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Monday, March 17, 2014

The Walking Dead 4x14: The Grove

The Good: This episode was an interesting character study. It featured some significant character moments and dirty laundry was aired. This episode also brought up an interesting moral dilemma without an easy answer.

The Bad: More wheel spinning; nobody is closer to Terminus. This episode heavily featured Carol. Their seemed to be an acceptance that Carol’s decision to kill the two people at the prison was right one.

The Ugly: Need I even say?

Zombie apocalypse stories are built on two things: hopelessness and tough decisions. Once Carol and Tyrese came across Lizzy standing over Mika’s dead body they were left with an incredibly tough decision. This part of the episode really engaged me. I couldn't help but contemplate what I would do in their position. Was there a right answer?

I agreed with Carol (for once). She said there was no fixing Lizzy. That may or may not be true but, regardless, if Lizzy is capable of being “fixed” Carol and Tyrese certainly don’t have the tools to do so. Lizzy is also too dangerous to keep around. She could kill Carol or Tyrese in their sleep or Judith at any time.

So the only real decision is whether to kill Lizzy or abandon her. If you abandon her she’ll probably die a slow painful death. She might be picked up by other travelers but then their lives would be in danger. Frankly, giving her a quick death was the only option.

I enjoy when an episode really gets me thinking and engages me intellectually. This episode also gave the requisite amount weight and emotion to what happened. At the same time, everything I found interesting about The Grove happened in the last 15 minutes. That’s an awful lot of filler. Obviously you need some build up to the deaths but perhaps giving us a small B-plot wouldn't have been a bad idea. Especially since “focusing on just one part of the group” isn't the novelty it once was.

Other Thoughts:
The opening scene reminded me of a Fallout trailer. Why is old-timey music so creepy? Regardless, the opening scene made it seem like the music was actually playing. It wasn't. I’m not a fan of the fake out.

I’ll be honest, I have a bunch of notes about the Lizzie/Mika comparisons and what Carol and Tyrese have said about them but, by the end of the episode, I think we can all agree that we’d take Mika and her flaws over Lizzie and her’s.

I will admit that I don’t feel Carol’s attitude caused Lizzy to kill Mika nor do I think much could have been done to prevent it. However, I really wish Carol was more accepting of Mika’s “I don’t want to kill people” attitude. Obviously it’s too simplistic of a point of view for the zombie apocalypse but it wouldn't hurt Carol to engage in a healthy, nuanced debate on the subject. Perhaps a middle ground could have be reached?

Speaking of Mika's attitude, I’m certainly not saying she didn't need to toughen up some. I’m a vegetarian and even I’d kill a deer in the zombie apocalypse.

I would think the recoil of a pistol would make it slip from Mika's hand. Especially since it seemed like she could barely hold it.

So, the counting flowers thing (which apparently Lizzie had used in a previous episode). Is that indicative of an actual mental issue Lizzie had or what?

Why did that house have gas?

I’m curious about scenario of Lizzie stabbing Mika. Did Mika fight back?

So was the fire the house Daryl and Beth burned?

I’m not a fan of Tyrese forgiving Carol. I could see him continuing to travel with her because he needs her but I wish he hadn't outright forgiven her.

The Talking Dead can be...over the top.

Melissa McBride was on The Talking Dead so naturally it was a Carol love fest. Ugh. Not that it isn't usually.

The Talking Dead also mentioned that this is the third episode in a row without Rick. I hadn't even really noticed.

Phil Brooks (AKA C.M. Punk) was on The Talking Dead. They kept talking about The Walking Dead when all I really wanted to know was what his impetus for leaving the WWE was and if he thinks he’ll return.

17 comments:

  1. "Melissa McBride was on The Talking Dead so naturally it was a Carol love fest. Ugh. Not that it isn't usually."

    Ugh indeed.

    I'm surprised Carol hasn't suggested abandoning/killing Judith, since she's as much, if not more so, a liability than Lizzie could have been.

