I usually spend my review griping about some facet of The Walking Dead, whether it’s the characters, the plotting, the dialogue, Negan, or all of the above. It’s possible, well, more likely than not, that I’m going to do some of that in this review. But why not start off positive? You know what I like about the last couple seasons of The Walking Dead? The way they’ve been splitting episodes up, isolating locations by keeping an episode focused on a singular one, has been a great way to at least keep the series from becoming excessively muddled. The second episode focused on The Kingdom, the third episode focused on The Sanctuary, and the fourth (extended) episode focused on Alexandria and the Saviors. While no one episode was exceptional, at the very least, this singular focus has kept the show from descending into something truly awful.
“Service” had the ability to be decent. The helplessness that the main cast feels at the hands of The Saviors is inherently interesting; objectively, this is the worst situation that they’ve every dealt with, the most hopeless, and there’s drama to be mined from the sheer magnitude of Rick’s terror. We can see how Rick wants to fight back, how most of the main cast wants to fight back. And we can see how they, in their small way, are fighting back. Rosita takes a gun. Maggie is away from Alexandria, outside of Negan’s watch. There are little ways that Rick and his group can rebel, and they’ll probably be punished more before all is said and done. What all this could do is discuss how the leadership of a strongman like Negan is limited, how you can only punish people long enough before they fight back. And we’ll probably get to that point. But focusing on civilizations and the conflict between different societies is the best The Walking Dead can do right now.
But “Service” isn’t the episode to push along the storyline. It’s not the episode to really discuss civilization and conflict between societies. It is a long, long slog that makes one singular point: Negan is an awful person, he’s very good at abusing people, and Rick is broken enough to bend to Negan no matter how bad it gets. Not much happens aside from that. Now, maybe this would be easier to watch if it was shorter. This episode runs another half-hour longer than a normal episode, but it doesn’t have the plot to back up the extra runtime. This has been a common complaint of mine with The Walking Dead: there simply isn’t ever enough plot to back up these longer episodes, aside from “Here’s Not Here”, the only episode that was able to adequately fill the runtime. All of the episode’s scenes extend longer than they need to, and none really add anything to the last. There isn’t enough nuance or thematic weight to make the episode interesting; it would barely fill the 42 minutes that a normal episode fills. And it doesn’t help that Negan still isn’t an interesting villain. He’s a sociopath, sure, but that’s about it. There’s no backstory, no nuance, no real personality, and his dialogue is still remarkably stupid. For the show to tease him for half a season and then give us this is almost insulting.
It also doesn’t help that the stakes involved with the episode aren’t really that interesting. The main point of conflict in the episode comes from the armory missing two guns, and Olivia’s life hanging in the balance. Only we don’t really know Olivia all that well, so the emotional stakes aren’t really there. That’s the problem with not really knowing any of the characters; they don’t make us feel nervous for them. I honestly can’t remember a single thing about Olivia, and though that could describe how poorly I know most of the show’s characters, that’s especially true for secondary characters like Olivia. The other conflict is with Carl, how he pulls a gun on a Savior and is almost killed by Negan. But we know that Carl is going to be okay, simply because of how he’s positioned in the series, so there isn’t any real tension in that scene. The Walking Dead doesn’t really know how to create much by way of tension anymore, either because its characters aren’t exciting enough to generate tension or because quite a few of its characters are largely immune to being killed.
At this point, The Walking Dead needs to move on. It has introduced all of its characters, all of its locations, all of its plotlines, and now it needs to find somewhere interesting to take all of this setup. While the individual focus on location is working, there isn’t enough going on at each location to make this season as interesting as it could be. So now the rest of the season rests on whether or not there’s enough plot to fill another twelve episodes. Are we going to learn more about Ezekiel and how The Kingdom fits into Rick’s dilemma? Are we going to learn about how The Hilltop is gathering a resistance movement? Are we going to learn about a rebellion inside of The Sanctuary? Something needs to happen, any of those possible stories or something else entirely, in order to inject some life into what is probably the most lifeless season of The Walking Dead to date.
What did you think of “Service”? Is the episode better than I think it is? Let me know in the comments!