If the producers of ‘The Walking Dead’ are concerned about the show’s declining ratings this season, something tells me that an episode mostly focused on third-tier characters like Gabriel and Eugene isn’t likely to reverse that.
Episode ‘Dead or Alive Or’ may not be segmented into vignettes with on-screen title cards like the prior week (pointlessly) was, but the narrative is still spread among several different groups of separated characters. Notably, Rick and Michonne don’t appear on screen at all.
Daryl leads the refugees from Alexandria toward the Hilltop, trying to avoid Savior search parties along the way. Tara has had just about enough of Dwight and makes it very clear that she’s itching to kill him, even going so far as to toss a stray Walker on top of him. Daryl tells her to cool off. He believes Dwight is still useful for now. She doesn’t like that answer.
When they appear to have no other options, Dwight suggests they cross a dangerous swamp that the Saviors have willfully avoided. Tara thinks this is a trap and distrusts him. Dwight insists that he’s chosen his side and can never go back to the Saviors. Daryl makes the call that he, Rosita and a few others will wade through the swamp and clear a path for the group. This of course leads to a couple of water-logged zombie attacks, but no injuries or fatalities.
Tara stays behind to keep an eye on Dwight. When some more Walkers come stumbling through the woods, she tosses Dwight a knife and volunteers him for zombie-killing duty while she keeps a gun on him at all times. Because he’s not a total idiot, Dwight knows where this is leading. He apologizes to Tara for killing her girlfriend Denise, but that just pisses Tara off more. She finally reaches a point where she can’t take him anymore and shoots at him. Because the writers of this show are incredibly lazy, she misses, even though she’s standing about two feet away and aiming dead-on at him.
Dwight runs and Tara chases. Just as she catches up to him, they’re interrupted by the sound of Saviors in a nearby clearing. They both duck down behind some trees and listen. As it becomes clear that the Saviors are about to head right for them to search the swamp, Dwight breaks away from Tara and lurches into the clearing, surrendering himself. The Saviors are surprised to see him, but don’t yet know that he betrayed them. Dwight lies and says that his team was ambushed by Alexandrians and he’s been on his own ever since. He asks about Laura, the only woman who knows he’s a traitor. They say that nobody’s heard from her and she’s presumed dead. Dwight feels some relief. He then leads the Saviors away from the swamp, claiming that he’s just been through that way and it’s clear.
When Tara returns to the rest of the group, Daryl is furious with her for letting Dwight get away. He blames her for stupidly dragging him off through the woods when she should have stayed put.
Hunted by Saviors, Gabriel and Dr. Carson get hopelessly lost on their way to the Hilltop. Gabriel’s illness is affecting his vision and has left him with extremely blurry eyesight. Despite this and other setbacks, such as their car dying, Gabriel remains hopeful and believes that God is looking out for them. Carson is skeptical and seems to find Gabriel a pain in the ass.
With his vision almost gone, Gabriel magically develops instant super-hearing. The sound of a metal plate banging against a pole in the wind leads them to an empty cabin where they can take shelter for a while. The only resident killed himself, and Carson easily dispatches his Walker form. Miraculously, the place is stocked with antibiotics that immediately stabilize Gabriel’s fever within seconds of him swallowing them. (No, that’s not how antibiotics actually work.) Gabriel also conveniently finds car keys and a map when he accidentally smashes a piggy bank. Why anyone would ever put their keys and a map inside a piggy bank is something we are presumably not meant to question.
While heading through the backyard toward a garage to look for the car, Gabriel, through his blurry vision, spots a sign warning of booby traps. Carson steps into a bear trap and drops to the ground, dropping his gun. He’s promptly set upon by Walkers and struggles to fight one off. Gabriel stumbles around until he finds the gun. Like Han Solo in ‘Return of the Jedi’, he closes his eyes and fires blindly, letting the Lord do the aiming for him. Of course, he hits the zombie with a perfect head-shot and saves the doctor. Carson is amazed. He starts to think that maybe there really is something to all this God stuff.
Unfortunately, just as they climb into the car and prepare to drive off to safety at the Hilltop, a group of Saviors find and capture them. Carson takes his newfound faith a little too seriously and tries to grab a gun away from a Savior, whereupon another one shoots him dead. Gabriel is horrified. Where’s his God now?
Residents of the Hilltop are busy fortifying the community’s walls in anticipation of a Savior attack. The kid named Henry (the one who killed Gavin) creeps out the Saviors in captivity, staring at them with murder in his eyes. Morgan and Carol debate the child’s welfare. Carol is protective of his innocence, but Morgan thinks the boy needs to grow up fast if he wants to survive.
Food is running low in the community so Maggie cuts the rations to the prisoners. This news doesn’t go over very well with Gregory, or with another Savior prisoner who had made a case that those exhibiting good behavior should be allowed outside the cage for supervised breaks.
Eventually, Daryl, Tara, Rosita and the rest of the refugees arrive at the Hilltop gates. The joyous reunion is sullied by the news that Carl is dead. Enid cries.
When psycho Henry repeatedly asks which Savior killed his brother Benjamin, Morgan suddenly has a change of heart and lies to the boy, telling him that Gavin was the murderer (it was really one of Gavin’s underlings). Since Henry already killed Gavin, he doesn’t need to seek revenge anymore.
Siddiq introduces himself to Maggie and informs her that he has some medical experience. Maggie starts to feel hopeful again. She announces to the prisoners that their rations will be restored (where’s this extra food coming from?) and that they’ll be allowed out of the cage in pairs for supervised work and rec time. She also declares to Gregory that she’s not afraid of Negan and will never evacuate.
An off-screen voice then announces that Rick is back.
The Sanctuary and the Factory
Negan seems to be suspicious that Eugene may have helped Gabriel and Dr. Carson escape, but has no evidence of that yet. He puts Eugene in charge of his own outpost, an old factory where he is to immediately begin making new bullets.
Eugene sets up shop and starts acting like a smug prick, bossing one of Negan’s wives around. Unexpectedly, Negan himself pays a visit, bringing the captured Gabriel with him. Gabriel is clearly a broken man, his faith destroyed. Eugene steels himself for the worst, but Gabriel hasn’t ratted him out yet. He told Negan that his escape was all Dr. Carson’s doing. Negan leaves Gabriel at the factory to sort bullet casings for Eugene.
Negan grows impatient when Eugene can’t meet his absurdly expedited timeline for producing new ammo. To distract him, Eugene gives him an idea about building catapults and flinging zombie parts over the walls of the Hilltop as a shock-and-awe tactic.
Dwight returns to the Sanctuary and resumes his place as Negan’s lieutenant, no one yet suspecting him. Negan holds an assembly to announce his new war strategy. He bashes a captive Walker with Lucille and gets the bat filthy with its blood and gore. The Saviors will not have to kill the Alexandrians or the Hilltoppers. The new plan is to infect them and let them tear each other apart.
This may not be the worst episode of the season, but it’s getting difficult for me to judge that anymore. The focus on characters I no longer care much about leaves me largely disinterested. Maggie is by far the most sympathetic of this bunch, but she doesn’t have much screen time and her decisions don’t really make sense. The rest of them, Daryl included, could be wiped out en-masse and I wouldn’t miss them a bit.
Boredom left me nit-picking the various plot idiocies mentioned above. The writers seem to have run out of ideas in their continued attempts to come up with creative new ways to kill zombies. We’ve done water-logged zombies before, and I honestly didn’t even notice the bit where some Walkers had fungus growing out of their faces until it was highlighted on ‘The Talking Dead’ afterwards. If that was intended to perk up my attention, it failed.