Posts Tagged ‘the walking dead’

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.

You’re Early

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!

 

knockknock

“When I say knock knock, you say who’s there.”

 

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.

Sniper!

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.

Uncomfortable

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.

Other Thoughts

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.

This post will contain spoilers for The Walking Dead which aired November 6th, 2016. If you haven’t seen the episode, turn back now!

Last night The Walking Dead took us along for the ride with Daryl and his adventures with Negan. These adventures include being locked in a dark closet and tortured with super happy music all day. Sometimes Dwight, (also known as Burned Face Guy,) would take Daryl for a stroll in the yard, which consists of a big cage full of zombies and prisoners. The Savior’s main compound is big and prison-like, but if Daryl is a good boy and decides to join Negan, he’ll get a studio apartment including a bed, chair, kitchen, and even a TV so that he can watch himself on The Walking Dead. (I know they probably have a DVD player or something, but it was funny to see the TV in that room.)

We did get to learn a little bit more about Negan. He’s just as crazy as he first appeared, a real tyrant ruling over his army of loyal ants. How loyal are those ants, exactly? We also learned what happened with Dwight and his wife Sherri after her sister Tina died in the woods and they betrayed Daryl. This came via tell instead of show, where the villain gets to share a customary evil bad-guy speech.

Tina was supposed to be Negan’s fiancé, but she didn’t want to marry him. He was just being a nice guy allowing her to marry him so that she wouldn’t have to work so hard for her insulin anymore. Of course, Tina didn’t like that idea and the three of them ran off. Tina was eaten by zombies; Dwight and Sherri stole Daryl’s crossbow and motorcycle and returned to Negan. In order to save her husband, Sherri married Negan and Dwight worked himself up to being a big dog in the Savior’s army. Of course, he still had to have his face ironed. That’s unfortunate.

If we base the timeline of The Walking Dead on the age of Judith, who is still a baby under a year old, all of this has happened in the span of maybe one or two months. Negan is way more forgiving than expected! It’s fine that they didn’t spend a whole episode hanging with Sherri and Dwight, because last season had a lot of other important things going on. This type of storytelling is lesser than if we’d seen it happen, do we really care about Dwight and Sherri when they are torturing Daryl, who we all know and care about already? I’m guessing we’ll get to spend more time with Sherri and Dwight before it’s all done, but at this point, it’s their fault for returning to Negan instead of going with Daryl to Alexandria.

Also, I’m not the only one thinking “There is only one Negan vs. many unhappy people.” No matter how many people claim to be Negan, there is only one. As the escaped guy told Dwight, if there was an uprising he would be screwed. Too bad Dwight doesn’t seem to be the leader they need, not yet, anyway.

The leader they do need is Daryl.

Last night’s episode was another great look at the characterization from a fan favorite. Daryl is a prime example of how strong characterization can not only shape a story, but uphold it through dark times.We watch him take his torture silently, with that same stoicism we’ve all come to know. Even in the midst of fear, he still takes the opportunity to try to escape, reminding us of his resilience and confidence in his skills. Sherri begs him to go back, but he won’t, because he believes he can get away. After being recaptured, and forced to listen to Elvis crooning about loss, he finally lets it all out. I think, however; that just helped him grow stronger. Sometimes you just need a good cry.

We watch him take his torture silently, with that same stoicism we’ve all come to know. Even in the midst of fear, he still takes the opportunity to try to escape, reminding us of his resilience and confidence in his skills. Sherri begs him to go back, but he won’t, because he believes he can get away. After being recaptured, and forced to listen to Elvis crooning about loss, he finally lets it all out. I think, however; that just helped him grow stronger. Sometimes you just need a good cry.

Daryl knows what is at stake, but he won’t give up, and this is something we’ve seen from him since the first season. He could have turned against the group after Meryl was lost, but he stuck by them and continued to survive. When Negan asks him “Who are you?” he answers “I’m Daryl,” because he knows who he is at the core; he doesn’t need a false identity to know what he’s capable of.

