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Saturday, March 30, 2019

[EXCLUSIVE] Looking at Alpha's Heads-On-Pikes Victims as Archetypes

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In the Jewish calendar, Passover is just around that corner. Judaism, in general, is a religion rife with symbolism and Pesach is no exception. As Jews prepare to pore over the Haggadah in a few weeks, one such example stuck out in my mind, as I was preparing my notes for [Episode 48], covering Season 9's penultimate episode. You see, the Ancient Egyptians not only kept Jews as slaves, building structures of various types across the country: their ultimate goal was to break their spirit. We learn this when reading about the cities of Pithom and Raamses. Jews sent to these cities were forced to watch the fruits of their labor sink into quicksand. It was not just grueling work: each day, they had to watch their handiwork sink into the ground and start from scratch, robbing them of even the ability to take pride in their accomplishments.
I started looking at Alpha's victims as something far more than just beloved characters we've lost, but instead as archetypes. Looking at it this way, you start to wonder whether there was intention behind her choice of victims and what they represent to our group.

Spoilers Ahead

  • Ozzy & Alek (The Highwaymen) - The Ronin. Talk about spaghetti westerns! Ronin are samurai bound by no master. These cowboys represent the spark of humanity in all of us if we just look past pure survival and realize that there's strength in community. Rick's dream, fulfilled; Luke's spiel about our ancestors embracing culture and community to defeat the Neanderthals.
  • DJ - Atonement. DJ replaced Dwight as Negan's #2 Lietenant. Was the first Savior to pick up an axe at the bridge camp riots. Eventually, was trusted among Alexandrians and Michonne, in particular (even after the tragedy following the encounter with Jocelyn)
  • Frankie - Thoughtfulness (absconding with short-sighted selfishness). When she was one of Negan's wives, she conspired to kill him using Eugene's help (poison pill). Was at the gates of The Sanctuary replanting prior to the very first time jump around Season 8/FTWD Season 4. Eugene asks Nabila about her whereabouts with her girlfriend.
  • Tammy Rose - The Feeble/Elderly. The Whisperers spare no one, even them.
  • Addy & Rodney - Youth. No room for error or mistakes, which teenagers are prone to make. Plucking the seedling before it barely has a chance to grow and learn.
  • Enid - Courage. Survival was her default setting, in the beginning. She forged no connections and broke any she formed in its pursuit. With the help of Glenn & Carl, she learned that being alone is no way to survive and "somehow" is not a good strategy. She learned to contribute, heal the helpless, and even to love. When the time came time to sever Aaron's mangled arm to save his life, she took on the risks upon herself to act, ignoring all her fears and trusted herself. She even took the initiative with Alden, boldly assuming their relationship status.
  • Tara - Purpose. When Glenn finds Tara, she is utterly lost & adrift. He not only takes a chance on her but gives her a purpose: to help him. She tried to walk away several times, but Glenn wouldn't let up. Since then, she's taken it upon herself to run with it, all the way up The Hilltop
  • Henry - Hope. When Henry was lost, after The Saviors escape from the pen at The Hilltop, Carol decided to have hope she'd find him alive, even when Morgan was convinced that everyone was dead, "They just don't know it, yet." She raised him as her own son and, with her help, transformed the angry hell-bent-on-revenge youth into someone who upheld the concept of deciphering right from wrong. He's the ideal that we all live up to, even when we fall short. He is the right thing to do, even when we fail to recognize it or go after it when we do. Some of us hated Henry because his character didn't make sense in this kind of world... but if you take a moment to think about it, with that logic, you might as well be walking among The Whisperers. Henry represents our reason for being and The Whisperers took that from us as well, robbing Lydia's only sense of belonging in the process: Her Hilltop coin. Her home.

Sunday, March 24, 2019

[PREDICTIONS] Season 9, Episode 15 of The Walking Dead, "The Calm Before"

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Typically, I would be sitting here writing up a recap of what we just saw on the The Walking Dead, but this is a special blog post focusing on my PREDICTIONS for tomorrow's extremely critical episode entitled, "The Calm Before".  While the title of this episode seems to give the illusion that this will be more of a "set-up" episode, I am predicting that some major events from the comic will finally come to fruition during episode 15.  Before moving any further, please note that this posting will include MAJOR SPOILERS therefore if you want to be surprised tomorrow night I would recommend to stop reading right NOW.  Otherwise, you've been warned...

In the comics, the fair is a very significant event because it is where the Whisperers infiltrate the festivities as normal, average visitors.  By the time it's all said and done, we come to find out that Alpha and her crew have brutally murdered 12 attendees and have placed their heads on pikes that they use to create a border between their area and everyone else's land.

In the comic, it is Rick, Andrea and Michonne that come across the heads on pikes over a hill.  Obviously, Rick is no longer on the show (for NOW, more on my thoughts on THAT in a moment), so it'll play out a little differently, but I would imagine that the general story line will remain the same.  Based on some photo stills from the episode, I'm thinking that Daryl and Yumiko will be the ones that find the Heads on Pikes Border.

