Only a couple of weeks until the season finale, and The Walking Dead gave us another extended episode which threw up more questions than it answered, and spent much of its bloated run-time retreading well-worn ground. It also did something quite remarkable in that “Still Gotta Mean Something” may have irreversibly damaged Rick’s integrity to the point that I’m not sure he can ever be considered the series hero again.
After last week’s attack on Hilltop, Carol and Morgan spoke in vague terms about the state of Morgan’s deteriorating mental health, and whether or not they should look for Henry or give him up for dead, and Tara and Daryl discussed Dwight’s part in saving Tara’s life. In a strange case of role reversal, Daryl now wants Dwight dead for no discernible reason, while Tara’s decided he should be given a pass, despite having murdered Denise in cold blood. Meanwhile, Michonne tried to persuade Rick to read Carl’s last letter, but Rick – presumably knowing it would be another plea for an end to the violence – refused, and instead went to track down the escaped Saviors.
And over at the junkyard, Jadis set about torturing Negan, only nothing quite went as planned. Jadis’ segment started out promisingly enough as we discovered how she managed to survive Simon’s massacre, and there were some tantalising new reveals such as her weirdly clean and minimalist chic container room, and the fact she seemed to be expecting the arrival of a helicopter. Simon’s posse noted the presence of the helipad at the trash heap when they went to kill the Heapsters, and Rick saw a chopper back in episode five of this season. But eagle-eyed viewers noticed something in the sky over the junkyard last year, although it was initially written off as a filming/continuity error. It now seems pretty clear that the Heapsters were somehow involved with the owners of the helicopter, although no answers were forthcoming this week.
Sadly, what could have been some interesting character development turned into a rehash of conversations we’ve heard before. It’s much easier to feel something for Jadis now she’s dropped the strange, stilted speech, but we actually found out very little about her story, and her behavior was wildly inconsistent. For starters, someone smart enough to play dead to avoid being shot probably wouldn’t leave her prisoner – a notoriously slippery character – on a movable cart within easy reach of a weapon, some fire, and her most prized possessions. Nothing about the exchange between her and Negan made much sense. From what I could gather she was planning to burn Lucille in front of him then use the weird trolley zombie to turn him? But Negan replayed the monologue he’d given Gabriel about his wife being called Lucille, and suddenly Jadis left him alone with some precious photos she’d left lying about and a gun. Then a helicopter turned up and missed her even though it was low flying, in broad daylight, and she had a flare. No one came out of these scenes looking particularly clever – not even the mystery pilot.
It was also jarring to me that Negan left Jadis alive with an open offer to join him. We’ve heard countless iterations of his ‘people are a resource’ mantra at this point, but there must come a time when people who repeatedly try to kill you cease to be useful. I think the problem with this episode is Rick’s actions served to highlight just how toothless Negan has become. When he was first introduced, he was so sadistic, so unspeakably cruel that people literally stopped watching the show. But for weeks and weeks now, Negan has been taunted, his people killed in droves, and yet he insists on leniency. Why?
Compare him with Rick, who gave his word to the escaped Saviors that he would help them put down the zombie horde and spare their lives, only to literally stab them in the back once the undead threat was neutralised, and it’s increasingly hard to understand why we’re supposed to be Team Rick. Personally, I love complex characters and flawed heroes, but surely Rick Grimes is just a terrible person now? I understand that he’s mourning, and we’ve seen him go off the rails due to grief before, but we’re at the stage where a character we’ve accepted as the lead for eight years states the titular credence that a man’s word is the only viable currency in a world gone bad, and then takes a big old dump all over that sentiment! Okay, Rick Grimes has always walked a fine line between morality and dubious behaviour, but generally he’s been motivated by the desire to protect his own. This was ice cold revenge, and I’m not sure even the mammoth guilt trip Carl’s parting shot is about to send him on can restore my faith in him as an inherently decent person.
Morgan didn’t fair much better this week. Jared may have been due his comeuppance for a while now, but there was something particularly nasty about the way Morgan gleefully held him in place as zombies tore lumps off him. Don’t get me wrong, I haven’t forgotten that Jared killed my precious Benjamin, but even Henry seemed creeped out by Morgan’s psycho-killer shtick. Speaking of Henry, he managed to survive alone in the woods while seasoned pros Rick and Morgan got themselves snuck up on and knocked out. Good going, Henry – although I think he would have been zombie fodder if Carol had showed up a few seconds later. So Morgan’s vision of the dead boy were apparently a manifestation of his psychosis and not foreshadowing, and we still have no idea what ‘you know what it is’ means.
There was also a subplot involving Rosita and Daryl’s plan to take out Eugene, but with Negan back at The Sanctuary, possibly with someone in tow who knows about Dwight’s double-cross, and the knowledge that Simon has designs on his leadership, perhaps they won’t get the chance. So while there were some tempting breadcrumbs dropped regarding Jadis and Negan’s backstory, overall not much was done to advance the story or flesh out these characters. Daryl particularly has been woefully underused for ages now. Carol seemed to have lost her mojo, Morgan was a liability, Rick was downright despicable, Negan was banging on about his nutsack as per, and Michonne was reduced to moping around the house and speaking in a whisper. Lots of vague conversations about things still meaning things and holding on to humanity were belied by the events of the episode, and with only a couple of installments left this season, the show could do with picking up the pace and wrapping up some of the arcs which have outstayed their welcome.
Final Grade: D+
+ I am intrigued to know how Jadis knew about the helicopter. It might be that the world is about to get a lot bigger – although why isn’t everyone who’s seen it immediately shouting about it?
+ There was some good zombie design this week – especially the old dude with Henry’s stick stuck in him.
+ At least Jerry is still alive.
– Lots of odd, lazy plot holes. Why not use some of that extra time to show us how Rick and Negan got ambushed instead of repeating the same old morality chats?
– I would also like to have seen more of Negan’s past. He seemed sincere when he apologised to Jadis but we didn’t learn anything we didn’t already know.
– Too many characters with nothing to do in this episode, and it looks like we’re heading back to Oceanside to flog that horse some more next week. Excitement should be building at this stage in the season, but it feels like we’re spinning our wheels…
Extra Thought: My money’s on Gregory being the mystery passenger Negan picked up.
What did you think? Was “Still Gotta Mean Something” as well crafted as Jadis’ bijou pad, or was it as directionless as Rick’s moral compass? Sound off in the comments or over on Twitter.