by Thom Yee
4×14: “The Grove”
One of the biggest problems with the way The Walking Dead show has developed over the last four years is that pretty much every major character death is going to be milked for everything it could possibly be worth. <spoiler alert> The first thing that really got me hooked on the comicbook was when Carl killed Shane to keep him from killing Rick. That got distorted on the show, where Carl shot a zombified Shane and, therefore, had little choice and no major remorse, but it’s a real growing moment for comic-book Carl who had to quickly choose between his biological father and Shane, the man who had acted as an uncle and surrogate father in Rick’s temporary absence. And in the comicbook, it happened in the first story arc, showing readers a lot of what this world is about, whereas in the show, the “Shane is dangerous for the group” thing got way, way drawn out until near the end of season two.
We see a lot of people die on The Walking Dead, mostly people who were introduced and given just enough screen time for us to recognize them when they die, but it’s usually not a regular character, at least not until we can expect it at the most dramatic and penultimate moments of seasonal story arcs. Ultimately, that diminishes a lot of the inherent danger and storytelling power of the world we, nevertheless, come back to every Sunday night. While the comicbook builds dramas of its own around major character deaths, it, crucially, manages to do them in a way that still surprises and really punches you in the gut when they happen. If you’re catching up on the book after watching the show, I can’t wait until you see who dies (and how he/she die) in issue 100. That’s one of the few fictional character deaths I’ve ever seen that made me genuinely mad in real life, and it’s a strong counterpoint to moments like Hershel’s show death, which was pretty heavily telegraphed in preceding episodes.
Anyway, in this episode we follow the adventures of Carol, Tyrese, Judith, Lizzie and Mika as they make their way to Sanctuary. They make a stop in at a relative safe haven (a poorly fenced-off house with lots of pecans and peaches) where we’re finally forced to examine the potential repercussions of Lizzie’s apparent psychological distance from reality. At first I thought problems were going to stem from her determination to be tough, causing her to become cold and pragmatic to the point where she’s lacking any kind of merciful human reasoning, but the creators went in the other direction and completely disconnected her from the reality that walkers are zombies and not people anymore. So she kills her younger sister to show them that she’ll come back. And then Carol kills Lizzie because she’s nuts and can’t be trusted. Then Carol tells Tyrese that she’s the one who killed Karen and… what’s his name (the first guy with the virus… y’know… that guy…?). Then Tyrese tells her that he forgives her.
There’s a definite “Nothing Gold Can Stay” vibe to the whole thing, as our characters openly consider staying at the site they’ve found, and, to the writers’ credit, the episode never gets anywhere near the level of boredom and revulsion I usually feel when I’m forced to read poetry (or watch overwrought independent films in which poetic meaning is forced to stand in for big action budgets [or better writers]). The imagery, the setting, the monologues and, eventually the theme, are all broad reflections of the inevitable destruction of ideals, and as our surviving Carol, Tyrese and Judith depart, there’s a bitterness about the whole thing that just barely manages to land, even if the whole episode follows story elements that none of us really wanted to sit through an episode of. And so more characters die, more suddenly than usual, but still drawing off story elements that were given entirely too long to build.
As I’ve brought up several times in my Walking Dead coverage, this is yet another episode where we can pretty easily say that we would be fine if we skipped it, needing little more than to follow the plot points that I’ve outlined above. Sure, those plot points are a little jarring and meaningless when stated plainly in prose (rather than slowly on screen), but just like a lot of episodes lately, this stuff is all coming off as filler rather than the thematically meaningful moments the writers are probably going for. I understand that they can’t all be prison sieges and gun battles, but most of everything else the writers have built up, like one of the kids going nuts, is stuff I’d rather not see (and almost wanted desperately to never get to). It’s like that episode of Itchy and Scratchy where they first introduce Poochie and we’re all left crying about when they’re going to get to the fireworks factory. There’s promise all throughout this show, the comicbook is obvious evidence of that, but I don’t know if they ever even plan on getting there.
The Walking Dead “The Grove” final score: 6.5
Items of Note:
-Is this the first time we’ve seen Tyrese without a hat on?
-For as much crap as I give this show, I do have to admit that the kid actors do a reasonably convincing job most of the time. As adults, most of us understand the themes and why things happen pretty instantly, but just imagine being an eight-year-old, looking at these plots, and wondering why all this stupid stuff is happening, and then having to act out the scenes anyway. Sure, I didn’t care about the kids and wanted desperately to not see this kind of episode, but at least they kind of held it together for as long as they needed to.
-That said… they were still pretty annoying.
-In case you’re wondering where I draw the line on spoilers, I’m assuming you read our TV episode reviews to see what other people thought of something you’ve watched and may even be using them to catch up because you missed them, whereas you may be reading our movie reviews to see if something’s worth watching at all. Thus, I try to avoid spoilers in movie reviews, I have no problem spoiling TV shows, and I still gave a spoiler alert for something that happened in the comic, which I can’t assume one way or the other if you’ve read or not. I think Grace just does whatever.