Daryl is a true survivor, which probably isn’t true for a lot of Negan’s followers.

 

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“Jokes on you, shit sandwich was always my favorite.”

 

Negan lets him live. Why? Negan is building his character for us as well. Yes, he’s a crazy man with a baseball bat, but he’s also smart. He was smart enough to see the weaknesses in people and build the Saviors around fear. He also knows that there is only one Negan, which is why he’s trained his soldiers to say “I’m Negan.” By giving them a new and shared identity, he’s making them feel part of something bigger, pushing back against possible rebellion.

Those who do not wish to live under the tyranny of the Saviors need someone like Daryl, but Negan also needs Daryl. Killing him would be easy, but breaking him would prove a point to those witnessing the process.

If Negan’s soldiers can see a man like Daryl break down and change, then any misgivings they have about Negan will be quelled. It’s a dangerous game, and one I don’t think Negan will win, at least not in the way he wants. Daryl is walking a very fine line. Either he needs to start gaining support from Dwight and Sherri and others, or he’s probably going to die. A crazy man only has so much patience.

At the very end, Daryl makes his first move with Dwight. He understands. Dwight had to think about someone else, so he gave up. Daryl says that’s why he can’t, and at first it may seem like he’s saying “I don’t have anyone else to think of,” but I actually think this means the opposite. He has a lot of people to think about, everyone at Alexandria, and he can’t become a Savior because he can’t turn on them, even if it costs him his life. Again, this is the same characterization we’ve seen from Daryl before. He had an opportunity before to join a villainous group, but he can’t and he won’t.

Other thoughts:

Poor zombie nerd guy might have been a good ally if he knew about Daryl.

Sherri is in a prime position to do bad things to Negan, like poison or a knife to the throat if she has the guts and opportunity. Andrea never did with the Governor, but we don’t know Sherry very well.

Speaking of Sherri, I bet she’s going to be one of the first to rebel and possibly die.

Thanks for reading! If you have anything to add, please leave a comment.

Spoiler Alert: If you have not seen The Walking Dead season 7 episode 2 on October 30th, turn back now! This is your only warning.

This isn’t a review, but more of a look at the successes and failures of storytelling through mass media. I think last night’s episode was a clear success based solely on the characterization, but the storytelling was well done, too.

Although last week’s episode was the big reveal, this episode was even more revealing. Morgan and Carol are back, rescued by people from The Kingdom.

Now, I love the renaissance festival, but at first glance, The Kingdom isn’t such a place. Until you meet King Ezekiel and Shiva.

 

thewalkingdead_s07e02_ezekiel_still

“Hast thou come to feast upon pomegranates?”

 

It’s a great form of characterization for this show. We’ve seen a deceptive character before in the Governor, and his attempt to make Woodberry seem like Main Street, but his deception was for a sinister purpose. Carol can also be deceptive, hiding her true  nature to give her the upper hand. Ezekiel is something new. He’s a character playing a character, not for deception but to keep his people’s minds at ease.

At first, it’s easy to think that maybe he’s unstable and perhaps has a mental illness. After the fall of civilization, a person with delusions of grandeur could be given the opportunity to live out their own reality. Carol is barely able to contain herself when she meets him, and I think her face said what those of us who haven’t read that far in the comics were all thinking.

looney

As we learn, however; Ezekiel has not fallen off his rocker. He knows he’s not the king. Showing up with a tiger made him legendary, and he just went along with it, using his time in Community Theater as a jumping off point. The people like having a king and painting his quotes all over the town in scrolling font. (Do they have a stencil or did a calligrapher survive?)

Okay, so maybe it still is a little nutty, but at least they aren’t carving up people and roasting them on an open fire. When you really think about it, running around in armor with swords, spears, cleavers, and bows and arrows really isn’t that much different than what our own group of survivors has been up to. Daryl with his crossbow, Michonne with her samurai sword, and even Rick with his axe are merely missing the fake accent and regal titles. Plus, most of the people in the kingdom are dressed as modern day people and they even have guns on hand for emergencies. It’s an interesting mix.

