***Warning, contains spoilers for The Walking Dead S8.04***
After the bombardment of action snapshots from the past two episodes of The Walking Dead season 8, episode 4 goes back to a more traditional format, focusing on just one storyline. And annoyingly for some, that spotlight is shone directly at King Ezekiel. The end of episode 3 left us wondering if any of Ezekiel and Carol’s Kingdom crew would be left alive after an unexpected encounter with some heavy weaponry. But it seems AMC has plans for some of the key cast members after all.
After some brief flashbacks to an earlier version of Ezekiel’s “and yet I smile” speech back at the Kingdom pre-plan, our beloved theatrical leader emerges, wounded, from a pile of his dead comrades. There’s a definite renewed focus on blood and gore on this season, with this episode deigning to offer lingering shots of bodies with bits missing, arms ripped open by high-calibre bullets, and faces you saw in earlier scenes now grey with death. It works though, despite the bloodshed, because ultimately, this episode is about the fall of the King. A sign that the hopefulness which has shone throughout the previous episodes isn’t quite as strong as we all hoped.
The prelude with the speech and the families back at the Kingdom is clearly meant to play with our heartstrings. But it doesn’t. These faces that were introduced mere minutes ago are now zombifying themselves around the panicked Ezekiel, but there’s no emotion there. These aren’t faces we know, they aren’t characters with any backstory beyond merely surviving thus far. They merely serve to highlight just how big an upturn is in store for the King.
Ezekiel has gone from a fearless leader who’s managed to keep all his troops alive through significant odds, to the beaten down man surrounded by the Walker versions of said troops who then gets taken hostage by a character who can only be described as an extra from Napoleon Dynamite. Ekeziel’s fall from grace happens in a matter of minutes and it’s disheartening to watch as he repeatedly tries to give up and become Walker fodder. Thankfully Carol and Jerry - who seems to be one of the new main characters of season 8 - are there to carry him along and the Walkers have decided to move at an even slower pace than normal to allow for dramatic monologues and issues with locked doors. How considerate of them.
We all knew Carol wasn’t going down in that wave of gunfire at the end of episode 3, right? My love/hate relationship with Carol as she switches from badass killer to meek housewife is back at love again as she regains her composure and works out a way to take the guns from the saviours. Yes, she might abandon everyone else - she probably thinks they’re all dead, with good reason - but she’s up to her old tricks again and that makes for great TV. Combine Carol’s awesomeness with a car chase with the daring duo that is Rick and Darryl and you’ve almost got The Walking Dead back on form.
But it’s hard to forgive such an obvious punch to the emotions as episode 4 delivers. I spent most of it wondering what had happened to Ezekiel’s pet tiger, Shiva, only for her to appear just in time to save the day (again). Those shuffling Walkers suddenly find their appetites and decide they want a bit of tiger for dinner. It’s a lovely poetic moment, but it’s hammered home too much by Ezekiel reminding us that he saved her, only for her later to save him in his moment of need. I never thought I would shed real tears over a CGI tiger, but here I am grabbing the tissues and praying she’ll miraculously leap out unscathed. Watching the toxic water turn red left no room for doubt, so Ezekiel and I cry together.
It’s an attempt to play with emotions that just goes too far and makes me wonder whether AMC is merely relying on cheap shocks to keep the tension of the series going without having to deliver much plot. It all still feels a little... predictable. Of course all the dead people will turn into Walkers. Of course Carol and Ezekiel make it out alive. Of course everyone back at the Kingdom is pretty irked that everyone else is dead. I’m still left scratching my head as to what’s the plan with the big guns and what the heck is happening back in that trailer with Negan and Gabriel.