I know I’ve been hard on TWD since the season premiere, but as much as I wish I could just revel in the fact that we’re finally getting some action, it’s still nowhere near as good as it could have been. As it SHOULD be. In fact, the only reason I’m not hating on the show entirely is because they kept us waiting for this exact plot line for over a season, and it’s almost rewarding, in a masochistic sense of the word, to finally see the two worlds colliding after all that build up. I just wish the pay off was better.

Unfortunately, it seems that aside from lackluster writing and direction, the last two couple of episodes are following in the same footsteps as the previous season: stretching the plot as far as it can go, adding unnecessary filler and generally coming up short of the mark. If we hadn’t gotten endless monologues, confusing shoot-outs that lasted far too long, and throwaway scenes whose sole point is to repeat the same old theme of the last few seasons, we could have had one great hour of television, instead of two sub-par episodes.

And it would have been so easy, too: follow Rick and Daryl as they go through the outpost looking for the weapons, cut to Aaron’s team shooting up the place, cut to Tara, Jesus, Morgan and their Savior prisoners, cut to Ezekiel and his people ambushing the Saviors, then to the Hilltop, and back to Ezekiel again for the final cliffganger.

Instead, we got confusing battles and artsy-farsty editing that served no purpose at all, a few character moments that recycled tired arcs and some really cheesy dialogue.

  • In the cold open, we see Ezekiel giving his people the same pompous monologue, interspersed with shots of the Kingdom group getting the drop on some Saviors and swiftly killing them all. Why didn’t we see this last week, when Ezekiel et al did practically nothing but stand around in the woods and talk? Why give us the same thing twice in this episode, with half of Ezekiel’s men lying in wait for the Saviors and then making their move? And why the need to snob linear storytelling once again? Hearing about their superior strategy vs. the Saviors’ numbers and then watching them prevail would have been much more effective if it hadn’t been intercut with Ezekiel’s flowery speeches.
  • Similarly, why didn’t last week’s episode end with the Morales reveal and leave the rest of the dialogue for this week? Maybe that way they could have edited out the stupid exchanges. Morales knew that the Alexandria leader was to be taken alive but had no idea it was Rick? Oh well, at least that answers my question. Still, “I know who you are“? First of all, DUH. Second, really? Again with the whole philosophical conundrum about who these people were and who they’ve now become? Isn’t this getting old by now? And how exactly is Rick any more of a monster than Morales? That would have been warranted had Rick hurt the baby, but at this point they’re just on opposite sides of a war, which pretty much makes them the same. And then the dumbest question of the scene: “What is it you’re looking for?”. Come on, writers.
  • Back at the confusing shootout, we get the scene we’ve all known was coming: Eric’s situation doesn’t look too good, Aaron is devastated, Eric is being courageous and this whole plot line would have been quite heartbreaking if it weren’t so damn predictable, or if the show didn’t try so hard to make it into a tearjerker. Even so, the final scene of walker-Eric heading off to join the herd as Aaron looks at the bloody tree was pretty sad, but on the bright side, now Aaron’s off to the Hilltop with adorable baby Gracie.
  • The first shot we get as we cut to the prisoners headed for Hilltop is one of Tara fake-shooting a Savior, and I just want to throw stuff at my TV. Luckily, at least one person is being more of a douche than she is: long-haired douche (Jared, is it?), who’s apparently a dumbass just begging to get his ass handed to him by Morgan. Alas, Jesus is now on the bandwagon Morgan leaped off of last season, and delivers one of the dumbest lines we’ve heard on the show: “There are many kinds of people, many kinds of dying. I kill, I’ve killed. You do, you have.” Who the hell is writing this crap?
  • Back at whatever outpost Rick and Daryl are, Morales is still being a dick to Rick but thankfully Daryl shoots his crossbow and we’re spared the rest of this idiocy. So it’s official: they only brought him back to tie up a loose end nobody cared about, and to remind us that Rick is becoming the same kind of “monster” Negan and his people are. So long, Morales. You won’t be missed.
  • Douchey Jared is taunting Morgan again, and I’d say the guy has a death wish except Morgan seems to be in control. And then all hell breaks loose, as a few walkers start tumbling down the hill and attack the chain gang. It would have been a much more exciting scene if the walkers didn’t look like they were carefully rolling down the hill instead of actually falling – I get that stunt people need to be protected from injuries but we’ve seen plenty of scenes where zombies take pretty bad falls over the years, and unfortunately this wasn’t one of them.
  • Jared and the other Saviors he’s tethered to decide to make a break for it, which is almost as dumb as taunting a heavily armed man who already wants to kill him. Did they really think they could outrun Morgan, Jesus and the others and not get tangled up in those ropes? Oh well, nothing like the same old kill’em vs. let’em live debate to outshine Jared’s stupid decision to bolt. We even got a relatively new piece of dialogue here, too, as Jesus explains to Morgan that after the war is over, they’re going to have to live with these people. And then Morgan goes into full-on dick mode and attacks Jesus.
  • Okay, as cool as it was, watching the two of them fight it out, I have several issues with this scene: for one thing, are they really just kicking each other’s asses while the Savior prisoners stand there and watch? Have Tara and the rest already arrived at the scene to secure the prisoners and just stand there and let them go at it? And if not, what’s taking them so long? Also, are we actually supposed to believe that Morgan was going for the kill here? He’s had so many face/heel turns he’d make WWE writers jealous, and that’s not a good thing (although, at this point, WWE writers would be a welcome change to Matthew Negrete.)
  • Morgan’s split personality aside, at least these cuts between Jesus & Morgan and Rick & Daryl were better than the ones in the opening scenes. And then douche-face Tara has to pipe up again and take Morgan’s side, because I guess by now the writers have just given up and trying to make her character more and more obnoxious each week.
  • Next up, this week’s requisite “comic relief”, if you want to call it that, courtesy of Gregory, Cal, and the fact that Gregory stole a little girl’s pancakes…? Sigh. Much as I love Xander Berkeley, his performance is so over the top it’s just annoying to watch, although I love how at first he acts like he’s still calling the shots when Jesus et al show up with the prisoners. At least Maggie is still pretty consistent – angry at Gregory’s betrayal, merciful because she’s a good person, doubtful of Jesus’ plan to keep the Saviors alive and begrudgingly allowing both Gregory and the Saviors inside the gates.
  • Still going with the whole ‘monsters’ theme, Rick and Daryl are attacked as they are leaving the outpost, but it’s just one guy, and even though Rick gives him his word that he’ll let him go, Daryl isn’t in a forgiving mood and promptly shoots the kid when he gives them the information about the guns having been moved to Gavin’s outpost. I guess we should have seen this kill (and Morales) coming since Daryl broke out of the Sanctuary and bashed Fat Joey’s head in, but still. Yikes.
  • Obviously our guys couldn’t just keep winning, and despite Eric and a handful of Alexandria and Hilltop men, they had very few casualties, while the Kingdom had none, so of course Negan’s team needed to score a few points at the end. This is what happens when you just stand around and give speeches, Ezekiel.