So how DO I think it'll play out on the show?  It's hard to say how we'll arrive at the end game of the "Heads on Pikes" moment.  But in terms of WHO'S head will be on a pike, my thoughts is that it'll be a general mixed bag of nuts, with some deaths being more significant than others, but all deaths being significant enough to mobilize someone ELSE into action.  Here's what I'm thinking:

  1. Cindy from Oceanside   
    1. Her death would spark a call to arms of the otherwise reclusive community
  2. Laura (aka, Neck Tattoo), former Savior
    1. Not a major character, but her tattoo would make her a recognizable head on a pike and might strike a nerve with any former Saviors.
  3. Gabe (teen)
    1. Definitely not a major character, but you've got to throw in some fillers.  
  4. Addie (teen with glasses)
    1. Again, not a major character but her glasses would make her head recognizable on a pike.
  5. Tammy Rose
    1. Brett Butler's character's has received significant airtime for a fairly new character.  Her hopefulness with her husband Earl on now raising the adorable Whisperer baby make her a major target.  I could see her death being the catalyst that would incite Earl into activity and that's what these deaths are meant to do.
  6. Dianne (archer), Kingdom Knight
    1. Dianne's been a loyal Kingdom Knight since we met King Ezekiel so losing her would likely strike a chord with Carol, most significantly, since the two often went out on missions together.  
  7. Tara
    1. UGH.  Now, hear me out: I don't HATE Tara.  But let's be honest, she's been skating by too long and the fact that she's still alive over such martial characters such as Glenn, Abraham, Sasha & Jesus (to name a few) is shocking.  This might be her moment to bow out.
  8. Kelly (Connie's Sister)
    1. Along the lines of deaths that mobilize others and unite the communities, the death of Kelly would hit her sister Connie extremely hard and would heighten her interest in banding together with Daryl to fight even more so.  This would also drive Magna, Yumiko and Luke to want to join the other communities and take up the fight against the Whisperers.
  9. Enid
    1. This one is a shame.  I think Enid is an adorable character that's evolved so much from her "JSS" days to the confident medic we see now, happily in a relationship with Alden.  Well, it's precisely FOR those reasons that I think she will be killed off.  She found peace and happiness and in this world, that's a major no-no.
  10. Nabila (Jerry's Wife)
    1. Again, I really love Nabila and her relationship with Jerry and the beautiful loving family that they have created but again, in this world, that's basically a death sentenance.  It's either going to be Nabila or Jerry and because I really love Jerry, I'm HOPING the show doesn't choose to kill him off but again, you really never know.
  11. Rosita
    1. Yup, sad but true.  In the comics, Rosita is indeed pregnant with Siddiq's baby.  Now in the comics, Rosita is with Eugene and, similar to Father Gabriel, he loves Rosita so much that he accepts that the baby is not his.  Sadly, Rosita is one of those murdered by Alpha and her death (and of course the baby's death) tears Eugene apart.  I would expect the show to follow this story beat by beat but her and the baby's death haunting Father Gabriel, Siddiq AND Eugene.  My guess is that this will drive all of these men to be major players in the Whisperer War arc for the next season.  Sorry Rosita but you had an amazing run (definitely more than most) and that's pretty impressive.
  12. King Ezekiel
    1. Yup, you read right.  The most significant Head on a Pike in the comics is the revelation of King Ezekiel's death.  The site of King Ezekiel's decapitated head on a pike in the comic is so gut wrenching that it brings Rick to his knees.  I am expecting his death to be THE most significant of all the deaths we'll see tomorrow night and the death that will motivate ALL the communities to UNITE, in his honor, and defeat the Whisperers as one unified voice.  Sadly however, his death will likely all but devaste Carol, who will go back to being Warrior Carol, short hair and all.  My guess is that SHE will ultimately be the one to kill off Alpha (not Negan, as in the comics), again, in honor of her fallen King and love.  I mean, can you imagine anyone else being the one to take her down? 

So those are my thoughts.  There are many people that predict that Father Gabriel or even Eugene could be potential victims with their heads on pikes.  I disagree because I believe that Father Gabriel will feel emboldened enough to take up the fight against Alpha, which might lead him to receive his grisly comic book death dealt by Beta.  It's such an iconic death in the comic, I have to imagine that SOMEONE on the show will experience that.  Also, when it comes to Eugene, while I can't see him necessarily FIGHTING, I believe that his significance will tie into that ham radio that he and Rosita were setting up antennae for.

Which leads me to my BIG prediction for the season finale:  I believe that because Eugene set up that antennae with Rosita on the water tower, he will ultimately make radio contact with none other than the Great Rick Grimes.  I firmly believe that before the season finale is over, in the last few minutes, we will make contact with Rick Grimes and we will be left to wonder for 6 months WHERE Rick is (*cough* Commonwealth *cough*) and WHAT will happen now.  It would make for an amazing finale and a nice cap to a pretty awesome season for the show.

But this show has proven time and time again to expect the unexpected so we'll have to all tune in on Sunday to see who's left standing, after the dust all settles.


Thursday, March 21, 2019

[RECAP] Season 9, Episode 14 of The Walking Dead, "Scars"

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It’s almost fitting that on the 5 year anniversary of the highly compelling episode “The Grove” The Walking Dead delivers one of its most haunting episode to date entitled “Scars”.  Based on the title alone, we knew that we would likely be getting clarification on what occurred to both Daryl and Michonne that caused them to have identical “X” scars.  What we didn’t realize however, was how dark and surprising that back story would be (although there were obviously many insinuations both on the show and off).

We start off the episode with a sepia-toned scene which we soon realize is how the producers decide to distinguish what is a flashback and what is occurring in present day.  This scene then is a flashback and we see Michonne strolling by the river in search for what we realize is Rick’s body.  With each visit to the river, we see Michonne’s growing belly and based on this imagery, we realize that months upon months are passing and yet she is still out there searching.  Daryl is out there as well, doing the same search and he states to her that he’s been all along the river, to the ocean, and still hasn’t found any sign of him.  He chastises her for being out there while pregnant but she says that she can’t sleep anyway so what else is she going to do?  Michonne tells him that Judith misses him and asks about him but he’s not ready to go back to Alexandria yet.  He doesn’t mind being alone, which is not a shock (it is Daryl after all).  At the end of the day, Michonne doesn’t find Rick’s body but she does find his signature pistol, which of course she keeps and has it a safe box to this day.

