The first few episodes of this season really had us all thinking that The Walking Dead had finally gotten over its problems with pacing. They were tight, tense, deftly plotted even in their slower moments. Even the Morgan-history episode, long and philosophical, was beautifully timed, hitting perfect story beats within a primarily character-driven tale.
But after those four amazing episodes, the show seems to have fallen back into old patterns: lingering over irrelevant or uninteresting sequences while truncating important ones, cutting back and forth between simultaneous events in nonsensical ways, awkwardly timing crucial story shifts, and so on.
Culminating in last night’s episode “Start to Finish,” which was guilty of all of these, including an underwhelming cliffhanger that felt less like a tease for the second half of the season and more a scene that they cut off midway through.
So for example, when the wall comes down and the walkers come streaming in, Maggie gets separated from everyone, has some trouble with a ladder, and ends up stranded and alone on a guard platform. And then she…just stays there, I guess? She seems to be in the episode mostly as a beacon for Glenn to see as he climbs back into the town (running toward danger instead of away from it in classic Glenn fashion), rather than an actual character. Glenn shows up in a few other scenes, also to do basically nothing except finally tell off Edith for being such an unbearable drag.
The list goes on: Tara, Rosita and Eugene get a whole scene where they talk about picking a lock, but it’s not until several scenes and multiple developments later that they suddenly burst through the door—at the least opportune moment.
Rick realizes that Deanna, now bitten by a walker, could change into one herself at any time, and he says that they can’t leave her alone now (being that there is an infant she could potentially eat only one room away)—and then he just leaves her alone again for what seems like 20 minutes.
In this way, the episode’s poor sense of timing seems to infect its characters as well. Something that was especially apparent in the two major conflicts that came to a head last night, both of which could definitely have been deferred to a more appropriate, or at least less ridiculously dangerous, moment. There was no real reason—except for impatience—for Carol and Ron to bring their respective gripes to a head at the same time the town was being overrun. More pressing matters, amirite? But no, they just decided to go for it, putting everyone in even more danger.
It didn’t help, of course, that both of the conflicts were themselves incredibly dumb and avoidable. Morgan is wrong. Everyone knows he is wrong. His justifications are beautiful and moving, and they’re wrong. He knows it, too: otherwise he wouldn’t have lied about the Wolf he has trapped in the basement. This guy is sitting here insisting that he’s going to escape, and when he does he’s going to kill a bunch more people, and you’re still sticking to your “all life is precious” mantra? Why is his life more valuable than the ones this Wolf is eventually going to take? Your thing makes no sense, and last week you admitted you don’t really know how much sense it makes. So why are you willing to get into a bloody conflict with your supposed friend and ally in order to defend it?
But of course, Carol had no reason to insist that right now, during the worst crisis in Alexandria’s history (and when she herself seems to be suffering from a concussion) is the time to pursue this particular point. Which all ended up with the Wolf escaping, in possession of two guns, into the walker-filled town with Doctor Denise as a hostage. All totally preventable, if both of you hadn’t been total idiots.
Also preventable: Ron pulling a gun on Carl. The kid may as well have “evil little shit” tattooed on his forehead at this point. He’s been sulking about his dead dad and his absent girlfriend for weeks now, and your response to this is to arm him? Why not just paint a target on Carl’s back?
So this powder keg of a human also can’t wait for a better moment, and their ensuing scuffle breaks down doors and lets walkers into the house. Because, of course, the real threat was already inside.
And then, to add idiocy to stupidity, Carl protects Ron, lying about how the walkers got in. I get that you’re trying to be cool, show Ron you’re not a bad guy after all, maybe get him on your side, but this isn’t a playground squabble. The dude pulled a pistol and pointed it at your head. We’re way past kiss-and-make-up time. This guy is still a bomb waiting to go off.
So is his little brother, another outcome of Carol’s misguided tough love. She thinks she’s making this kid stronger by telling him about all the evil in the world, but she’s just pushing him farther and farther into trauma. No wonder that, as they make the most dangerous of escapes, smeared with walker guts (“You have to become the monster. That’s how you survive,” she told him.), he’s going to be the one to blow their cover, suddenly really needing to call his mom.
Thing is, this isn’t so much a cliffhanger as it is a scene clipped in two. There is no twist here, no unexpected crisis. They’ve put themselves in an extremely dangerous situation, and now the situation is becoming even more dangerous. But they must have known this could happen. They have an infant with them, after all—Sam didn’t have to be the one to start squalling.
When the episode faded to black, deferring the end of this scene to February, it felt incomplete rather than suspenseful. We don’t know what happens next, but we’re also not given a motivating reason to wonder beyond “Do our heroes survive?”
Prediction: yes, mostly. We did lose Deanna this week, but at least she got to dispense leadership advice to Rick and life advice to Michonne, and to uselessly shoot some walkers on her way out. Hope she saved at least one of those bullets for herself, or we’re going to have to deal with zombie Tovah Feldshuh in a few months.