After two straight weeks of miserable tedium, The Walking Dead rebounds (a bit) with an episode – "Some Guy" – that gets back to one of the series' core strengths: reducing a sprawling post-apocalyptic epic to a few pivotal moments in the lives of ordinary people. Granted, this hour is also soul-crushingly nihilistic, piling personal pain and loss onto the show's last remaining upbeat character. But hey … at least it's exciting while it lasts.
Longtime Walking Dead editor Dan Liu makes his directorial debut here, working from a script credited to David Leslie Johnson, and the first-timer leaves his stamp in the opening minutes, which contain one hell of a jump-cut. He begins with a flashback to King Ezekiel suiting up alone in his room on the morning of the allies' current multi-pronged attack, followed by a look back at the monarch's rousing message to his troops about the difficulties they're going to face. It's all punctuated by his reassuring catch-phrase: "And yet I smile!" Then, when the crowd's frenzy is at a peak, an overhead shot of pumped-up Kingdom forces slams right into a similar image of their corpses, freshly mowed-down by the enemy's machine guns.
The rest of the chapter covers the frantic minutes and hours immediately after that ambush, seen at the end of last week's episode, "Monsters." The king scrambles to avoid being eaten by his own zombified subjects, and briefly gets captured by an unnamed Savior before our regent's hulking bodyguard Jerry cleaves the creep in two with a battle-axe. Meanwhile, Carol does her best ninja impression, sneaking into the enemy compound to complete the original mission of seizing those devastatingly destructive guns before they're transferred to the Sanctuary.
All of this works fairly well on a "blazing combat" level. Ezekiel's desperate escape from certain death is suitably white-knuckle. Carol looks cool sneaking around corners and dodging bullets, outsmarting the Saviors. There's even a thrilling and unexpected last-minute chase sequence, as Rick and Daryl rush in like the calvary, tailing the bad guys (and their weapons) down the twists and turns of the nearby highway. Rick zooms around walkers in his jeep, then pulls an Indiana Jones, leaping from his vehicle into the truck containing the crucial armaments. Everybody watching at home cheers.
True, nitpickers could raise a few beefs with the thrilling business above. Would Rick and Daryl really be able to avoid getting hit by the hail of gunfire aimed directly at them during their high-speed pursuit? Probably not. Doesn't it seem like Carol keeps getting uncommonly lucky as she scrambles into ceiling crawl-spaces and ducks behind conveniently placed vehicles and boxes? Yes. Yes, it does. And why oh why, with hordes of the undead shambling behind them, does Ezekiel's captor stop to give him a little mocking lecture? Best not to think about that too hard.
These are all forgivable lapses, however, and all attributable to the usual dramatic license of a pulpy action-adventure. The bigger problem with "Some Guy" is implied by its title. This is an episode all about King Ezekiel – who he was, who he became, who he tries to be. And apparently, it's his turn to become the cool, likable Walking Dead character who receives an overdue comeuppance. Given that there aren't that many heroes left on this show who aren't terminally mopey and wracked with self-doubt, the prospect of facing countless weeks ahead with a humbled king is more than a little depressing.
Making matters worse, there's a moment late in this story where it seems like the writers are going to let Ezekiel off the hook. He's in abject despair, because so many people followed him to their doom, and then Carol and Jerry try to encourage him to keep going. After all, his pretending to be a king saved a lot of lives, and gave so many a renewed sense of purpose. He can still reign.
But just then, the big cat Shiva shows up, and gets devoured by zombies. So not only has Ezekiel lost his swagger, the show's just lost its resident tiger.
As readers of the original comics will undoubtedly note, this turn of events comes straight from The Walking Dead's creator Robert Kirkman. But the TV version of this saga hasn't always treated the printed page as sacrosanct. In the books, Ezekiel has an affair with Michonne, for example. And Carol and Morgan are long-dead by this point (the latter after also having had an affair with Michonne). The bigger question then is: What has the show given up with this latest development? And what does it gain in return?
The answer to the former is simple: Before this week, viewers could tune in and hope that amid all the despair, we still might get to hang out for a few minutes with an awesome, benevolent leader and his badass pet. That's gone now. Are we going to get anything out of Ezekiel's upcoming long wallow that we haven't already gotten from, oh, Rick, Carl, Michonne, Carol, Daryl, Morgan ... and every other Walking Dead character who's been smacked hard in the face and then cowered in a corner for half a season or more?
Don't misunderstand. This episode is taut, well-staged, nail-biting, and heart-breaking – all things that a TV-watcher could and should want. But it also ends in a place that may leave even die-hard fans wondering if this show has anything remaining to look forward to. And there's still such a long, long way to go.
Previously: Damaged Goods