And speaking of present day, as she reflects on this while looking at Rick’s gun, she realizes that there are visitors at the gate.  The visitors turn out to be Daryl, Connie, Henry and Lydia with of course, Dog in tow.  Daryl explains that Henry is hurt and he needs assistance before they continue on their way.  Aaron is wary but Michonne trusts Daryl and indicates to her crew to open the gate.  We instantly get a flashback at this point showing a similar situation but with a pregnant Michonne summoning for the gate to be opened to someone who was found that was hurt.  The woman is similar in age to Michonne and seems disorientated.  Michonne instantly recognizes her and calls her by her name (Jocelyn), with a shocked smile.  The show clearly is trying to show us the parallels of how Michonne’s openness to the kindness of strangers in the past has directly affected how she approaches strangers in the present day and how that mindset was forever changed after this experience.

Flashing back to present day, we see Siddiq tending to Henry’s wound by stitching up his left leg with assumingly no anesthesia.  OUCH.  As someone who has quite a few scars myself and has been sewn up in similar fashion (with AND without anesthesia), just watching that was painful.  But I digress.  Connie is thankful for Michonne’s hospitality and Aaron informs her that it doesn’t appear that they were followed.  At this point, we go back into the past and see Jocelyn running away from Siddiq’s medical facilities almost in a seemingly delirious state.  She informs them that she has been tending to a group of children and they are in a building all alone and need help.  Based on her direction, Michonne, Eugene and a group from Alexandria arrive at said building and as they go through the dark corridors, they find directions on how to hunt, hang and skin animals…and from the shadows emerge numerous children ranging in age from probably about 6 or 7 all the way up to likely 14-16 years old. 

Back in the present, Henry is all stitched up but fairly self-conscious of the potential scar that this wound will leave.  Lydia is not bothered by it (of course, because, duh, chicks dig scars) and reassures him that he shouldn’t pay any mind to that.  Michonne approaches them and wants a moment with Lydia.  Before Henry departs, he thanks Michonne for allowing Alexandria to attend the Kingdom’s fair but she states that if she would’ve known they were coming she would’ve never allowed it.  YIKES.  She then asks for a moment alone with Lydia so Henry walks away and lets them be.  It’s at this point that Michonne has a little “heart to heart” with Lydia and essentially tries to convince her that if she truly cares about Henry, she should consider doing the right thing: Leave & disappear, taking all the danger and risk with her.  SAVAGE.

At the same, it appears that Daryl and Judith are having some time together in a truly awe inducing moment.  The two of them sit in the same position, by the watermills, having a frank little chat.  Judith wants Daryl and his traveling companions to stay there at Alexandria but he insists they need to keep going in order to ensure that all remains safe here for her and RJ (who we’ve established indeed exists).  Judith continues to push and say that she KNOWS of all the stories between the communities and the Saviors and how they won and how they could win again.  Daryl gravely informs her that she hasn’t heard ALL the stories and leaves it at that.  Judith then asks the ultimate question, “What would my dad do”.  At this, Daryl is silent.  Judith’s response?  That’s what I thought.

Here again, we flash back to the past and see all of Jocelyn’s children (a sizable group) around the campfire at Alexandria, regaling the Alexandria children with games, stories and even providing FOOD for the community.  Jocelyn and Michonne are in the kitchen, mostly reminiscing about their years in college together, but also remarking on how amazing the children are at hunting, since they were able to provide a full feast of deer to Alexandria.  It’s during this moment that Michonne is wistful of the fact that Rick isn’t physically present to see this community spirit but she encouraged by her friend Jocelyn to continue to search for him (she’s going to continue to do that anyway).  Michonne thanks her for the advice and she says that she’s so happy that she’s here with her.
We return to the present and it’s nightfall.  Daryl and crew are being walked to the gate by Aaron and Michonne, since now that Henry has been tended to, they will continue on their way.  There is a moment of warm comradely between Aaron and Daryl, with Aaron even reminding Daryl that he always said he would make a good father (only he got lucky enough to avoid the exploding diaper stage…lucky dog).  Daryl and Michonne hug and they see Judith watching in the distance.  Daryl waves his goodbye to her as well and asks Michonne why she is upset.  She informs him that she’s upset that she’s letting him and the gang leave and keep going without allowing them to stay or allow her and Alexandria to go help the cause.  Daryl tells her that perhaps Michonne should consider telling her what happened, way back when, as a cautionary tale.  She understands this but says that she’s not even sure if SHE’S ready to talk about it.  Regardless, they leave Alexandria and Michonne looks back and her eyes land on the sewer which immediately triggers another flashback.
This time we see a content and pregnant Michonne walking down the street, on her way with other Alexandrians to pick up their kids from Jocelyn’s quarters where apparently sleepovers have been happening.  They knock on the door and get no response and when they enter the household is vacant of Jocelyn and all the children.  Upon further furious, frantic searching, they find a dead watchman and the entire Alexandria pantry CLEANED OUT.  Michonne then notices a trail of little footprints, children’s bloody footprints, leading up to the sewer.

In present day, Michonne has dinner with Judith and RJ (who’s already looking like a big boy!) and Judith is quite distant (but still polite, important to add).  Judith has lost her appetite and asks to be excused.  Later on, we see Michonne cannot sleep and is tossing and turning.  The next morning, she goes to Judith’s room to explain herself from behind her door.  When she doesn’t get a response, she opens up the door to her room to find that Judith is gone and so is Rick’s gun.  She ends up going down to meet with Negan, to essentially have a little interrogation session.  Michonne knows the extent of Judith’s relationship with Negan and she tries to tap him for information on not only where she is but where her MIND could be.  Negan tells her that they talk about Rick, Carl and stories of events that have come and gone.  He tells her about how bad ass her brother Carl was when he snuck into the Sanctuary and shot up a bunch of his men and how her bad ass father Rick slashed him in the jugular, ending the war.  Michonne is not impressed and asks him if he’s told her about he did to Abraham and Glenn…and she’s surprised to learn that yes, indeed he’s even been honest with Judith about their fates as well (and his role in that).  She eventually blows up at him and exclaims that Judith is HER daughter to which he completely agrees.  To that end, Negan tells her that if she is anything like her mother, she likely weighed the current situation and made her OWN judgment call on what needs to be done.  Michonne then runs back to Judith room and finds a note that effectively says that her friends need help and she’s going to go off and help them.