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  2. I like Carol a little more than you, but agree this episode could have done with a little more focus on other characters. Hell, Tyrese could have used some development beyond "likes the 'good life.'"

    That said, I thought the actor playing Tyrese did a really good job during the confession scene. I felt like he was weighing his options and came to forgiveness because a) the Lizzie situation, and b)he wouldn't get too far with a baby and no back-up.

    I'm a teacher who works with kids with autism, so this episode got under my skin and not in a good way. None of them would have Lizzie's mental instability, but what if I were stuck in the apocalypse with a bunch of kids who were effectively helpless and noisy? This show doesn't usually get to me, but I found myself thinking more than I wanted to. I wouldn't abandon them or anything, so I guess I'd be zombie food.

    Anyway... the charred zombies looked cool, so there's that.

    - Mike Loughlin

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  3. // More wheel spinning //

    Very much as with Once Upon a Time — and even though The Walking Dead's winter hiatus is more pronounced — I feel as if the midseason cliffhanger should've been a season-ending one, not only due to that episode's own content but because where the show picked up again after the break has the aura, to me, of the rolling start of a season rather than a march towards the end of one. Not letting us see much of life at the prison before things went to hell with the flu and the Governor's return continues to feel like a bad decision.

    // The Ugly: Need I even say? //

    I'm close to being upset that the show took us there, but ultimately it was handled well enough that the good outweighed the bad and justified the ugly.

    Despite what I said above, I do think that most of the episodes we've had since the break have been satisfying on their own terms and I'd include this one among them. Lizzie's deal was set up early, the young actor playing her mostly sold it, and I buy that this situation would arise. Weak spots to me were whenever Mika or Lizzie had to cry and the awkward way Lizzie just stood there at the end, sobbing, looking down at the flowers turned away from Carol just enough that she couldn't see Carol for much longer than felt natural while Carol worked up to firing — the visual tension of the camera shot (no pun intended), figures at each end of the screen with a chasm of blank space between them, was nicely executed (sorry) but I just kept getting the sense that the girl playing Lizzie was just waiting for what was coming whereas Lizzie the character in-story wasn't.

    There were quite a few lines repeated throughout the episode in various ways that I found interesting. Carol referred to her daughter as not having a mean bone in her body — and that being what sealed her fate — in talking to the girls before saying the same thing to Tyreese about Mika. Mika told Carol when they discovered Pecan Manor that her mother said things always worked out, which Carol repeated later. And when the smoke appeared, Mika told Carol that she'd learned that if the smoke was dark the fire was still burning and that if it was white you'd know that it stopped; when Carol said this to Lizzie at the end, once the snow was white, Lizzie was in awe of how smart "Ma'am" was, a telling tidbit which I think drove home another difference between her and her younger sister.

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  4. // Carol ... said there was no fixing Lizzy. That may or may not be true but, regardless, if Lizzy is capable of being “fixed” Carol and Tyrese certainly don’t have the tools to do so. //

    Well put.

    // I’m a vegetarian and even I’d kill a deer in the zombie apocalypse. //

    My issue there was less that Mika couldn't shoot it, given that she is still a relatively little girl and because she didn't absolutely need to shake off her convictions in the moment, and much more that Carol to the considerable loss of the whole group chose that moment to attempt to teach Mika a lesson rather than wait until after a hearty meal of venison — one that they seriously needed and that might even have changed Mika's perspective on the subject.

    // I really wish Carol was more accepting of Mika’s “I don’t want to kill people” attitude. //

    On the one hand I think I do too. On the other hand I guess that's a lesson in the audience's natural desire to imprint themselves on a protagonist versus the existence of that protagonist as a fully realized character who isn't always going to jibe completely with our attitudes. Maybe that goes more for me than for you since based on what you've said I might be more aligned with Carol on the whole, not necessarily in terms of liking (to use far too pat a word) what she does or being able to relate to it easily but projecting how my own character might be altered in the world in which The Walking Dead takes place. I would probably be more inclined to debate things and include the group, but getting back to my first point that's not how Carol is being written.

