hearts.
As the swarm of dudes with guns come out of the trees the moment of failure is upon us. It’s the idiot from the burnt forest with Daryl’s crossbow. They have Eugene as a captive. Wait… what? Right here is where we are given a prime example of too much tell and not enough show.
The pharmacy should have been the secondary story to the real story of this episode, the story of how the hell Eugene was captured by the Saviors… or Renegade Saviors? We don’t even know exactly because we didn’t get to see what happened.
What would you rather see?
1) A sad woman contemplating her cowardice while sitting on the sidewalk.
2) A terrified nerd being captured and interrogated by a small army.
Option two is much more important to the overall story of Alexandria and our rag-tag team of anti-heroes. Yes, Denise’s death is disastrous, but it didn’t require an entire episode of pointless character building. If the audience hasn’t already gained empathy for Denise through her arc throughout the season, giving her a dead brother right before she dies isn’t going to help. It’s like your best friend telling you that there is birthday cake, but they already ate it and you can have the plate. Thanks….
This is the same thing you need to be asking yourself when you’re writing. “Would you rather” is not only a fun game to play on a road trip, it’s a primary question of figuring out what is more important to the story as a whole. Also, “what is more important to this story?” Denise’s death was important to the story, but her dead brother was not.
Conflict is what drives a story. This is especially true in a setting where you’re limiting the timeline. If you need to choose between two points of view remember this: The conflict between an antagonist and your protagonist or point of view characters should always trump internal self-examination of a solitary character. Internal self-examination has its place, but this episode of The Walking Dead neatly showcases when it is the wrong place and the wrong time.
I want to finish up by saying that I liked Denise. I really liked seeing her grow as a character. I really liked how she felt like a real person through her anxieties. In those moments after she wrestled that walker and triumphed, I really proud of her because I thought she was getting somewhere. Then she suddenly died and it was upsetting. I’m especially sad that her death was on such a badly designed episode.
Other fun notes:
I was right! Morgan was building a cage. Jail cells and dungeons count as cages.
Where is Carol getting all of these cigarettes? You would think they would be low on the supply list when the town is near starvation.
For their brutal murder of the Saviors the Alexandrians were given 100 bottles of pink slime. Mmmm. That was totally worth it.
If you were hoping for more beet cookies and having your life saved by the biggest bad ass in town, too bad! Carol has left the compound. Does she really think being alone will prevent her from having to kill? Did she leave the show? Will Morgan chase her down and teach her the art of the staff? I guess we’ll have to wait and find out.