They’re also under contract with Negan’s army. One of the things I enjoyed most about last night’s episode was the subtle rebellion. Ezekiel doesn’t want to risk the lives of his people, but he also knows the Saviors are bad. So, they feed the pigs walkers. This is an interesting concept and brings up some questions.

First, do the pigs turn from eating the contaminated meat? We don’t know and they are soon butchered off camera1. Secondly, the fact that pigs are fine eating a still squirming walker is kind of terrifying. I know pigs can chew through bone, and eat rotten food, but this is a whole other level. Last, if you eat meat from an animal that has eaten a walker, can you be turned? This last question is interesting because it’s kind of like marinating the pig from the inside. Corn fed cows taste different than grass fed cows. Does bacon from a walker fed pig have a strange taste?

If it is the making the Saviors sick, they haven’t noticed it yet.

Also, Ezekiel hasn’t told his people about the Saviors. He’s done this on purpose to prevent them from wanting to fight. The situation wears heavily on those who know, as is evidenced by the knight who gets into a scuffle with a Savior. It’s clear that Ezekiel understands the danger where others do not, and makes me wonder what he’s seen or been through with Negan. Then again, he was a zookeeper tending to tigers, which gives him insight into dealing with unpredictable wild animals.

There was also great characterization this week for Morgan and Carol. They have both been shaken to the core. Morgan is hiding it a little better, trying to resolve who he was with what he became and what he needs to be. He’s a man in a crisis of faith. Carol, however; is on the opposite end. She’s seen her confidence in what she became crumble and hated what she saw: an angel of death. They are the same but different, and somehow they both need to find the middle.

I’m curious to see what Carol learns from her solitude, and what her actual plan turns out to be. With the Saviors running around it’s hard to believe she’ll be left alone living right off of the road in her little house.

Also, how will they respond when they find out what happened with Rick and Company?

Next week it looks like we’re going to meet up with Daryl and what tortures are in store. Will Burned Face Guy switch sides? Is the teaser trailer only teasing? Maybe we’ll find out, or we won’t.

Other thoughts:

Shiva eats as much as ten people. What are they feeding her? Walkers? She seems happy.

Carol moved into such a cute little house with its own gothic cemetery. There has to be a story there.

Could Ezekiel be the key to healing both Carol and Morgan… and maybe even Rick?

The Kingdom is a nice little town, too bad all I could think was “this place is going up in flames.”

Thank you for reading and if you have anything to add, please feel free to leave a comment.

This post will contain spoilers of not only the season 7 premiere of The Walking Dead, but also the season six finale. If you haven’t watched these episodes, you’ve been warned.

First off, this isn’t a review. I like to analyze mass media as a means to understand the successes and failures of storytelling. What follows is my intellectual opinion.

Way back in April I discussed why the season six finale of The Walking Dead was such a disappointment. I had a lot to say at the time. Six months later, I do not feel any differently.

I’m going to come right out of the gate and say that the season seven premiere should have been the season six finale. It holds all of the key elements of storytelling that were missing and still ends with a cliffhanger, although a slightly different type. Instead of “The Lady or the Tiger” ending we are left more with “What are we going to do now? Everything is in ruins.”

I have nothing against cliffhangers. I actually use them in my own writing, but they need to be finely crafted and utilized correctly. There are three reasons to end a story on a cliffhanger.

1)      To compel the audience to return to a story after an unspecified break in the narrative.

2)      To open a dialogue about the story, either internally or with other audience members, that further drives emotional investment in the story.

3)      To assure the audience that there will be a continuation even when the current story has come to a close.

It can be argued that the season six finale accomplished these things, and it did. People were compelled to return to see who would take a bat to the head. There was a very vocal, and often angry, dialogue happening in the audience. There would definitely be more story, because how could it end like that without a resolution? (Although in the world of television there is no real guarantee that the show will return, although we all safely knew this one would.)