    // So was the fire the house Daryl and Beth burned? //

    Per an interview with Scott Gimple on the Entertaininment Weekly site, the answer is a maybe. He said that it's for viewers to decide, and doesn't really matter or at least narratively it doesn't matter yet, but that he has his own interpretation — which to me, since he's the showrunner, means that there is an answer but he'd rather not tell us.

    The crispy walkers looked cool, all right. I just don't know how they'd get burnt to that extent and not continue burning until they fell apart, especially at the pace they lumber. Also, I found it particularly cruel of the show's universe to make Carol and Tyreese have to face off against a horde of animated burnt corpses.

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  5. This was the rare episode that was maddening in a good way, in that, as you said, it presented a lot of different viewpoints with no easy answers. Like, I'm glad Tyrese didn't kill Carol, but like you, I'm bummed he's forgiven her and that the show just seems to be brushing this whole "killed two people in cold blood" thing under the rug, like it ain't no thang.

    (That said, at the end, I was fully expecting Tyrese to kill Carol and then himself, because that's the kind of misery this show traffic's in, but I'm glad they didn't go that route.)

    Similarly, I thought Micha's outlook was refreshing, even while I was thinking that it was too overly simplistic for the zombie apocalypse, then chided myself for siding with the show's nihilistic worldview. Like you said, there has to be a middle ground, right?

    So, the counting flowers thing (which apparently Lizzie had used in a previous episode). Is that indicative of an actual mental issue Lizzie had or what?

    I'm curious about that too. This is where I get a little weird, in that I absolutely want to know exactly what her deal was (was she autistic? bi-polar? Did she really the zombies talking?). I know that the details aren't important to the story, and I don't blame the show for not taking the time to delve into them, but I can't deny that's the kind of stuff I want to know!

    Why did that house have gas?

    I wondered that too. Best thing I could come up with was that the house was being powered by a large propane tank (as it often common with cabins/rural homes, and this seemed pretty rural), and the owner(s) had died before the propane ran out.

    Which reminds that I questioned Tyrese's certainty that they could live at that home indefinitely - I get the appeal of a safe haven, especially one with creature comforts, and maybe I've just been spoiled by the prison, but it didn't seem like a very defensible home, either from a human or zombie perspective (I mean, Hershel's farm was more defensible, and it still got overrun).

    So was the fire the house Daryl and Beth burned?

    I assumed as much.

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  6. @wwk5d: I'm surprised Carol hasn't suggested abandoning/killing Judith, since she's as much, if not more so, a liability than Lizzie could have been.

    Ditto. I'd say maybe that's coming, and it'll be the moment when Carol realizes how far gone she's become, but then, that would require the show to view her as too far gone, and I don't think it does.

    @Mike: That said, I thought the actor playing Tyrese did a really good job during the confession scene. I felt like he was weighing his options and came to forgiveness

    Agreed. There was a nice restrained physicality to it, like, you could see him fighting the immediate, almost reflexive desire to shoot her as he weighed the situation.

    @Blam: Per an interview with Scott Gimple on the Entertaininment Weekly site, the answer is a maybe. He said that it's for viewers to decide, and doesn't really matter or at least narratively it doesn't matter yet, but that he has his own interpretation — which to me, since he's the showrunner, means that there is an answer but he'd rather not tell us.

    I hope you're right about that last part, and that he's simply being evasive because he doesn't want to give something away, because that "it's for the viewers to decide" mantra is horseshit (pardon my language).

    Narrative is not a Choose Your Own Adventure book (unless you're reading a Choose Your Own Adventure book...) and, as I railed about plenty in discussions of Lost, while things like theme and character development are open to interpretation, plot isn't.

