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The Walking Dead Review: "The Next World"

TV Reviews The Walking Dead
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<i>The Walking Dead</i> Review: "The Next World"

Shane Ryan and Josh Jackson review   The Walking Dead each week in a series of letters.

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Shane,

Last week got Daryl blowing up Negan’s henchman with a bazooka. But that wasn’t nearly as explosive as RICHONNE! It happened just like I wrote it in my fan fiction novella, except they were going for the same zombie and their weapons locked just before their eyes did…

Okay, I’ll quit trying to pretend that I’m a shipper.

After last week’s action-packed episode (which, I agree, was one of the best the show has given us), they slowed things way down this week, skipping ahead a few months to a time of relative peace in Alexandria. Carl has healed from getting shot—yet again—the boy is invincible, just like the Robert Kirkman comic he was reading. Rick and Michonne continue to share a house but not a bed. Eugene continues to be Eugene, praising the many virtues of sorghum. And supply runs have been routine with Rick torturing Daryl with vintage country and Old 97’s tunes.

Overall, it’s one of the quietest episodes ever of The Walking Dead, a bit of a breather after “No Way Out.” The storylines back in Alexandria were mostly forgettable: Denise sheepishly asks for some Crush for her new girlfriend; Maggie and Enid have an inconsequential talk; Enid and Carl go for a walk in the woods, where they see Michonne and Spencer and eventually zombie Deanna.

Much more interesting were the exploits of Rick and Daryl meeting Jesus, presumably on the road to Damascus, Virginia, where the sorghum outlets are well stocked. The truck heist was like something out of a 1980s action comedy, and the zaniness continued from there. Our boys Bo and Luke Duke tracked Jesus on foot only to get their asses kicked in hand-to-hand combat before finally taking back the truck. A hog-tied Jesus somehow managed to stow away on the roof of the truck. Daryl jumped out of the truck and tried and failed to make an open-field tackle. And then the two tussle inside the cab of the truck, knocking the gearshift into neutral and sending the vehicle into the water, where it sinks into the lake with a final gasp (poor Old 97’s!). The whole encounter was more slapsticky than just about anything we’d seen on the show before.

But if Jesus saved the first 50 minutes of the episode, Michonne and Rick finally getting together is what we’ll all remember. You’ve said here before you wanted to see more hooking up on the show, and there was no one getting shipped more more than the small-town sheriff and the katana-wielding badass. They’re the Walking Dead’s power couple, and if the sexual tension hasn’t been obvious over the years, a deep closeness and friendship certainly has.

And the final scene, where the naked couple is startled into battle readiness by Jesus, gave us a final moment of slapstick. I have to say, I love Jesus.

So what did you think of the strange mix of tones (silly action vs. the poignant return of Deanna)? And more importantly, what did you think of Richonne?

—Josh

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Josh,

I love Magic Jesus! He can do just about anything, including an old-school firecracker misdirection truck caper! Plus, he seems to be a karate expert, and he can get out of any jam, including being hog tied on the road and/or being held captive by Daryl in Alexandria. Also, how many bedrooms do you think he tried before he found Rick? I like to think he gave Father Gabriel a good scare before he hit the right house. (But actually, Gabriel would probably just think the real Jesus had visited to praise him for finding his courage.)

I can’t tell if I trust him or not, but my main hope is that he’s not a Negan agent, if Negan is even a thing anymore. I want him to be a scoundrel of the road, not an advance scout for some sadistic army. Right now, he’s like Morgan, except without the weird “don’t hurt anyone” philosophy. He’s a realist samurai with a sense of humor, and, I would argue, already one of the best new characters the show has introduced in a long, long time. The actor, Tom Payne, is another Brit-playing-an-American, and he’s already bringing the goods with the dry humor, the shifty eyes, and the general aura of mystery. I know it’s early, but I think the show hit a home run here.

