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:
Wash, rinse, repeat
Bryan Bishop: Our latest episode starts with a stylistic flourish, repeating a series of shots — an opening garage door, Carol on her porch, a morning walk — to set up the episode’s events. I tend to like these opening sequences, but something bumped me this time. Maybe it was that the moments seemed to be too disparate, or that there’s nothing really all that compelling about a door opening. Or maybe it just felt like the show was getting a little too cute for its own good.
We get it, The Walking Dead. You’re clever. But it only really works when we don’t see the seams.
QL Score: +5
Eugene is all grown up
Bryan: Eugene has largely been hanging out in the background without much use this season, but this episode he finally got something to do: he wants to turn a workspace into a bullet-making factory, something that impressed even Abraham. Of course, Eugene has to pretty much make everything weird, so he paired that step forward with the odd insistence that he now doesn’t need any protection, even though his lack of zombie skills seemed to prove otherwise.
Eugene has to pretty much make everything weird
It all pays off later in the episode, after Eugene has "proved" his maturation by taking a bite out of crime (see below). From a storytelling perspective, it’s all executed cleanly enough, but it also felt strangely isolated from the rest of the show, in an episode that already felt bottle-like. I don’t want to say this week of TWD was just about killing time, but plotlines like this certainly feel like wheel-spinning.
QL Score: +5
Denise helps reunite Daryl and his crossbow
Nick Statt: I was beginning to feel that TWD had wandered back into its standard mid-season malaise, where ham-fisted "character development" is used to fill time between major deaths. Some of Denise’s choices — venturing into the room at the apothecarium on her own, opening the car door to try and claim a can of soda — were nonsensical to a fault. I was waiting for the uneventful zombie death and whatever silly lesson we were supposed to draw from it.
I was waiting for the uneventful zombie death
And then, in the middle of her impassioned speech about facing fears, an arrow is driven through Denise’s eye. It was a harrowing scene, only made worse when you realize just moments later that it was Daryl’s display of mercy earlier in the season that led to this moment. The arrow came from Dwight, who fired it from the crossbow he stole from Daryl in episode six. While Denise may not have been a beloved character, her death was at least used as effective narrative tool.
QL Score: -5
Eugene bites his way out
Nick: As far as dire situations go in zombie-infested Virginia, the one in which Eugene, Daryl, and Rosita found themselves in the climactic moment of the episode ranks high on the list. Daryl, without a trusty RPG to James Bond his way out of the situation, stood helpless with Rosita while bad dude Dwight, now with a nasty face burn, detailed the Saviors' plan to ransack Alexandria. And just when we think Abraham may save the day from his nearby hiding place, Eugene blows his cover in a seemingly vindictive stab at his former best friend. But it was all a ruse to distract Dwight so he could... bite him in the crotch.
I can't tell if we're supposed to laugh this scene off as an absurd Eugene-ism or take it even remotely serious. Given that a character just got an arrow through the eye, the tonal shift to what has to be the most ill-advised distraction technique ever invented was jarring. (Eugene's crotch biting does happen in the comics, so I imagine this is yet another one of those scenes that's supposed to act as a wink to Kirkman readers.) Miraculously, the plan works and Dwight's crew retreats. Daryl even gets his crossbow back. I can't help but see this ludicrous scene as a reminder of TWD's tendency only to kill characters when it will have maximum impact.
QL Score: +5
Carol bids adieu
Bryan: Last week I thought that all the recent focus on Carol may have meant she was headed for the big supply run in the sky — but instead it turns out she’s just had enough of her own murdering ways. She feels she can’t love without killing to protect those she cares for, so her solution is to cut everyone off and vanish completely.
Somehow now Carol's decided she's gone too far?
At first, this felt like a satisfying payoff to last week’s episode and the struggle Carol’s recently been having with her own use of violence. The more I thought about it, however, the cheaper this entire subplot has started to feel. Carol’s the same woman that took out a 12-year-old girl back in season four, remember, and has been a ruthless pragmatist ever since. Yet somehow now, after listening to Morgan (whose pacifism has consistently caused problems), and talking out Paula and her gang, she’s decided she’s gone too far?
It makes last week’s episode seem substantially weaker in retrospect: a bit of dramatic sleight-of-hand that used a fantastic performance by Melissa McBride to make a character leap that actually doesn’t make a ton of sense.
QL Score: +5
The Scoring Dead
Nick: I felt like this episode did a number of things well despite working with so little. It took the slow burn of what I would have considered to be a frustrating filler episode in the past and turned it on its head, by wrapping up some emotional loose ends and throwing in a character death I don’t think anyone was expecting would happen the way it did. It also served to give Daryl a rival in the form of Dwight, whose face appears to be disfigured now that he’s rejoined the Saviors. I’m assuming that’s Negan’s work.
Bryan: After a run of really compelling episodes, I actually found this week be a step back, with the show reverting back to some of its worst tendencies. Denise’s death was certainly unexpected, but it also felt casually manipulative — the show diving into her personal struggles simply to make the audience more invested when she died. (And no reaction from Tara? Really, TWD?) And Carol’s departure seems similarly repetitive, another turn of the "Carol’s weak / Now she’s strong / Now she’s in exile / Now she’s back again" screw that’s become a Walking Dead trademark. I think it’s also in large part to how much the show has built up Negan: at this point, it feels like they’re just stalling.
At this point, it feels like The Walking Dead is just stalling until Negan
Nick: Carol’s departure did feel like a huge missed opportunity. It felt like her narrative was building toward some definitive moment — either a mental break of some sort or a self-sacrifice to honor her humanity. Instead, it seems like the show just opted for her character development to occur offscreen.
I suppose I initially approached it from the perspective of never taking TWD’s word for anything. I just assume Carol will come back in some contrived way meant to emphasize how she’s either right or wrong about her stance on killing. The same goes for Denise, too. I knew something bad was going to happen, or else the writers never would have dedicated an episode to her. I think I’m a less jaded viewer since this half-season started, in that I’ve become more accepting of TWD’s build-them-up-and-tear-them-down philosophy.
Bryan: Yeah, I’ll admit that was my first reaction, too. Showrunner Scott Gimple and the show’s writers have done such a good job avoiding the mistakes of last year that I think most of us watching have begun to give them the benefit of the doubt again (which after the Glenn debacle, is no small feat unto itself). But I think you nailed it in what you just said: of course Carol is going to come back eventually to make some larger point, and we all know it. That’s what left me wanting — the fact that we all know this week wasn’t a true pay-off, and that the "real" end result, no matter what it is, is off there in the distance. When it’s at its worst, The Walking Dead just treads water, and for me this week felt like we were just hanging out for the real story to pick up again.
Our Quitting Likelihood after "Twice As Far":
Correction: A previous version of this article misstated the state in which The Walking Dead takes place. Rick's crew is now in Virginia, not Georgia.