The mid-season finale of The Walking Dead continues to provide an uneasy concoction of graphic violence, intense drama, and stupid, stupid bullshit. Don't get me wrong; I still think this show is amazing, and I continue to pinch myself to make sure I'm not dreaming that it's one of the top two most-watched scripted shows on television. But every episode after that fantastic opening salvo of this season, has taken one step back for every two steps forward.
It's still really good, but with caveats.
Whether it's the frankly quite silly bare-knuckle brawling with toothless zombies chained just out of reach, a crazy man living in a mysterious cabin within spitting distance of Woodbury, Merle's magical ability to swoop around the truck and get behind Maggie in order to hold her hostage, or any of the other little plotting glitches that undermine the realism of the narrative, there's always something (since episode 3.04) that makes me cringe.
Don't get me started on the cliché dramatic logic of beating Glenn nearly to death and then threatening to rape Maggie. But only threatening. I get that it was a psychological threat, but it drew a very bold line in the sand dictating what will and won't be tolerated by the producers and/or the network. But that's a discussion for the forum below.
This week it's something a little more serious that bothered me to the point of distraction.
Spoiler Shields on.
The show opens with the introduction of a character the comic fans have been clamoring for: Tyreese (Chad Coleman)! It's a dramatic opening and if there's one thing this show does well, it's introduce new characters with pizzazz. Unfortunately, the introduction of a black male character means that our other black male character, Oscar (Vincent M. Ward), has to die.
There is no valid explanation for this. If we need to send a Redshirt along on the mission, then the Annoying Redneck Caricature would have been just as expendable.
Of course, then we wouldn't have gotten this week's hilarious bit with him skeezing on teenage Beth (Emily Kinney) and then hitting on Carol (Melissa McBride) – after the hilarious bit where he assumes she's a lesbian because of her haircut. I guess the producers were a bit skittish, for some reason, about playing these two scenarios out with Oscar instead.
So anyway, Oscar has to die to make room for Tyreese.
Like T-Dog had to die to make room for Oscar.
Now I love the fact that they've cast Chad Coleman as Tyreese. His performance as Cutty was a high-point of The Wire, and I can't wait to see how he works with the already established cast. But I'd rather have seen Oscar's story continue than that of Annoying Redneck Caricature, if only because we've already got three or four or eight different flavors of Southern White Boys on the show. We don't need another – especially one so cartoonish. Hell, kill him off and bring Merle (Michael Rooker) back into the fold if we have to have a creepy hick.
This bizarre quota on black men taints what is otherwise a fairly solid mid-season cliffhanger, where our heroes break into Woodbury to rescue Glenn (Steven Yeun) and Maggie (Lauren Cohan), while Carl (Chandler Riggs) helps save Tyreese and his band of survivors before locking them up in a secure area to await Rick's (Andrew Lincoln) return. The ridiculous gunfight in Woodbury is offset by a very effective rough-and-tumble battle between Michonne (Danai Gurira) and the Governor (David Morrissey) that is only halted thanks to the intervention of Andrea (Laurie Holden) – who is written just as annoying and stupid as ever.
The big cliffhanger didn't really work for me. I didn't feel that there was any real threat to Daryl (Norman Reedus) and Merle, even though the citizens of Woodbury suddenly turned into a bloodthirsty mob demanding their deaths. There's no way that either character is going to die before they have a chance to interact. Maybe when the show comes back in February (February 10!) we'll see the two of them locked up, sharing brotherly banter before being tossed into a zombie pit to fight each other to the death.
But I doubt it.
I'm pretty sure the preview leaked that Daryl was going to be bringing Merle into the group – for better or worse. And honestly, that's a dynamic I desperately want to see play out. Merle is a much more credible threat than the Governor has proven to be. Although maybe now, after Michonne put his zombie daughter's head on a spit and then jabbed out his eye, he'll get to cut loose and really become a monster on par with his comic book counterpart.
So all in all, as far as cliffhanger finales go, this one was kind of lackluster with the weak (or downright offensive) parts balancing out all of the good, making for a pretty middle-of-the-road, lowest-common-denominator kind of episode. This is a show that lives or dies by how daring it is and by how extreme things get for its characters, and by those standards "Made to Suffer" fell pretty far short from the promise of earlier in the season.
Paul Brian McCoy is the writer of Mondo Marvel and a regular contributor to Shot for Shot here at Comics Bulletin. His first novel, The Unraveling: Damaged Inc. Book One is on sale now for Kindle US, Kindle UK,
and Nook. You can also purchase his collection of short stories, Coffee, Sex, & Creation at Amazon US and UK. He is unnaturally preoccupied with zombie films, Asian cult cinema, and sci-fi television. He can also be found babbling on Twitter at @PBMcCoy and blogging occasionally at Infernal Desire Machines.