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Saturday, July 22, 2023

Stories We Tell Ourselves |1x05| The Walking Dead: Dead City

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Clinical narcissism isn't self obsession; it's the reliance we have on an image we've constructed of ourselves that we show the world and believe in. It's what we all do, to varying degrees, to get by. What can happens when someone shows us our own self-image is false?
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David Cameo:
Rachael Burt:
Sherrandy Swift:
Bridget Mason-Gray:

  • This episode contains theater elements and has some comparisons to Les Misérables, which pairs very well with Negan (a la Jean Valjean) saving Marshal Pearlie Armstrong in the last episode (though it's not as though his crime was stealing a loaf of bread).

  • We hesitate expressing annoyance with Maggie Rhee's actions during this episode, less for questioning her lies to Ginny and more over not taking the oxygen after Tommaso and Amaia tragically pass. And as much as Ginny's actions (being a stupid kid) annoy us, at least we completely understand where she's coming from. Rachael had low expectations for the series but is truly impressed, this far in. Speaking of expectations, of course some of the characters we've grown to love have all died (mostly because of our protagonists?).

  • Sherrandy was especially annoyed with Maggie's refusal to take oxygen. It could be seen as penance for planning to turn Negan over to The Croat, but it's hard to believe that Maggie would harm herself and impair her ability to rescue Hershel Rhee.

  • In the previous episode, we explored the possibility of someone tipping off The Croat: finding out Tommaso was The Croat's inside man was a little gratifying. As mad as that makes us, considering how tragically Tommaso's decision plays out, it was interesting to explore the parallel of Tommaso and Maggie both having sacrificed their people to protect their future: on The Walking Dead, Maggie and Glenn Rhee were taken hostage by Phillip "The Governor" Blake and gave up The Prison's location to protect one another from unspeakable acts.

  • Dave empathizes with Maggie's refusal to take oxygen amidst the methane gas filled sewers: she's had a hard time silencing her better angels, unsuccessfully (for the most part) - considering how she's saved Ginny a few times - which goes against her best interests. After all, Jenkem numbs her suffering and is, perhaps, helping her to plow on. Dave is satisfied with everyone else's reasoning, too: Maggie's also not thinking clearly due to Methane exposure.

  • Still, many think it would've been wiser for her to wait until they were out of the sewers before Maggie confronted Tommaso about his betrayal to The Tribespeople and, moreover, Amaia. Dave feels she made a calculated decision since there was no telling what fate lies for her, topside. If The Croat was double-dipping, and considering the state of the world, he could easily break the deal they had since she doesn't even have Negan in tow. Maggie & Ginny weren't even supposed to be with Tommaso and Amaya since there were only two oxygen tanks, so its possible Tommaso would've found a way to get rid of them (regardless of whether he would've been successful). We go back to methane exposure as the source of Maggie's problem.

  • What frames the way Maggie is feeling right now are the examples, out in the world, of people who just didn't make it, like the dweller(s) of the avant-garde artist hideout. Even if a given shelter is physically safe, it doesn't guarantee you'll be mentally strong enough survive the zombie apocalypse, especially on your own. We shift our focus to the refrigerator entrance, which reminded Dave of his visit to Meow Wolf in New Mexico: an immersive art installation experience. On a more personal level, when Dave was in his twenties, travelling back and forth from Brooklyn to The Bronx for work, he used to marvel at a similar style of art that was always changing (sometimes on the same day) located where the FDR Drive meets the Harlem Drive, under both the onramp/exit of the Triboro Bridge (now called the RFK Bridge).
  • Along with Sherrandy mentioning productions that were filmed in her hometown, Dave indicates that the scene where Negan reveals to Pearlie he's a gym teacher and walkers emerge in front of Dan's Hats & Caps is filmed in Newark, right outside his day-job's colocation/datacenter.

  • 🎖️SURVIVORS Tier Member, Takeerah mentions in the chat that Newark is commonly called Brick City and we discover that (what we've been referring to as) New Hilltop is actually called The Bricks. Brick City reminds the North Carolinians of pizza chain Brixx Wood Fired Pizza, which is where we completely lose the thread.

  • What we found fascinating, which we ultimately attribute to poor thinking as a result of methane poisoning, is how Maggie doubles down on the lie she told Ginny about The Croat taking all their food and grain knowing (this episode, for certain) Ginny was at The Brick and could've uncovered the lies Maggie has been telling Negan. On top of this, Maggie is constantly having to access the rage she has inside of herself (suffocating her better angels) in order to commit herself to exchanging Negan for Herschel.

