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And… there it is.

Welcome back to who-cares-ville, courtesy of ‘I didn’t see that coming’. We’re back, gang. We’re back to that old familiar place, that place of mediocrity. Isn’t grand? Well done, THE WALKING DEAD, you’ve got us here in record time. Congratulations.

Why should we have expected anything different? I mean, we were just handed a solid opener: polarising (never a bad thing), engrossing,¬† something actually happened, but don’t worry about that, here is the next episode where we don’t see any of the characters that were just a part of the most significant thing to happen to them in an incredibly long time.

You might expect after seeing a scary new villain come along and pulverising two lead characters skulls into the dirt — laughing while he does it — leaving the rest of the group shell shocked in a way we have rarely seen them, you might expect that maybe the follow up episode might want to capitalise on this new found energy, this urgency pumped back into the show, on the recaptured engagement of the audience. But no, instead we got to see good old Morgan and Carol and their days hanging out in… another new town (wonder what will happen there). Surely the prudent… no… the imperative thing to do would have been to wait a while before catching us up on this secondary plot, wait a while before returning us to these characters that have both been emotionally castrated, and take us right back to the scene of the crime, right back to Rick, Maggie and the rest, right back to the dirt, right there with them, still reeling, terrified for their lives.

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TWD is in such a rare place right now, a place it hasn’t seen since the prison, a place where real, shit scary consequences have occurred. This show has become incredibly predictable with its reluctance to hurt our main heroes, that caring about events was all but impossible. But after last week they have managed to get us to truly care again, to wonder about what might happen next, to fear for the safety of our heroes. And to jeopardise all that, to risk all of that dissipating by forcing us to watch a whole episode of Morgan and Carol chatting to some dude with a CGI tiger, glimpsing at how these new folk live their lives, is beyond asinine. It’s downright infuriating.

We shouldn’t be upset however because this is THE WALKING DEAD; this is the kind of thing that THE WALKING DEAD does. But man… hopes were raised. Negan’s slaying of Glenn and Abraham wasn’t perfect by any means, but it was significant and more importantly, it has given the show a chance to correct the mistakes of episodes past. This can still happen of course, but this not only feels like an opportunity missed, but a return back to the norm, a backslide to where this show is at its most comfortable, coasting along for seasons at a time, occasionally perking up for a significant season and mid season finale.

About the only thing of remote interest in this episode — and it comes as no surprise — was the scene where the episode linked back to the one event we actually care about. That moment is obviously when the Kingdom’s people handed over their offering to The Saviors, showing us that even this impressive outfit with its kingly leader is at the mercy of Negan and his merry band of psychopaths. This not only provided an insight into where the story might progress — the Kingdom and Rick’s clan teaming up to take out Negan — but it brought us right back to that dark night in the woods where all those horrible things happened. Which of course made what was happening in the majority of this week’s episode all the more frustrating.

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I suppose the fact that Ezekiel has a tiger is cool, lending itself to some interesting potential scenarios in the future, but I am getting sick and tired of Morgan’s ‘thou shall not kill’ mantra and how we always have to bring it up when he’s on screen. Can we just leave it? Bringing it up so much has made it consume his character completely. It’s who he is now. This character trait has become his identity. And don’t get me started on Carol. None of this is interesting, it’s not interesting when nothing exciting is happening and it’s definitely not interesting as a direct follow up to last week’s premiere.

The main problem of course is the time, and the fact that the show has too much of it. Again, the sixteen episode season is ridiculous and wholly unnecessary, forcing the show to come up with mundane filler and convoluted routes through the season to drag out the story as long as possible. Stop. Just stop. Cut it down to ten episodes. Trim all the fat. Shrink the main cast down to four or five characters and give us a storyline that doesn’t end at each season’s finale. Set an end date for the show, give us a finish line and yourselves a target to aim for. Do that and sit back and watch how much better your show becomes.

What pains me most of all about THE WALKING DEAD is how much potential it has. This show can be so great and has been great in the past, so to see it waste its own time like this is hard to swallow. This wasn’t an awful episode by any means; there have been many a worse instalment of this show. It wasn’t bad, but it wasn’t what was asked for. It wasn’t what was needed. I know that I am doing this to myself, asking something of a show that will never give it to me, but when you glimpse something good like last week’s premiere — as fumbled as it was — you hope to see it last a little while longer. Gosh, even last year’s abysmal season was good for four episodes.

The ride continues next week. Let’s hope they get back on track.

Verdict 

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Film and TV Journalist Follow: @SamuelBrace Follow: @filmandtvnow

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