    That fire either was or wasn't the house Daryl and Beth burned, whether you or I or anyone else thinks one way or the other. Someone wrote into that script "then they see a plume of smoke" and that person either knew what caused the smoke or didn't, regardless of what viewers think. If it's not important either way, tell us which it is. If it is important, just say "no comment" or "wait and see" or something.

    And look, the cause of that smoke really isn't a big deal in the long run; I'm just irritated by showrunners trying to get the audience to do their work for them.

    Sorry for the rant, Blam. Not going off on you, just on maddening showrunners.

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  7. Mike -- "None of them would have Lizzie's mental instability, but what if I were stuck in the apocalypse with a bunch of kids who were effectively helpless and noisy?"

    I had a similar train of thought. My sister has Down's Syndrome and I began wondering how she'd survive in a world like this. The answer is that she wouldn't. I'll admit that I shed a little tear at that thought. Which is kind of a silly thing to cry about, but sometimes the wheels in the brain just turn in strange directions whether you want them to or not...

    Teebore -- I'm with you on the "let the audience decide" thing. Keeping something ambiguous is one thing, and that's fine. But don't pretend you, as the creator, don't know what really happened.

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  8. I always thought the whole fire thing was just another way to show a difference between Mika and Lizzie. Mika knowing the difference between a black plume of smoke vs a white plume while Lizzie didn't, and that Carol was moved and could even learn something from "weak" Mika.

    Or something like that. Whatever, who knows? lol

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  9. @Matt,

    Seriously! Most of the time I can turn my brain off when watching Walking Dead (in fact, the show usually works better that way :).

    It's no silly because thinking about this outlandish situation can bring the real world into focus. It sucks that there are plenty of people who are permanently dependent upon others for their basic needs. At least they usually have people who care enough to make their lives better and more fulfilling.

    - Mike Loughlin

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  10. "I was fully expecting Tyrese to kill Carol and then himself, because that's the kind of misery this show traffic's in"

    Tyrese forgiving her was a bit much, no? I'd much rather we saw him say or express something along the lines of "I don't forgive you, but Judith and I need you now, so I'm just going to put that all aside now and focus on us surviving". Something like that, but since the writers are almost going to rename her Carol Sue...eh.

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  11. @wwk5d: // I always thought the whole fire thing was just another way to show a difference between Mika and Lizzie. //

    Another way, definitely. Just another way, I don't think so. The crew definitely wanted to do the toasted walkers, and we're almost certainly meant to associate the fire with the place burned down by Beth and Darryl, which is why not commenting on it either way (particularly when the showrunner says he has an answer for himself) rather than "wait and see" if it becomes a plot thread or "yeah, although we don't say so onscreen" if not is, as Teebore said, horseshit.

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  12. @Teebore: // Sorry for the rant, Blam. Not going off on you, just on maddening showrunners. //

    I'm right there with you. Like you say, "That fire either was or wasn't the house Daryl and Beth burned."

    Actually, I guess I disagree with you slightly in conceding that the writer of the scene might actually not have had a definitive answer in mind. That's unfair to the sanctity of the narrative and just outright dumb, given any kind of a loaded context, like referencing a near-distant fire when we know other characters on Dead have burned down a house in the same timeframe (see also: the limo that picked up Lily on HIMYM, during the period when we thought it was a curiously dropped mystery; all sorts of stuff on Lost), but it's not technically withholding information. There are also instances of story elements being set in script drafts but never established onscreen, allowing those elements to be scrapped and revised when finally revealed in canon.

    When the showrunner says that he has an answer, however, a refusal to provide it is tone deaf at best and, I think, unnecessarily hostile to viewers. I put off this reply until I could dig up a passage from the 2001 interview with Brian Michael Bendis that this brought to mind. The discussion was about his character Jinx, star of the 1996 prequel to his breakthrough(ish) 1995 project AKA Goldfish and other stories, appearing in 2000 in Bendis's run of Sam and Twitch for McFarlane at Image, Jinx having left the character in a very particular place in her life.