  • Negan is seen playing with a Statue of Liberty souvenir, which is a callback to the story he told Maggie about he and his father in the first episode. This makes us wonder whether the Statue of Liberty is still standing. The French constructed The Statue of Liberty out of copper: not only had it gradually oxidized and turned green after 30 years of exposure to the saltwater air, but has needed continuous maintenance to remain standing. Over the last few hundred years, we wondered how much of its original materials were even left after so much replacement. Though far enough from any shore, an errant explosive might've taken down some or all of it.

  • We turn back to The Croat's actual attack on The Bricks and whether there was even one to begin with. After trying to run some sort of cover for Maggie by ascertaining the timeline of events (maybe their grain was replenished?), we doubt we can: it seems there's some timeline mentions in the first episode that indicate it was soon after their encounter. We witnessed the demolished front gate, so there was clearly a demonstration of power. On the other hand, nothing was stolen other than Hershel. This episode reveals the only thing The Croat wanted (for The Dama) from Maggie was to retrieve Negan.

  • What truly shocked us and freaked Maggie out was whether The Croat would stop with Hershel since he offered The Bricks as a safe haven for Tommaso and Amaia. Will The Bricks be taken over or at least plundered by The Croat/The Dama, afterwards (a la The Saviors)? Dave thinks The Dama has no plans for expansion beyond Manhattan's borders and is even worried New Babylon Federation might encroach on their territory (Tranquillitas Ordinis). She is also reading Frontiers of Historical Imagination by Kerwin Lee Klein, which both critically and sympathetically examines historical analysis of the western expansion of The United States. The irony is that The Dama successfully eliminates the native population, AKA The Tribespeople, and The Croat is constantly reciting Doma Smo (we are home, in Croatian): meanwhile, he and his Burazi are effectively colonists. The story The Croat tells himself - and The Dama - is that he has Negan within his grasp. Negan Smith is compared to John Smith and the girl who survived the Burazi attack on the firehouse (The Croat calling them barbarians) is Pocahontas.

  • Emily mentions that she's a little disappointed that the show doesn't, in her mind, expand The Walking Dead Universe. Bridget mentions how Tales of The Walking Dead attempted to do that, regardless of how it was received by the wider audience. In an even more narrow way than The Walking Dead: World Beyond, Dead City sticking to one corner of the universe and thoroughly exploring a narrative, while dropping small TWDU nuggets along the way, tells an overall better story while connecting to and slightly expanding the greater universe.

  • We turn our focus to The Dama herself and the actress who plays her, Lisa Emery. She and her relationship to The Croat is very similar to Pamela Milton and Lance Hornsby. You may remember Lisa Emery's stellar portrayal of the wildly unpredictable Darlene Snell in Ozark. Having been a stage actress for many years and hailing from Western Pennsylvania, she's most-likely intimate with the kind of overly-entitled, prima donna Broadway actor she's attempting to portray. Our excitement over Lisa's admittance to TWDU is similar to Kevin T. Carroll's, who played Virgil, but we hope she features for quite a while longer. Lastly, Dave expresses his disgust (with all things woo) after learning the woman who exited The Dama's chambers, before we meet her, was receiving a tarot reading. It reminds him of their discussions on mentalism and homeopathy during their breakdown of Shadow Puppets (TWD: World Beyond 1x06).

  • As we enter The Dama's chambers, we're greeted by the sound of Una Fortiva Lagrima by Gaetano Donizetti. The song is about a perceived (from the singer's POV) shared moment of love between two people (perhaps The Croat is under a delusion that he and The Dama love each other?). Everyone thinks what this song represents, The Croat's simpering and pathetic nature, and even The Dama's distaste over his physical deformity is all very disgusting. Another song, played loudly and noisily by a new group's member beforehand, was Anything Goes by Cole Porter. The song's theme explores the erosion of the social mores over time and how every generation, thereafter, seems to engage in increasingly crazy behavior: Plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose. But does this mean we're to expect an incredibly awful death in the next and final episode of the season?

  • Bridget can't help but jokingly mention: because Pearlie doesn't constantly praise New York City, he must not be not a real New Yorker. The ladies are just jealous because he and Dave live in the center of the universe and they can masticate on a satchel of Richards whilst loitering in Lisa Emery's memorial box in King Francis theater.

  • The ladies will never understand a man's desire to touch and sniff gross things the way Tommaso does the wall of rendered human fat. The fatslide looks like all the world's McDonald's burger traps poured into this one spot in the New York City sewer system. Sherrandy's favorite thing was The Walker King. Bridget noted that the episoder insider showed how this feat of horrific brilliance was predominantly comprised of practical effects (with puppeteers and animatronics), much like a Jim Henson's Creature Shop production. The faces bursting through the body of The Walker King were a lot like Freddy Kreuger's chest - bursting with his victim's souls - in A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors. Of course, the Crypt Keeper-esuqe jump-scare of the last walker was a great homage to Tales from the Crypt on HBO. Sherrandy has to mention that this is what a walker orgy must look like (which harkens back to a similar discussion we had at the top of one of our episodes).

