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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.


  1. Bravo! My sentiments exactly! I am anxious to watch it again. And try to be more focused!

    1. Same here! I might have to try to watch ad-free in order to really feel it, this time.