    Me: "Jinx shows up in Jinx and then in your final storyline in Sam and Twitch. Is it too much of a 'continuity' question to... ?"

    Bendis: "Yeah. ... {*snip*} … Only in comics do we get bogged down with this continuity thing. You gotta let it go. Join us in the future in comics: Continuity doesn't matter. It's just the characters and where they've been before."

    Me: "But if you've seen Jinx before, you know her and you bring…"

    Bendis: "If you've seen Jinx before, it shouldn't make any difference where she was in Sam and Twitch and when. If you have read both, great; if you haven't, great."

    Me: "But it makes you ask what happened with her and Goldfish."

    Bendis: "I know." [laughs]

    Me: "Wait. You're saying, 'I know that that's what people are asking themselves,' or 'I know what happened to them'?"

    Bendis: "No, I know what happened to Jinx and Goldfish. You don't need to know."

    Me: "But that's all I meant in terms of 'continuity'. Is Jinx the same character in Sam and Twitch as she was in Jinx? Are you just imprinting her visuals and what we know of her from Jinx onto the character in Sam and Twitch, except without the baggage of previous stories, or is she the same Jinx that we read about in Jinx, and here she is popping up again?"

    Bendis: "It's the same Jinx. But who knows if the Jinx issues of Sam and Twitch happened before the [Jinx] graphic novel or not?"

    Me: "You don't know."

    Bendis: "I know." [laughs]

    He's the author, with every right to hold back on divulging potential future story material or just to keep extrapolations of his characters' lives to himself, but I've carried this with me as one of those examples of having your cake, eating it too, and not getting the contradiction.

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  13. Bendis (by way of Blam) -- "Only in comics do we get bogged down with this continuity thing. You gotta let it go. Join us in the future in comics: Continuity doesn't matter. It's just the characters and where they've been before."

    Gah, this attitude is exactly what bothers me about the comic book industry since 2000 or so. I can't stand this pompous attitude.

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  14. Bendis can be such a twat.

    "Continuity doesn't matter. It's just the characters and where they've been before.""

    Don't those 2 statements contradict one another?

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  15. Bah, I'm behind on responding to comments. Better late than never, I suppose.

    @Mike: "I'm a teacher who works with kids with autism"

    First off, way to go!

    "I wouldn't abandon them or anything, so I guess I'd be zombie food."

    Doesn't it feel like this show is espousing that you SHOULD abandon them though? Which is when this show really annoys me.

    But I know how you feel, sort of. I doubt I could abandon my cat and he's just a cat! I can't conceive of abandoning people in need...or, at least, I don't want to conceive of it.

    @Blam: "Not letting us see much of life at the prison before things went to hell with the flu and the Governor's return continues to feel like a bad decision."

    I, of course, agree.

    "I just kept getting the sense that the girl playing Lizzie was just waiting for what was coming whereas Lizzie the character in-story wasn't."

    It did ring a bit false. The character didn't know she was going to get shot yet stood there for an awful long time without even trying to look back at Carol. It is interesting to note that Lizzie was apologizing for pointing a gun a Carol and not for what she did to Mika.

    "Carol to the considerable loss of the whole group chose that moment to attempt to teach Mika a lesson"

    You're right on that. Carol should have been prepared to take down the deer herself if necessary. Food > Life Lessons

    "I would probably be more inclined to debate things and include the group, but getting back to my first point that's not how Carol is being written."

    I understand your point. Characters aren't meant to be characters and not to reflect my point of view. The most important part is that they are written consistently. I guess my issue lies with the fact that I feel like the show seems to endorse Carol's point of view.

    Hmmm...I'm getting mixed up here so let's get specific. Carol killed two people in the prison thinking it was for the greater good. I haven't gotten a clear explanation as to how this all went down. To me, it was clear that too many people were already exposed to this plague. (I've heard some theories that, in addition to trying to stop the outbreak, the two people were probably close to dead and these were mercy killings.) Maybe, maybe not? But I'd prefer that the show make the picture a little clearer for me because right now Carol seems like a person who will go kill anyone at the slightest possibility that they're trouble even if it's unlikely to actually help. And heck, maybe that IS her character but the show is presenting her as a protagonist when I think that would make her an antagonist.

