I’m going to be honest here and say that last week’s episode won’t go down as one of my favorites. We were just on the heels of losing Carl, and it seemed more natural for the next episode to lead into the Hilltop and the rest of the group’s reaction to the kid’s death. Instead, we got Simon (Steven Ogg) going full-on Governor with the garbage people, and the only substantial scene IMO was at the very end with Negan (Jeffrey Dean-Morgan) learning Carl’s fate. The good news is this week’s “Dead Or Alive Or” is a much-improved installment and appears to get everything back on track after that minor speed bump.
WE’RE UP SHIT’S CREEK, BUT GOD IS LEADING THE WAY
While a good deal of the episode does feature the Hilltop and Team Family coming together in unity over the death of one of their own (with an especially heartbreaking scene of Enid completely breaking down), the main focus is Father Gabriel (Seth Gilliam) and Dr. Carson (R. Keith Harris) in the aftermath of their escaping the Sanctuary in the mid-season finale. The synopsis for the episode states that “Father Gabriel’s faith is tested,” and that is no understatement. Father G was very ill before he left the Sanctuary, and his condition is only getting worse. Dr. Carson quickly realizes that Gabe’s vision has been affected by his infection, and unless they can find some antibiotics very soon, the damage could end up being permanent.
This is where things start to get really interesting. Dr. Carson (and probably a great deal of the audience) is very quick to laugh off Gabriel’s blind faith in God, but when their luck starts to turn around to the point where it almost seems like there **has** to be some higher power in play, it really does start to make you wonder. First, after their car breaks down, Gabe hears a noise that sounds kind of a like a bell, and when they go to investigate, they find an abandoned house. It’s really nothing more than a run-down shack, but Father G calls it their “salvation” nonetheless, which Dr. Carson, once again, laughs off. Once inside, it’s immediately apparent that whoever once lived there was a radio operator. Gabe finds some of the radio operator’s notes, and while he can’t read them, Dr. Carson does and it basically says “we can hold on if we don’t give up. If we keep believing.” Gabriel theorizes that even though we don’t know if this person ever reached anybody, just by doing this may have given him hope and the strength to go on. But, then, Dr. Carson goes into the bedroom and nips that theory right in the bud.
Nope, that didn’t happen — Dr. Carson
He finds a walker with a plastic bag over his head, with an empty bottle of wine and pill bottles scattered all around him. We can assume this is the radio operator, and it’s pretty obvious he ran out of hope and committed suicide. However, not all is lost because while Dr. Carson is pushing Gabriel to lay down and get some rest, Gabe is trying to read the pill bottles he finds in a drawer and asks Carson if he has even checked what any of these medications are. Well, when Dr. Carson does, can you take a guess he finds? Yep, antibiotics!! Of course, Gabriel tries not to gloat too much and simply says “I won’t say a word.”
After taking some of the antibiotics, the good news is Gabriel’s fever breaks, but the bad news is his vision hasn’t improved. That means it’s still imperative that they get to the Hilltop, and that also means they have to find another car. That’s when what appears to be the 2nd act of “divine intervention” occurs. Gabe accidentally knocks over a piggy bank, and when it breaks, Dr. Carson looks down, and holy shit, there’s a set of car keys as well as a map.
You’ve got to be shitting me! — Dr. Carson
It turns out the car is only a couple of miles away, and so, off they go. Remember that noise that Gabe heard that lead them to the shack? Well, it wasn’t bell, but instead, is a square piece of metal mounted on a pole. Something is clearly written on it, and when Gabriel is finally able to focus and can read it, it says “Danger. Traps in yard.” Gabe yells for Dr. Carson to stop, but unfortunately, it’s too late. Carson steps in a bear trap, and to top it off, the noise attracts multiple walkers. Carson’s able to fire off a few rounds and kills most of the walkers, but it looks like his luck is about to run out. But, Gabriel isn’t going to let that happen. He navigates over to the bear trap, and a keen eye will notice that Gabe even steps in one of the traps but for some reason, it doesn’t go off. If that’s not God, I don’t know what is! He then somehow is able to find a gun and even though he can’t see worth shit, Gabe fires off a single round and by some miracle, kills the walker.
