Duality was the key theme of this episode, which also marked the beginning of the end for Rick Grimes, and while there were a few tense set pieces, “The Obliged” largely focused on conversation and various characters desperately trying to bring one another round to their point of view.
The opening, cyclical montage of Michonne carrying out her parental and civic duties, juxtaposed with her sneaking out of bed each night to smear her blade with walker blood set the tone for an episode concerned with internal conflicts. One one hand, Rick and Michonne, a former police officer and lawyer respectively, are trying to build something that will restore justice and fairness to the world. On the other hand, they’ve both had to do unspeakable things to survive, and that doesn’t really go away just because you wish it would. A large portion of this week’s episode was taken up with Negan – currently on hunger protest – trying to get inside Michonne’s head by drawing parallels between them. Michonne agreed to chat with the former leader of The Saviors as long as he ate, and Negan used his audience to try and convince Michonne that they weren’t so different – both warriors, both uncomfortable with being caged, both secretly relieved that their loved ones hadn’t lived to see them change and make them vulnerable. Of course, this was all a plot to get his beloved Lucille back. It’s never been made clear exactly why that baseball bat means so much to him, but it seemed to get to Michonne too, a symbol of what she’s lost along the way. Luckily, Michonne was too smart to let Negan twist her up, and the incarcerated man was left bereft, and possibly at the point where he’d welcome a visit from Maggie and Daryl.
Over at the Trash Heap, Anne/Jadis was not dealing well with rejection. It looked like Gabe was a goner for a while there, as Anne kissed him farewell and prepared to set one of her pet zombies on him. But Gabriel’s words of forgiveness gave her a change of heart, and she left him alone but alive as she set off for the mysterious community with their secret helicopter. While the characterisation this season has generally been a vast improvement on recent years, there wasn’t really enough development of the relationship between these two to warrant any great emotional investment, and this was certainly the least interesting aspect of the episode. Clearly wherever Anne/Jadis has gone will play a part in the future story arc, but the short-lived romance never really felt organic.
Carol, who has been fiercely loyal to Rick throughout his war with The Saviors and his bid to reconcile the communities, abandoned her post as leader at The Sanctuary this week, telling Rick that the people there would have to choose who they wanted to be in the same way she and Rick had. Carol seemed convinced most of them didn’t want Negan back, but they didn’t want her either, and this was a pretty pivotal moment. Hearing Carol imply that replacing one dictator with another authority figure wanting to impose their ideologies on The Saviors was not really progress, probably readied Rick to hear Daryl’s point of view later on. It was also satisfying to see Carol floor Jed after he called her a weak woman. As a general point, I’m not sure if it’s because I know there are so many women driving the narrative this season, but it seems like the female characters are instrumental in holding things together currently. Carol, Maggie, and Michonne are shaping the various factions, and the women of The Sanctuary are the ones toeing the line when it comes to keeping the peace. Even Anne is in a position of power, given that she has exclusive knowledge of the mysterious community with a flying machine at their disposal.
But front and centre of this episode was Rick’s discovery (courtesy of tattling Jesus) that Maggie intended to head to Alexandria and take her revenge on Negan, and Daryl aiding and abetting her by driving Rick out to the middle of nowhere on his bike, thus buying Maggie the time she needed. A dust up between the two men ended with them falling into a pit, the enforced confinement giving Daryl the opportunity to let Rick know how he felt about moving past the war. This scene worked well, despite the super-contrived device of getting them literally holed up together, largely due to the chemistry between Andrew Lincoln and Norman Reedus. The latter has had so little to do of late, that I’d almost forgotten how good he can be, but he resurgence of the bromance did tug at my heartstrings.
The conflict here was compelling because both men had a point, and both were torn between following their instincts and wanting to side with their friend. Rick was right to to point out that Daryl spared Dwight despite everything he’d done, and Daryl made a strong case when he said grief had a lot to do with Rick’s change of stance, and that while Negan was alive, there would still be those who followed him. It’s difficult to pick a side in this debate, because it’s an age old dilemma. An eye for eye, or mercy always? We didn’t actually get a full resolution on this argument because gunshots from The Kingdom and some falling zombies meant Rick and Daryl had to pull themselves out of danger, and when Daryl told Rick to be safe as he headed off on horseback to lure the horde away from the settlements, we knew it wasn’t going to end well.
Having subverted expectations by losing Rick ahead of the mid-season finale, part of me really hopes the show will have him perish where he fell, the victim of bad luck, and with unresolved business to attend to, because that’s how life and death really are. But clearly that would be too much for an audience who have seen Rick Grimes as the hero of this thing for the best part of a decade, and so we’ll get a drawn-out departure with lots of goodbyes, tears, and recriminations. The shot of Maggie seeing the trail of walkers was enough to suggest she will come to the rescue, and Rick will breathe his last surrounded by friends and family. It’s not yet clear what will become of Maggie, but I predict her absence will be as a direct result of Rick’s death, and that Daryl’s arc will become something of a focus. I’ve yet to be convinced that there’s anyone who can carry the series in the way Andrew Lincoln has, and Lauren Cohan will be sorely missed, but I’m curious to see the fallout over the coming weeks.
Final Grade: B-
+ The dialogue has been so much better already this series. Carol and Daryl in particular had some great lines.
+ I wasn’t sure it was possible to bring Rick’s character back to a place where we’d feel his loss keenly after his actions in the war with the Saviors, but this season has gone some way to redeeming him.
+ Jesus had more purpose this week, even if it was snitching on his leader.
– The symbolism was a bit heavy handed here – specifically the baseball bat and Rick refusing to let the horde cross the bridge and get swept away because the bridge is a metaphor for his vision, see!
– I suspect the shock value in Rick’s demise will be ruined by overwrought flashbacks and dream sequences, but I hope I’m wrong…
Extra Thought: Now that Gabriel knows there’s another large group of survivors, will he tell the others?
What did you think? Did this episode have you breathless with anticipation, or banging your head against a brick wall a la Negan? Sound off in the comments or over on Twitter!