So what’s the problem?

The problem comes down to the underlying storytelling, which had been shaky for the duration of the season. The audience was annoyed already about the “close calls” that Glenn endured. Add to that the finale dragging out in a log repetitive sequence of events, and then coming to a close mid-action. If they had moved the story down the line to where the premiere ended, with a fitting sendoff for two major characters, and tie the season up in an emotional package brimming with questions about the future.

Consider the premiere of season six. It begins with a strange flashback episode. Everyone in Alexandria is working together to build a zombie funnel to lead the walkers in the quarry away from the town. We learn this in a patchwork of pieces.

Now consider the premiere of season seven. It utilizes a very similar device to drag out the truth of who took the bat, and had it been the finale, it would have been a balance to the premiere. Instead, it’s just a “filler” tactic, and that whole story with Negan and the axe could have been told after the death instead of before.

Rick’s character arc is another package that could have utilized in the finale. All season he was riding high on his ego, believing that he and his crew were the biggest of the bad and nothing could tear them down. To watch him break beneath Negan’s smiling face was incredibly important to the story, a piece of the puzzle that could have simmered in our minds for six months. Negan is a special kind of monster, and to have had a proper introduction last season would have given us time to build him up even bigger while we waited.

Next, we have Glenn’s “fake deaths” throughout season six, teasing the truth. Had the season seven opener been the finale, it would have tied those strings together. Of course, it’s emotional. Glenn is a beloved major character with a pregnant wife. No matter when he died it would have been a blow to the audience. However, from a storytelling point of view, it could have been handled better.

We also have the story arc with Abraham, Sasha, and Rosita in a very awkward love triangle. Abraham is more of a comic relief type character, and by putting six months between any emotional attachments the audience may have had about their situation, which makes it far less powerful than if it had happened when it was fresh.This is especially true because his relationship with Rosita was never really a focus of the show until that point. It also makes his relationship with Sasha feel contrived. What was the point of it? So that Sasha could lose another person she cared about?

This is especially true because his relationship with Rosita was never really a focus of the show until that point. It also makes his relationship with Sasha feel contrived. What was the point of it? So that Sasha could lose another person she cared about? It was merely added to give some sort of emotional attachment to Abraham. More development between him and Eugene would have served this purpose in a more organic way.

Lastly, we have the scene of the whole cast at the table enjoying a meal, with Glenn and Abraham at the head. A beautiful world destroyed by one crazy man with a bat. Having that as the last image of season six would have left the community in a much darker, much more immersive sendoff for the two major characters.

 

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“Hey, man, nice axe.”

 

Now that we’ve looked at why this should have been the finale, let’s look at the foreshadowing that was given to us multiple times to make sure we didn’t miss it.

“This is my axe.”

Rick may be broken now, but he is still the protagonist; the anti-hero. Negan is the antagonist. That means that the conflict will continue until it is resolved. Will we lose more of our favorite characters along the way? There’s a high probability that we will. However; I have a feeling we already know how Negan is going to die.

Rick has used the axe for a long time now. It has been nothing more than a prop, more noticeable than a kitchen knife but not as iconic as Michonne’s sword or Daryl’s crossbow. It’s not overly flashy or recognizable, just an axe that could be sold at your local hardware store.

This season the axe has taken  a prominent place in the story and becoming a focal point for the conflict. If Negan doesn’t meet his end by the axe being driven into his cocky smirk and I’m totally wrong here, it will be a missed opportunity. What a perfect way to tie up the story arc in a neat little package. Of course, we already know The Walking Dead doesn’t like neat packages, even the kind that strengthens their storytelling.

