Shane Ryan and Josh Jackson review
The Walking Dead
each week in a series of letters.
What a strange episode! I spent the entire duration of “The Same Boat” just waiting for Carol to use that rosary to escape her confinement, and I was really enjoying the build-up. We’ve seen her pull the “innocent lamb” act before, particularly in Alexandria, only to revert to badass/crazy/homicidal Carol the minute she’s needed, and I fully expected to watch that transition play out in the hour of TV I just watched.
But then…she only kinda did? Instead of a white-hot revenge rampage, she had a strange crisis of conscience, this woman who once murdered her friends because they had a flu? She hesitated to murder a stranger who had basically spent the entire episode making smirking innuendos about her going to meet her dead daughter?
We spoke about this a little last week, but to me this proves that The Walking Dead writers essentially have no clue who they want her to be, and are fine just transforming her personality on a dime to suit changing circumstances. I actually enjoyed “The Same Boat,” but writing now in the aftermath, I’m just sort of stumped. Like, she didn’t hesitate to shoot the girl who almost stabbed Maggie in the stomach, but something about this new character Paula kept her from pulling the trigger?
It just feels like there’s no internal consistency to her. That being said, the slow-build inside the abattoir (I’ve always wanted a chance to use the pretentious word for a slaughterhouse) was pretty great, and even if the “killing floor” metaphor was insanely heavy-handed, I really dug the atmosphere, and I thought Melissa McBride was at her best in this episode. Everything, from her hyperventilation to her crying to her attempts to reach her captors, was very effective, and it made me wish they had done more with her over the course of the series. Or at least been less inconsistent, because she shows once in a while how strong she can be when she’s not being bandied about between divergent personalities at the whims of the writers.
I guess you’d call this a bottle episode. Aside from the outdoor scene at the start, it largely took place within the slaughterhouse confines, and the promise of leaving was continually unfulfilled. I wasn’t really captivated by any of the new characters—I guess it was sort of a novelty seeing hardened female characters outside of Rick’s group, but from a perspective standpoint, they were a bit shallow. Yes, they’d suffered, and yes, they’d survived heartbreak and tragedy and everything else, but we have no idea why they turned to a group of psychopaths like Negan and company. And they don’t really try to justify it either.
As for Negan, I have a confession—I got so curious after last week’s episode that I read the Wikipedia entry on the Negan saga from the comics. And, my God, it’s obscene! It’s really, really obscene. But it doesn’t look like the show is taking that path at the moment, though of course we have no idea where this is going. But judging by the characters we’ve seen, “Negan” seems to be more of a collective idea than an individual. We got some of that from Alicia Witt, and then Rick’s captive says “Negan” was both at the compound and at the slaughterhouse, lending credence to the idea that they refer to their own cult as Negan, but there might not be anyone at the center of it. And if you believe Paula’s monologue, most of them are now dead at Rick’s hands.
What do you think is happening with that, Josh? Was Rick dumb to kill that guy before he could give them more information? Are you as impressed as I am with McBride tonight, but simultaneously confused by the schizophrenic nature of her character? For an episode confined to one location, there’s a surprising amount to talk about here.
I have to disagree with you on this one. I thought this was one of the best Carol episodes we’ve seen. Melissa McBride’s character has transformed from a timid, battered wife and protective mother to the biggest badass of the zombie apocalypse, but that transformation has come at a price. And there’s still plenty of the old Carol lurking within.
I don’t think the writers have made her schizophrenic—I think she’s just complicated. She’s the alpha mom, doing whatever it takes to protect the people she cares about, even if that means culling the weak, killing a sociopathic child or in this episode, burning her enemies alive. But we’ve seen that unlike her captor Paula, she hasn’t stopped feeling the weight of those lives she’s taken.
And maybe it was a little unsubtle, but for a show about zombies to even consider having Carol have to confront a version of herself who’s lost her humanity is pretty thoughtful. In Paula (Alicia Witt), we get a former secretary, clearly more capable at dealing with the end of the world than navigating modern life. She was a mom too, but has long since lost her family and taken up with the only group that could keep her alive, becoming a leader of sorts. Like Carol, she has more freedom and agency—and usefulness—in this nightmarish environment than she did back in civilization. She’s a post-apocalyptic badass, and she’s probably saved her people as many times as Carol has. So while we can nitpick in the differences between Negan’s brutish group and Rick’s, those lines are sure getting blurry.
We see the same parallel between Maggie and Chelle. Chelle wanted to have kids, but her boyfriend was blown up by Daryl’s bazooka before she could. In her eyes, Maggie and Carol are with the aggressors here. Chelle’s group has just been murdered in their sleep by our protagonists. This season has been a bit of a turning point for our group as they’ve gone on the offensive, and while you can find justification for most of their actions, it’s still taking a toll, even on the group’s biggest hard ass, Carol.
