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Review: The Walking Dead 8×11 “Dead Or Alive Or”

After the all-out chaos of war, this week’s The Walking Dead saw a return to the kind of episode where threat lurks everywhere, quietly simmering, as Daryl led the party from Alexandria across Savior and zombie infested land, Maggie faced a potential famine, Eugene tried to keep a level head within the Sanctuary walls, and Father Gabriel shrugged off his rapidly deteriorating health to guide Dr. Carson back to Hilltop. Indeed, the farming community was very much the focus of “Dead Or Alive Or”, as the various factions of Team Rick strived to return there, Maggie wrestled with some tough dilemmas to keep it running, and Negan planned an assault on it.

Having promised to take Judith to safety, Daryl made his way through swampland deemed too dangerous by the Saviors, according to Dwight, accompanied by Rosita, Tara, and various other survivors. As if squishy, submerged, bitey cadavers weren’t enough to contend with, Daryl also had to prevent Tara from shooting Dwight every two minutes. It was pretty obvious a showdown was approaching when Tara insisted she ‘hang back’ to keep watch with Dwight while the others made their way through the murky water, and it was oddly touching hearing Dwight apologise for killing Denise, even as Tara held a gun to his head. Dwight’s done some pretty despicable things, and clearly the ‘enemy of my enemy’ principle doesn’t apply when that enemy of your enemy shot your girlfriend in cold blood, but Austin Amelio succeeded in making Dwight somewhat sympathetic, especially when he assured Tara he just wanted to help the Alexandrians take down Negan before accepting his fate. And for the record, Tara is absolutely no position to be so judgmental, considering that she used to be Team Governor!

Dwight leading the Saviors away from Tara and ending up back at Negan’s compound resulted in Tara having a change of heart and trusting Dwight not to give them up, which wasn’t entirely believable, given how vocal she’s been about wanting him dead. No one seemed to suspect anything was up at The Sanctuary, and the Savior who knows about Dwight’s double-crossing was conspicuous by his absence. Presumably though, Dwight is on borrowed time now that he’s back in Negan’s fold.

Speaking of which, Eugene was under pressure from Negan to share his theory on how Gabe and Dr. Carson escaped. Despite his cartoonish turn of phrase, Negan isn’t a stupid character, and it seems reasonable to assume that he knows or at least suspects Eugene had a hand in the break out at this point. And what’s more, Eugene appears to know that Negan knows, which imbues every scene between them with the promise of violence. Eugene is still useful in his capacity as ammunition manufacturer, but we know Negan sees people as a commodity so I wonder for how much longer. It’s less clear how Eugene’s suggestion to chuck random parts of walkers over the fence at Alexandria fits into that world view. It’s bizarre that using zombie guts as a weapon has only just occurred to Negan, given that he knows it makes humans sick, but I’m not sure how turning the entirety of Alexandria into a shambolic horde is useful. There are almost forty Saviors behind enemy lines who would presumably be lost too, and if they don’t have bullets, how are the Saviors supposed to get close enough to scratch all of Team Rick with a blood soaked baseball bat? We know everyone turns on dying anyway, so how is waiting for them to expire from a slow, lingering infection a plan? If you can get close enough to infect them, why not just stab them in the head and save yourself the trouble of having to kill them a second time when they resurrect? AM I MISSING SOMETHING HERE?!

Anyhoo, things took a mystical turn on the road with Gabriel and Doctor Carson as religion and science debated the merits of faith. Father Gabe stood by his belief that a higher power was guiding them as he battled sickness and loss of sight, while the medic argued that there was no grand plan, just survival. It seemed that the holy man might have a point though, as the two men lived through a number of experiences which seemed to defy logic and reason. Their car breaking down led them to a house in which they found antibiotics to stave off Gabe’s fever. The priest’s blind flailing caused him to smash a vase revealing hidden car keys and a map to a new vehicle. When Carson got caught in a bear trap and surrounded by walkers, Gabriel executed a perfect headshot and saved him, despite being almost blind. It was a darkly comic and nihilistic twist when the good doctor, finally persuaded to Gabriel’s way of thinking, took on a Savior in the belief a benevolent god was looking out for him and was shot dead.

I must admit, I was expecting Gabe to meet a sticky end – Lucille’s sticky end to be more specific – but the idea of him locked in a kind of purgatory with Eugene, making bullets to kill their friends, until Negan no longer has a use for them is perhaps even more horrific on balance.

But while Gabe’s mission ended in abject disappointment, there was still a modicum of hope at Hilltop. Maggie, initially driven to cut the prisoners’ food allowance to support her own people’s food rations, was moved to leniency by the news of Carl’s death and the revelation that Siddiq had medical experience. Plus there was the request for exercise from the weirdly nice and handsome Savior, which was definitely a contributing factor if I know my none too subtle subtext. It’s cheering that Maggie, who probably has the most reason to hate the Saviors, manages to retain her humanity for the most part.

Similarly, Carol and Morgan reached an unspoken agreement to protect young Henry from the burden of vengeance by telling him Gavin was the one who murdered his brother. It was a pretty transparent ploy, but one that – for now – seems to have given the lad a strange kind of peace. Morgan appeared calmer and more himself than he’s been all season, and Carol is at a place of balance. Over the years we’ve seen her veer from beaten spouse, to grieving mother, to soulless badass, but her character seems to have rediscovered that nurturing aspect for the children who are always drawn to her, while maintaining her fighting spirit.

A relatively plodding installment this week, but one that held my interest with some tense scenes and scary set pieces. Now Rick is back at the gates of Hilltop and Negan is planning on exacting his revenge, I expect the relative tranquility of “Dead Or Alive Or” will be short-lived.

Final Grade: C+

+ There were some good zombie attacks this week. The swamp walkers may have been done in various iterations before but they were pretty terrifying, and the single corpse inching his way towards Gabe and Carson in the car reminded me of the good old days when this show used to routinely scare the pants off me.

+ Having Daryl break the news of Carl’s death under a music track and seeing Enid’s silent scream was a devastatingly affective choice.

– Did anyone else feel their empathy for Gabe’s encroaching blindness hampered by the fact the POV shots looked like he was squinting out through an anus? Nope? Just me?

– Negan’s plan to attack the Hilltoppers with zombie blood made very little sense.

Extra Thought: While we’re on zombie blood, I’m still confused as to why Gabe got infected in the first place, when countless characters have used the exact same tactic over the years with no side effects?!

What did you think? Was this episode a case of the blind leading the blind? Sound off in the comments or over on Twitter.

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Katie Young

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