Other Thoughts

  • Are Negan’s people truly loyal or do they function solely on fear? Fear is a great manipulator but there are more minions than there are Negans, the right leader merely needs to appear to start the rebellion.
  • Negan took Daryl instead of killing him, and although having a hostage is a great ploy, it would have been stronger to take Carl or Michonne. There is likely more to Negan’s reasoning in taking him than he let on.
  • Will Maggie lose the baby? Perhaps she will lose her mind? Or maybe she will be the next angel of death seeking revenge in a world that is far too cruel.
  • Will Carol and Morgan find the reinforcements that are desperately needed in the fight against the Saviors? Or were those weird guys last season more bad guys?

Hopefully, we have answers to these questions throughout the season.

As with all of my posts about The Walking Dead, this contains spoilers! If you haven’t seen the finale on 4/3/16, please come back later.

Again, this is not a recap of the show, but a discussion on how to become better writers by observing the successes and failures of what is deemed marketable mass media. Warning: This is a jumbo sized post. Feel free to read it in pieces!

Time for my 10 minute Super Villain Speech!

Last night’s episode is what I’m going to deem an epic fail. This is not because of the episode in itself so much as how it ties in with the entire season. Today I’m going to focus on character motivation, cliffhangers, and stories being told in three acts.

 

What’s My Motivation?

I’m going to come right out and say that The Ricktator was not acting like himself in the finale. Throughout the past two seasons we’ve watched Rick escalate from a downtrodden survivor to an egotistical maniac. Rick has been riding high with his inflated head across the zombpocolypse sky, and last night’s episode made absolutely no sense.

In particular, the very first confrontation was completely out of character for season six Rick. A handful of guys in the middle of the road, beating a man (who the hell was that anyway?) to death doesn’t seem to be enough to chase Rick and Company away. Maybe they were worried for Maggie’s safety in a fire fight? Maybe he was worried about Carl, Aaron and Eugene? Maybe, but I don’t buy it. As soon as this scene was over I looked at my husband and said, “That was pointless.”

This is a quick way to ruin a story. Your characters should act on what drives them to make decisions. Flipping the switch randomly only confuses your audience. It invents scenarios that wouldn’t happen, merely because you’re forcing them to happen.

I’m also going to point this out right here: the plot of the whole episode is given away by Mr. 70s Porn Dude. This is Rick’s biggest mistake. As they are getting back on the RV the dude says “There are a lot of ways to get where you’re going.” What does that line say to you? Does it happen to say: “They know where we’re going” because if it doesn’t, it should. Even if Rick didn’t hear that hint, one of the others should have. Aaron, Eugene, and Sasha are all very intelligent; hell even Abraham could have realized it with his highly trained soldier brain.

Necessity is the Mother of Inventive Storytelling

Denise is dead. We all remember when she died and how it was the stupidest death in the season, perhaps even the series, and was another episode that failed at storytelling. Her motivation to leave Alexandria wasn’t the issue; it was Daryl and Rosita that failed.

Even if they hadn’t just started a war with the Saviors, which they knew there were more of them out there, they already knew from Hill Top that taking your doctor out of town was a risky proposition. Skilled professionals need to stay in the relative safety of the town. End of story, there is no discussion.

There was absolutely no reason to allow Denise to risk her life other than to make sure Alexandria wouldn’t have a doctor. That was done on purpose by the writer’s to force the remaining crew out of town when Maggie needs medical help. I can just imagine the writer’s room where everyone is sitting around thinking “How do we get everyone outside the walls? Hmmmm……” and then the Jeopardy music starts to play.

This is one of the biggest sins of storytelling, forcing things to happen merely because you want them to happen that way regardless of whether it’s good or bad for the story as a whole.

Let’s look at a different scenario that causes just as much drama. Carol runs away. Everyone goes looking for her. Maggie starts having problems, but Denise is alive so Enid runs Maggie to the clinic. Rick comes back to discover Daryl, Rosita, Michonne (his new love interest and huge motivation), and Glenn are all missing and Maggie is in danger but shouldn’t be moved. Maggie is begging for Glenn, and not doing well, they are trying to stall on telling her he’s not back yet.

