The Ones Who Live’ Episode 1 Review — Rick And Michonne Return In A Lackluster Series Premiere

I’ll be honest: I don’t know if I’m going to like The Walking Dead: The Ones Who Live or not yet. There’s no way I can make up my mind after just one episode—especially an episode like the season premiere, which was more about catching us up to where Rick has been this whole time rather than propelling the action forward.

Yes, that’s a propeller joke, which ties in to the very best part of this episode which we’ll get to in a minute. Spoilers ahead.

I don’t know if I’m going to like this show yet but I do know that I’m pretty bummed out that most of it was voice-over and exposition and I’m pretty letdown that after all this time, this is the story we’ve been given.

I won’t recap everything that happened in the first 80% of this episode because mostly it’s just about introducing us to Rick’s role in the CRM—aka the Civic Republic Military—and how he’s tried a bunch of times to escape. One time he even ill-advisedly cut his hand off which, at the very least, brings him in-line with this comic book character (though that moment was during the Governor storyline rather than way out here in Philadelphia, PA where the CRM’s stronghold lies). But it is maybe a touch funny that he cuts it off, cauterizes it in zombie fire, and is then caught like 45 seconds later. Bet he regretted that one! Oops!

Rick keeps trying to escape, but they keep pulling him back in and we learn, somewhat bizarrely, that the CRM’s strategy has been to kill the A’s—people who think for themselves and can survive on their own—and bring in the B’s—people who will follow orders, the sheep, etc. You’d think a healthy mix of the two would be a better long-term survival strategy. That’s also what Okafor (Craig Tate) believes.

Okafor recruits Rick (Andrew Lincoln) and South African submariner Thorne (Lesley-Ann Brandt) to be part of the upper echelons of the CRM military despite both of them being A’s (wouldn’t you want A’s to be in top leadership spots? Isn’t Okafor an A?) and both having tried to either escape (Rick) or kill him (Thorne). He’s a forward-thinking guy, but he won’t last the episode. (Years ago I criticized The Walking Dead for always killing off its black characters right away. People were mad at me for saying so, but I’m just saying it again).

Anyways, yeah, Okafor bites the dust. That’s a shame because I really liked his character and Tate did a terrific job in the role despite a wonky accent that was a bit hard to understand (thank you subtitles). A lot of smaller parts in The Walking Dead can be phoned in or just badly miscast but I liked this guy. He was also the pilot that saved Philadelphia. He was a bomber who leveled cities like Atlanta and LA, but when it came to the City of Brotherly Love he balked. So did his marine wife, who he killed when he dropped his bombs on the marines sent to assault the city instead of the city itself. Tough moral choices and all that. And the way this bit is told—with Okafor and Rick in a pretty intense brawl—is actually pretty gripping stuff. Scenes like this make the episode thrum.

So do scenes like the one with Rick and Major General Beale (Terry O’Quinn) as they sit on a park bench and try to determine who is lying and about what. O’Quinn is perfect for this role. He’s the consummate character actor, someone you love in just about everything even though he’s almost always basically the same guy. He’ll always be looking around bemusedly at the wreckage of Oceanic Flight 815 on the beach as far as I’m concerned.

These scenes work. So does the ending, when a chopper with Rick and Okafor is shot down from the sky and all of its crew killed—except Rick. Rick’s life is spared because—shocker!—Michonne (Danai Gurira) was the one who shot the helicopter down. I assume she has people with her (she doesn’t have an anti-aircraft arsenal that I can see on her) but the episode ends before either can say a word to one another. Michonne is wearing some kind of umpire mask/helmet thing:

I suppose that might stop zombie bites to the face but it’s still kind of goofy. Nevertheless, the looks on both their faces are pretty priceless and it’s a great moment, but only a brief one. I was definitely annoyed when we then cut directly to black and the credits rolled, though hardly surprised. They certainly saved the best, most-exciting bit for last. And while I’m glad they got the reunion over with early on, judging by the trailer for next week’s episode, we have a lot of Michonne’s journey ahead of us before the “real” reunion of these star-crossed lovers.

What really didn’t work for me about this episode was all the damn narration. This was framed as Rick writing letters to Michonne that he’d never actually send, but that he’d read with feeling over the course of the episode. One time Lincoln’s voice even trembles a bit—but do voices tremble when they’re supposed to be internal narration? Maybe he’s reading these aloud or something. For whatever reason, the creators of The Walking Dead and various and sundry other shows these days have forgotten the very first lesson of writing fiction: show, don’t tell. Here we get one exposoition dump after another, either in Rick’s narration or via various dialogues between Rick and Thorne or Rick and Okafor or Rick and Beale or Rick and his buddy Estaban. Good old Estaban, what a chipper fella. Bet he survives! (He’s getting into the city and he has a girl waiting for him, hooboy!)

The exciting ending should have been the tone of the entire episode. Hell, you could have skipped most of the stuff leading up to it and just had Rick in an action-packed escape from the CRM ending with Michonne (of all people) shooting him down and very nearly killing him. Then you could have interspersed some flashbacks throughout the coming episodes showing us what it was like for Rick over the years. There are so many better, more exciting ways this episode could have been structured it boggles the mind that what we got was such an exposition-heavy snoozefest for the vast majority of it.