And you’re right, where Jesus goes, comedy follows (weird sentence). I thoroughly enjoyed the whole saga of the truck, and watching it sink was the perfect ending. I also loved Rick shifting the car subtly so that Jesus kept leaning into Daryl (and I suspect Jesus was awake the whole time, wanting to see where base camp was), and yeah, the naked surprise was the perfect button to a solid episode. It really was like a Dukes of Hazzard episode—the only thing missing was Waylon Jennings chuckling in voiceover and saying, “but if the boys thought they could get rid of Jesus that easy, well…they had another think coming!” Followed by some sweet banjo licks.

But you asked about Richonne, which is a way better combo name than my original idea, “Mick.” I actually thought they were together at the start of the episode, even though the only contact they exchanged was a little hand slap after the toothpaste argument. So I was kinda surprised when they had the “first time ever” hook-up vibes at the end. I’m also not a Richonne shipper, but I say good for them! And I think that’s about as far as my thoughts on the subject go, except to say that The Walking Dead gets a bit awkward when they veer into romantic soap opera territory. But in an endearing way—Rick was a little cumbersome, and Michonne laughed at him, but it somehow made sense. And like you said, they’ve had each other’s backs for a while now, so why not make it official?

I was unmoved by the Spencer-Deanna death saga, because I continue to believe that all of her offspring are total screw-ups and that without Michonne Spencer would have managed to get eaten by his own mother, which is an Oedipal complex gone very, very wrong. I also continue to be uninterested in the saga of Emo Enid and One-Eyed Carl. I have a feeling we’re going to have to see a lot more scenes between them, and I already hate that.

But you know who’s kind of winning me over, Josh? Dr. f’ing Oatmeal. And that’s a sentiment I never thought I’d catch myself expressing.

For me, though, this episode was all about Magic Jesus. I’m really, really into him, and I hope he’s the focal point of the next couple episodes. So let me throw it back to you with this: The Walking Dead is only funny rarely, but I’d like you to pick your five most genuinely funny characters, and then your five most unintentionally funny characters. Back to you, sir.

—Shane

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Shane,

At what point will Denise win you over to the point that she stops becoming “Dr. Oatmeal”? Obviously we’re not there yet, but of all the non-Rick scenes in this episode, her encounter with Daryl was certainly my favorite. She’s clearly terrible at this whole relationship thing, but she’s really trying with Tara, and it’s kind of adorable. As is Daryl’s dedication to getting her a can of Crush despite not making that initial encounter any more comfortable for either of them.

As for Jesus—not to spoil anything, but he’s a big figure in the comic books, so I won’t join you in your speculation of who this guy is. But I agree that he’s already fun to watch. And funny! I think it’s too early to call him the funniest Walking Dead character ever, but it’s not going to be hard for him to take the crown. Here’s who we’ve got so far:

Unintentionally funny:

5. Carol – Carol can be genuinely funny, but she’s at her comic best when she’s at her darkest, like her terrifying monologue to poor Sam.

4. Patrick – Shane, remember Patrick? The geekiest survivor of the zombie apocalypse didn’t last very long, but I loved his dorky politeness and fondness for Legos before he became the zombie that single-handedly wiped out half of the prison.

3. Axel – I originally had Axel listed as intentionally funny, but that’s just giving him too much credit. His attempts to flirt with Carol after telling her he thought she was a lesbian were wonderfully cringe-worthy.

2. Abraham – Abraham does have a sense of humor, but most of what makes the big guy funny isn’t on purpose. The fact that he’s decided to start dressing like a naval captain makes me think he’ll provide even more of the comic relief this season.

1. Eugene – The funniest character on The Walking Dead isn’t even trying. But everything line that comes from our cowardly mullet-topped know-it-all makes me smile. There’s some actual intelligence buried underneath the bluster, but it all comes across like a post-apocalyptic Cliff Clavin.

