The Walking Dead took a few cues from some classic westerns, giving us an exciting new tone in an otherwise stagnant series.

The Western Dead

The Walking Dead has begun a new arc that is doing a bit of genre-bending, giving the show a much needed change of pace. In fact, almost everything in this episode works, which is welcomed in and of itself. With a tight story, an interesting premise, and logical character actions, this was one damn fine hour of television.

When I say this was a genre-bending episode, what I mean is that The Walking Dead, after several seasons of post-apocalyptic tragedy, has given us an old-school Hollywood situation reminiscent of Pale Rider or The Magnificent Seven (yes, Steve, I know that is based on Kurosawa). Rick and co. find out about a distressed community of people that are being bullied into giving up their valuable resources. This bullying clan, Negan and his “Saviors,” is getting increasingly aggressive in their demands, taking more and more and killing those who disobey. With no weapons or fighting skills, our usual band of heroes must save the day.

It’s a bit of departure from what the show has given us in the past (ALL PEOPLE ARE ALWAYS EVIL ALL THE TIME AND EVERYTHING GOOD WILL DIE), but it’s a breath of fresh air, not only because the situation is a realistic one for a world without law, but because it’s solid storytelling. There’s no extra fat that needs to be trimmed, everyone has a role to play in the story, and there is a levity and optimism inherent in the episode. I’m not naïve enough to think all will end well for the gang, but the impending sense of dread comes from knowing that the show isn’t going to end anytime soon, not because the story is fundamentally flawed.

A good portion of this episode is devoted to Abraham, who is a nihilist’s nihilist. This is a man who has accepted that humanity will never recover and that those who fight for life are just fooling themselves into thinking there is a future worth fighting for. He questions Glenn about Maggie’s pregnancy, asking why the heck anyone would want to bring a new life into this world. By the end of the episode, however, he is proud of Glenn and Maggie’s decision and has a small layer of hope underneath it all. In a way, he speaks for all of us. We’ve seen things go to hell over and over, and if he can look to the future with optimism, maybe we can too.

That being said, I’m not getting my hopes up. Things will probably fall apart as the season continues because of course they will. Plans never work in this show and we have to accept that. The only silver lining to that pessimism, of course, is that there were essentially no zombies in this episode. I’ve been saying for years that this show needs to abandon zombies as they are, without a doubt, the weakest element of the series. Human beings should be able to handle them with ease…it’s other people that are the problem. It seems like The Walking Dead is finally delivering on that element, so color me optimistic about the show’s future, if I can’t be optimistic about the characters’ future.

Odds and Ends

-The introduction of a working power plant is certainly a smart one. Character logic is important, people!
-I wish my girlfriend would give me a necklace made out of a tail light. And I won’t forget it on the grass.
-Jesus is actually handling things well between the uneasy allies. It’s almost as if well written characters can elevate a story.
-Oh yeah, Maggie is pregnant.

Alex Russo likes to talk about television. You can read more of his insane ramblings on Twitter.

Alex Russo

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