There’s much that The Walking Dead can do to come back from the utterly insufferable “The Day Will Come When You Won’t Be”. It can focus on making its characters just a little more believable. It can focus on making the plotting sensible instead of incoherent. But really, more than just about anything else, it can renew a focus on community, on how people come together and create hierarchies of power, how people come to live in a world that is increasingly fraught with danger. It never committed to that idea of community with enough force to really make it work, but the sentiment is there. There are many different communities in play right now, the Hilltop, Alexandria, The Kingdom, Negan and his men, and there are certainly some interesting stories to be told about how communities with different belief systems coexist. The question is: Can The Walking Dead actually tell these stories?
After this episode, I suppose my answer is more optimistic than it was after the last episode. At the very least, “The Well” narrows the focus a bit, giving us an uninterrupted look at The Kingdom, using just Carol and Morgan in the process. The Kingdom is an interesting place, to be sure, as we see that it is structured with a singular leader that calls himself a king, and it has social structures in place such as a school system, musicians, and a belief system. It’s interesting to hear that Ezekiel structures The Kingdom as a place where one needs to contribute in order to exist there, and I’m curious to see how that operates when it is being challenged. For example, what happens when somebody breaks the laws in place? What happens when somebody doesn’t contribute? What constitutes social advancement? Does the magnitude of contribution correlate with what one gets in return? It’s interesting stuff, the kind of questions that really make the show shine. “The Well”, overall, is solid, the kind of episode that will keep the show alive in its seventh season.
My first impression of Ezekiel isn’t entirely positive, but it’s the same impression I had of Abraham. His manner of speaking is very bizarre and overblown, very much in line with comic book material, and that can be kind of frustrating, considering how the show is very different than the comic books and how television as a medium operates in a very different context than comic books. If The Walking Dead wants to be a serious philosophical look at death, mortality, and community, characters like Ezekiel detract from that tone. But the more Ezekiel is humanized, the more palatable he will become as a character. Here, he gets enough humanizing to generally work throughout the episode, as he generally wants to see his community thrive, and approaches governance with an altruistic eye. It’s quite the juxtaposition to Negan, though none of this negates my criticism of Negan’s characterization, as there are ways to make them polar opposites without stooping to the lows that the premiere went to. But that juxtaposition is still fascinating, and makes for a strong way to frame “The Well”.
As for Morgan and Carol, there are ways to position their characters so that they make sense moving forward, and they work for the most part. Morgan is being utilized by Ezekiel as a way to train some of the young ones that are learning to defend themselves against the zombies, and he enjoys being utilized in that manner. It gives him a sense of purpose that he was lacking before while still giving him the sense of peace he’s been searching for throughout the series. Carol, on the other hand, isn’t really given a storyline that is new or interesting. She wants to set out on her own, but it doesn’t entirely make sense why. She’s uneasy about The Kingdom, which makes sense, but we’ve seen this character beat from her before, and it’s frustrating to see a character as exciting as Carol continue to be boring and underutilized. Maybe she’ll change in later episodes, but right now she’s continuing down the same tedious path that she went down in the back half of the last season, and it’s a shame. But Morgan really is the shining star of the episode, and it’s exciting to see him interact with the various citizens of The Kingdom.
But what I’m really interested in seeing is how these communities interact with one another. The Saviors, in the scene that they show up, don’t necessarily antagonize Ezekiel and his men, though some are vicious and sadistic like Negan (well, not like Negan, but still violent). It’s interesting to see some diversity in how The Saviors act, even though last season characterized The Saviors so poorly. Hopefully, as this season goes on, The Saviors will be characterized with a little more nuance, and it will be easier to understand who they are as a community. Right now, the small bursts of nuance is what is keeping The Walking Dead from collapsing in on itself, and the more that communities like The Kingdom and The Saviors are focused on exclusively, the better the show will be. For instance, I’m dreading seeing Rick and company back at the Hilltop or Alexandria, because we’ll be continuing the same nonsense we saw in the premiere, because The Walking Dead has already failed so miserably at portraying the Hilltop and Alexandria as communities of substance.
But “The Well” is a strong starting point. I’m genuinely interested to see what comes after this episode, not because I think that the characterization is going to get so much better or because the plotting is going to be so much better. That ship, for the most part, has sailed. But watching The Walking Dead introduce The Kingdom reminds me the point of watching The Walking Dead in the first place. This show does have something to say about community, about the way we live in the world. And maybe, amidst the swings of the baseball bat, we’ll hear something of importance.
What did you think of “The Well”? Are you impressed by the introduction of The Kingdom? Let me know in the comments!