By this time, I think most of us are breathing a sigh of relief and now feel fairly confident Father G and Dr. Carson are going to make it to the Hilltop. I know I certainly was when I watched the episode for the first time. But, then, the rug is pulled out from under us, which is oh so common for The Walking Dead. Just when Gabe and Dr. Carson are about to pull away in the car, Saviors appear behind them. So, after all of that, they are recaptured and are about to head back to the Sanctuary. But, it gets even worse.
He’s still leading the way. Believe it and you’ll see it — Gabriel
I think I do see it — Dr. Carson
The camera then focuses on the gun of the Savior who is tying them up, and before Gabriel can react, Dr. Carson grabs it and then, is immediately shot dead by another one of the Saviors. The Saviors then push Dr. Carson’s lifeless body out of the truck, and Gabriel just sobs as they drive away.
For those who read my Advance Preview, you’ll recall that I said after watching, some of you may have an “epiphany” and realize you should have seen all of this coming. Well, what I meant by that is we ALL should have seen Dr. Carson’s death coming and so, should have known that he probably wasn’t going to make it to the Hilltop. In fact, after I screened the episode and had taken in everything that had happened, I said “Well, I’m dumb as f*ck for not seeing this!” The reason is with the arrival of Siddiq (Avi Nash), the Hilltop has a doctor, and so, Dr. Carson is now “redundant” and thus, expendable. Of course, some might say that a doctor is so valuable that if you can have 2 of them instead of 1, then you should. That’s a no-brainer! But, this is a television show and this is also AMC, and there is absolutely no way they would pay 2 actors to play essentially the same role. Dr. Carson was dead as soon as Siddiq set foot in Alexandria. I won’t lie to you, I’m royally pissed off about it too. I’ve always liked Dr. Carson, and I’m also a big fan of the actor R. Keith Harris. In fact, this very thing is what caused me to knock my rating for the episode down from an “A” to a “B+.” I discuss this more at the end of this review, and so, stay tuned.
DWIGHT IS THIS WEEK’S MVP
While Father Gabriel and Dr. Carson highlight the majority of the hour, the MVP of the episode without a doubt is Dwight (Austin Amelio). And, if there’s an award for most annoying character, it would most certainly go to Tara (Alanna Masterson). I’m sorry, but I really wanted to jump through the computer screen and punch the bitch in the face when I screened the episode. I realize that Tara is still grieving over Denise — I get it. But, this time, she goes a little too far. Plus, as Rosita points out, the war isn’t over, and Dwight could still be very valuable. But, does Tara care? Apparently not. Daryl tells Tara to take care of a walker that is getting too close to the group, and instead, she pushes the walker right onto Dwight and nearly gets him eaten. WTH? What. The. Hell! Even Daryl chastises Tara for that shitty move, and the last I checked, Daryl would like to see Dwight dead too, at least after the war is over. But, Tara doesn’t stop there. She then declines to help the group clear the swamp of walkers so everyone else can cross (going through the swamp BTW was Dwight’s suggestion to avoid detection by the Saviors), thus giving her time alone with Dwight and a chance to take him out.
Well, Tara doesn’t waste any time. After another stray walker shows up, she hands Dwight a knife to take it out, and when he turns around, he is staring down the barrel of Tara’s gun.