We then go back to the past and see a pregnant Michonne and Daryl in the woods frantically searching for Jocelyn and the children.  Eventually, they take a break and both sit on a swing set in the playground of an apparent school.  In a truly poignant moment, Michonne breaks down in tears, angry at herself for letting her guard down with her old friend, but she truly trusted her.  Daryl comforts her by saying that she shouldn’t blame herself because she couldn’t have predicted this.  He assures her that they’ll find them and she’ll pay for this. 

They continue to search and they all of a sudden see one of the children by one of the entrances to the school house, carrying a knife.  They immediately run into the building after him and then both Michonne and Daryl find themselves in a dark corridor with all the children at the end of it, fully armed with weapons.  The children demand that they drop their weapons.  When they hesitate one of them shoots at arrow into Daryl’s shoulder, knocking him to the floor in pain.  Then one of the other children (Linus) lands an emphatic blow to Michonne, knocking her out.

When Michonne comes to, she realizes both her and Daryl have been gagged and are being hung by their wrists from a pipe in one of the classrooms.  We see Jocelyn sitting in the corner of the room (this whole scene had a very “American Horror Story” vibe to me, did it not?) with a sort of burning trash can on the other side of the room. She informs them that only the strong survive and thrive and children are so mold-able and capable of so much, unlike their older parents who supposedly “broke”.  She instructs one of the children Linus to use the now heated brander on Daryl.  To all our horror, the child brands Daryl with an X, causing him to scream and groan in what one can only imagine as unbearable pain.  Jocelyn then turns her attention to Michonne, and not caring that this was once her good friend who is now very pregnant, she instructs another young girl named Winnie to control the brander (don’t let it control you) and she proceeds to brand poor Michonne who screams horrifyingly in pain, simultaneous staring at her once good friend.  There have been many a painful moment to watch on this show but seeing these two strong characters maimed in such an unnecessary, sadist way was as excruciating to watch as fans/viewers of these beloved characters.

At the same time, we see that in present day, Michonne is on a horse on an urgent mission to find the runaway Judith.  She finds her bicycle discarded and she immediately jumps off her horse and into fair sized group of walkers that she begins to make quick work of, while at the same time yelling for Judith.

At this point, we return to the past and see that Daryl was able to get himself out of his ropes and choke out the individual that was left on watch.  He has freed Michonne and they are off to find Judith.  Michonne comes across a group of children in the hallway that she tries to convince to let her through to get Judith. These children however have been trained as essentially “child soldiers” of Jocelyn and they immediately showcase their weapons and attempt to incapacitate/kill Michonne, one going as far as slashing her pregnant belly which made this mom INCREDIBLY nervous.  Michonne still tries to avoid killing any of these children as much as possible, keeping her eye on the prize which is get to Judith and the Alexandria children.  She eventually manages to get her katana from one of the children and get out of the building…but only to be clubbed repeatedly by Jocelyn who was waiting outside with a two-by-four.  UGH.  Again, painful to watch.  Thankfully Michonne manages to get to her sword in time and plunges it into Jocelyn’s torso.  She then finishes her off fully, eyes now fully set on finding her children. 

She looks up and sees that the children are being held in a trailer, surrounded by Jocelyn’s child soldiers all holding knives.  Michonne tearfully tries to negotiate with the children and tell them that it doesn’t have to end this way and that they can all go back to Alexandria together.  Her plea falls on deaf ears and one of the children persistently keeps trying to slash her with his knife, Michonne barely being able to keep him at arm’s length.  Finally, she realizes they’re too far gone and she’s left with no other recourse other than to kill each of Jocelyn’s child soldiers.  It should be noted that we do not see ANY of the imagery of Michonne actually killing these children, as these scenes are spliced between the moment when she kills a child, to the present day when she’s killing walkers in a field (in both cases, in her urgent mission to find Judith).  She finally kills all but one of the children, Winnie, who decides to drop her weapon and run away.  Michonne then calls for Judith…and eventually, she slowly walks to the trailer door.  They both stare at each other silently for a moment which is finally broken when Judith exclaims, “Mommy!” and runs into Michonne’s open arms.  Daryl also comes out of the school, his own knives bloody, and is visibly shook himself.  He walks over and embraces Michonne, Judith and the other saved Alexandria children.  They deliver them back to Alexandria safe and sound.  The ordeal is over.

In present day, Michonne is in the field taking down walkers and she turns and notices that she’s not alone: Judith is there, taking down walkers in similar fashion to her mother.  She shows that she can handle herself just fine…until a random walker almost gets the best of her.  It’s at this point that she exclaims a familiar “Mommy!” and Michonne is right there to save her.  The two embrace and eventually sit to have a chat. Michonne proceeds to try to explain her rationale and WHY she is as protective and guarded as she is but she finds out, shockingly enough, that Judith REMEMBERS everything that happened with Jocelyn.  I mean, let’s face it: You’re not going to forget seeing your mother covered in blood standing on top of a bunch of child corpses right?  Based on this revelation, Michonne still doesn’t understand why Judith would want to be out here trying to get to Daryl.  She then tells her that even with that incident, that hasn’t made her stop loving her Uncle Daryl or Aunt Carol or the King, or anyone else in their family.  Eventually, Judith’s words (and likely the confronting of this dark past) allows some healing on Michonne’s part.  They eventually take a minivan with the top cut off, led by horses (how fun was that?) into the woods and pick up Daryl and crew along the way, offering them a lift to the fair.

