We got The Walking Dead‘s equivalent of The Battle of Helm’s Deep this week, as Hilltop found itself under siege from The Saviors – led not by Negan, but by the arguably scarier Simon. With a reluctant Dwight in tow, Simon arrived intent on carrying out Negan’s plan to wound as many Hilltoppers as possible, infecting them with contaminated weapons.
It turned out Maggie had a plan too, but hers was based on luring Negan into the gates so he could see Glenn’s grave as Maggie killed him, regardless of the cost to her community. And I thought Maggie was the sensible one! The odds seemed stacked in her favour at first. Daryl ambushed The Saviors on his bike, driving them inside the perimeter. Once they were inside, they were met with eerie silence and darkness, followed by a hail of bullets from the barricades.
But while The Saviors suffered losses, the damage to Hilltop was done, as several of the wounded inside the main house were as good as dead. Tobin – probably the last of the original Alexandrians at this point – was the first to turn after getting stabbed with a knife covered in walker guts. After a brief heart to heart with Carol, he became a rampaging biter, and soon all Hell was breaking loose.
While this was largely an action piece, there were some interesting dynamics at work. Dwight, having pledged himself to Rick’s cause, was stuck on the wrong side, and it remains to be seen whether his shooting Tara with an arrow was actually an act of friendship. I’d be prepared to bet that Dwight didn’t dip his arrowheads in infected blood, and was actually saving Tara’s life, and Tara certainly seemed convinced he was fighting for Hilltop. In a weird reversal of stances, she claimed she would hate him forever, but now accepted his allegiance with Team Rick, while Daryl was all set to take Dwight out.
There were more three-sixties happening outside as young Henry decided he was no longer satisfied with Carol and Morgan’s story that it was Gavin who killed Benjamin, and stole a gun in order to interrogate The Saviors in the outside pen. Although Gregory tried to talk him down, the youngster ended up opening the enclosure, allowing several of the prisoners to escape. Sensitive Alden and some of his pals, however, decided to stay and defend Hilltop, so it’s only a matter of time before young Alden is helping Maggie get over her widowhood – you mark my words. Of course, Henry should never have been left unattended, but I guess Carol had other things on her mind, what with the mansion crawling with zombies, and Morgan was busy being plagued by the ghost of Gavin who had a none-too-subtle message for him.
Meanwhile, Siddiq was still doing his best to be accepted into the fold. Unfortunately, his exhange with the ill-fated Dana in the infirmary was some of the worst dialogue I think I’ve ever seen on this show. Firstly, why the actual flip has there been so much hoo-ha about getting a doctor to Hilltop for Maggie when they already bloody had one?! And secondly, bullying the rookie until he snaps and defends himself with flagrant disregards for authority, then pausing meaningfully before saying, “I like you!” is such a cliche that I had to rewind and make sure I hadn’t imagined it. I kept expecting Dana to go full Negan and start talking about the size of Siddiq’s balls. Alongside spectre-Gavin’s increasingly urgent “You know what it is!” and Maggie muttering “The cost!” in the closing scene, “Do Not Send Us Astray” felt like bad am-dram Shakespeare in places.
It wasn’t all terrible. The horror of people turning quickly and quietly, feasting on those who were asleep and unaware of the approaching danger was genuinely creepy, and we haven’t seen that device for a long time. I got some serious Hershel flashbacks when Rick had to start hacking bitten limbs off, and I like the fact that we know Rick got injured with a dirty weapon and it’s been left ambiguous as to how that will play out. There were some decent performances too. Melissa McBride continues to steal every scene she’s in, and Alanna Masterson clawed back some of my sympathy for Tara.
But overall, this episode left me cold. Many of the main characters we know and are invested in – Michonne, Ezekiel, even Jesus – were around but had very little to do. “Do Not Send Us Astray” was largely populated by disposable, tertiary players, many of whom I can’t even recall having seen onscreen before, and it was glaringly obvious from the outset that they were collateral damage. Maggie tried to look mildly sad about having essentially sacrificed a bunch of farmers in the final shots, but it’s hard to reconcile the hopeful woman who accepted The Key last week with this vengeful version. We’ve been promised a battle to end the long-running war for so long now, I can hardly remember a time before it, but sadly this week’s episode didn’t deliver it.
Final Grade: C-
+ It was good to see some smart(ish) planning in places, such as letting The Saviors inside, then ambushing them, thus ensuring the gates stayed intact.
+ The scenes of carnage inside the mansion were well executed.
– I’m still finding it hard to understand why people are so surprised undead bodily fluids spread zombification. I get that Negan planned to wound rather than kill the Hilltoppers so they’d turn slowly and unexpectedly within the walls, but how come no one has made the connection between the fevers and what happens when people are bitten?
– Some truly awful dialogue made me laugh in what could have been an episode big on scares.
– Some really dumb decisions were made in the name of plot this week as well: Henry being left unsupervised. Henry choosing to open the gate instead of shooting through the massive holes in the mesh! Tara having a change of heart about Dwight right after he shot her. And so on, and so forth.
Extra Thought: Gregory seems to have hightailed it with the escaped Saviors. It will be interesting to see how long he lasts at The Sanctuary.
What did you think? Will Tara make it? Will Rick? Will Maggie and Alden become the post-apocalyptic answer to Romeo and Juliet? What the Hell was Michonne doing with that turnip? Sound off in the comments, or over on Twitter.