Let’s just take a moment and appreciate that a hit zombie show just gave us an episode where five of the six characters on screen most of the night were all strong, complex women. It was great to get a Carol and Maggie pairing. This time it was Carol who was vulnerable and Maggie who held things together for them both. And in the end, they didn’t need the rest of the group to come save them. Carol’s “wolf in sheep’s clothing” act worked again, but we’ve also now learned that it’s not completely a ruse. That happy homemaker persona she first put on in Alexandria really is a part of who she is. She’d have rather been making acorn cookies than roasting two strangers on a kill floor.
As for Negan, Rick can go on thinking he just killed the boogyman, but we know he’s still out there. Negan is more than just an idea or an identity. And he’s coming, Shane. Yes, it was dumb—and completely immoral—for Rick to execute his prisoner (a doctor!) rather than keep him around for information. He may think everything is just cleaner this way and that there are no Saviors left, but it’s going to take more than Carol’s rosary beads to pay for all these sins.
At the end of the episode, Maggie, who was cold as ice dispatching Saviors, embraced Glenn and told him she couldn’t do this anymore. Do you think Maggie is really going to hang up her holster and focus on building her community and raising a family? Was this the final mission of Maggie Greene?
I hope so. Maggie has always been one of my favorites, and God knows she deserves to be back in Alexandria living a family life and becoming the next Deanna, and not executing enemies in a slaughterhouse and having her stomach nearly slashed by a maniac. I would not begrudge whatever peace the zombie apocalypse has to offer for someone who has clearly fulfilled her bloody duties.
I think a really interesting theme of this episode was the idea that Rick and his group might not be the “good guys.” Like you said, the lines are a little blurry, and while we can pretty unequivocally state that Negan’s group is worse (their way of saying hello is to kill a teenager, after all), any group of people that becomes inured to killing is at risk of losing their connection to morality. There’s often a distinction between moral and immoral on this show, but the scariest state of all is “amoral,” and I think that’s where they seem to be headed. When Rick can just murder a guy because it seems easier than actually doing the hard work of jailing/questioning/assimilating him, we’re absolutely on the path to amorality. I agree with you that watching Carol try to resist this path, when faced with a slightly darker and more corrupt version of herself, was fascinating, and McBride was great. I’m just wondering where it came from, and where it had gone when she was killing sick people at the prison, or ignoring Morgan as he tried to rehabilitate the Wolf. That’s what I mean by schizophrenic—Carol’s path seems less like evolution to me, and more like random meandering between very different philosophies. But I do hope this new version sticks around for a while.
I wish the new characters had, too, because it seems like they could have been good additions. Chelle was the most immediately interesting to me, I think, for the way we could see her vacillate from wanting to protect Maggie, to a feeling of bitterness that this person might get to live out her pregnancy, to eventually trying to kill her and, by extension, the unborn child. And the episode left me wanting to know more about the other two as well, and to see if there was some Tara-esque redemption available to either (though both of them are considerably harder than Tara). I feel like Paula, if she could move beyond her borderline sadism, would be a huge addition to any group.
But this was an episode about death. You don’t escape the killing floor, and I’m not complaining. None of my nitpicks about this episode stop me from thinking it was really good, and I still maintain that we’re in the midst of one of the show’s best half-seasons yet. I’m thrilled to hear that Negan is out there, somewhere, because it seems like the Alexandrians have murdered a lot of his people. Do you think we’ll only be introduced to him in the remaining three episodes of the season, or is there enough time to start and finish a whole arc?
Also, pretty brutal death-by-fire for the second wave of Negan-ites, right? We haven’t even talked about that. Do charred corpses still turn zombie?
That’s an interesting distinction between a natural evolution and what feels like inconsistency of personalities. The Walking Dead writers have taken pains throughout these past six seasons to evolve most of the characters. Only a handful (Tyreese, Bob, Dale) have been fairly consistent. Rick and Michonne have undergone huge transformations, but they’ve made sense to who those two people are at their cores. Beth is the biggest example of a character who kept transforming, but without rhyme or reason, from sweet and innocent to desensitized and stoic to likable and heroic, and Emily Kinney had to just try to keep up with whatever randomness was written in the script.
I can see how Carol’s journey has struck you similarly. The writers would have us believe that the woman who was killing her friends for being sick and teaching little girls how to wield a knife was much more affected by all her worst acts than she was letting on. But I think Melissa McBride has really helped them sell this latest incarnation of Carol. She’s complex, but each of the warring factions inside her came from somewhere, and the final amalgamation is so interesting that I’m happy to just accept this latest evolution.
And yes, this episode was absolutely brutal. Two execution-style killings, including one of an unarmed prisoner. Others burned alive (if your brain is burned, I don’t think you turn). It’s harder and harder to think of our heroes as simply “the good guys.” They might not be as bad as some, but they’ve certainly done horrific things to protect what they’ve built. It’s going to take a pretty evil villain to make for a clear-cut distinction.
Which brings us back to Negan. There’s no way they tell that whole story in the few remaining episodes. I predict we don’t meet him until the finale, and he’s the primary antagonist for all of Season 7. I can’t wait.
Please don’t die, Daryl Dixon.