I’ve said before that The Walking Dead does have a talented group of writers. As much as the show is vilified for its occasional absurdity, it’s a solid show that does a good job building characters that feel like they have personalities. Only it does a good job when the focus is narrow, when there are few enough characters to focus on that we get a decent arc out of a short 45-minute episode. It becomes trickier when an episode focuses on a bunch of characters, as some of the nuance is lost for the sake of reiterating ideas that we’ve heard already, and characters start to become one-note types instead of living, breathing people.
I say this because “Now” works very, very hard to give us characters, scenes, and ideas that matter, only to struggle to actually pull that off. More often than not, “Now” ends up resorting to huge, didactic speeches that end up saying something we could have inferred from a subtler, more careful approach. Do we need to be reminded that the Alexandrians are less equipped to handle the world than Rick’s group? To a degree, sure. We need to know where certain characters stand on an individual level. For example, watching Deanna wander around Alexandria in a haze was a decent way to show us exactly what she’s feeling and thinking. She blames herself for failing her town, and she blames herself for the deaths in her family. As for the rest of the Alexandrians, we’re either told explicitly what they’re thinking (Aaron) or they just become one-note red shirts like those that try to raid Alexandria’s food supplies. Even Spencer completely lacks subtlety or any sort of personality, and it’s a shame because “Now” is the perfect opportunity to reorient us with what is happening within Alexandria.
The setup is done in a way that allows for that reorientation. Many big characters are absent from the episode, most notably Morgan and Carol, two characters who were the main focus of “JSS” and “Here’s Not Here”. And it’s frustrating because smaller characters usually need more established characters to latch onto in order to achieve stronger character development. Sure, singular characters work well when they’re presented in a “Here’s Not Here” short story fashion, but in an episode with as many characters as “Now”, sticking two relatively undeveloped characters together doesn’t work quite as well. For example, the worst scene of the episode (and perhaps the season thus far) has Spencer talking to the Alexandrians at the pantry about working together and not losing their grip on the community. It’s all good on paper, but we have no idea who Spencer really is, and we have no idea who any of these Alexandrians are. It’s, in essence, a scene meant to tell us that, yes, the Alexandrians are stressed out and think that they’re going to die, which is something we already knew.
This isn’t to say that the episode is all bad, as it’s certainly important to have an episode dedicated to establishing a status quo now that walkers have surrounded the city. If we’re going to care at all if Jessie, Ron, Deanna, or Spencer are inevitably eaten by zombies, it’s important that we see what kind of characters they are and how they’re reacting to the narrative. Jessie is reacting by toughening up a little bit, while Deanna is losing her mind. At the very least, we’re checked in with how everybody is doing, even if that checking isn’t done particularly well. There’s a level of stability in Alexandria that is restored by the end of the episode because everybody begins to come to the understanding that they’ll all need to fight and toughen up in order to survive whatever the herd does to the town.
This episode also doesn’t do a whole lot to directly address the massive cliffhanger at the end of “Thank You”, the one where Glenn is seemingly torn to shreds by a massive group of zombies. The focus on Aaron and Maggie is the strongest facet of the episode, as it responds directly to a part of the narrative that was examined in a previous episode, instead of a loose thematic idea that has already been established. That focus was somewhat squandered by the clichéd reveal that Maggie is pregnant (because of course), but it at least narrowed down what could have potentially happened to Glenn. The fact that the episode directly addressed the potential for his survival points to Glenn either being alive or being a bait-and-switch like Sophia from Season 2. The issue with the “bait-and-switch” option is that it would potentially be effective if it was the driving force of the season, just as the Sophia plotline was in Season 2. Here, Glenn’s survival isn’t even remotely the focus, not to mention that the season’s focus is in so many different places, so performing that “bait-and-switch” wouldn’t have nearly the impact that Sophia’s did. Dragging out Glenn’s fate is definitely doing more harm than good here.
“Now” operates in the same fashion as most of the catch-up episodes The Walking Dead has done over the course of the series. It re-establishes the status quo, but fails to get us to care about any additional people in the cast. While The Walking Dead does a great job with self-contained character episodes, as well as episodes that focus primarily on action, it’s these quieter episodes that absolutely need to be better if the show wants to get us to care about these smaller characters before, well, they’re killed. Sure, I guess it’s great that Rick and Jessie are together, and it’s great that Denise is dealing with her self-doubt, and it’s great that Aaron and Maggie are remaining hopeful, but how well does the episode work at making us care? Not that much.
So what did you think of “Now”? Are you more excited for the next episode, which seems to be a showcase for Daryl, Sasha, and Abraham? Let me know in the comments!