[This is a review of The Walking Dead season 6, episode 14. There will be SPOILERS.]
After going on the television equivalent of a winning streak with its last few episodes, The Walking Dead ostensibly chokes and delivers a bummer of an episode with 'Twice as Far.' It had been a refreshing few weeks as the series explored a handful of interesting ideas, like just how close to villains Rick and his crew have become, all while certain seeds were sown with regard to former remorseless killing machine Carol, who now finds herself compelled to leave Alexandria before she's has to kill again. But in its attempt to offer a compelling hour while basically serving as a breather before all hell breaks loose between the Saviors and the Alexandrians, 'Twice as Far' winds up being a muddled hour seemingly motivated more by faking out the audience with another unearned death than delivering a compelling piece of drama.
The Walking Dead has had success with parallel narratives in the past, so there was reason to expect the dual stories of Denise (Merritt Wever) and Eugene attempting to prove to themselves and to others they could make it in the harsh world beyond Alexandria's walls could have been a good way to spend some time. But that's about as far as the episode made it in terms of executing its main idea -- which regardless of how it well it turned out would have been undermined by Carol's decision to leave anyway. And that's not because Carol abandoning her friends and fellow survivors after they've picked a fight with the biggest bully on the playground is somewhat surprising and out of character, but because, since the series returned from its midseason hiatus, it hasn't worked hard enough to convince the audience why she would buy so wholly into Morgan's "there's got to be another way" ethos.
There are other problems as well, like the all-too brief focus on Carol's romance with Tobin, which adds little to her departure other than positioning Tobin as messenger to Rick. There might have been some thought that Carol leaving behind a seemingly loving, caring relationship would somehow underline the severity of her decision, but the show has spent less than two minutes of actual screen time with Carol and Tobin together as a couple – or whatever they are. This not only makes it difficult to feel anything other than curiosity at the seeming pointlessness of it all, but it also points out The Walking Dead's tendency to lean on underdeveloped relationships and characters, asking them to carry the weight of moments in need of a more established individual or set of circumstances in order to deliver the appropriate emotional impact.
This is no more evident than with Denise's empty demise at the hands of a now-scarred Dwight and his fellow group of nitwit Saviors. Not only does an actor like Merritt Wever deserve stronger material than she got here – with not one, but two "what the hell are you doing?" moments involving walkers – but her final scene, leading up to the moment where a crossbow bolt graphically ends her life, was so knowingly telegraphed, it would only have been a surprise if she hadn't been killed. Readers of the comic book know that bolt was meant for someone else, and while shifting around certain character deaths can keep the TV series from becoming a tedious retread of the comics, swapping out the original target for Denise doesn't make much sense from a dramatic standpoint. While recent weeks have offered more detail on her life and romance with Tara, as well as her struggles as Alexandria's sole doctor, Denise was still in the nascent stages of being a fully fleshed-out character. 'Twice as Far' seemed to recognize this deficiency and attempted to remedy the problem by shoehorning in as much of Denise's backstory as it possibly could before she was unceremoniously killed off. The result, then, was a predictable killing of a character who hadn't yet earned the kind of status that would allow her death to carry real narrative significance. Moreover, the scene went by without the presence of Tara, the one person who might have added something substantial to Denise's passing.
The other issue stemming from Denise's death is how it undermined the last two weeks of storytelling in which The Walking Dead managed to depict its ostensible antagonists as human beings, rather than the standard sort of cartoonish bad guys who typically act against the interests of Rick & co. Last week's 'The Same Boat' presented the Saviors as reflections of the series' core batch of survivors. Headed up by Alicia Witt, they were actual people with distinct histories and more complex motivations, rather than sneering, one-note villains prone to falling victim to a well-placed bite and turning tail the second someone shoots back.
Overall, this was a messy and disappointing episode made more so by the relative quality of more recent installments. Despite the hullabaloo caused by Glenn's non-death earlier in the season, it would seem The Walking Dead is still stuck in fake-out mode. And while the show has made a name for itself pushing the idea that no one is safe, it does itself no favors by continually focusing on "shocking" events that are only noteworthy due to how narratively insubstantial they are.
The Walking Dead continues next Sunday with 'East' @9pm on AMC. Check out a sneak peek below:
Photos: Gene Page/AMC