And not only is it exposition-heavy, so much of it is what we in the TWD fanbase have come to refer to as “Gimple-speak.” That’s when characters don’t talk quite like real people do but speak instead in weirdly stilted or melodramatic ways. It’s hard to describe. In 1964, United States Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart wrote in the obscenity case Jacobellis v. Ohio:

I shall not today attempt further to define the kinds of material I understand to be embraced within that shorthand description [“hard-core pornography”], and perhaps I could never succeed in intelligibly doing so. But I know it when I see it, and the motion picture involved in this case is not that.

Well that’s sort of how Gimple-speak is. I shall not attempt to further define it, but I know it when I see it. Or hear, it rather. A good 75% of Rick’s dialogue is Gimple-speak. Other characters feel more natural, like Thorne who has a pretty good line: “Let’s go have a drink before we shoot one another.” Many others do the Gimple-speak.

Looks like they have no shortage of booze in the CRM, at least.

All told, a decent opening salvo for the terribly-titled The Ones Who Live (see, that’s Gimple-speak as a TV show title) but also nothing to get super excited about other than the really intense ending. I know fans are desperate for this reunion but I sort of feel like we deserved a lot more after all this time waiting. I’m keeping an open mind, of course. I’m not sure I’m optimistic at this point, but I’m not gnashing my teeth and rending my garments, either. We shall see.

Scattered thoughts:

  • Cool that Rick is now part of the Assassin’s Brotherhood with a Hidden Blade and everything. That’s cool as hell. If we don’t get one leap from a high tower into a hay bale, I’m giving this show an ‘F’.
  • Accents are off. Okafor and Rick both seemed to slip a lot. Still like Okafor but something was off about his accent and I am 99% I heard Lincoln slip into his British accent a couple times.
  • The production values are top-notch but I definitely prefer the costumes and setting of Daryl Dixon, even if that show’s entire premise—honestly, what the heck is Daryl doing in France?—is so much more absurd.
  • The suicide stuff was unexpected. Rick putting that bullet to his head made me think of the opening of Lethal Weapon. Though now I’m thinking about what a great movie that was and how awesome Riggs (Mel Gibson) and Murtaugh (Danny Glover) were. I’m getting sidetracked, sorry.
  • I’m still puzzled by the CRM. I wish they would make a post-apocalyptic future mega-society that felt more Mad Maxian rather than one with more futuristic stuff. Oh crap, has Mel Gibson entered the chat or something?
  • No but seriously, I hated this about Season 11 of the main show. I don’t want ice cream shops and I don’t want futuristic arsenals. The organized societies in this future would still be relatively primitive compared to our own and I’d prefer to see a rougher, dirtier world. I picture warlords and smaller pockets of power fighting over resources. Real return to Hobbes’ Leviathan: “No arts; no letters; no society; and which is worst of all, continual fear, and danger of violent death; and the life of man, solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short.” If I were in charge of a post-apocalyptic show I’d be slapping that quotation all over the place like Ted Lasso’s Believe.
  • Why doesn’t Rick ever mention Judith? Or did he and I just missed it? No letters to Judith? I dunno man.
  • The Omaha stuff reminded me of World Beyond. I only watched the first season of that show. It’s the only show in the entire franchise I never finished. Just couldn’t do it, folks. Fear sucked enough life out of me, like Count Rugen’s Machine.
  • The dream sequences were . . . sweet? Cheesy? Made me want pizza, mostly. I’d have liked more Rick and Michonne courtship in the main show, that’s for sure.
  • They almost introduced another kid when Rick saved that girl and I am so, so very happy they didn’t. This trend of having kid actors in every TWD show (literally every single one) must stop. I will not stand for it!

Okay, final bigger-picture thought here. I suppose I will just admit that I might be hard to please at this point because I simply do not like the big civilization stuff that much. Period. For me, the best parts of The Walking Dead are when they’re a smaller group of survivors moving from place to place, surviving smaller-scale threats, trying to fend off walkers and find food and shelter. As soon as this show scales up to bigger communities, it starts to wobble and shake. Woodbury worked because it was early on and we saw it fall, but almost every other community they’ve come to has fallen mostly because of our heroes’ arrival. And even aside from that trend, it’s just less interesting the moment this show settles down. The Walking Dead is best when it’s like a shark, always moving. Invariably, though, it jumps that shark.

Still, I’m not writing this one off just yet. It’s clear that a lot of work was put into the production itself, even if the Gimple-speak remains and the story feels too little, too late. Judging by fan reactions a lot of people seem thrilled by the episode and I’m genuinely happy for them, even if I am less often taking leaps over moons to celebrate whatever the rung comes after mediocrity. Best The Walking Dead episode ever—as so many fans seem to be claiming? Goodness no. Those times are long gone and will never return. But it could have been a whole lot worse.

Looking forward to the Carl spinoff more. He was only mostly dead, you see. He’s off to find the Three-Eyed Raven over the Wall. Surely that will lead to something epic and meaningful for the fate of the CRM, though I doubt Rick will be the one to kill the Night King. The cleaning ladies in Ennis will take care of that old bugger. I’m losing my mind. I apologize.

Here’s my video review:

Alright, see you next week, folks. Let me know what you thought on Twitter and Facebook


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