Intentionally funny:

Here’s where it gets a lot harder. Rick was cracking me up last night jerking the car so Jesus would fall on Daryl, but he’s far too serious to make the list. We did get to see his dad humor in force yesterday when he pretended not to hear Carl, but that’s going to get him any guest spots on a podcast. There just haven’t been too many legitimately funny characters on a show that begs for more gallows humor among the constant darkness. So I’m thankful for these few…

3. Maggie – Before her awful encounter with the Governor, Maggie was quick to crack a joke, especially as she came on strong toward Glenn, who was clearly overwhelmed by his beautiful and carefree suitor.

2. Hershel – Hershel went through a pretty humorless phase at the end of Season 2, but before he was murdered by The Governor, he was like a character straight out of Hee-Haw.

1. Bob Stookey – Oh, Bob. How we all miss your easygoing humor. With a constant twinkle in his eye, Stookey was determined to live his last days embracing whatever was left of his life. Here’s hoping Jesus can take up the role as chief morale officer that no one has been able to hold onto for long.

That is, you know, unless his impishness is hiding some villainous plan to wipe out Alexandria.

So who am I missing here, Shane? You asked me for funny characters as if there were plenty to choose from. Which characters would you want on your improv team?

—Josh

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Josh,

Do I remember Patrick? I have Patrick flashbacks every night when I’m trying to sleep. To me, Patrick’s death was when this show really started to lose its way.

Okay, none of that is true. I had kinda forgotten him. But I’ll admit—I actually had to look up Axel to see who the hell he was. Completely blanked on that guy. Even after I’ve seen his photo and remembered him as one of the actual prisoners they came across, I still can’t remember how he died. Or even if he died. I assume he must have died, right?

I love your picks. And I agree, it’s way harder to find an intentionally funny character than it is to find the unintentionally funny ones. After all, this isn’t a comedy. Whenever Rick makes a joke, I find myself feeling slightly uncomfortable. “What the hell is he doing? Is he going crazy again? Is he seeing ghosts again?”

As an amateur improviser, I also love that question. Here’s who would be on my 8-person squad, with a brief explanation of why.

1. The Governor — He would be a selfish player that would hog the limelight and always come on stage when he wasn’t needed, but at times he would be spectacular. At his funniest, nobody would get more laughs than the Governor.

2. Magic Jesus — Always in control even in difficult circumstances, naturally funny, calm, probably a great support player as well as someone who can get laughs on his own. And he’s got that silent wit that’s so invaluable on stage.

3. Lizzie — Every great improv team has someone who is completely off their rocker. Unpredictable, goes against the grain, and can be counted on to make the weird, hilarious choice in a scene.

4. Michonne — Now we need steady, reliable players, and nobody beats Michonne. She’s always got your back, she’s a steadying presence who won’t let shit get too out of control, and she can play high status, low status, vicious, or soothing. The ultimate 5-tool improviser.

5. Glenn — Bad improv devolves into conflict, so you need someone who is relentlessly positive, and will go against that combative impulse. Nobody keeps a sunnier outlook than Glenn. If Glenn’s not available, you put Bob Stookey in this position.

6. Hershel — I just asked my wife who she’d put on this team, and she said, “I want the old guy.” This, coupled with your no. 2 ranking, makes Hershel a shoe-in.

7. Merle — This was your big omission, I think. Merle was a huge dick, but he always made me laugh. He had that combination of strength and insecurity that made him super dangerous, but unlike Shane, who was just a moody prick, there was something wry and knowing about Merle. Other than the Governor, he’s my favorite “bad” guy. And I think his late good-guy turn proves that he’d be a supportive player, too.

8. Carol — No character is funnier in improv than the apparent sweetheart who is capable of some really dark thinking. If Carol performed her cookie monologue in an improv set, it would absolutely bring the house down. She’s the kind of player who would remain quiet in a group scene until the very last line, and then just slay everyone with a really horrifying outlook. You need a Carol on your squad.

I think that team would totally kill it. In the meantime, I have to say that I’m really digging the second half of season six so far, and I have a feeling it’s only going to get better. Until next week,

Please don’t die, Daryl Dixon,

—Shane

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