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:
Bizarre love triangle
Bryan Bishop: There’s been some romantic tension simmering between Abraham and Sasha for some time now, but this week Sasha opened things up by telling TWD’s favorite ginger that her daily assignment was changing and they wouldn’t be seeing each other so often. Abraham was quietly devastated, which would have been charming if he wasn’t still dating Rosita.
The whole thing set up a running storyline throughout the episode, with Abraham struggling over which woman he was actually in love with, until (spoiler for later!) he’s attacked and has a near-death experience during which heard Sasha’s voice — confirmation on what the true path is. Now, I wouldn’t expect Abraham of all people to be the star of a Days of Our Lives-style mini-soap, but it’s a welcome reminder that even amidst zombies, outbreaks, and merciless villains, people will still have time for romantic angst. (But fair warning: I’m Team Rosita on this one.)
QL Score: -5
Meet the new gated community, same as the old gated community
(Gene Page / AMC)
Nick Statt: "Your world is about to get a whole lot bigger," says Jesus before this episode’s opening credits roll. I have to admit, the scene gave me goosebumps. This was a moment when the show finally acknowledged its own potential — there are more communities of survivors, and there may be a huge conflict threatening the rebuilding of a real and lasting society.
TWD acknowledged its own potential and then squandered the moment
Instead, Alexandria goes to the farmlands. Jesus’ community, run by a well-dressed former plutocrat Gregory (played by 24’s Xander Berkeley), is full of helpless people who seem to spend all today feebly performing yard work. Mash up Alexandria’s weird suburbia vibe with Hershel’s farm from season two and you get The Hilltop Colony, as it’s called. The group is out of ammo and without anyone willing to stand up to aggressors, Gregory has agreed to the terms of Negan’s protection racket, which appears to be the Saviors’ main way of subsisting without doing any cultivation of its own.
It’s difficult to care about yet another group of people — those who aren't much different than Alexandria's equally unequipped denizens — who exist only to give newer characters like Jesus and Gregory something to protect. And while I’m no devout Darwinian, I have a hard time believing there’s any reason for Rick or anyone else to protect survivors who can’t defend themselves after what’s been years of lawless zombie apocalypse.
QL Score: +10
Shocker: violence hits unstable gated community
(Gene Page / AMC)
Bryan: If the introduction of the Hilltop Colony itself felt a little familiar, then the violence that broke out afterward was straight Xerox. A member of the community, blackmailed by the still-unseen Negan, stabs Hilltop leader Gregory! Rick takes decisive action and saves the day! The other people in the community, who have never really fought a day in their lives, suddenly start threatening Rick like he’s the problem!
I’m certainly not advocating for some pro-violence method of conflict resolution (even though the show itself often seems to), but this is the exact same scenario we saw play out with Alexandria last year. Jesus stepped in and smoothed things out soon enough, but one of The Walking Dead’s biggest weaknesses is the every lingering feeling like it’s not going anywhere. When the writers recycle their own material this blatantly, it’s hard to shake that feeling.
QL Score: +10
Operation Kill Negan (Wait, who’s that guy?)
(Gene Page / AMC)
Nick: TWD is trying to hang Negan’s name over the show like he’s Lord Voldemort, but viewers don’t have much to go on regarding He Who Is Named Far Too Often. We haven’t seen Negan in person, and it’s been heavily hinted that the character played by Jeffrey Dean Morgan will only make his appearance in the season six finale. So it’s with big shrug viewers will have to accept Rick and crew’s deal to assassinate the Saviors’ leader in exchange for some of The Hilltop’s supplies.
I found this to be one of the rare moments when the show appears to be winking at comic book readers, and it’s a huge drag on the narrative because it leaves viewers out of the loop. Unless you’re a dedicated Kirkman fan or you’ve already gone and thrown Negan’s name into Google, it’s a thin plotline and all of the foreshadowing surrounding his savagery goes over your head.
It's OK if you had to google Negan
The show is wasting a golden opportunity to characterize Negan through his victims and the chaos and violence he’s left in his wake. Instead, we just have Maggie’s warning that helping The Hilltop is "gonna cost us something." Thanks, but we pretty much knew that already.
QL Score: +5
Winding up for an emotional punch
Bryan: Things have started to get a little… mushy around TWD-ville, haven’t they? Rick and Michonne pairing off; Abraham realizing he’s in love with Sasha; and then the big whammy at the end of this episode: Glenn and Maggie getting the first ultrasound pictures of their baby.
It’s almost like the show is ... saying something. Perhaps it’s underscoring that the connections we make with one another are really the most important thing, no matter the circumstance. That human life, itself — celebrating it, and creating it — is one of the most important things in building a long-term society. That it’s what makes us humans so brazenly, well, human. It’s also the exact thing you’d do if you were a sadistic show that liked to torture its loyal viewers and was planning to rip apart those bonds as soon as they’d been established.
The Walking Dead knows how to headfake
I’m not saying that’s what showrunner Scott Gimple was doing in this episode. I’m not saying the only reason he underscored the importance of Maggie and Glenn’s baby was to emotionally manipulate the audience, and establish heightened stakes that would make some future turn of events the most horrible, cruel thing you can imagine. I’m also not saying that the show is intent on hewing to certain comic book storylines that would make this all too predictable; if last year’s events taught us anything, it’s that The Walking Dead knows how to head-fake.
What I am saying is that in this episode a lot of time was spent focusing on just how much certain characters had to lose … and Negan is coming. Do I want to know what happens next? I may regret these words when the moment comes, but as of right now: you bet I do.
QL Score: -10
The Scoring Dead
Bryan: Let’s be real: tonight’s episode was a little thin. You could probably have combined this and last week’s episode into one much more robust hour of television. There was a lot that we’ve seen before, some track laying for some unforeseen catastrophe coming down the line, and a lot of repeated plot devices filling in the gaps. It’s the water-treading that The Walking Dead has become so infamous for.
Nick: This was one of my main gripes from the first half of this season, especially during the standalone episodes meant to keep viewers occupied while the hype surrounding Glenn’s fate kept building. Pacing has always been one of TWD’s biggest flaws. I feel like a really good editor could have a field day turning a 16-episode season of this show into eight or nine really narratively powerful and action-packed hours of television. Then again, AMC’s ratings love affair with TWD would probably preclude them even thinking about cutting a single episode from their schedule.
Should this be a half-hour show?
Bryan: Actually, I think we’re on to something here. Maybe they should just turn this into a half-hour show: same season length, more densely packed drama. Although now that I say that, AMC would probably lean more towards making half-hour episodes and having the thing just run all year long.
But despite our gripes — despite how much some of this stuff is just so obvious in that it’s filling time — I can’t help but find myself teased with enough nuggets about what’s coming next to stay on board. And that’s with total awareness that it’s all just straight-up manipulation! If that’s one of the reason for the show’s success, what does that say about those of us that are watching it?
Nick: The emotional payoff of a violent victory or the shock of a main character death is not necessarily a bad reason to keep watching, but it does prove we’re in a dysfunctional relationship here. And at least Game of Thrones viewers who are arguably still in it for those same reasons have cinematic set pieces and dragons to keep them entertained. We just have slow-moving zombies.
But for as much as I complain about the shameless ways this show is structured, it really does get me excited to think about a new threat that isn’t just the logistic nightmare of hundreds of undead or drab survival hurdles like food and shelter. It’s been quite a while since the show felt this alive, even if we know it’s all going to end with misery.
Our Quitting Likelihood after "Knots Untie":
Correction: A previous version of this story mistakenly listed the character of Rosita as Rosie. We regret the error.