As much as I’d like to believe it, The Walking Dead isn’t a perfect show. Every now and then it has its weak episodes, and “Now” is definitely the weakest of the season so far. But, that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s bad.
The worst episodes of The Walking Dead are the boring ones, and those are few and far between. Both season 3 and 4 had several of them. Tonight’s episode isn’t boring persé, but it’s nowhere near on the same level as any of the previous episodes, purely because nothing actually happens(well, one thing does kind of happen, but I think most fans were expecting it).
But let’s do the positives first. What’s really impressive about season 6 is how, for 5 episodes now, we’ve basically stayed in one part of the story. Excluding the Morgan (Lennie James) prequel, it’s been pretty much been about/set during the mission to get the walkers away from Alexandria. With that happening, it could have been so easy for the show to move extremely slow, but it’s been handled so well, and some might argue that it means that the show is taking forever to progress. However, frankly, it’s better that they don’t rush this part just to get to the climax.
Another great thing about this episode is because of the slow pace, there’s time to slow down and focus on some of the characters, and particularly ones that had been pushed into the background for the first 4 episodes of the season. Most of the characters left at Alexandria are featured in some way before the hour is over, even if only for a brief moment. There’s positives and negatives to this method of storytelling (I’ll comment more on that in a moment), but it does give 2 characters in particular the chance to really stand out, and in both cases, the actresses hit it out of the park.
MAGGIE SHINES AS A TRUE LEADER AND A BEACON OF HOPE
Remember when Baby Judith was born? Little Judy came into this world in the midst of tragedy, with the prison coming under attack and Lori having died during childbirth. Of course, let us not forget that we were in the middle of a zombie apocalypse. However, even with all of the horrors in the world, the sight of that angelic face just seemed to make it all better. While it may seem like we are surrounded by nothing but death, a baby is living proof that humankind is still here and that there is still hope.
Well, tonight it is revealed that Maggie Greene (Lauren Cohan) is pregnant, and timing could not have been more perfect. Everything is falling apart around them and to make matters worse, Glenn (Steven Yeun) is missing. We all know from back in season 4 that Maggie would die before giving up on Glenn, but the fact that she’s now pregnant just makes her 10 times more determined. A herd is closing in on Alexandria, and the threat of the Wolves is still very real, but it’s an exercise in futility if you think you can stop Maggie Greene from going out and searching for the father of her child. And, if you’re someone like Aaron, you might as well give up and join Maggie in her search, because that’s about as far as you’ll get.
Unfortunately, even with Aaron in tow, Maggie is unsuccessful in finding Glenn (although we do get a few great shots of some disgusting walkers in the sewers, ones even nastier than what we saw in the premiere episode) and finally realizes that any attempt of a rescue would be a suicide mission. But, make no mistake, this woman won’t give up, and it’ll take finding Glenn as a walker or his mangled body before she gives up all hope. This is made clear by her (and Aaron) removing Glenn’s name from the list of fallen Alexandrians.
Now, for a little bit of bad news, and if you’re a comic-book reader, you’ll know what’s coming. For those familiar with the source material, you’ll know that Glenn doesn’t die by walker but instead is killed by comic super-villain, Negan. So, while this may give us hope that Glenn is still alive (assuming they follow the comics), the crappy thing is Glenn is killed almost immediately after finding out Maggie is pregnant in the comics. Yes, I think I just heard a very loud, simultaneous “Oh, no!!” throughout the entire fandom. Does this mean that our dear Glenn is really dead? No, I don’t think so at all, and so, everyone can calm down. To the contrary, I think this is yet another part of the huge Glenn Rhee mental mind-f*ck orchestrated by the writers and will, no doubt, kick off yet another week of non-stop speculation.
There is one catch, though. While I do believe that Glenn is alive, that doesn’t necessarily mean he won’t be killed soon after being found. There’s big rumors Negan and his sweet Lucille may be showing up as soon as the season 6 finale, and so, I wouldn’t put it past the writers to have Glenn killed off in the very same manner as in the comics. I personally think it would be lazy and poor writing and storytelling if it plays out this way, but given this entire Glenn shenanigan, it wouldn’t surprise me at this point.
DEANNA EMERGES AS THE COMIC-BOOK DOUGLAS MONROE WE ALL KNOW
Truth be told here, I wasn’t exactly thrilled when I first heard the rumors that they were going to gender-swap the comic-book Douglas Monroe. In fact, most of my readers probably recall that I was pretty damn mad. While I can’t count Douglas Monroe as one of the my favorite Walking Dead comic characters, I did like him and thought that he served as a very effective, courageous leader of Alexandria. Aside from his skirt-chasing ways, he was ethical, level-headed, charismatic, and most of all, very brave. Douglas Monroe wasn’t scared of any man — whether alive or one of the undead.
Well, then when the gender-swapped Deanna Monroe was introduced, while I was excited that they cast such a well-respected and talented actress like Tovah Feldshuh for the role, I wasn’t exactly impressed with the character. While she is liked by everyone in the safe zone and very well-spoken, she really has no clue of what life is like on the outside. This in itself does the Alexandrians a big disservice because if you don’t know your enemy, you can’t prepare for any potential attack. And, even if she knew of the outside world, Deanna Monroe still hasn’t demonstrated any valor and fortitude that I would expect of a true leader.
