“I get what you’re trying to do here, and it’s the right thing. But maybe for some of them – they’re just not ready for it.”
Showrunner Angela Kang took a backseat after last week’s underwhelming season opener for veteran (and lengthily named) scripter David Leslie Johnson-McGoldrick this week. And the result was an episode that, while ostensibly more low key, felt a lot more satisfying. Yes, there were still multiple narratives, but these ones were more satisfyingly intertwined than last time. The pacing was better too; rather than starting with the action then tailing off to the talking, this one built up the other way round.
There was another time jump too, as it became clear this ep was set about a month after the last. At least at this point, either there’s not much happening or the plan is to encompass a much longer period of time than in previous seasons. It’s a world away from the beginning of season 6, the first 8 episodes of which took place over roughly a day and a half.
This ep, though, took place over the course of a single day, recounted by Rick to an unseen figure in a dark room who was obviously Negan from the get-go. That bridge that featured so heavily last week was again the centre of attention, its function as a literal bridge between the federation of trading communities spelled out overtly by Ezekiel rather than last week’s heavy-handed metaphor.
It was obviously still a metaphor of sorts in the sense that several of the communities were working to fix it, and a more disunited crew you’d be hard pressed to find. As I predicted last week, Justin (as played by the excellent Zach McGowan) was the focal point of the discontent, and spent much of the episode (deservedly) on the receiving end of Daryl’s fists. But Daryl’s discontent is growing too, and while Rick may no longer be oblivious, he doesn’t seem that eager to sort it out. I’d guess that’s going to come back and bite him.
As in the show’s better eps, moral questions were being asked throughout. Particularly at the Hilltop, after Maggie’s drastic solution to the ‘Gregory problem’ last week. Kudos to Lauren Cohan and Danai Gurira for that quiet scene on the balcony as Maggie and Michonne discussed the validity of the execution, and, if people seemed irredeemable, “who gets to decide?”. It was notable that Maggie took this as something to ponder rather than simply asserting her authority. Logically, it’s a good question, and if civilisation is being rebuilt, some kind of law and order clearly needs establishing soon.
There were some good character moments throughout, but notably in the early part of the ep before the pace built up steam. Maggie’s other good scene was with the repentant Earl, as played by John Finn, where his honest account of his alcoholism obviously touched a nerve regarding her own father. It was interesting to note that, together with Rick’s later reminiscences about his life as a cop, there was a fair bit of dwelling on the pre-apocalyptic past. That’s an interesting contrast to Rick’s apparent optimism for the future, and casts some doubt on it.
As, of course, did Negan. He’s obviously not mellowed, but remains an interesting character; Jeffrey Dean Morgan, in shadow throughout, retains that charisma that’s made him so popular. His predictions of doom were of course cynical and nihilistic; but then again, Rick’s sunny optimism doesn’t seem all that realistic either. I’m guessing the clash between the two viewpoints will be the focus of quite a few of these little chats later on.
Ezekiel continued to seal his doom by further cementing his relationship with Carol, as she hesitantly decided to take his ring after all, just to try it on for size. Actually this was a touching little scene, well played by Melissa McBride and Khary Payton, and featured one of the show’s all too rare ventures into humour – “But I wrote you a speech!” “Of course you did”. The occasional smile in the midst of the show’s often gruelling revels in depression can feel like a real ray of sunshine.
But this is of course a zombie show, and when the Walkers finally showed up (more than halfway through the episode), the attack neatly foregrounded the character conflict established earlier. So, Justin’s apparent negligence in failing to lead the herd away from the work crew resulted in likeable-but-dull Aaron losing an arm, while Justin found himself on the wrong end of Daryl’s fists again.
It was a good action sequence capably directed by (the also lengthily named) Daisy von Scherler Mayer, but it was notable that it advanced the plot as well, further tearing the rift open between Daryl and Rick while properly establishing Justin as a wrong ‘un. The scene as Rick banished him was a proper restatement of Rick’s principles rather than just the pretty oratory he’s mostly been spewing of late.
And it does feel like the plot is starting to move, rather than just slow burning. The unexpected reappearance of Jadis chatting up Father Gabriel sounded alarm bells straight away, and so it should. The end of the ep featured her apparently signalling to that mysterious helicopter we previously saw picking her up from the junkyard – who are they? What do they want? How have they got fuel while Rick and the gang have to ride around on horseback? And crucially, given that Negan at least saw it last season, why is nobody talking about it?
Maybe it’s got something to do with the similarly mysterious Georgie, who’s still corresponding with Maggie; but I doubt it. No, the fact that Jadis basically inveigled herself into the position of being on watch so that she could see the copter makes it all look very shady indeed. As was the attack on the departing Justin by an unseen figure. It’s obviously not Daryl or Rick, because Justin greeted whoever it was like a friend. So why would a friend of his attack him? Mysteries rather than just slow-building resentment are so much more satisfying as plot points.
Gore of the week
Another not especially gory episode, though Daryl certainly looked cool with his two handed knife takedown of a pair of Walkers.
And of course the head-squelching got escalated to a whole new level once Rick took the approach of using rolling logs to take down the undead (and how good a shot must he be to have taken out that rope on only the second attempt?). It did seem rather curious that the heads were the only part of the Walkers damaged by logs heavy enough to destroy Aaron’s arm though.
Said arm was the only bit of gore in the ep that was suffered by a living human being rather than a walking corpse, and also served to show how Enid has become rather a good battlefield medic in a surprisingly short space of time. As ever, it’s the damage to the actual characters that carries more weight, and well done to Ross Marquand for making you really believe this hurt.
For me this was a far more satisfying ep than last week, better structured, better paced, and with more intriguing shades of grey to the characters. I’m also encouraged that there seem to be the beginnings of some actual plots, rather than just simmering resentments that will have to boil over at some point. It’s not the show’s greatest, but it does give me some hope that this new beginning might actually have some potential.