“There’s still people out there, and they’re still people. We should bring em in.”
With the first half of season six having covered a tumultuous three days or so of peril, last week’s mid-season opener provided a capstone, and this week saw The Walking Dead’s heroes getting to relax for a while, and take stock. While Angela Kang’s script was a fairly conventional A Plot/B Plot mix, this actually felt like an out of format episode, for one simple reason – the gang were actually happy.
After five and a half seasons of relentless bleakness, despair and nihilism, nothing could have felt weirder. I mean let’s face it – have we ever seen Rick Grimes actually smile before? The show could have repeated the earlier trick and strung out the days following Carl’s injury with endless tension as to whether he’d survive, but we’d been there before (not least after he was shot in season two).
Instead, we’d obviously leaped forward a few months; Carl was on the mend, Rick had started a family photo collection, and was annoying Daryl with his hitherto unrevealed fondness for classic rockabilly music. The ep even opened with Boston’s classic power ballad ‘More Than A Feeling’, a far cry from the show’s usual repertoire of mournful acoustic indie music.
The net effect was to make Alexandria actually feel properly like a home, after all the doubt and mistrust following the gang’s arrival halfway through the previous season. The horde of Walkers having been dispatched last week, this period of calm allowed our guys to relax and show facets of their characters previously unsuspected. It also means that we’re more emotionally invested in their new setting, presumably just in time for a whole new bunch of shit to hit the fan.
That felt like a while off this week, though, as the script also served to introduce another favourite character from the original comics – the actual Jesus. In the comics, his real name is Paul Monroe, but here he was renamed Paul Rovia; presumably to avoid confusion with the recently much-reduced Monroe family who previously ran Alexandria.
You never quite know whether the show is going to faithfully adapt the comics, or take familiar premises into unexpected new directions; but Jesus seemed pretty much the guy comics readers have come to know. British actor Tom Payne certainly looked the part, worlds away from his earlier role as student heart throb in BBC school drama Waterloo Road. This also makes him one of the show’s growing quotient of British actors playing American, along with Andrew Lincoln, Lennie James, Lauren Cohan, and previously David Morrissey.
The Jesus of the comics is much like the guy we saw here – smart, confident, a badass at weaponless martial arts. He’s also, in the comics, gay – which may set the cat among the pigeons for those homophobic fans who found Aaron and Eric’s rather chaste kiss so upsetting last season! It remains to be seen whether this will be true of the TV version, but I don’t see why not. It does mean, though, that the diversity scales continue to improve, what with three gay men, two gay women, and a real melting pot of ethnicities. It’s a far cry from the days of the show only allowing one black guy at a time, then hardly giving him any lines (hello, T-Dog).
The cat and mouse game between Jesus, Rick and Daryl was entertaining without feeling particularly tense – you never felt that Jesus was an actual threat. If anything, it served to underline how Rick and Daryl’s views had swapped since the early part of the season. Daryl’s newfound mistrust of strangers effectively combined with Jesus’ nefarious truck-stealing efforts to deny either of them the van full of food they’d found – surely a lesson about co-operation there.
The B Plot, meanwhile, saw a focus on Michonne, Spencer, Carl and Enid, as all four went for a wander in the woods behind the walls to confront their respective demons. It was a more solemn, mournful bit of character exploration than Rick and Daryl’s amusing antics with Jesus; and showed again the show’s attention to detail when a major character has been reanimated as a Walker. The dialogue between Michonne and Spencer was so freighted with references to the recently-deceased Deanna that no amount of camera coyness from director Kari Skogland made it a surprise when she turned up as a shambling Walker.
I’ll admit, I was a little surprised the show got an actor of Tovah Feldshuh’s calibre to return just for a wordless (well, growling) cameo. But it’s consistent with the show giving that kind of closure – remember Michonne dealing with the unfortunate severed head of Hershel Greene? It was a nice bit of writing that Spencer’s need for closure with the mercy killing of his mother fed into the growing bonds between all these characters, as Michonne reassured Spencer that, while his actual family may all be dead now, he’s still part of a family of survivors.
That also played into Carl’s admission that he considers Michonne part of his family – the apparent new token of familial love being a willingness to put down the reanimated corpses of loved ones. Well, in this new world, why not? And it’s just as well Carl is now so fond of Michonne, what with the show’s new stability allowing her to finally get together with Rick. That pairing, which I’m sure the shippers will already be calling ‘Richonne’, wasn’t entirely out of the blue, but it’s definitely a departure from the comics where the two are very close friends but nothing more. Either way, it gave us possibly the show’s first ever ‘humorous’ cliffhanger, as the startled pair jumped naked out of bed to greet the ever-genial Jesus – I wonder where that’s going next week?
Gore of the week
Well, practically none. Hardly surprising given the ep’s atypical portrayal of the gang actually having a nice time and enjoying life for the first time in about six years. There was, however, one rather impressive Walker seemingly missing most of its throat – a nicely done combination of practical makeup effects and CG:
This ep felt weird (not that there was anything wrong with it), as I don’t think I’ve ever found myself smiling as the characters enjoyed themselves in the entire history of the show. This being The Walking Dead, though, I doubt this idyllic utopia will be maintained for long. After all, we still haven’t met Negan yet…