I used to wish for the day that The Walking Dead would do episodes that were slower and more character-focused, that the show would dig into everyone’s backstories a bit more and take a break from the nonstop zombie slaying. I should have been more careful about what I wished for, because this half-season, my dream kind of came true: TWD has taken a much more character-driven approach these last few weeks, splitting everyone into small groups and dispersing them to give us more or less stand-alone episodes about different characters. Unfortunately, these episodes have been very, very boring. Did you know that Daryl had a fraught relationship with his father? Did you know that Carol killed some people? Did you know that Lizzie was crazy? Oh, you did? Well … now you extra know.
On last night’s episode, “The Grove,” the two little blonde girls died. Don’t confuse them with the other, less-little blonde girl Beth, who’s off with Daryl experiencing her sexual awakening. These two were Lizzie and Mika, or, for our purposes, Baby Psycho and the Other One. Since we met Lizzie at the prison what seems like forever ago, she’s been repeating the idea that the walkers are just “different,” and that she likes to play with them — though her play often seemed like deranged torture. This of course led to Lizzie stabbing her sister, which the episode presented as if we were supposed to be surprised. But everything we knew about Lizzie was leading up to this, and everything we’d learned about Mika so far in that episode — that she was nice, that she reminded Carol of her dead daughter Sophia on account of her niceness — was cluing us in that this child was not long for the world. In fact, none of the children on this show except for Carl and Judith are still alive. None of the other kids from the prison, not Sophia, not the Governor’s daughter, not the Governor’s substitute daughter. So was it dark when Carol executed Lizzie? Sure. But it was also pretty clear that was going to happen, and if the endpoint of a story line is clear, at least the journey to that endpoint should be interesting. And TWD just isn’t interested in being interesting, apparently.
Think of season one of Lost, where we learned four episodes in that Locke had been in a wheelchair; or, six episodes in, that Sun secretly spoke English. What a cool thing to reveal in a flashback! It introduced new information about the characters, and also revealed some of the motivations for their current selves. The most novel thing we’ve learned in this half-season is that Michonne used to have a husband and a child — but that information didn’t help us understand anything more about Michonne’s present day. Is that why she feels a kinship with Carl? Well, no; her son was a toddler, and Carl is a tween, plus she and Carl had plenty of bonding time already. Is there something in her past that would make her an expert swordswoman? Or give her the idea of dragging around two armless walkers? Nope! We don’t learn anything about where those habits may have originated. What’s the point of a flashback if it doesn’t illuminate anything? Gee, Michonne was more effusive and upbeat before the world went to shit and everyone she loved died? No kidding.
With Daryl and Beth, what we’ve learned about their backstories is exactly what you’d expect: Beth grew up very sheltered — which we already knew, since her dad is Hershel – and Daryl grew up full of resentment, which we also already knew since he and Merle had discussed it before. Bob’s flashback shows him right when he meets Daryl and Glen — a point we assumed had occurred, given that he was at Woodbury with them. We already knew.
I’ve long since given up on the idea that any character on this show will ever have a good idea. I know we’re never going to figure out how there are still so many walkers, or why no one is even trying to create some kind of walker-lure to keep them away. But if the show is going to invest more time and energy into its characters and not just into the action sequences, it would be nice if that investment was actually worth something. In the closing moments of last night’s episode, Carol confessed to Tyreese that she had killed two other people. They stared at each other, and then Tyreese said, “I forgive you,” which is a very nice thing to say. Too bad it doesn’t make for an interesting story.