No show likes to troll its audience quite like The Walking Dead. Game of Thrones may kill off people you love, and Homeland may test your patience, but there’s something unique about The Walking Dead’s ability to get you invested, hold your hand through long stretches of dialogue-heavy character building, and then blow it all to hell. It’s enough to make you wonder why you’re watching in the first place, so during this season of The Walking Dead, we’re tracking our reaction to each and every episode, to see whether the show is giving us enough to keep going, or whether it’s time to leave the zombie apocalypse behind altogether.
Warning: There will be spoilers.
The metric we’re using is Quitting Likelihood. The QL score starts at zero — that’s when we’re all-in and there’s no way we’d give up — and scales all the way up to 100. At that point it’s just time to go watch some old episodes of Scandal.
Our Quitting Likelihood after last week:
Carl’s magical recovery
Bryan Bishop: Pay no attention to that life-threatening injury we set up! Last week’s episode ended with Carl tragically shot in the eye, and showing only the faintest signs that he was even still conscious. So of course this week started with… everything just hunky-dory, and Rick getting ready for his day while a photo of smiling Ol’ One-Eyed Carl sat on his dresser.
I understand that showrunner Scott Gimple and his writers have a story to tell, but this started things off, once again, with the feeling that The Walking Dead likes to just throw characters into jeopardy without any real care or consideration. Yes, I am aware that Carl lost his eye in the comics, too, but I’m pretty sure getting your eye shot out is a big deal. Something that Carl would struggle with, both physically and mentally. The kind of thing he might even just blame his father for. And Rick; well, Rick would be tortured by the recovery! It all sounds like it would have been pretty dramatic.
Instead we get a single pat shot to explain away the entire thing, and a passing reference to physical therapy (not that Carl shows any signs of needing it). You can hurt your characters, TWD, but if you’re going to take that step, you should follow through and deal with the consequences.
QL Score: +5
Hi, I’m Jesus
An out-of-work, post-apocalyptic Criss Angel
Bryan: Did you know that there’s a character named Jesus in The Walking Dead comics? I didn’t, but after Tom Payne ran into Rick and Daryl, pulled down his mask, and introduced himself, his dreamy eyes and the implied weight of the moment tipped me off that he probably was. TWD likes to tease comic fans from time to time — just see the Negan name-dropping at the end of last season — and usually it’s harmless catnip. When you can tell that’s what the show’s doing, however… that’s a slightly different scenario.
But Jesus just seems so freaking weird I couldn’t help but be intrigued despite the awkwardness. How was he able to rip off a truck from Rick and Daryl? What magical powers let him untie himself and jump onto a roof truck in approximately 15 seconds? And what’s up with that leather trench coat? I’m hoping he ends up being an out-of-work, post-apocalyptic Criss Angel, but either way, Jesus has me intrigued.
QL Score: -5
Nick: Carl, who is thankfully still able to read his comic books with just one eye, was busy employing his angsty hard-to-get tactics with Enid in the woods when the duo ran into a zombified Deanna. Viewers never saw what happened to the former Alexandria leader in the first half of the season, but it was heavily implied she was overrun by zombies while Rick and crew tried to escape the horde.
Deanna’s body was apparently not devoured, leaving her intact enough to go for a stroll just in time for her son Spencer to go looking for her. Being the empathetic young Rick Grimes that he is, Carl leaves Deanna so Spencer may do the honor of ending her. After all, nothing says "I love you" like a switchblade to the forehead. Bonus points for Carl’s Invincible comic, another of TWD writer Robert Kirkman’s creations. It sure beats the Hyundai product placement.
QL Score: -5
Carl to Michonne: If you love someone, kill them when they turn
Nick: For a show revolving around dying and the undead, the characters in TWD usually don't seem too affected by having to kill people, even when it's people that they love. Sure, Glenn and Morgan refuse to do it. And Carol, Rick, and Abraham seem to get some perverse pleasure out of stomping out their enemies. Daryl couldn’t care less. For the most part though, everyone acts like it’s the same as taking out the trash.
