Published on November 3rd, 2016 | by Bean1
The Walking Dead Season 7 Episode 2 Review “The Well”
“The Well” is a tricky proposition for the universe of The Walking Dead. Essentially a palate-cleanser after last week’s festival of sorrow, in terms of tone we find everything shifted, sometimes incongruously, sometimes refreshingly in an all together different direction. In the aftermath of one of the bleakest 45 minutes of television last week, here we are offered hope; it almost feels foisted upon us, purgative-style, for our own good. Whether it works as a new narrative direction for the show and it’s characters remains to be seen, but “The Well” is selling it’s wares. Hard.
Picking up shortly where we left Carol and Morgan at the end of Season 6, “The Well” opens on the wheels of a wagon which bears the prostrate form of the former, while the latter carves Hansel and Gretel markers where he can along the way. They are accompanied by the two men on horseback who came to their aid in the fight with Negan’s ‘Saviours’ in “Last Day On Earth”, a vicious melee which caused Morgan to rescind his ‘no killing humans’ rule in order to save Carol. They encounter a small horde of zombie’s which Carol, in her exhausted state, hallucinates into living humans, only to watch them ‘murdered’. It’s satisfying to see the thread of her mental/emotional difficulties explored afresh, and indicates there’s a long way to go should she ever come to terms with her past traumas.
Morgan is given the chance to evolve after a season of being overtly dogmatic, which also pleases, even if his new direction is vastly more uncertain. At least he is afforded a broader mind, one open to different possibilities for how to function in the world, and what his purpose might be. The show demonstrates this with his tutelage of and interactions with Benjamin, a young man orphaned into a parental role to his younger brother, who badly needs a father figure. Morgan takes to the mentoring but his reversal on the sanctity of human life is recent enough that you can sense his unease in spouting off to anybody, even Carol, who he must ultimately concede has capacity to make her own decisions.
These character developments get somewhat sidelined by the majority of “The Well”, as the episode prioritises taking us into another world; The Kingdom, presided over by the tiger-taming King Ezekial. We view all this through the eyes of Morgan – circumspect but trying to comply – and Carol – entirely skeptical and jaded. It’s both smart and problematic to use these two points of view. I felt like both of them, as a viewer of the show, at different points during “The Well”. “Are you fucking kidding me?!” she says. Yup. Much about the episode begs that question, and her incredulity – perhaps supposed to buffer the audience’s – only served to enhance mine. Morgan’s ‘oh yeah, there’s a tiger’ moment is there as comic relief, but beautiful as the CG tiger Shiva is (and I’m sure she’ll turn out to be a compelling character!), it all felt perilously close to shark-jumping. Tunics? Really?!
The faux-medieval score was pretty and soothing, but a bit on the nose – notably, Bear McCreary, whose TV scores I have loved since Battlestar Galactica, is not currently writing for the show, having done so for the past six seasons. Some of the subtlety we’ve come to enjoy on this front would have been welcome. Particularly odd and ironically saccharine (?!) was the use of Bob Dylan’s “Don’t Think Twice, It’s Alright” as sung by The Kingdom’s community choir! Ok, we get it. They’re sheeple.
The message at the heart of “The Well” is difficult to discern. Is the hope the subjects of The Kingdom purvey false? Quite possibly, they operate blindly, following Ezekiel’s edicts, yet not privy to the inner workings of this sanctum and the dubious but necessary deal their monarch has cut with Negan in order to avoid a massacre. Secrets are a burden, he says to Morgan, the cost of ruling. It feels disingenuous, the right thing to say, and smacks more of a deliberate cloak that obscures the truth from the community, while protecting his position at it’s head. There is enough in Khary Payton’s performance that he doesn’t come off sinister, so much as too obscure to be true.
So what of that ruling monarch? What are his philosophies? The theme the title alludes to, of feeding from and replenishing the proverbial well, is a functional prerequisite of the post-apocalyptic mythos; everyone must play their part and find a valuable skill for these micro-societies to operate effectively. We have seen numerous iterations of this idea throughout the series, most recently in Alexandria, where the townspeople were forced to up their game and face realities previously ignored, though to what end we don’t yet know.
Negan’s dictatorship demands ‘tributes’, and is more obviously fascist than the seemingly benign if pretentious ruling King Ezekiel appears to favour. And herein lies the conundrum. Negan’s style is violent and tyrannical but believable and effective, an extension of one man’s psychopathy. Ezekiel’s sovereignty, while beneficent and well-meaning, is an act, both pompous and mildly absurd in it’s manner. And therefore, inherently flawed in it’s design. He may hold sway over his court of bland sheep, but this cannot ultimately stand up to the likes of Negan in the broader picture. Hence the tributes.
It’s a sly nod to the man’s capacity for self-knowledge that Ezekiel therefore uses his wits against Negan, sending swine full of rotten zombies as payment. And the episode allows us, through the always canny Carol, a peek at what lies beneath Ezekiel’s regal facade; an Am-Dram ex-zookeeper-cum-Wizard of Oz trying to make the best of a bad situation. This is all well and good, and establishes a connection between he and Carol that runs deeper, presumably, than any other he has, as she knows his real origin story. That he offers her a reasonable alternative to simply bailing – a quiet cottage outside but nearby The Kingdom where she can enjoy the solace she needs to recover – also speaks well of his character judgement, naming her need having seen through her own performance as twin-set-Carol.
With training and collaboration with Hilltop and Alexandria, perhaps The Kingdom is a promising new avenue for retaliation against Negan. All well and good, sure. Is “The Well” a welcome change of pace after unrelenting slaughter and misery? Certainly. But a distinctly over-bearing tone and some ropey subtext-dialogue rob the episode of being a truly satisfying introduction to a new world.
Review by Nina Clark
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