Everyone is all smiles…until we get to the end of the episode and see that two whisperers have come across the gates of the Kingdom and see the arrival of visitors to the fair.  They state that they must go tell Alpha.  Uh oh.  Looks like the Whisperers will be crashing this joyous occasion very soon.


Tuesday, March 19, 2019

[CRITIQUE] Have an Ad-Free Copy of This Week's Episode and Walked Away from The Walking Dead? Consider Running Back

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I read the same article you did, mere hours before "Scars" (Episode 14 of The Walking Dead's 9th season) aired, Sunday night. It's officially been more than 24 hours and, as many predicted, this episode was pretty dark, and we know even darker episodes are coming. When I watch this episode the second time around, I'll find things that I've missed, spot repeating themes, and have plenty of questions to ask my fellow SQUAWKING DEAD hosts. I could go on about how well this episode was developed: with it's incredible writing, carefully developed story-boarding, and the clever choices made when filming the past and present scenes in the realm of cinematography. Many writers - not just Paul Tassi, but Kirsten Acuna and Brandon Davis of - sang similar praises: that this episode would be as heart-breaking (if not more) as the show's darkest episode, "The Grove" (episode 14 of season 4).
But for those of us who didn't receive an ad-free copy, there was a major falling off: where my praises end and my major criticism begins. In a word...


You hear the word tossed around to the ire and frustration of many entitled sub-30-year-olds, all across the internet: commercials suck. It's not that we disagree, but the median age of SQUAWKING DEAD hosts is roughly 40, so we grew up on them and have long accepted them as the reality in which we live, even within the on-demand, streamable media landscape of today. We happily watch them because we know that, by doing so, we're supporting the producers, directors, writers, cast, and crew that work hard to provide us the show we love watching on a weekly basis. At SQUAWKING DEAD, we've never once complained about the length and frequency of commercials, on air (maybe offline, here and there). We never download episodes, knowing full well how much more acceptable it would be for us to do so, given the level of analysis we perform on a weekly basis to bring you the kind of show we put on. With that understanding in mind - stressing our commitment as fans, first - the commercial breaks destroyed most of the emotional punch this episode was supposed to pack. This may come as a shock to most of you, who may disagree with us, but please hear us out: statistically speaking, most of you didn't endure the ad breaks, as we did, anyway.

There lies a chasm in how this episode was perceived between the Tassis/Acunas/Davises/bootleggers and honest-to-goodness devoted fans who sit through the commercials to support it. While the journalists and torrenters, who received ad-free copies, were holding their breath through every scene, with eyes transfixed and welling up with tears, we bore witness to having every dramatic arpeggio ruthlessly undercut by the clang of badly scripted advertisements for legal assistance or clatter of lazily constructed commercials telling us how much money we could save on car insurance. It's as though our brains fully registered the tragic events that transpired and what they mean to the characters involved but, instead of our hearts attempting to escape our chests, we wondered whether our hearts just gave out on us, entirely.
I actually blamed myself, at first, for not feeling as connected to this episode as I should've been. But then I made the rounds in private DMs and closed group chats and discovered that most - if not all - of the people I spoke to either acknowledged this feeling and agreed with me or were simply angry and couldn't put their finger on the exact reason. When I suggested whether the angry few might've felt robbed because of how frequent and the commercial breaks seemed, most of these folks became angrier, which I accepted as more than just resigned agreement.
As I said initially, my brain knows how well the story was crafted, how brilliant the choice of color palette (to reflect past and present scenes) really was, and how skillful the flashback scenes were filmed and edited to reflect a sense of anxiety (as opposed to present day scenes, which were pulled back, to show the actors in full frame, and longer, to calm us). By every technical metric, this was an indelible episode: I just wish someone could've given our hearts the memo.
I'm not entirely sure how to resolve this problem or what to blame. AMC needs to make money, actors need to be paid, and props departments need more money to churn out cooler looking walkers for every new episode. They could maybe air this episode on without commercial ad breaks, so that folks can perhaps receive this episode as it was originally intended. It isn't likely, but perhaps they could. Maybe the error was with story-boarding and not timing the scenes appropriately, which might've prevented audiences from being emotionally knee-capped. On that very note, I recall coming back from a commercial break, or so I thought, only to be greeted with a teaser from the current episode, then being force-fed another full round of commercials.
I'm reminded of a line Judith recited to Michonne after revealing she remembers every horrible thing that had happened to both her and Michonne in the past. Bastardizing it, slightly, "Loving your fans means doing whatever it takes to keep them watching, right? But when did we stop caring about continuity and consistency and retention and story-craft?"
And therein lies the irony: Judith's (actual) line was the only one that punched me in the gut and, frankly, destroyed me. I was almost left sobbing because - from Daryl to Maggie, to Carol and The King - these are figures that have actually left an impression on our hearts, already. The episode was attempting to establish a preexisting history with someone from Michonne's past, construct a possible future with that figure, only to blow us away when things go horribly sideways; however, the commercials made any possible reason for us care effectively impossible. The only anchor we had to possibly connect with Michonne's past was entirely dependent on Danai Gurira's acting ability, alone, and although it was absolutely flawless, it couldn't sustain us across frequent, long absences of story, filled with clamor and clangor in between.
Picture this: you are trying to enjoy a movie when your ex calls you in the middle of it to tell you how horrible a human being you are. Imagine this occurring throughout the movie, every 10 minutes. Each phonecall lasts about as long as the amount of movie you've managed to watch in between phone calls. By the end of it all, instead of escaping the very thing you were trying to get away from, now it's the only thing you can think about.

