From the show’s IMDB.com page citation:
“Maggie and Negan carry out an attack, but not everything unfolds according to plan; Ginny and Armstrong each make unexpected contact with others.”
Sometimes, the best a writer can do is play with the expectations of an audience.
In fairness, such a writer might do this for any number of reasons. Perhaps he’s kept his own eyes on the end game; knowing precisely where a journey is heading allows him the opportunity to engage in what might look narrative craziness or even the occasional character development. Perhaps he’s really already played his cards, and now he has to pad the running time in order to make the entire affair last the entire six-episode run when, say, four hours was more than enough. Or maybe he’s got very little left in the creative tank, resorting to storytelling trickery that he hopes might elevate his work to untold heights in the minds of whoever’s watching at this particular time and place.
Scribe Eli Jorne (along with whoever else has been dabbling in this incarnation of The Walking Dead) spent the larger part of the previous three episodes building up to what we were lead to believe was going to be a monumental showdown between the program’s two chief baddies: Negan – whom we know – and ‘The Croat’ – whom we really don’t know all that much about. But because the audience has some working familiarity with Negan I think it’s safe to say that – with all of this build-up – the expectations should’ve been reasonably high. After all, we did see (in Episode 2) that our much beloved bad-guy-turned-somewhat-good was willing to intestinally gut a man right before our very eyes as a threat to what was in store, so – yes – I do think it’s safe to say we were promised something big, bold, and brash.
The big moment arrived. Negan and ‘The Croat’ finally came face-to-face in the seminal showdown titled "Everybody Wins A Prize." Granted, they weren’t exactly close enough to make physical contact with one another, but words were exchanged.
Dare I say that I was … underwhelmed?
Dead City doesn’t seem to be all that interested in answering questions. Instead – as I’ve pointed out in previous reviews – the show looks entirely invested in using the same bag of tricks that, sadly, got its predecessor shows (i.e. The Walking Dead, Fear The Walking Dead, and Walking Dead: World Beyond) into the storytelling mire each of them has enjoyed respectively. (No, folks, that’s not an insult, and it’s just a statement of fact.) It’s almost as if everyone involved in crafting these installments is given a checklist, instructing them to have X number of flashbacks and/or callbacks every so many minutes, or nothing else will get to broadcast. Some might suggest that’s TWD’s branding; I say it’s a pretty shallow existence … which it is, being that it’s pretty much ‘dead,’ right?
So the outcome of being where we are at this point in TWD’s wider mythology is playing with the expectations of the audience.
Bet you didn’t expect Simon (played by Steven Ogg) to make a return after being killed off so many seasons ago?
Bet you didn’t expect Negan and ‘The Croat’ to verbally hug it out?
Bet you didn’t expect Maggie and Negan would change places, requiring her to protect Negan’s surrogate daughter Ginny (Mahina Napoleon) while her son remains missing?
Bet you didn’t expect that Negan would have to save one of his other mortal enemies – Marshal Armstrong (Gaius Charles) – only have the man turns the tables on him?
Bet you didn’t expect our merry band of rebels would have to take refuge inside Madison Square Garden’s caged octagon at the eleventh hour?
Bet you didn’t expect Tommaso (Jonathan Higginbotham) would somehow miraculously survive the all-out zombie assault we saw him suffer onscreen to show up and save the group?
Now, mark my words: I’m not trying to suggest in any way that there’s anything wrong with incorporating welcome surprises with one’s storytelling. Surprises – in the real world – are often used to great effect, giving audiences some delightful moments to gasp and reflect over, and they can also provide a second or two of relief if not to get us cheering from our cheap seats. But when it appears that all a program has left in the tank are surprises – some predictable, some not – then maybe it’s time to really ask how much of this is truly worth the expense?
Characters deserve better … as do watchers.
In the interests of fairness, I’m thrilled to disclose that – like so many of you – I’ve simply recorded and watched The Walking Dead: Dead City’s “Everybody Wins A Prize” (S01E03) as it aired on AMC, so I’m beholden to no one to provide a review other than myself.