Shane Ryan and Josh Jackson review
The Walking Dead
each week in a series of letters.
First things first, all credit to The Walking Dead for showing us the compound raid in this episode, and not stretching out the tense preparations for the full hour. This show has insane momentum this half-season, and they somehow managed to amp it up. It wasn’t always a given—based on the first 20 minutes or so, and the episode title “Not Tomorrow Yet,” I thought for sure we were going to get cliff-hung.
Well, we were cliff-hung, eventually, but this episode was far from a tease.
All I can manage right now is to relate my general impressions here in the anxious aftermath of another terrific episode. First of all, we’ve seen so many varieties of killing in this show that it sometimes feels like there’s no new ground to be tilled. But those initial stabbings in Negan’s compound, slow and visceral, were among the most haunting, even poetic deaths the show has ever executed. It reminded me of Macbeth killing Duncan as he slept, and the psychological toll it took on Glenn (by the way, has he really never killed a human before??) felt pretty profound. I think those scenes will stay with me for a while—it’s like nothing we’ve seen on TWD before, and the choice not to show the knife going in made it even more powerful, an act of sound and will that made the death tangible.
As far as plot goes, the attack was as intense as it gets. As Rick predicted, Negan’s crew was nowhere near ready to defend itself against a pre-emptive strike, and the fact that they seem to be the world’s heaviest sleepers didn’t help. Judging by the photos on the wall, there’s absolutely no reason to feel sorry for them—these are horrible, brutal people, and when you lead that kind of life in the zombie apocalypse, you don’t deserve any better than to die in an ambush. It was a brilliantly executed ambush, aside from the small matter of Carol and Maggie being captured by the Neganettes (not an official title), and if not for this last-minute intervention, would have been a total success with zero casualties.
What made this episode so great was that aside from the night raid, it had so much that makes The Walking Dead goofy, including:
—Abraham laying down the most brutal break-up of all-time, telling Rosita that he literally only loved her because she was the last woman on earth, and that when she wasn’t anymore, buh-bye. Not much delicacy to that man, Josh.
—Father Gabriel turning into Jules from Pulp Fiction by the end of the episode, quoting badass bible verses before killing a dude. Whether he’s in coward mode or ruthless killer mode, Father Gabriel is a really strange guy.
—Morgan being Morgan, by which I mean “having some really stupid f***ing ideas that would get everyone killed immediately if anyone was dumb enough to put him in charge.” I know you like him more than I do, Josh, but I really can’t stand his ridiculous philosophy. When you’re facing a group that introduces themselves by killing one of your group to assert power, negotiations probably aren’t going to do the trick. Just like letting the wolves escape was a really stupid idea that cost other lives. Morgan needs to non-violence himself back into the forest. He was way more fun when he was mysterious.
—Eugene showing up in a hilarious “Virginia Is For Lovers” t-shirt right after Abraham dumps Rosita.
—Jesus delivering the first half of what seemed like it might be a profound line—”if this is the new world…”—and then never finishing it. Maybe I misheard this one, but if not, I like to imagine that after the shot cut away, Heath and Glenn were like ”...well?”
—Morgan welding and crying. What the hell is he welding? Is he going to actively screw this up for them somehow? Seriously, Carol needs to have one of her loony spells and off this guy.
—A cookie for Sam! I know it was meant to be sincere, but doesn’t that cookie almost feel like Carol taunting him after death? Like a really symbolic “I told you so!”?
I have so many more thoughts, but I’ll leave it here for now. What did you think, Josh? What did I leave out? What the hell is happening?!
When Rick crept into that bedroom and murdered (there’s not really another word for it) that first sleeping Savior, I wanted to crawl inside my chair. When Glenn killed the next two, I almost couldn’t take it anymore. It was somewhat a relief when one of the Saviors pulled the alarm and turned the assault on Negan’s compound into a firefight. Putting their lives on the line seemed less risky than endangering their souls.
It does seem crazy that Glenn has made it this far in the zombie apocalypse without killing another human. This was a hell of a way to do it. (Edit: he way totally lying about not having killed anyone. He took out one of The Governor’s guards with a shank made out of a zombie arm bone in order to save Maggie.) Rick’s group knows very little about the Saviors other than what the people in the Hill had reported (the ol’ “Jesus told me to kill them” defense). I get that Negan’s group represented an immense threat, but this was just brutal. Yes, it’s a smart move, but it was also heartbreaking and gut-wrenching and one of the hardest things for me to watch on this show—just the way violence should be.
I completely agree, though, that this episode was another doozy. There’s no filler this season. The action keeps moving along quickly. Rick’s plan was a good one, except for the fact that none of the bodies they left in that compound is likely to be Negan, and the women who lived there (including Alicia Witt!) have now captured Maggie and Carol. Rick didn’t lose any of his people during the attack, but it didn’t go as well as he’d hoped.
