This post contains spoilers from the episode of The Walking Dead which aired November 13, 2016. If you haven’t seen the episode, you have been warned.
Today I want to talk about creating and holding tension in storytelling. It is both a difficult and necessary part of telling a good story, specifically in the horror and thriller genres, both of which The Walking Dead fit into. Creating and holding tension is something that this show struggles with. Either they do an amazing job or they do a horrible job. That’s because tension itself must either be amazing or horrible. There is no “middle ground” for tension, kind of like being pregnant. You either are pregnant or you’re not. Something is either intense or it isn’t.
Tension requires the perfect combination of acting, writing, and directing when it comes to television or movies. In writing, it falls fully on the writer. This episode was a television version of exposition. Exposition has its place, but a full ninety minutes of it is a bad thing. Once again the story was told in a weird order instead of linearly. Linear can be a good thing, and at this point of The Walking Dead, it could help to build tension.
Let’s start with the biggest problem first. We don’t get to see Rick and Company return to Alexandria. We don’t know how many days have passed. Michonne sneaks out to do some target practice so that she can become a sniper. Rosita and Spencer are headed out to scavenge. Eugene is “building them a radio,” although I bet his bullet building skills would be worth more to them if they knew.
Negan shows up right at the top of the show. They were supposed to have a week but now the Saviors are early, with Daryl in tow as a visual reminder of what is at stake.
This would all be great, except for one problem: The population of Alexandria seems totally clueless.
“Who is this guy? Why is Rick freaking out?”
Did Rick really not tell anyone anything? Is he trying to pull an Ezekiel, because that’s not going to work. Negan considered our crew of survivors as a threat, which is why he’s put on such a big display.
Remember – we don’t know how much time has passed. It’s been enough time that Daryl looks the same as he did at the end of last week’s episode, beaten up and broken down. That alone makes it feel like more than one night has passed.
Another reason it feels like he must have told someone is Father Gabriel. The idea of telling Negan that Maggie died, and her grave, means some planning has occurred.
By the time Rick gathers everyone together at the church, it feels like a reminder, not an explanation. The whole thing is convoluted and confusing.
What would have worked better is if the episode starts with us seeing Rick tell the Alexandrians about Negan, to see their grief or shock over what happened to Glenn and Abraham, to see Rick still raw. They then begin gathering supplies – setting aside half their food, lamenting that there isn’t enough and what are they going to do? Then, as we feel the dire reality that Alexandria doesn’t have much to offer by way of food and Rosita and Spencer are heading out to scavenge; knock knock, Negan is early!
Why would this work better? Because it would give the people of Alexandria a chance to show us their emotional response in a more realistic manner; even if they think Rick is crazy and don’t think it’s that bad. Even if they want to fight back or are confused when Negan shows up and starts taking chairs and mattresses instead of food.
I had a lot of hope for Michonne. Smuggling the rifle out in the morning for target practice was a good idea, but ultimately, her story this episode was pointless. If she has left the rifle out in the wilderness it would have been a great opportunity. If Rick hadn’t seen her taking the rifle it would have been even better. Why? Michone the Sniper would be a fantastic secret to have not only from Negan, but also from Rick. Giving characters secrets only makes them stronger, it builds possibility right into the story.
Another problem with Michonne’s story is Negan’s reaction to her return. He just had Alexandria turned upside down to find two guns, then Michonne walks in with an undocumented gun and he gives Rick a verbal warning. This is completely out of character and also stupid. Even if there aren’t any more guns out there, the bold faced lie that Rick told him should have resulted in something terrible. Instead, he shows leniency.
As he said to Olivia, guns are life and death. Not flipping his lid over one undocumented gun makes no sense.
You Ain’t My Daddy!
Carl’s attack on Negan and his men was one of the worst scenes in the whole episode. I didn’t believe a minute of it. Sorry, Carl, but the tough guy attitude fell short.
It was also pointless.
As pointed out by Rosita, it was already pretty clear they were going to take the guns. Why else did Dwight take her gun, other than being a jerk? Guns were on the menu. Hilltop doesn’t have guns. The Kingdom has guns, but Ezekiel is better at diplomacy than Hilltop’s leader, as we saw last season. We didn’t need Carl to throw his teenage angst on the fire for Negan to take the guns away.
The most important part of the episode is understanding what Negan took away from Alexandria. He left their food out of “kindness,” but he took away their safety and comfort. Alexandria has been very comfortable for a long time. Even with the threats of last season, they still had fancy houses to live in and could pretend that everything was semi-normal. The addition of discomfort is a blow to their moral and is very manipulative.
Taking the guns leaves Alexandria is helpless, not only from Negan but from other threats, and he wants them to be helpless. He wants them to need his protection. He left their food because although they are upset about losing their mattresses, it could have been worse. He wants him to be grateful to him when he’s merciful; so that they constantly teeter between fear and relief.
This builds a strange type of loyalty, something similar to what you would see in an abusive relationship. Without the guns, Alexandria is helpless. Negan will protect them. Negan can also destroy them. Play by the rules and everything will be fine. Break the rules and someone gets hurt.
I really hope Rosita is finally going to get a storyline. She’s been a background character for a long time now and I would really like to see her develop. Of course, it’s also likely she’s just going to get killed.
I miss Carol, the Angel of Death. I’m starting to feel like her mental breakdown was a contrivance because this version of Carol didn’t exist in the comics and they had to eliminate her to make the Negan plot work. There are other ways Ezekiel and the Kingdom could have been introduced to the story.
I really hope Daryl is going to earn respect from some of the Saviors because I think one of the best ways to take Negan down is from the inside. Dwight may or may not be helpful in this, considering he’s on a power trip.
Do You Like this Feature on my Blog?
Thank you for reading. This may be the last episode that I’m able to address on a Monday. Watching the episodes live isn’t easy for me, and it may be that I will have to start watching them after they air. If you find this feature to my blog interesting, helpful, or otherwise enjoyable, please let me know in the comments. I will move it to Tuesday if I’m unable to watch on Sunday. Otherwise, this may be the last time I share my two cents on the subject.