Things are looking grim. The Saviors send clues to Alexandria that they have the missing survivors, also making it obvious they know where Alexandria is, and that’s really bad. Rick, thinking he’s all that, decides to take a crew to rescue his people but also clear out the Saviors to keep Alexandria safe from attack. The team on the road may run into one of those roadblocks, which weren’t terrible in themselves, get  ambushed and end up where they were at the end, on their knees in the dark, minus Maggie.

Back at Alexandria, Denise is panicking because things are not going well. Maggie is close to death, and at the same time, there are hints that the Saviors might be outside the walls.

Now you’ve got everyone who is in danger of dying still in danger, but in a more logical sense. Instead of 80 minutes of driving around in circles, an actual story could be told. Rescuing your best crew and showing that you’re the man is true to character for Rick this season. Imagine if instead we find out who gets killed by Negan, you still have a cliffhanger. Is Maggie going to live or die, and if Glenn was the one who died, how will she recover from that? Are the Saviors going to attack or are they just trying to scare everyone? Is the captured crew going to need a rescue? Is Carol going to become a walker? There are so many good questions to bring people back for season 7.

Also, what if the last image of the episode was Morgan shooting that guy? That was the best part of the whole episode. He had a true motivation despite his mantra of peace: save Carol. That was way more shocking than Negan stepping up to bat. We already knew that was coming. Resolving Negan’s arc by showing his villainy by killing one of our anti-heroes would have been the proper resolution to his introductory arc.

Hanging by a Thread

As you all know, a story is a series of events that leads from conflict to resolution. Stories are often told in three acts in which first our protagonist is confronted with the antagonist. This first confrontation fails. The second act focuses on the changes our protagonist needs to make to face the antagonist again in the third act for a final showdown. This type of storytelling leaves your readers with a sense of fulfillment. It’s your job as the writer to make sure that journey happens in what feels like an organic and realistic manner. It doesn’t matter if you’re writing about telepathic vampire robots or how a kid from the streets became a high powered executive. The story needs to have logical situations and outcomes to be a good story.

The Walking Dead has been failing to do this on a regular basis. Even a single episode can be told in three acts. Much like any series; each episode can have its own break down where the entire season should be a larger arc that ends with some sort of resolution for the audience.

Instead, they have their own formula, and it’s becoming a weekly thing; 90% rambling fluff and 10% what the viewer has been waiting to see, usually ending on a cliffhanger. It’s rather infuriating. My husband commented that we should just watch the last 10 minutes of any episode. Half the time it doesn’t even matter what was going on because the episodes are all filler for the next cliffhanger.

I’m not against cliffhangers. I like a good suspenseful twist. The problem isn’t the cliffhanger. The problem is it’s the same cliffhanger from mid-season, only instead of worrying about Glenn we’re now worrying about everyone.  It’s repetitive. Sure, there’s the whole question of “how will they escape” but I don’t think that’s even an issue. Negan is going to let the survivors go once he’s made his example. He needs them alive. His motivation is for them to fear him so that they toil for food, bullets, blankets, etc. Negan is the feudal lord demanding his taxes. You can’t collect taxes from the dead.

Final Notes

Negan… I’m sorry he’s not that scary. He’s only terrifying because he has a huge squad of loyal whistling weirdos with guns. If he were all alone he would just be a guy with a bat.

What’s up with Eugene always getting captured off camera? Does Josh McDermitt have a “no roughing me up” clause in his contract or something? I mean, come on! After that big speech about taking one for the team, we don’t even get to see him try to fight back?

Carl trying to be a big man to Enid was rather hilarious. She’s eaten raw turtle guts, Carl, she can take care of herself.

Speaking of Enid, did anyone let her out of the closet or is she trapped in there for seven months?

The nod to the internet hate over Carl’s hat when he meets Negan was my favorite moment with the new villain.

Next week Fear The Walking Dead returns. I’ll be continuing to blog because as of the first season, I have a lot to say about that show as well. Thank you for reading this jumbo sized rant. Hopefully it’s given you some ideas on how to improve your storytelling by learning from the mistakes of others.

