“Everything just feels wrong.”
Another week, another community menaced by the Saviors. In this week’s The Walking Dead, it was the turn of the Hilltop to be menaced by Negan’s ever-helpful ambassadors, in an ep that did a great deal for developing characters we already knew but not very well; along with answering the mystery of just where Maggie had got to while the Alexandrians were cleverly pretending she was dead.
Those character beats helped disguise the fact that, in essence, this ep was practically a carbon copy of the one before; only the setting was different. And while Negan himself may not have been present, the enlargement of his lieutenant Simon’s character revealed that the mantra really was true – they are all Negan. Simon (Steven Ogg) even looks like him, with his permanent grin and piratical tache.
None of which helped to disguise the familiarity of the ep’s premise, from merely the week before. However, it did give us greater insight into the Hilltop’s two (apparently only) major characters – Gregory and Jesus.
In that regard, one was more successful than the other. We’ve seen before that Gregory is a slimy douchebag with misogyny and cowardice issues, and infact it’s necessary that he should be for the ongoing plotline. Still, though the reliably slimy Xander Berkeley does all he can with the part, it comes across as rather too broadly drawn – a caricature rather than a character. It’s mildly amusing that he can’t remember Maggie’s name once, maybe even twice, but constantly? If he’s as overbearing a lecher as they’re drawing him, he’d probably know that remembering a woman’s name is the first step to making a pass at her.
If Gregory comes across as a little too broad a character to be believable, that was at least counterbalanced by some convincing depth given to Jesus. Let’s face it, in the comics Jesus is a little bit too good to be true – a man of peace with a kick-ass talent in martial arts, always wise and thoughtful, at peace with himself and (unusually) a well-adjusted gay man. Channing Powell’s script retains much of that, but gives Jesus a more believable set of flaws.
This is a man who is demonstrably better-suited to lead the Hilltop than Gregory, but doesn’t want the responsibility, or to be tied down. All well and good, and certainly many of us would identify with it. But in the current circumstance, where people’s lives could depend on him, it also comes across as flawed and selfish. Tom Payne (another Brit expat in the cast) managed to convey that Jesus realised that and felt guilty about it. He’s easy on the eye too; I have a thing for guys with long hair and beards. Though I recall him looking pretty nice when all clean-cut in BBC drama Waterloo Road too…
He did at least manage to save Maggie and Sasha when the Saviors came calling, a neat contrast to the weak Gregory’s display of cowardice and ingratiation in trying to turn them in. It was a tense moment as Gregory opened that closet; but not as tense as anything in last week’s episode. While we already know that Rick is thoroughly cowed by Negan (or at least playing it very convincingly), there was never any real doubt in my mind that Jesus would find a way around Gregory’s order to keep their visitors in a handy cupboard.
It seemed rather a shame that, in a show full of strong female characters, the Hilltop’s only significant ones were male. It fell to the Alexandrians to fly that flag, with strong showings from Maggie, Sasha, and even Enid in the ep’s B plot. Maggie in particular managed to balance her grief over Glenn’s death with a convincing show of defiance – not just against Negan but also the spineless Gregory.
Referring to herself as “Maggie Rhee” (the only time, I think, that Glenn’s surname has ever been mentioned either in the comics or the show), she’s clearly, and understandably, not yet thinking straight. The reliable Lauren Cohan portrayed that well, her character alternating between weeping and anger. It was left to Sasha to provide the clear thought and stability for her friend, nicely demonstrated in the ep’s exciting action sequence as she took on the invading Walkers hand to hand while Maggie, regardless of personal safety, charged them with a giant tractor.
Enid, meanwhile, continued her usual teen angst, convincingly taken to extremes given the post-apocalyptic scenario. The subplot of her and Carl making their way to the Hilltop was slight but enjoyable, and further developed the relationship between the two. Let’s face it, they’re well-matched. She had the good sense to tell Carl to stay outside; he had the foolhardiness to stow away in the back of the Saviors’ truck. I know which one I think has more common sense. But at least Carl got his first kiss. Awww.
Gore of the week
As usual, even in a character-driven ep, the show’s trademark violent demises (for Walkers at least) were present and correct. Kudos to director Darnell Martin for a well-choregraphed action scene when the Walkers were lured into the camp by the sound of Sibelius (good taste, those Saviors). That led to some fun mayhem, particularly the Walker/tractor interface.
Carl’s earlier stunt with that decrepit Ford Crown Victoria was nicely gooshy too:
All told not a bad ep, though certainly flawed, this suffers from being in such close proximity to the very similar ep the week before. A few weeks in between and that might not have been so obvious, but with the end of the ep featuring Jesus and Carl on their way to Savior HQ, there probably wasn’t anywhere else this one could go. Some good character development, especially Jesus, Maggie and Enid, but I think showrunner Scott Gimple should probably have worked to make the premise a little different from the last one.