You should have stayed with the Saviors — Tara
I hate them. I hate Negan — Dwight
Don’t care. You don’t get to switch sides and make it OK — Tara
I know I don’t. I never will. But, killing me right now, like this, what’s that gonna do? — Dwight
It’s going to make me feel a hell of a lot better — Tara
And, then, that crazy bitch actually pulls the trigger. Can you even believe it?! Fortunately, Dwight ducks in time and takes off running, but Tara is right behind him and has every intention of finishing the job. You know, Gabriel was all about faith and “God leading the way,” but a part of me thinks God may have been watching and had a hand in what happens next. Tara finally catches up with Dwight, and just when she’s about to kill him, a Savior search party emerges. They both hide in the bushes, but then, Dwight hears then talking about heading into the swamp next, which would mean the Alexandrians would be found and captured.
At this moment, Dwight turns the other cheek and commits a completely selfless act to save Team Family, even when some of them would like nothing more than to put a bullet in his brain. He comes out of the bushes and shows himself, which surprises the Saviors since they had all assumed he was dead. Dwight says they had been ambushed, and he’s just been trying to make it back to the Sanctuary. He also cleverly inquires about Laura, and as it turns out, she never made it back, and so, none of them know he’s a traitor. Opportunity presents itself! Dwight then says he just came from the swamp, and there’s no sign of anyone or anything but walkers and encourages them to head in another direction. It works! Dwight just saved the Alexandrians’ lives, but the big thing to note here is he had no idea Laura never made it back to the Sanctuary and ratted him out. For all he knew she was back at the Sanctuary and Negan now has a price on his head, but even with that knowledge, Dwight did what he did anyways. That’s admirable, that’s brave, and it says a lot about Dwight’s character, especially in contrast to some others <cough, cough> who seem to care only about themselves. What’s more, it’s worth noting Dwight’s officially back with the Saviors. Again, this could very well be divine intervention because we are about to learn Negan’s next move, and Team Family definitely needs a “mole” if they expect to survive an attack of that magnitude.
EUGENE — TEAM FAMILY OR TEAM NEGAN?
Toward the end of the episode, we finally learn what Negan’s next plan of attack is, and man, it’s going to be brutal. If you’re a fan of the comics, you may already have an idea of what it is. And, does it involve Eugene (Josh McDermitt)? After all, a good deal of Negan’s tactical moves lately have been at the suggestion of Eugene. Well, the answer is both “yes” and “no.”
You know, one of the most interesting parts of this entire All Out War arc is Eugene, because let’s be honest, he’s still a mystery. There have been lots of discussions on social media of where Eugene’s loyalties lie and whether he is actually working some “angle” and not truly loyal to Negan. That still remains to be seen, but tonight, a few more hints are dropped. Early in the episode, Eugene is questioned by Negan about Gabriel and Dr. Carson and how something like that could happen right under their noses. Of course, Eugene rattles off his standard bullshit, but he also asks about what happened at Alexandria, and that turns out to be a big mistake. To me, it’s a clear sign that Eugene still cares about his former family, which is also detected by Negan and pisses him off to no end.
However, Negan lets it slide because he’s got a big job for Eugene. Clearing out that horde took a big toll on their resources, and so, now, it’s time to put Eugene’s plans of a bullet factory into motion. He’ll basically be in charge of his own outpost, will have Frankie there for massages, Tonya to cook meals, and oh yes, there will be plenty of wine. Towards the end of the episode, we do see the bullet factory coming along fine, but it doesn’t seem to going as quickly as Negan would like. Eugene says it will take a few more days to get it fully operational, but as Negan says, “I’m sorry, but that just doesn’t work for me.” So, Eugene is immediately put on the spot, and he blurts out a suggestion of what the Saviors could do right now, just to buy some time until he finishes his work. His idea is to catapult walker guts and parts in what Eugene calls “medieval theatrics,” but with the look on Negan’s face, you can tell that a light bulb went off in his head. What starts out as a relatively innocuous recommendation by Eugene is quickly turned around in Negan’s twisted mind into something far more sinister.
In the comics, the Saviors “taint” their weapons with walker blood as part of their counterattack on Alexandria. That counterattack happened in the mid-season finale, and so, some fans had expected this storyline to play out then. Well, it didn’t — and I had actually wondered if the writers just decided to skip over it altogether. As it turns out, they didn’t and instead, simply decided to use it later in the season.