But even outside of the intense fighting, there were so many notable moments here. You covered most of them, but Carol and Tobin also hooked up in this episode. And I thought Carol leaving a cookie on Sam’s grave was sweet. Morgan hinted at Carol being riddled with guilt, and we saw two moments to support that. First was that cookie. We joked about how Carol’s cookie speech was going to mess with Sam’s head, but that definitely contributed to his (and his mom’s) death. The second moment was Carol’s body-count journal. We think of Carol as a merciless soldier at this point, but we got to see glimpses behind that psychopathic facade.
And those glimpses worry me, Shane. Carol just found a little bit of love. And she’s getting even more humanized and understandable. And now she’s in the hands of the enemy. Pregnant Maggie isn’t going to die. But I’m scared for Carol now. The T-Dog effect (the likelihood of a character dying increases as that character becomes more likable) is starting to apply here. Tell me why Carol is going to survive the Neganettes, Shane.
And also tell me if Abraham talking about the color of dingleberries during an out-of-nowhere break up makes him the most ridiculous character on the show now or whether Eugene still holds that crown.
Yes, Abraham has all the tact and humor of a 10-year-old boy, and the last few episodes have really strained his likability for me, which was never super high. Occasionally there are characters in this show that the writers never quite fill out, and Abraham is one. We know his backstory and why he’s such a loon, but his motivations still seem murky, and his personality shifts on a dime. Carol is a little like that, too—there’s no consistency, and she seems to just be around to fill the shifting vacancies of the show. We need a battered woman? Sure. We need a crazy psychopath who kills people for having the flu? Sure. We need a compassionate figure? Sure. We need someone who terrifies a kid with a cookie monologue? YUP.
Meanwhile, characters like Glenn and Rick and Maggie and Daryl have more solidity. They screw up on occasion, but the mistakes all seem tied to their core personalities. It’s almost like the writers care more about them, or something. The others are like the mortar around the bricks, to be applied where necessary in whatever way necessary.
Anyway, GREAT call on the T-Dog effect. I didn’t even think about that in the midst of all the carnage. Carol is super vulnerable right now—she’s been re-humanized, she found love, and she’s in a situation with a character who, you’re 100 percent right, is absolutely not going to die. The temptation to sacrifice her must be sky-high right now. Tara, too, has T-Dog effect potential. She’s always been sort of the forgotten new character, and when the show starts paying attention to someone like that, the danger is sky-high. That whole “I’ll say I love you when you come back” scene with Dr. Oat Cakes could go one of two ways, but there’s an enormous possibility that it ends with the good doctor crying and saying, “I should have told herrrrr!”
As for Negan, I’m going to admit that curiosity got the better of me and I read the Wikipedia entry on his character from the comics. Um, holy shit. I know it’s a comic, but everything about what I just read is batshit. I won’t talk too much about it since we can’t “spoil” it, but there’s absolutely no way we’ll see even a tiny percentage of anything that unfolds in Kirkman’s plot, right? If we did, this show would go from an AMC program to something that HBO wouldn’t even air.
Here’s my last question for you. In a situation like this, where the gang has scored what looks to be a huge victory, but a splinter group has taken two hostages, at what point do you have to adopt the “we don’t negotiate with terrorists” mindset? For example, two prisoners would make no difference in an international war—the strategy would go unchanged, because captured soldiers and deaths are understood as a price of battle. Obviously this is not the same, but you do have to wonder whether it eventually becomes too dangerous to involve an entire fighting force in a rescue mission like this, or whether it’s smarter and more effective to say, “we’ll let you live if you return the hostages, otherwise we’re going to kill you, and it doesn’t matter what you do with them.” It’s brutal and heartless, but there may be a kind of harsh intelligence in it.
So, kicking it back your way, what should Rick be willing to lose in this next phase? Where the hell is Negan? And are these new women going to be as creepy as they seemed in the “scenes from next week” segment? Finally, now that we’re four episodes in, is this half-season already staking a claim as one of the show’s best?
With Maggie captured, there’s nothing the group shouldn’t do to try and save her. We’re talking about Glenn’s pregnant wife and in many ways the heart of Alexandria. She’s becoming the President Roslin to Rick’s Captain Adama. You put everything on the line to get her back, and I won’t hear otherwise, dammit.
As for Negan, I suspect the compound they attacked represents a fraction of Negan’s forces. The Neganettes are probably headed to the main fortress now. We’ve only got four episodes left, and I’m not sure we meet the big guy until the finale.
And yes, this season is right up there with Seasons 1 and 3. Credit to the writing staff for keeping their collective foot on the gas pedal and to Robert Kirkman for providing such great source material. This season has hewed more closely to the comics than any before it. We have every reason to believe that these last few episodes are going to be as intense as what we saw last night.
But the more I think about it, the more I worry about Carol. That motherly instinct has fully kicked in, and she’s made it clear that her number one priority is going to be keeping Maggie safe. It may not be up to Rick to save the captured women. Once again—maybe one last time—Carol may be the unexpected hero.
Please don’t die, Carol Peletier (or Daryl Dixon).