“I found myself. Some version of myself, a better self. Still, it always feels like it could just be swept away again. But that doesn’t mean it will, and it doesn’t mean I couldn’t find myself again if it does.”
It suddenly occurred to me, watching this episode, that this season of The Walking Dead is nearly at an end – only two more eps to go after this one. I really hadn’t noticed, as the increasingly draggy All Out War plot has shown very little sign of building momentum, just ambling along, mostly uninterestingly, with no apparent end in sight. If it was World War 2, it would be early 1943 – each side has had some significant gains and losses, but palpable victory for either doesn’t seem in sight yet.
That said, this lower key episode, scripted by Eddie Guzelian, managed to be rather more interesting than the (largely unlit) furious battle of last week. There may not have been bullets (or tainted sharp objects) flying through the air left right and centre, but the focus on the characters was far more subtle – and far more rewarding.
It also felt like it had more focus, as there was an actual theme tying together all the characters’ narratives. It was all about family, Rick and Morgan musing on how their respective sons (both now dead) have influenced their actions, while a surprisingly sanguine Negan bared his soul to the bitter Jadis about his (now dead) wife. Who, unsurprisingly, turns out to have been called Lucille.
I’m not sure I’m buying the idea of a repentant Negan, at least not at this stage of the proceedings. But Jeffrey Dean Morgan just about managed to pull off a quieter, more contemplative performance than usual as the captive warlord – no mean feat when you’re tied to a trolley. It was telling that he still seemed to have the upper hand, but I’m not sure I’m convinced that Jadis would give up her revenge quite so easily, no matter how convincing Negan’s reasons.
At least he has reasons, though. The season has done a reasonable job of depicting him not solely as a post-apocalyptic thug, but a man with an ideology. He honestly thinks he’s doing the right thing, no matter how brutal his methods. That’s what distinguishes him from his rival Simon, who basically is just another warlord. I’m still unconvinced, though, that Negan’s apparently sincere desire to do the best for his fellow man squares with the unpredictable psycho who took such delight in bashing in Glenn and Abraham’s heads though.
Rick’s character arc was perhaps more believable, but actually less interesting, because we’ve been here before with him. Yes, Raging Rick was very much in evidence this week, not helped by the fact that he ended up paired with Mad Morgan. His refusal (at first) to read Carl’s letter to him was presumably that it contained more advice along the lines Carl had offered while dying – and that’s not Rick’s usual reaction to being hurt. No, as with the death of Lori, the previous threats to Carl, and various other things that have hurt his sensitive soul, his first reaction was to go out and kill things.
‘Things’ in this case being the escaped former prisoners from the Hilltop. Again, we were reminded of the past as Rick offered them a deal if they worked together – specifically his offer to the Governor just before hell broke loose at the prison. That Rick was being sincere (and the Governor called him a liar), but it came as very little shock that this one really wasn’t. I couldn’t quite make out what his skull-crushed first victim mumbled as he died, but I’m pretty sure I made out the word “after” – specifically recalling Carl’s belief that, “there has to be something after”.
The point of pairing him with the increasingly bonkers Morgan was transparently to demonstrate to him where this path would take him. Hence, Morgan’s revelation that his mercy towards Rick – right back in the very first episode – was specifically because his son was with him, and he was motivated to be a better man as a result. Yes, it’s a bit pat, but it’s better psychology than much of what the show’s had on display lately. It was no surprise to see Rick finally reading his son’s letter after that.
Carol too was affected by the family she’d lost, her confession about her daughter to Ezekiel this week being translated into a very protective maternal attitude towards Henry. It was notable that while Rick and Morgan went charging off after the Saviors, it was Carol who stayed looking for the little boy. Her enraged destruction at the Walkers setting about him was perfectly in character – we know Carol can be fierce – but the ever-effective Melissa McBride sold it just as much as a motherly moment as a violent one.
Gore of the week
Jadis peculiar art installation of course:
What exactly was she planning to do with it?
But the best had to be Morgan’s extremely satisfying revenge on the slimy Jared, literally holding his hand as the undead bit chunks off him:
Only two more eps to go, and as I said at the outset, I can’t help feeling little sense of excitement at the development of this season’s draggy plot. This was a better ep than some recently (not that that’s saying much), but again the fixation with the past led to the inevitable comparison with earlier, better seasons against which this one comes off looking tame and repetitive.
That said, I enjoyed the character work here, and it did introduce a few intriguing unresolved questions to be answered later. Will Negan enact a satisfying revenge against Simon? Well, that’s fairly predictable, but it does highlight how much more interesting the ‘villains’ are than the ‘heroes’. But who was the mysterious, worse for wear hitchhiker Negan was so pleased to see? Dwight? Jadis? A risen dead version of an important character? Who at this point still has the wherewithal to be flying a helicopter around, and how does Jadis know about them? With the All Out War becoming an All Out Bore, I can only hope these are more seeds of more interesting plotlines to come.