Sunday, March 17, 2019

[RECAP] Season 9, Episode 13 of The Walking Dead, "Chokepoint"

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Fresh off of their escape from the Whisperer Camp, episode 13 of Season 9 of The Walking Dead entitled "Chokepoint" continues exactly where we left off as Daryl, Connie, Henry, Lydia and Dog are on the run from Alpha and her minions.  At the same time, we finally get answers to who in the world is behind that cryptic street sign that King Ezekiel and Carol passed by after their movie theater quest.  And they seem be just as big of a fan of movies as they are (who would've thought?)!

More importantly though, we get to see the aftermath of the walker attack on the Whisperer camp, specifically the moment where one young Whisperer male who has a mortal bite wound on his neck is having a few words with Beta.  He knows he doesn't have long to live and he tells Beta that he's going to join the Guardians isn't he?  Beta knows that his death is imminent, but out of seemingly respect for this young man, he provides some comfort by touching his shoulder and telling him he'll always be "one of us".  He then instructs one of the other Whisperers to find his wife and let her know he will soon be going through "the change".  It's quite fascinating to see that the Whisperers truly view the walkers as their protectors or "Guardians" and how dying is not so much as the end but as a rite of passage to another level of existence where you become a protective deity.  Almost religious in thought process.  Beta does state however that they need to track down Daryl and crew because if they don't hand over Lydia, they should all prepare to join the Guardians personally.  Yikes.

Meanwhile, Daryl and crew are on the run with Lydia in tow, against all his wishes.  Henry, however, is insistent on Lydia staying with them no matter he may think of it.  Connie seems to be in agreement and suggests on a location that she thinks is a good option for them to go to find refuge, at least for the time being.  Daryl has no choice but to follow since it appears that everyone is on board with this plan and promptly follow Connie.  The location turns out to be an abandoned mid-rise building that seems to have been in the midst of construction and/or renovation.  Connie recommends to Daryl that they get to higher ground and use this position as a Chokepoint, in an attempt to pick off the Whisperers when they eventually track them down (since they will certainly find them).  Daryl is impressed with the idea and Lydia informs them that Beta and some Whisperers will likely come out to try and find her.  After Lydia confirms that Beta is their best fighter, Daryl states that then they'll make sure to kill him first.  Lydia looks surprised, likely knowing that they are SEVERELY underestimating the brute strength that is Beta.

On a happier note, preparations for the fair are very much underway at the Kingdom, as Queen Carol and Nabila take a lay of the land observing all the colorful flags and decorations set up.  This positive moment is cut short however (naturally, this is the post apocalypse after all) by the arrival of a slightly wounded Jerry with what essentially is a ransom note (though a grammatically correct one).  It appears that they were hijacked while on the road and threatened by a group of men who claim to "own" the roads leading to the Kingdom and stated that anyone who wants to travel those roads to the fair need to be prepared to pay their "toll" or else.  King Ezekiel is extremely frustrated at the idea of having to participate in more violence in order to have a peaceful fair but Carol is optimistic that perhaps these are educated men that can be reasoned with.  This is different for Carol right?  On that note, the Kingdom gathers its best fighters (I mean, listen, they have to be save and have a plan B in case it all goes south) and they're off to meet with this new apparent threat.

They arrive at this lair which appears to be some sort of warehouse space of some sort.  From their vantage point, they can see that it appears that the men are armed.  With that in mind, they prepare themselves to negotiate but with the understanding that this could get ugly very quickly.  They enter the warehouse and one specific man stands out from the group giving off the impression that he is the leader.  At first glance, they're a pretty odd bunch: They call themselves the Highwaymen and they are fully armed but decked out in what appear to be almost costumes with cowboy hats and all (and I swear that there was someone in that group dressed in a Sgt Pepper's outfit).  He informs them that the deal was to meet with ONLY the king but Carol pipes in that there was never any deal in place.  Touche.  She and Ezekiel make their case that they do not want any trouble, instead they would rather come up with a resolution that makes everyone happy.  They propose that the Highwaymen PROTECT their roads and in exchange, they are free to attend the fair and participate in the exchange of goods.  The leader of the group laughs at this offer, finding it ridiculous.  The Highwaymen start to get their weapons ready...until they realize that the Kingdom came prepared and has them surrounded.  They still do not fully back down however and it's at this point that Carol steps up and tries a different tactic.  She asks them a simple question: When was the last time you guys have seen a movie?  The Highwaymen stand there stunned.  MIND BLOWN.  

It seems that the Highwaymen are big film buffs and that was all the bargaining that was needed.  We then cut to seeing the convoy of people from the Hilltop on their way to the fair getting ambushed by a herd of walkers.  Luckily our group hold their own but they are assisted by of all people, the Highwaymen who come bounding in on horseback, monkey wrenches in hand (GENIUS WEAPON) and neutralize the remaining threat.  When asked who they are they state that they are the Highwaymen and they are here to be their escort to the fair.  Tara stares at him in utter shock and disbelief...and perhaps some recognition?  Hmmmm...

But the "main event" is back at the abandoned building with Daryl and crew.  Connie shares with him a map of the building as well as a hidden flooring hatch where Magna's crew had hid some emergency supplies, in case they ever returned to this building.  With the aid of Connie's building map, they develop a plan to lay traps around the building in order to lead the Whisperers where they need them and eventually (hopefully) pick them off, one by one.  Daryl finds Lydia's presence a problem that they'll need to ditch immediately but Connie is advocating for Lydia to stay with them.  When Daryl argues that she'll get their friends killed, Connie is quick to inform him that she has no friends and they are the fortunate ones.  For now, they agree to disagree.  Eventually, the Whisperers are spotted from one of the terraces and Daryl ends up shooting the recently deceased and turned Whisperer male from the beginning of the episode.  Beta looks down at him and then looks up at the terrace, right at Daryl.  Eerie.