You’ll know how it works. You get a bite, some kind of wound from one of these things, something from them gets into you, then you die. You join the club. Which sucks. But, what if we could use that to our advantage? Look at that. No more smashing and bashing with this. This thing could be a touch. Or, a big wet kiss. Either way, this gets you full membership. And, that’s what we want. We want people to join the club. The Hilltop is going to learn to toe the line, one way or another. Dead or alive or some kind of shit in between — Negan
Now do you see why having Dwight back with the Saviors is so important now? While Negan is giving his speech, Dwight has this “Holy shit!” look on his face the whole time, but something tells me he’ll come up with some way to help (at least we hope!). Regardless, brace yourselves, because you can count on the final 5 episodes of the season to be savage and gut-wrenching, as we head into the final chapter of All Out War.
DR. CARSON — ANOTHER CASUALTY OF THE CARL GRIMES SHENANIGAN
For those who have read my past reviews or follow me on Twitter, you know that I’m not a fan at all of what the writers did with the Carl Grimes character. In fact, I was mad as hell when the mid-season finale aired, and I still am. However, up until tonight’s episode, I never really thought about how Carl’s death might impact other characters, or more specifically, that it may even cost some of the cast their jobs. However, that’s exactly what has happened tonight, and the entire thing is more than a little unsettling to me.
If you’re a comic book reader, you know that Siddiq is a fisherman and a construction worker in the original source material. And, while Carl giving his life for a mere stranger is admirable enough on its own, if they had stayed true to the comics and Siddiq had remained a fisherman, I’m not sure if the impact would have been fully felt. Some people would probably have said that Carl’s death was meaningless and all for nothing. So, to rectify this issue, it’s obvious the writers decided to make Siddiq a doctor, which would then make Carl an unintentional hero because they just so happened to need a doctor after Dr. Cloyd’s death and after Dr. Carson being taken to the Sanctuary. As I said earlier, the problem with Siddiq being a doctor is that it immediately made Dr. Carson expendable, and as a result, tonight he was abruptly written out of the show and killed off. Keep in mind that Dr. Carson is still very much alive in the comics, and so, this could not have possibly served any purpose other than to make Carl’s death more palatable to the fandom.
This sucks, folks. Chandler Riggs has already lost his job to promote this storyline, in what most people believe was a nonsensical and unnecessary move in the first place. Somebody, somewhere — whether it was AMC, Scott Gimple, or whomever — decided to ax the Carl Grimes character but said, “Hey, we just can’t do that because it has to mean something. Oh, I know, let’s kick Carson to the curb and make Siddiq a doctor.” Yeah, you all are such geniuses and should pat yourselves on the back. #FacePalm
Regardless, I would like to take the time and apologize to R. Keith Harris. I am so sorry for what they did to your character, and I’m so sorry you lost a steady gig just to push forward an arc that very people will likely ever comprehend. You — as well as your character, Dr. Carson — deserved better. And, as for you, AMC and the writing team, how much more is the show, as well as the fandom, going to have to pay for this Carl Grimes shenanigan? We’ve already lost all of the wonderful comic storylines that could have been had Carl lived — like the Negan/Carl relationship, which Jeffrey Dean-Morgan has been very vocal about. Now, as an extension of Carl’s death, we are losing other characters. With The Walking Dead becoming such a megahit, after the series is long gone, people are going to look back and ask, “Was it all really worth it?” Given what we’ve lost (not to mention the loss of viewership), I can’t imagine the answer being “Yes.”
The Walking Dead airs on Sundays at 9/8c on AMC.
Critic Grade — B+
Geeky computer and math nerd by day and TV fanatic by night. My beats are The Walking Dead, The Strain, Person of Interest, Z Nation, and anything that most people would call freaky. Editor-In-Chief and Lead Writer of TVGeekTalk.com