  • The pulled-back and excellently framed shot of Maggie observing Ginny's work - the word Liar smeared in blood - was visually striking. Just beforehand, the way the camera angle starts out depicting Ginny and Maggie upside down, then slowly flipping the camera right side up as they pass, created an impressive effect that unmoored the audience and implanted them inside their woozy headspace.

  • Pearlie's line about cutting-off his brother, Joel Armstrong, in in New York City three years before the fall (Dave thought) was the most crucial line in the episode and represented a paradigm shift in Pearlie, "He was left to die alone on the worst possible place on the planet. Is that what he deserved? Is it really so black and white? You'd asked me back then I would've said yes. But now? I don't know. Is it gray? Is it something else? Tranquillitas Ordinis: What if it's storis we tell ourselves to sleep easier?"
    This demonstrates Pearlie's moral absolutism prior to the events of the fall of humanity, but The Walking Dead Universe is an opportunity to be what we were meant to be. What's ironic is that Maggie isn't sleeping any easier, despite the lies she keeps telling herself. The Croat feigns supremacy over Manhattan, yet we bear witness to his pathetic behavior in his boss' presence.

  • Despite her unsettling welcome to TWDU, we're concerned we won't see more of Lisa Emery's incredible acting since the upcoming episode is the season finale, which will undoubtedly leave us with more questions than answers. This insular story has immense potential to go further and grander than where we are at present. New Babylon Federation might, in fact invade as Dave predicted in the first episode (we learn that this is something The Dama fears in this episode), which might ripple outward towards larger threats like The Civic Republic (Military), which we know has at least a base in upstate New York. Might we see Leo Bennett and other characters from TWD World Beyond and will the Rick Grimes and Michonne spin-off cross over into the current storyline?

  • We, too, spin-off into a possible field trip, (funded entirely by...just kidding) guided by Shaunna. Rachael tells us about a special memento - a cane she still has in her posession - from Epcot Center to help her father stand while he was battling cancer.
  • The theme of this episode is self-deception: more specifically, clinical narcissism. This series revolves around Maggie's struggle to maintain a certain image of herself, all the while undermining that image by committing the despicable act of lying and trading Negan's life for Hershel's. Regardless of his intent, Tommaso ends up giving up the lives of all his people (along with, ultimately, his own and his beloved's) in exchange for a better life with he, Amaia, and what was supposed to be his unborn child. The Croat gives up his reign over Manhattan just to be with the woman he loves. Pearlie tries to make the most of his post apocalyptic life by dealing out justice, while a letter from his big brother burrows its way into his soul. All of these folks had to put up an image of themselves to believe that they were doing the right thing in order to get what they wanted and, truth be told, we don't blame anyone for their decisions.

  • The full flashback to when The Croat kidnaps Hershel and strikes a deal with Maggie is revealed, the end of which - her silent scream - is a callback to the very first scene of her scouting the lower west side of the island and having to kill the well-walker-looking zombie. Dave thinks that by virtue of her being there without Negan in that first scene, Maggie was at least initially trying not to have to involve him, whatsoever. The ladies aren't buying this. At the very least, the show does a good job of linking these moments, between these two scenes, together and nothing is wasted.

  • While Emily comments on Maggie's ability to slay, with her outfits, we wonder if Maggie partially blames herself for Tommaso's & Amaia's deaths. Though Luther's death was pretty anti-climactic, what lives on is his (now) righteous objection to allowing his people to be involved in Hershel's rescue. The methane exposure, however, takes the lions share of the blame, especially after they all lose their senses and use the dead bodies surrounding them as couches. Though, in their defense, none of them reanimated in their presence due to their impaired sense of smell, considering their permeating pungent stench. Still, the rest of the characters besides Maggie should've had enough oxygen to make some rational decisions, to the estimation of some. Maggie, herself, was so impaired, she put Ginny's safety above her own, even throwing her the very backpack that contains the dino plushie, flare, and beeswax.

  • For the third time, we mention TikToker, @ClashedPR, who finally released a full-length video on the subject of the lack of Variant Walkers in this series. Although we may have noticed some in the last episode, Bridget also spied some of the horde outside the avant garde art shelter parking lot moving faster and more aggressively than normal. We don't necessarily mind this and prefer it over the full-blown, suddenly appearing variants at the end of The Walking Dead's remaining episodes. This brings to mind the Daryl Dixon spin-off and how the attempt at a cure bred more fast-moving, 28 Days Later-esque variants in France.

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