In the meantime, Lydia and Henry are in a separate location, preparing for the eventual arrival of the Whisperers into the building.  Henry has sharpened a poll from the coat closet for her to defend herself.  She is resistant to accept it, however, because she tells him that these Whisperers almost raised her and looked after her and since they are her people, she can't really kill them.  Talk about conflicted.  It's for that reason that Daryl interrupts their smooch session (ah, young love) and promptly locks Lydia and Dog in a closet, since she really can't be trusted on what should could do in this situation.  As expected, here is where the action begins since a handful of Whisperers enter the building with walkers and separate themselves from the herd to head up the stairs and find our crew.  One crew enters the floor where Henry and Connie are and begin their ambush.  Connie seems really adept at capitalizing on her other (spidey) senses and she proves to be a formidable fighter in this action sequence.  Henry also holds him own, until he is stabbed in the leg.  Luckily for him, Lydia managed to use a nearby crowbar to get out of the closet and Dog promptly attacks his attacker and he's saved.  Henry apologies to Lydia for trying to kill Whisperers to which she reassures him that it's okay.

But people, are we ready to rumble??  Because we're about to join Daryl on his floor.  Daryl has set up shop on a floor that looks was in the midst of renovation. Dust tarps are hanging around the area and there are random power tools strewn around as well.  All of a sudden, three Whisperers including Beta using the door as a shield, burst into the room.  Daryl makes quick work of two of Whisperers, burying an ax into one of them (gruesome) and slitting the throat of one of the other guys.  But then, like a horrific Kool Aid man, Beta comes through the drywall and the drag out bar fight begins.  Beta manhandles the smaller Daryl around the room, throwing him into the wall and onto the floor.  At one point, he even had his neck over a table saw.  Daryl is though, scrappy as anything, and is able to fight him off at every turn, even when the towering man is standing across from him with his massive knives.  Both men employ some fancy footwork during this knife fight sequence and Daryl is able to stab Beta in the upper chest area with a switchblade but the hulking man keeps going as of nothing occurred at all.  In a last ditch effort, Daryl manages to hide in the floor boards and notices beyond Beta an elevator shaft.  He then jumps out of hiding and runs into Beta, pushing him down into the elevator shaft.  Daryl spits down the shaft and thinks his work is done.

He then exits the building with the rest of his crew and decides that Lydia can indeed stay with them but the safety of the communities is of paramount importance, so they'll need to figure out what their next move (or location) will be.  Unbeknownst to all of them however, is that Beta woke from unconsciousness and is standing on top of the elevator in the shaft, livid and full of rage, and ready for his next move.  They better start running and they better start fast.


Wednesday, March 13, 2019

[RECAP] Season 9, Episode 12 of The Walking Dead, "Guardians"

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In episode 12 of season 9, entitled "Guardians", we as viewers are given closer visibility to the inner workings of the day to day terrifyingly, savage life of The Whisperer camp.  This includes an especially brutal confrontation scene that, personally, is one of the more graphic take downs ever seen on this show in recent memory (at least in my recent memory).  We also get to (finally) revisit Negan in the cell as well as touch base with our love square that is Rosita - Father Gabriel - Siddiq - Eugene.  Where to even begin...

As already mentioned, our core story line in this episode is with Lydia, rejoining her mother Alpha and the Whisperer camp.  We see the Whisperers almost create a sort of cocoon around Lydia, who is not wearing any sort of a mask, protecting her as they trudge along in their walker masks to their current home base.  During this journey, we see Alpha essentially interrogate her daughter Lydia as to what occurred to her during her time at the Hilltop.  Did they beat her?  Did they touch her?  Do they have weapons?  Do they have trade system?  Lydia has little to no Intel to offer her mother and she is notably annoyed and irritated at this.  Alpha, however, ever the astute leader, points out how they seemed very determined to want to keep her for...some sort of reason or other.  She is clearly suspicious of her daughter and what information she shared with them.  Lydia insists that she fed them a sob story, essentially, to ensure that they would take pity on her and not hurt her.  Alpha is clearly wary of her daughter's story but has no other option other than to believe her.  Lydia, on her part, tries to probe her mother to see if she came back purely to get information or if she really came back to get her because she loves her.  Alpha's not taking the bait however and calls her a "stupid girl".  Thanks mom.

Back at Alexandria, Michonne is furiously trying to get to the bottom of why Rosita and Eugene were out there in the first place setting up the new satellites for their radio system (MARK MY WORDS, WE WILL BE MAKING CONTACT WITH THAT RADIO...maybe even with Rick?).  Father Gabriel, however, stands by his decision on how they should be trying to reach out to other communities rather than cutting themselves off from the rest of the potential world at large (isolationism vs. globalism, if you will).  Fresh from losing Jesus, Aaron seems to side with Michonne's school of thought and understandably so.  Siddiq is siding with Gabriel on this though and brings up the Kingdom's fair and how important this is to King Ezekiel, enough that it should be put up to a fair vote with the council.  Michonne is not being swayed by any of this though and it is clear her sole priority is ensuring the safety of Alexandria at all costs.