    "When the showrunner says that he has an answer, however, a refusal to provide it is tone deaf at best and, I think, unnecessarily hostile to viewers."

    I don't get why this is so difficult. There are four acceptable answers:

    1. Yes, it is the house Daryl and Beth burnt down.

    2. No, it isn't the house Daryl and Beth burnt down. It was X. Although, that won't be revealed on camera.

    3. We never really considered what was actually burning. But I suppose it's possible it was the house.

    4. You'll find out later.

    Let's face it, the fire itself isn't all that important. (Unless it is, in which case you go with #4.) So just be honest and lets move on with our lives.

    Pulling the old, we know what we think but it's open to interpretation makes you think the show will look smarter than it appears when in fact it makes you seem dumber then you appear because now I'm left assuming that you never considered what the fire was and you're covering your butt.

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  16. @Matt: "Which is kind of a silly thing to cry about"

    I wouldn't say that. Thinking of scenarios in which loved ones die is always sad. And in this case, at least I can't help but think about how some people are born with natural disadvantages and it reminds me of how unfair this world can be...which is never pleasant to think about.

    "Gah, this attitude is exactly what bothers me about the comic book industry since 2000 or so. I can't stand this pompous attitude."

    Agreed.

    @ww5kd: "I always thought the whole fire thing was just another way to show a difference between Mika and Lizzie."

    Agreed. That's the real reason for the fire in the episode. But the writers had to have something in mind for what it was. So why not say what it is in an interview? Even if you're not going to explain it on camera.

    "Don't those 2 statements contradict one another?"

    Obviously he's saying that when you have a character whose done some things in past stories that you want to reference in the current story the reader should know where that character has been before. But if where they've been before conflicts with where you want them to be now then the reader just needs to stop thinking about it and quit being so nit picky. What's wrong with that?

    @Austin: "Sorry for the rant"

    Never apologize for rants I agree with.

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  17. @wwk5d: // Bendis can be such a twat. //

    I've only had cordial, very limited interaction with him personally and professionally. The interview was a blast. I understand there's been lots of criticism of his Marvel stuff, but since I haven't read any of it since the first year's worth or so of the Ultimate titles I can't really comment on that. On the other hand, I liked most of his own wholly created "indie" work quite a bit, although his proofreading is for crap.

    What made my head spin was the comment you quoted back, "Continuity doesn't matter. It's just the characters and where they've been before." That is exactly what continuity is, at its bare minimum, and you really do need at least a bare minimum of continuity to tell ongoing stories. I'll grant that simply having Jinx appear — same with Batman or whatever — you don't have to know much about the character beyond her/his basic gestalt, and in this case you didn't even need to know who Jinx was at all, but at the same time since she's not as reinterpreted a character as Batman or whatever I think that wondering where this appearance of hers fell in her established timeline, or since Sam and Twitch was apparently happening "now" wondering what happened to her and Goldfish since we left them, is an unavoidable question on the part of the reader with that prior knowledge. The way that reflected what Scott Gimple said is in the ludicrousness of leaving up to reader/viewer interpretation — not even a dangling mystery, but whatever you like — something concrete that's known on the part of the writer.

    Anyway, I feel like I encountered a similar attitude several times in the years I was interviewing comics people. Many storytellers who came of age in the dawn of modern Marvel and since, when crossovers and continuity had become a bedrock part of vast company universes, reveled in the arcane history, but there have also been many who aren't such fanboys and just want to riff on the core of a character's mythology in stand-alone projects, as well as plenty who don't want past history to count unless they liked it and/or were responsible for it themselves. So I'd say there's an element of selective interpretation going on with many writers.

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