So it was refreshing to see Carl of all characters verbalizing a kind of post-apocalyptic death ritual. He tells Michonne that it only makes sense that a person you loved the most — referring to Spencer and Deanna — be the one to put you down if you turn. It was a rare moment of introspection on how people might handle the process of having to stab the reanimated corpse of their longtime companion or family member, which remains one of the most compelling parts of the show.
QL Score: -5
Michonne and Rick together at last
Nick: The final scene of tonight’s episode felt inevitable for quite some time now, and all but certain the minute Michonne drove her katana through the chest of Jessie’s eldest son to stop him from shooting Rick in the midseason premiere. (Sorry, Carl’s eye.)
A changeup that feels more natural than any other post-apocalyptic pairing
To prepare viewers, the show coyly placed Michonne in a bathrobe at Rick’s house in the episode’s opening scene to float the idea of a romance, and both characters finally acknowledge their mutual attraction after commiserating over a shitshow supplies run like hardened war buddies. It works, too. Rick and Michonne’s protective, mother-and-father dynamic with Carl and Judith has been one of the show’s most defiant deviations from the comics. Yet it’s a changeup that feels more natural than any other post-apocalyptic pairing, save perhaps Glenn and Maggie.
Of course, the situation was made relevant to the plot when the night of consummation is interrupted by Jesus, who tells Rick they need to have a chat. How the crafty solo traveler slipped through Daryl’s watch is left to our imagination. We can only guess Jesus has some connection to the Negan storyline, and may have forced his capture to find a way inside Alexandria. He seems too well-intentioned, however, so the whole exchange is hanging a pleasant mystery over the show.
QL Score: -10
The Scoring Dead
Nick: Tonight’s episode was a good example of how TWD can swing from an action-packed, nail-biting survival story to a series of filler vignettes where little actually happens. The arrival of and mystery surrounding Jesus is interesting, sure, but I’m just reminded of how many minutes this show wastes on scenes of no importance. The Deanna saga was just kinda… there, and much of Rick and Daryl’s slapdash supplies run felt like a hurried way to introduce a new character.
Bryan: This may sound strange, but these kind of episodes are precisely what make me love this show. It takes incredible restraint to follow up an episode like last week’s with one where so little actually happens (and the overall message seems to be "doing good things for people, like not killing them or finding pop, is always a bad idea"). But it’s also incredibly courageous when compared to how a lot of shows pace themselves, and it’s been in the show’s DNA since the very first Frank Darabont season.
It certainly earns some criticism from those that want more plot-driven episodes, but just hanging out with these characters while they bicker about music on the car stereo is what makes them so relatable.
Nick: I must say that seeing Rick and Daryl trading a punctured can of orange soda back and forth was oddly satisfying, as was Daryl’s reaction to Rick’s music choice when they first hit the road. These characters spend so much time just surviving that it’s easy to forget they would even have a favorite soft drink. So I’ll concede that the show tends to handle it’s slower-paced, personality-driven scenes with a certain poise — it’s definitely improved since the prison days.
I suppose it’s a matter of expectations. Throughout TWD’s six seasons on the air, it’s seen the beginning and the end of breakneck shows like Breaking Bad and competes in some ways with ultra-plot-heavy epics like Game of Thrones. I certainly sympathize with viewers, those who’ve become accustomed to the pacing of more modern TV dramas, finding "The Next World" too slow. But you have to build characters up to make it matter when you kill them off.
I felt myself tensing up the moment Rick and Michonne found even a moment of happiness
Bryan: And that’s the problem right there, isn’t it? While I’m definitely more on board than I was at the beginning of the season, we’re still evaluating this not in terms of How will these new storylines play out?, but in terms of How will they inevitably lead to people we love dying? The expectations are so ingrained at this point, I felt myself tensing up the moment Rick and Michonne found even a moment of happiness. At a certain point, it’s going to get in the way of actually investing in new characters (Jessie, sniff), and the only way Scott Gimple and his team will be able to surprise audiences is to not follow through with some of the more infamous deaths in the comic.
I can dream, right? But for now at least, it looks like we’re more on board than ever.
Our Quitting Likelihood after "The Next World":