The Walking Dead S8E04: Some Guy
Now four episodes into the eighth season, The Walking Dead has finally struck a terrific combination of action, suspense, and emotion. In my notes for the episode I wrote a character’s name in all-caps twice. Once in exclamation, the other in desperation. If you’ve watched I’m sure you know who they are. Suffice it to say this episode checked almost every box it needed to.
Director Dan Liu, in this his Walking Dead directorial debut, created a beautiful contrast in the opening scene wherein he pits the kingdom rallying to Ezekiel in a moment of unity, against four soldiers giving their life and piling on top of Ezekiel in a moment of tragedy. The use of music to build the emotional swell during Ezekiel‘s speech to his community and following that with an abrupt ‘thud’ when cutting to the pile of bodies really set the stage for the remainder of the episode. As the kingdom soldiers who have been mowed down by the Browning machine guns begin to turn, a real sense of dread sets into Ezekiel. You can see it on actor Khary Payton’s face as he crawls away in fear. All of his confidence, all of his “and yet I smile” persona is stripped away as he scrambles for his life. This is just the beginning of Ezekiel’s identity crisis in this episode.
Elsewhere, Carol is doing what Carol does; she dispatches of five men at once and nearly takes control of the machine guns. While she does get herself into a bind, she finds a way out of it that is both sneaky and smart. In an interesting moment for her, she must choose between securing the guns and saving Ezekiel and Jerry. This isn’t necessarily an automatic choice for Carol. Saving her people might be the right thing to do here, but we’re talking about a woman who, in season 4, killed two of her friends with the flu in order to save the rest of the community. Killing two enemy soldiers and securing those machine guns – to save everyone else from that fate – while Ezekiel and Jerry are torn apart would’ve been a very “Carol” choice to make. But she’s also been brought back to a degree of humanity that doesn’t judge people just on their utility. Ezekiel was key in that turnaround for her.
I think the best thing about this episode is that almost every scene serves as an analysis of the identity of the characters it’s focused on while maintaining the plot and executing coherent action scenes. Save for Rick and Daryl’s short chase-down scene at the end, every moment was filled with a character questioning or confirming who they are. For Jerry, he is the servant of his King. This is was drives him forward even though deep down he knows how silly it all is. When Ezekiel refused the label of king, Jerry exclaims, “Dude! Yes, you are.” In this he says as much about himself, his loyalty and passion and heart, as he does about Ezekiel. For Carol, she makes a choice that helps solidify her character without sacrificing any of the skills we’re used to seeing out of her. This choice is also set against Ezekiel, before the battle, explaining to her how his choices helped form who is was. He convicted her that she has done the same; she’s chosen who to be in this world. Sure, things happen that are out of our control, but we shouldn’t believe that our character is molded for us. The choices we make in the toughest of situations weigh heavily on who we become.
This identity analysis is most clear in Ezekiel; first his army is taken from him, then a random savior takes him hostage and taunts his kingship, then he loses Shiva. Nearly everything associated with who he is has been stripped from him. Only a crown being removed from his head would make it more clear. When the episode closes on him walking alone through the people of the Kingdom, we see how he feels and (potentially) how others view him; alone and powerless. His army is gone, his façade is exposed, his power and influence now dead with Shiva. Who is he now?
While none of us will (probably) have to watch our army be mowed down and our pet tiger be ripped to shreds, the question of “who am I?” is an eternally relatable one. What, or whom, defines who we are? What do we tie our identity to? Like Ezekiel, is our identity tied to something temporal and material? Is it tied to our own strength, something that will eventually wane? Is it tied to a lifestyle we desire, or something we must experience? If so, we should recognize that such identification is vain. People will fail us, desires will changes, experiences are unreliable, and our strength will falter. Only one thing in this world is worth identity-establishing association; Jesus. He is the beginning and the end, He is the Word of power, He is the author of our salvation. If we don’t find our identity in Him, we aren’t finding anything worth holding on to.
My Rating: A
Like I said, this episode struck the perfect balance of action, suspense, and emotion. This show is at its best when it can balances the story on human questions, and this episode accomplished that. I was very happy to see Shiva meet her end as she did in the comics; saving the one who saved her. It was great to see Jerry get lots of screen time. And wrapping it up with Rick and Daryl securing the machine guns was a nice reward for Carol’s choice to save her friends. What’s most important is how this episode made me forget about complaints from the last two episodes; namely that we still have Negan and Gabriel stuck in a room together. If I can be made to forget about that, the episode is doing it’s job.