Having spent weeks drilling down into the details of war, this episode took a step back to establish the bigger picture in the aftermath of the various assaults on The Saviors. While this provided a chance for much-needed emotional re-connection with some of the core characters, as well as giving a bit of clarity to the narrative, it also highlighted some of the problems blighting this season.
We started with the three communities checking in with each other via the slightly clumsy device of letters (I’m not entirely sure how they got delivered or how much time had past since the last installment), and Carol, Maggie, and Rick recounting their personal victories and losses. In The Kingdom, Ezekiel was slumped in his throne room, sadly holding Shiva’s chain, leaving Carol to run things while faithful Jerry stood guard. Unsurprisingly, Melissa McBride‘s performance was one of the best things about this episode, and both her scenes with young Henry and her quietly commanding appeal to Ezekiel to fake it til he makes it were genuinely moving. Out of the ‘old guard’, Carol has remained the most nuanced and complex of characters, and it’s a testament to McBride’s talent that she can be both singularly unlikable and able to draw tears out of me. Props also must go to Khary Payton for making The King both believable and sympathetic.
Over at Hill Top, The Widow was struggling with the moral dilemma posed by Jesus having spared their Savior captives. On the one hand, Maggie couldn’t justify bringing dangerous men inside the gates and wasting food on them, but having kept them alive for so long, the alternative would have seemed particularly cruel and unusual. Gregory’s suggestion that they build a gallows seemed momentarily possible as Jesus waited out the night with the prisoners, listening to the ominous sounds of construction work coming through the fence, but Maggie was actually building a holding pen instead. It seemed odd to me that the would-be escapee Savior was allowed to live. At the risk of sounding like Negan, making an example of him would surely have mitigated the threat of an uprising. Maggie’s decision to shove Gregory in the makeshift prison was more understandable, as was her admission that she was keeping The Saviors hostage in case they were needed as bargaining chips. There’s definitely scope for a showdown between Maggie and Jesus in the near future, especially if Jesus gets any friendlier with Savior, Dillion. Anyone else sensing the chemistry there?
As for Rick, (surely he could have been given a more badass moniker for the sake of the episodic title?!) he was inexplicably back at the trash heap community, offering the treacherous Jadis another deal. That’s right, even though the Heapsters’ betrayal almost got his own son killed, not to mention his girlfriend, Rick was still adamant he needed them to join his squad. The dialogue here was even more ridiculous than in previous dealings with Jadis’ crew, and made even less sense. And at the end of it all, Rick found himself stripped naked and locked in a metal container for his troubles. Good grief. Rick’s characterisation has suffered this season. Andrew Lincoln is a fine actor, but I’m finding it increasingly difficult to remember why I care about Rick.
Carl, by contrast, has become much more likeable in recent times. He was back after his prolonged absence this week, tracking and befriending the mysterious Siddiq, whom Rick chased off in the season opener. Siddiq, it transpired, had lost his family, and was continuing his mother’s habit of putting down as many walkers as possible in the hope that it would help their souls find release. Avi Nash made Siddiq seem genuine and immediately relatable, and I did enjoy the burgeoning relationship between the two young men, even though it lead to Carl taking stupid risks.
Elsewhere, several other plot strands only served to complicated an episode which had already bitten off more than it could chew. Michonne was back in the picture, but her trip with Rosita to see The Santuary with their own eyes, and inadvertently thwarting a Savior plan to lure the zombies from their door with giant speakers playing opera along the way, served very little purpose except to allow Rosita a Michael Bay moment when she smoked a bad guy with a rocket launcher. Even more unbelievably, the two women were rescued by Daryl and Tara who’d gone on a little revenge mission of their own and just conveniently happened to be in the vicinity. It seems a shame that Daryl went through a whole season’s arc, carrying the weight of guilt over Glen and Abraham’s deaths only to become a churlish, grunting, nihilistic asshole this year. It’s like he’s learnt nothing from his previous mistakes.
Aaron and Enid also set off on a mini-mission of their own, although Aaron wasn’t forthcoming with the details and Enid didn’t think to ask. Again, it seems bizarre to me that they would both take off for an indeterminate period, leaving Maggie to deal with the prisoner quandary and to fret over their disappearance.
But despite the amount of WTAF? in this episode, I did find myself caring more about certain characters than I have in recent memory. There were some moments of jeopardy (even if they were largely self-inflicted and unnecessary), and it was good to take stock of where everyone was after weeks of relentless shoot-outs and a choppy timeline.
Final Grade: C
+ It was satisfying seeing Gregory’s shock at being incarcerated after he thought he’d convinced Maggie that she should kill the prisoners.
+ Although Carol seems to be some kind of weird post-Apocalyptic Pied Piper, her screen time with Henry and Ezekiel gave us some moments of real pathos.
+ It had nothing to do with anything, but the rocket launcher was pretty awesome.
– Rick’s letter claimed The Sanctuary was being guarded around the clock by snipers, so in that case, how did they miss Negan and Gabe busting in after escaping the besieged trailer??
– Jadis and the trash people are irredeemably awful at this point.
– Lots of characters making questionable decisions in this episode, especially Daryl, who seems to have decided to go rogue at this point in proceedings for no clear reason that I can see.
Extra Thought: It seems strange to introduce a new character such as Siddiq at this point, when the show is already juggling more characters than it can manage. There must be a good reason for his presence, so maybe there’s more to him than meets the eye…
What did you think? Did this episode leave you as despondent as Ezekiel, or as hyped as Jadis with a naked Rick in her box? Sound off in the comments or over on Twitter!