Surely, there’s never been an episode of The Walking Dead, through the course of nine seasons, that is more perfectly and stupidly high-concept than “The Storm.” And yea, verily, it shall always be remembered as the fruit of that time when one writer turned to another and said something along the lines of “Well, what about … winter?”
I mean, really. How can you do anything but laugh at The Walking Dead suddenly choosing to explore a concept so basic as “cold weather” after they’ve desperately avoided doing exactly that for the last NINE YEARS? It’s such an obvious hurdle to the plausibility of communities such as Alexandria, The Hilltop and The Kingdom that it’s the kind of thing The Walking Dead has avoided touching with a 10-foot pole in the past, but we’re so clearly beyond the edge of “who gives a damn” at this point that not even the showrunners care about plausibility anymore. Suddenly, winter can be this impossible, horrific burden that can claim entire communities, such as The Kingdom, whose inhabitants are all setting out for The Hilltop en masse. Never mind the fact that in the setting of The Walking Dead, we’re now some 10-11 years into the zombie apocalypse. Never mind the fact that these communities have somehow dealt with TEN WINTERS before, and emerged unscathed. A writer said the word “winter” to another, and now it’s the subject of an episode. Enjoy!
“The Storm” is bookended by narration, like so many Walking Dead episodes, with Ezekiel talking over the radio with another character, who is revealed to be Judith in Alexandria. The big hook at the end of the episode is meant to be the crackle of static and “is anyone out there?” we briefly hear in the closing moments, but come on—we already know full well that there’s another community out there that is somehow continuing to operate helicopters. We know that Rick is out there, after AMC pulled the old bait and switch with Andrew Lincoln’s departure. We know this is all leading in the direction of the TV movies that will star Lincoln and Danai Gurira as Michonne. Every one of us knows this information, but it’s still treated as a bombshell, somehow.
The meat of the episode is the pilgrimage of the population of The Kingdom, which variably switches between “20 people” and “hundreds of people” from shot to shot, as they head out at the worst possible time for The Hilltop, having waited for the dead of winter to make what would otherwise be a short and pleasant walk. It’s unclear how much time has passed since The Whisperers stuck a bunch of secondary characters’ heads on pikes, but it’s been at least a few months, making this the third time skip in the course of a single Walking Dead season. It’s generally unclear where everyone is, but Maggie receives a brief mention—they are apparently “sending letters” to wherever she is, the writers having not yet decided what the hell that means. Personally, I like to imagine that they’re sending letters through time and space to the set of ABC’s Whiskey Cavalier, asking Lauren Cohan to return.
Meanwhile, Lydia is suicidal, Carol is losing her mind yet again and slipping back into hermit-Carol mode, and Judith is running off into a blinding snowstorm in search of a dog who is literally named Dog. Oh, and Negan is a heroic character now. Sure, he was indirectly responsible for the death of Rick’s son, but now he’s saved the life of Rick’s daughter. There’s poetic justice in it, we will admit.
But why talk about things like characters and boring old plot (what little there is) when we can be going into depth discussing how completely, painfully stupid the mere concept of “Walking Dead Winter” truly is? In fact, let’s break out the bullet points.
— Ezekiel is afraid of The Whisperers, saying “we don’t know how to fight them yet!” How hard have you been trying to learn, man? They’re human beings, with masks, who carry knives. They don’t have guns. YOU DO. I suggest you use your guns to shoot them. This isn’t rocket science. Just because you lost your war with The Kingdom’s boilers, and somehow allowed The Whisperers to abduct a bunch of people out of your walled community during a festival, that doesn’t mean you can’t rectify things with judicious use of THE GUNS YOU BUILT A BULLET FACTORY TO SUPPLY.
— Michonne, Ezekiel, Carol and co. debate the danger of venturing out into Whisperer territory, but decide they need to do it because the horrible snowstorm will kill them otherwise. Bear in mind, the people making this discussion are bundled from head to toe in winter coats, hats, gloves and multiple layers. The Whisperers BARELY WEAR FREAKING CLOTHING. Michonne, you’re concerned that The Whisperers are out there, watching you? In the storm that will apparently kill any of your people in minutes? How would people wearing rags and zombie masks, lurching around as slowly as possible, have any chance of immediately not dying in the same storm?
— Oh, never mind. When we visit The Whisperer encampment, there isn’t even the barest suggestion of snow on the ground. I guess everything is fine!
Look, I don’t even know what more to say, here. “The Storm” is arguably as bad and as nonsensical as The Walking Dead has ever been. We’re headed into one more season of Whisperer conflicts, which will be the final one for Danai Gurira before she flies off to the same magical TV movie land as Rick Grimes. But I have no doubt that The Walking Dead will continue to limp on, having left behind any of the characters that anyone gave a damn about.
In the meantime, I’m looking forward to Game of Thrones, another diminished series where at least they spent the majority of seven seasons bemoaning and preparing for the coming of winter before it finally descended on them. On The Walking Dead, on the other hand, you know … winter just happens once every 10 years, in between episodes. And man, is it a pain when that happens.
Jim Vorel is a Paste staff writer and resident horror guru. You can follow him on Twitter for more film and TV writing.