Despite all the drawn-out action over the last couple of episodes, I’m still somewhat confused: were Daryl and Rick at the same location as Aaron and the others shooting up the place outside? Was Ezekiel’s entire purpose to intercept any Saviors rushing to their men’s aid? Which of these compounds was Gavin’s? Did Dwight give them false information? How did Negan know to move the guns to another location a day before the attack? Why the hell did we have to be subjected to that entire Morales storyline if they were just going to kill him off after a few minutes of screen time? How does THIS part of the whole Negan arc make our guys “monsters”, when last season they basically executed a bunch of people IN THEIR SLEEP? Why is this show completely ruining Morgan’s character ever since he came back? And why on earth does Rick keep taking polaroids of the destruction he leaves behind? It’s not like the rest of the Saviors rely on Rick’s compulsive instagram-for-the-apocalypse to find out what happened.

Sigh. If we’re to believe Gimple, and as the closing shots suggest, we’re getting more shoot-outs next week, and maybe we’ll finally return to the Sanctuary and find out if Negan and Gabriel ever made it out of that box car. However, I can’t say I’m too excited to see what comes next. I don’t know if it’s Negrete’s writing or Nicotero’s direction, but I just feel like they’re taking the most interesting part of the Negan storyline and handling it so poorly as to make it almost uninteresting.

Call it TWD fatigue, or another case of unmet expectations, but at this rate, if the show doesn’t show some promise by the end of this half season, I’ll only be coming back out of habit, if not outright hate-watching what used to be one of my favorite shows.