As with any post I write about The Walking Dead, this will contain spoilers!

If you haven’t seen the episode from March 27, 2016, then skip this for your own good. (But come back later once you’ve seen it.)

Once again, this is not a recap of The Walking Dead. I’m using the show to point out both their successes and failures in storytelling and how we can learn by example to become better writers.

Last night’s episode leaves us concerned for the well being of our band of anti-heroes, but I want to focus specifically on Morgan. He is a  character type that is pretty important in the world of storytelling; a character with strong beliefs that differ from those of the protagonists and therefore causes conflict. Morgan’s beliefs aren’t just causing conflict within the group, but also bringing conflict to the group externally.

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All life is precious, even when that life is trying to kill you.

 

Let’s talk about Morgan’s cycle of thinking that he shares with Rick.

Leaves the Wolf Leader alive in the forest > Capture the Wolf Leader and hold him prisoner. > The Wolf needs medical attention, Denise gets brought in to help. > Carol discovers what’s going on and argues with Morgan >  The Wolf kidnaps Denise > Wolf and Denise get surrounded by walkers and he rescues her from becoming a light snack.

This proves to Morgan that the process Eastman used on him will work on others. If he’d only had more time, The Wolf could have changed of heart . This is a solidifying moment for Morgan and his perspective on the situation.

Let’s look at this with different eyes.

Morgan doesn’t stop to consider that if he never captured the Wolf, then Denise never would have been kidnapped. She could could have been hiding in her clinic during the attack. He doesn’t consider that leaving the Wolf alive may have lead to the attack of Wolves on Alexandria. If the leader was killed it could have changed the whole Wolf pack structure, and they may never have found Aaron’s satchel from the car trap, or the plan would have been different to begin with.

Without the leader, it was very possible that truck which smashed into the tower, thus setting off the horn, would never have attracted the walkers to Alexandria instead of marching safely away.

The attacks on Alexandria are not the only thing that can be tied to the Wolf Leader being left alive. His way of thinking has changed Carol’s perspective as well, making her doubt her morality and choices. This, in turn, has brought on even more conflict and danger to the group.  The story is stronger because of Morgan’s choices. It’s far more complex than merely being attacked by outsiders, because it effects the characters internally.

Show vs. Tell (Again)

The Walking Dead received some flak for that glimpse of Morgan’s life with Eastman. It seemed rather pointless at the time, but I believe it’s because it wasn’t what everyone expected. There was this idea that Morgan the Wise and Heroic was out there somewhere being awesome. Instead, we got to hear the tale of a deranged man being brought level by the pacifist cheese maker.

That episode was important. What if he spent five minutes explaining to Rick that he met a guy with a goat and now he doesn’t kill people. Would you believe it as strongly? Would you understand the relationship between Morgan and Eastman and why it was powerful?

Now think about Carol. Between the walker attack and the day she bakes beet cookies, time passes. I think it’s a few weeks, but hard to say because it was glossed over. She leaves a cookie for Sam, our only hint that she is in grief over losing yet another kid.

When she starts freaking out about killing people, did you believe it or were you confused? (I’d ask you to raise your hands but… well… internet.) We went from Carol vocally championing the “kill or be killed” agenda to Morgan’s “I’m sure everyone is a nice person deep down” philosophy.

Let’s go through my thought process: “What’s wrong with Carol? Why is Carol acting this way? She’s… starting to believe what Morgan said? What? When did this happen?”

If you’ve read my other posts I bet you already know what I’m going to say. Show vs. Tell. Morgan’s episode was weird and felt out of place when it happened, but the reality is the character development is far more powerful to see it than to be told it happened. It’s hard to move from Carol the Warrior to Carol the Pacifist without the steps in between. Of course, Melissa McBride is a fantastic actress and does a fabulous job with the character change. It is because of her acting that makes this change at all believable.