Well, that all changed tonight with Deanna finally stepping up and demonstrating that she can be strong and a far cry of the cowering woman who hid in the big rig during the Wolves’ attack in “JSS.” Everyone also saw in the episode “JSS” that with Deanna’s son, Spencer (Austin Nichols), the apple didn’t fall far from the tree, because he acted just as cowardly as his mother. And, his self-serving attitude continues tonight with his stealing food and alcohol from the pantry, going on a boozing binge, and pushing all the blame for their perilous situation onto his mother. While Deanna initially cowers, both broken and shell-shocked, she finally snaps out of it. It takes nearly the entire hour, but I think she’s on the road to being the leader the remaining Alexandrians are looking to her to be.
We see the terror in Deanna’s eyes after she climbs into the lookout tower and witnesses the massive approaching herd, but even in the face of such horror to come, she ultimately realizes that the answer isn’t to hide. You have to face your fears, and if you don’t, then you’ll die. In the final scene of the episode, she walks up to the main gate, with thousands of walkers outside. By now, her entire demeanor has changed from that opening scene, with the cowardice and shock replaced with a new “Bring it on!” attitude. Don’t get me wrong, Deanna isn’t a Maggie Greene, or any other fighter in Rick’s group, but she’s definitely taken a step in the right direction. These scenes and Tovah’s performance are definitely a highlight of the episode, and it clearly demonstrates the reason the writers picked such a talented and commanding actress for the role.
DR. CLOYD STEPS UP (AND OUT!) AND SHOCKS THE COMIC UNIVERSE
To be blunt, “Now” is the Maggie Greene and Deanna Monroe show, and everything else is pretty much just filler. These two characters — Maggie as the potential leadership of the future, and Deanna as the leadership of the past — is the focus of the episode, and their arcs could have held the episode on its on. However, one other character arc I think deserves mentioning, primarily because of the comic-book implications, and that is Dr. Cloyd.
For those who know me well, it’s pretty clear I’m not a shipper. Nine times out of 10, I feel that any romantic fluffy-stuff is nonsensical especially in a series about a zombie apocalypse. But, there are exceptions, and one of them is the relationship between Dr. Cloyd and Heath in The Walking Dead comics. Here you have this cute, younger kid with dread locks, and he’s paired with this awkward red-head doctor with freckles and big, geeky glasses. It was a very unlikely relationship, but they did have chemistry and it just worked.
That is one of the few relationships in the comics that I was actually looking forward to playing out on the small screen, and to my dismay, the writers blew that to smithereens in tonight’s episode. As did many of the viewers, I too noticed the subtle chemistry between the quirky Dr. Cloyd (Merritt Wever) and Tara (Alanna Masterson) in “JSS,” but I think a part of me just wrote it off. As it turns out, there was definitely something going on because tonight Dr. Cloyd makes very clear her interest in Tara which culminates in a very surprising kiss. Of all the potential character relationships I’ve wondered out, this is definitely one I didn’t see coming.
To the general audience, this is no big deal, so what? In fact, some may be quite giddy about the idea because it means Tara may have found someone after losing her partner in the big battle with the Governor in season 4. But for the comic-book fans, this is going to be a major buzzkill to most. With Dr. Cloyd likely being paired with Tara, where does this leave our Heath? Will he remain a loner, or will he eventually hook up with another character? Michonne perhaps? With that statement, I think I just got egg all over my face courtesy of the Rick/Michonne shippers out there, but I’m sorry, ANYTHING beyond friendship between those 2 characters is so wrong. Period. But, I could see Michonne and Heath warming up to each other, even after that heated debate in “Thank You.” Who knows, and only time will tell.
If the episode had stopped right here and focused on these character arcs, I think everything would have flowed much better, and it definitely would have pushed the rating up into my regular “A” to “A+” range for the series. Instead, the writers tried too hard to “check in” with just about every Alexandrian and their dog (a very big problem for the series now due to its large cast), resulting in too much being packed into one episode. Besides the characters I’ve already discussed, we have brief scenes with Carl, Ron, Jessie, Rosita, and Olivia. So, by the end of the hour, it just felt like a bit of a mess. Again, the primary character arcs of Maggie Greene and Deanna Monroe are stellar, but they are completely bogged down by plot threads like Jessie and her children, Rosita because….Rosita, and it’s all just too much. What’s more, none of these additional stories at all feel fleshed out, and they’re very shoehorned in.
In addition, given the immense action and fast pace of the first 3 episodes of the season with the walker mega-horde and the Wolves’ attack, this installment almost felt like going from 100 to 10 MPH in less than a second and literally, knocking the viewers off of a high and putting them through “cold turkey.” To be blunt, the entire hour is just people talking, which is obviously a massive contrast to what we’ve had recently (you could argue the same about Morgan’s episode, but that one was done much better). And the problem with the talking is that it’s not even good, with a great deal of the dialogue being very weak and very contrived. Not at all compelling, nor interesting. It’s just a step down for sure and pretty much just meh. They would have been better off cutting out Rosita’s small part, the nonsense between Carl and Ron, and even the Ressie/Jick moments (come on, the walker horde of the century is coming and people are dying. It’s not the time to get all kissy-face!).
All in all, not the greatest episode this week, but as we know from past experience, The Walking Dead always bounces back. And, given what we have to look forward to and what we know is coming, you can virtually bet on it. There’s still the mystery surrounding Glenn’s “death,” which Scott Gimple has promised will be resolved very soon. Then, there’s the threat of the Wolves — the one that Morgan has locked up and any others that may still be out there and lurking around Alexandria. And, of course, there’s that herd. Rick gives a very compelling rallying speech at the beginning of the episode and says the walls will hold, but I think all of us know better. Eventually those walkers will bring down the walls (and the crack we see in the final scene is the beginning of that), and with that will come mass destruction, death, and utter chaos, as we have seen so many times in the past. And, with only 2 episodes remaining until the mid-season finale, you can bet the pace will be picking up very soon.
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