It's here where we also get an interaction between Gabriel and Rosita that illustrates that she has had the conversation with Gabriel on her pregnancy and how it is definitely Siddiq's child.  She seems to understand that it might be too much for Gabriel to deal with and essentially gives him an "out" in case he wants to take it.  He seems conflicted though and here is where Eugene comes in to give him what amounts to a Pro's vs. Con's list of staying with Rosita and raising a baby that is not technically his.  What it boils down to is that Rosita is an amazing catch of a woman and if Eugene cannot be with her (poor Eugene), he would would still want to see her be with someone she truly loves and that would be Gabriel.  Eugene's words seem to have done the trick because we later see Gabriel came to Rosita's doorstep with a bag of "stretchy pants" that Eugene gave to Gabriel to give to Rosita, to accommodate her expanding belly.  They smile and enter the house, seemingly back together, with Eugene staring longingly from afar.

Michonne is not done with her rounds at Alexandria, however, and she visits Negan in his jail cell, back from his stint on the outside.  She's fully aware of his escape and return and is shocked to hear him offer his services to her.  Negan hears an immense amount from the window in his cell and feels that she losing control of her people at Alexandria and, former leader to current leader, he feels he can offer her counsel on how to deal.  She finds the idea utter ridiculous and scoffs at this, even though he insists that he can be much more useful to her out there than in here.  She turns though and sees Judith listening outside the cell window and immediately orders that window and cell be refortified and then runs off to deal with Judith.  She comes to find out that Judith was on her way to go talk to Negan and Michonne finally seems to learn of their regular talks. She is appalled and tells Judith that she shouldn't be talking to him but she says that he's one of the few people that listen to her (awww, I'm loving this Negan - Judith pairing).   She even tells Michonne that people change.  Michonne completely disagrees to which Judith reminds her that SHE'S changed (presumably in the 6 years post Rick when she became a hard-lined isolationist).  At this, Michonne has nothing to say other than to tell Judith to go to her room and give her a moment.

We ultimately come to find out via a conversation between Michonne and Aaron that she has decided to let the council have a fair vote and decide among themselves if they want to send a delegation to the fair.  She will not veto whatever the consensus is.  It seems that the decision was made in FAVOR of going to the fair and Michonne has to sit back and hope that she won't regret this decision (SPOILER ALERT: She will).

But back to the main story at hand which is back at the Whisperer camp: Alpha and Lydia and the Whisperer pack that was with them are back at the base and we can see that there are MANY Whisperers (hundreds perhaps?).  Some are setting up temporary shelter, some are dissecting a deer and hanging meat to dry, etc.  What we don't realize right away is that Henry has tracked them down and is hiding in a nearby ditch.  A Whisperer sneaks up on him and Henry overpowers him with some fancy Akido stick work...but he's no match for the MASSIVE Beta, the second in command of the Whisperers.  He manhandles the young man and pins him on the floor threatening to break every limb until he comes clean.  He admits that he's from Hilltop but he came alone and he came for Lydia.  Lydia calls him an idiot and promptly punches him in the face.  Young Love.  Alpha decides to take him with them and tells Beta and everyone to be on alert because there could be more of them around.

What Alpha is NOT counting on is dissension in the ranks, which comes to light when a male Whisperer confronts Alpha on her poor leadership by trading two of the Hilltop's men for Lydia.  Two for one doesn't seem like a good deal he points out, not to mention the fact that Alpha has broken her own rules by going back FOR Lydia.  She points out that they were able to get some useful Intel as well, but we know based on her conversation with her daughter that that is not exactly an accurate statement.  It's at this point that Beta grabs the man from behind and holds a rather enormous knife to his throat.  Alpha makes her case that he has the right to challenge her...but she has the right to defend herself as well.  She mentions that everyone in the pack follows her by choice and she obviously has gotten them this far.  We think at first that she will make a move to strike him but instead she pulls in his wife/girlfriend and accuses HER of being the person that is truly challenging her.  Alpha states that she witnessed them conspiring together and she is aware that he is only doing her bidding.  The female Whisperer seems to concede to this fact by raising again the same points her male companion did.  She does finally say however that she has no interest in fighting Alpha.  Unfortunately, Alpha says it is already too late and in one of the most brutal scenes on this show (and that's saying a lot), she comes up behind the female Whisperer with a thin piece of wire, pulls the wire across her neck until she fully pulls her head off.  GROSS.  But, effective.

She then hands her head to her Whisperer boyfriend, in true sociopath fashion, while telling him that he shouldn't cry because crying is for the weak...before she stabs him in the gut with her knife.  Both corpses are eventually dragged out near where a group of walkers are milling around for feeding time?  Not quite sure, but the walkers descend upon the bodies immediately.

After the incident, Alpha and Beta are alone and he supports her by saying that she has taken care of them and she needed to do that to remind the pack who's boss, basically.  Alpha is a little shaken but agrees and tells him a story about Lydia when she was three years old and almost suffocated on dry cleaning plastic bags.  She was turning blue but she saved her just in time...and then beat her so that she would remember NEVER to do that again.  Apparently, that is the "loving" tactic Alpha uses to rule her nest of followers.  Beta says that in regards to Lydia they should use the boy to ensure that she knows her place is still loyal to the pack.  To that end, come nightfall, Beta has Henry restrained and Alpha has Lydia by her side.  Alpha throws a knife on the floor and orders her daughter to pick it up and kill Henry to prove where her loyalty lies, otherwise, Beta will kill them both.  Lydia is emotionally torn on what to do but before anything else can happen we hear an exclamation of "Guardians!".  This is apparently what the Whisperers refer as the walkers as, since they hide within groups of walkers.  We come to realize that the group of walkers from earlier had been lead to the base by a mask wearing Daryl and Connie.

As the walkers descend upon the Whisperers and begin to attack, Daryl grabs Henry but he insists that he's not going without Lydia (stupid teenager).  Daryl concedes because there's no time to waste and they make off into the night in an attempt to find safer ground somewhere.