It’s taken almost a decade, but the inhabitants of post-zombie apocalypse America have finally managed to shift their focus away from merely surviving, and towards rebuilding a society with laws and politics and even a modicum of happiness. Yes, between Anne and Father Gabriel’s slightly awkward make out session and Carol’s decision to wear Ezekiel’s ring, I almost thought I was watching the wrong show! Even Jerry got to play a little tonsil hockey! Get it, Jerry! But although love was air for some, there was something dark bubbling just under the surface, despite Rick’s insistence that the various communities were building a better future together.
“The Bridge” was arguably one of the most engaging and nuanced episodes of recent times, and proved that while the show has come to rely on shock value and bloody set pieces, it’s always at its best when concerned with the dynamics between the most interesting and complex characters, and with the every day struggles of the survivors.
The plot of this episode centered around the building of the titular bridge, both a logistical necessity and a somewhat heavy-handed metaphor for Rick’s vision of peace and cooperation between the various factions. Last season, I pondered whether Rick could ever come back from the edge after his ‘kill ’em all’ tactics with the Saviors, but this season he seems to be almost fanatically trying to spread harmony, probably in an attempt to fulfill Carl’s dying wishes. However, as was demonstrated by the framing device of Rick’s rather desperate crowing to an incarcerated Negan, the threat of rebellion and violence is never far away.
While Rick has vacillated wildly over the years from law-abiding policeman, to dictator, to a cowed victim, to war-mongerer, Maggie’s rise to power has been much more of a linear trajectory. While Rick was spouting platitudes about working together and new beginnings, Maggie was taking a harder line, putting Hilltop’s welfare ahead of the other groups, unrepentant about ordering the execution of Gregory, and insisting that Earl remain locked up, even though it meant the blacksmith was unable to fix the plough which would be used for harvest. It fell to Michonne, appealing on behalf of the Sanctuary for the food rations Maggie intended to withhold, to point out that she might be cutting her nose off to spite her face.
It was Earl’s tales of his alcohol addiction which finally swayed Maggie, reminding her that if her own father had not been given a second chance when he fell off the wagon, a lot more people would have died. Her decision to let Earl work on the plough under supervision, and to hand over the food, meant holding the peace and making provisions for the coming year. It was hard to disagree with Maggie’s view that Gregory, on the other hand, had proven himself to be untrustworthy time and time again, but, as Michonne pointed out, setting herself up as judge, jury, and executioner was not in the spirit of a civilised state.
While Maggie struggled with putting aside personal grievances for the good of the many, Daryl was also having a hard time forgiving and forgetting. There were signs of mistrust sprinkled throughout the episode, with Rosita wiring explosives with the Savior that slashed her face, and Maggie not buying the Savior’s story that the envoys bringing fuel from The Sanctuary had been attacked by walkers. But where most were able to get along for the sake of the work, Daryl witnessed former Savior Justin shoving wee Henry around and felt obliged to bring the smack. Rick stepped in to break it up, but when Justin’s negligence lead to Daryl and co. being overrun by a zombie horde, and Aaron losing his arm, Daryl saw red and this time Rick stood by him and banished Justin from the camp.
While poor, sweet Aaron – minus an arm – was still fully on board with Rick’s dream of a new way of life, the gulf between Rick and Daryl’s ideologies seem to widen even further. Like Maggie, Daryl’s issue with the Saviors is deeply personal, and it’s unlikely he’ll be be cosying up with them by the campfire any time soon. But it remains to be seen whether his hatred of the Saviors will go as far as to mutiny against Rick’s leadership.
Final Grade: B-
+ It’s good to see that after all these years, The Walking Dead can still deliver a zombie massacre which is both amusing and surprising. That set piece was good, gross fun!
+ The dialogue this episode was more subtle and felt more natural that it has for a long time.
+ Little moments of recall made this episode feel more true to its roots. Michonne hinting at her past as a lawyer, and (perhaps most poignant in the light of Scott Wilson’s recent death) Maggie speaking about Hershel were timely reminders of the show’s glory days.
– I’m pretty sure if Enid was about to cut my arm off, I’d want a second opinion!!
– Gabe and Anne bonding over being untrustworthy didn’t seem like a great basis for a relationship.
– Jesus and Michonne are clearly being set up as the moral compass of the show, but Jesus had very little to do here.
Extra Thought: Justin seems to recognise his assailant, which suggests the ‘missing’ Saviors might be forming a splinter group out in the wilds!
What did you think? Is The Walking Dead building something to last, or has it burnt it bridges? Sound off in the comments or over on Twitter!