On a Final Note

I want to talk about Rick and his character development. In his conversation with Morgan he says if the illness at the prison happened now, and Carol did what had been done before, he would agree her actions were necessary. He would not banish her. Those people needed to be killed; they needed to be burned to halt the spread of disease.

It’s easy to think about it and be horrified. If you get sick, you’re a threat to the whole community. We don’t have the resources to cure you and ultimately everyone, therefore; you’re done.

We’ve traveled a long way from the days of the prison. Back then, there was still hope for a return to what once was, but now I think Rick sees a hope for something entirely different. The past is gone, nothing will ever be the same. We’ve walked the road with Rick and Company and we’ve watched him transform from attempting to cling to old values and slowly relinquish them for the realities they face. It’s easy to say Rick is becoming a villain, but is he really? He is playing by different rules in a very dangerous game.

Tune in next week for the finale episode.

Is Daryl dead or just injured?

Who will be going up to bat? (I’m evil.)

Will Carol come to her senses and save the day yet again?

Are we actually going to get to find out the truth about Negan or will they make us wait until Season 7?

Hopefully these questions are answered or it will be a long summer!

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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.

 

This post is about The Walking Dead on March 6th, 2016. It’s not a synopsis but there are spoilers. You’ve been warned!

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There are spoilers in the trees.

Storytelling isn’t something The Walking Dead always accomplishes with grace. Trying to get characters from point A to point B with long marches through the woods, coming up with confusing plans to resolve problems, the Glenn Miracles (one more and he can be sainted,) and often a lot of exposition with no action.

Last night’s episode finally showcased how this season has been setting up some really good storytelling. We were once more poked with the moral ambiguity stick, sprinkled with Polaroid photos. Ah, memories. We watched Carol at odds with herself, questioning her beliefs and quietly grieving over Sam. (She has now lost four children in the course of the show.) We witness Abraham’s inability to let someone down gently and learned why dingle-berries are brown. We were shown Morgan building something. Is it a cage? Is he going to lock Rick in a cage? We also were reminded that Tara is living in the land of déjà vu with this mission. Maybe Rick’s middle name is Brian.

What really happened in this episode is that we witnessed the breadcrumbs of information leading us strategically into the best type of storytelling: Actions not Words. Show vs. Tell.

Earlier in the season we watched Daryl deal with three people who escaped from Negan. Nothing is really explained and only tidbits are given through their dialogue. This leads us to believe they are from Negan’s settlement, and that it’s bad news because necessities have to be earned, which includes medical help.

Later we run across the bikers on the road, nicely dispatched with a rocket. That may be a bit unrealistic but it was fun. The bikers make it clear that Negan takes what Negan wants unless it gets exploded. Rick and Company feel at ease, however; because gobs of goonies are all over the highway with none to carry word back to this Negan character.

Last week we met the people of Hilltop and learn about the classic “protection scam.” You give me half, and I don’t kill you in exchange. It seems fair except for “half” being a relative term in the current economic climate. Rick and Maggie set up the same deal with a twist, “Give us half and we’ll kill Negan.” It’s a win/lose situation because our heroes get some food but the Hilltop people are still going to be under the thumb of an unstable leader.

Finally we come to last night and the hasty plan of underestimating your enemies. The capture of Maggie and Carol puts us in a spot to consider the whole sequence from a new perspective. What do the people of Hilltop really know about the Saviors? How many settlements are really under the protection of Negan? Think about the compound. This was a military base, not a settlement. With the addition of the extra forces in the woods, I’m guessing there’s more to the Negan Network.

All of this underlying information was given to us in a roundabout way. The characters involved are only divulging what they know, and clearly they don’t know everything. That is why the buildup to Negan has been good storytelling. Everyone is in the dark, and bit by bit they are turning on the light.

This is the type of storytelling that excites people. Hopefully the show can continue to keep things interesting going forward.

Thank you for reading and if you have anything to add or share, please feel free to comment!