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The Walking Dead Review: "Still Gotta Mean Something"

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<i>The Walking Dead</i> Review: "Still Gotta Mean Something"

Josh Jackson and Jim Vorel review each week’s episode of The Walking Dead in a series of letters

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Josh,

WHAT THE SHIT, Josh? As Negan grunted out so very often in this episode of The Walking Dead, “what the shit.”

In all reality, “Still Gotta Mean Something” was, at the very least, an intrigue-packed episode of TWD. It fell victim at times to the particular brand of foolishness that plagues this show—the prime example being when Jadis left Negan, on a rolling platform, within reaching distance of a pile of guns—but the rest of the time it was following so many interesting (and occasionally quite emotional) threads at once that it was hard not to be entertained.

Multiple characters got emotional little mini-arcs within this episode. For Rick, it was the continued avoidance of closure for Carl’s death, in the form of finally reading his letter. Rick is doing his best to put the vision of Carl’s ideal future out of his mind long enough to get done what needs to be done. Despite making a promise to his dying son, he’s mostly concerned with the here and now—keeping as many of his people alive as possible. I loved the call-back to earlier in season 8, when Rick tells the Savior escapees in the bar that he’ll take them all back to The Hilltop because “a man’s word has got to mean something.” If you’ll recall, these are the exact same words that he used after storming a Savior outpost at the beginning of the season, and just like it was then, Rick was lying through his teeth. It’s also probably an allusion to that very promise that Rick made to Carl—the “word” that he’s given is under some serious duress right now. Perhaps finally reading the letter at episode’s end will have an effect on Rick’s worldview? Regardless, this call-back is probably the best piece of writing I can remember on The Walking Dead in recent memory.

Morgan and Carol, meanwhile, each had their own through-lines as well. Carol’s was easier to understand and explain: She couldn’t help but be reminded of Sophia’s disappearance at the idea of Henry being out in the wilderness, and despite her desire to find him alive she couldn’t truly shake the inevitability that he MUST be dead. Thus, her intense guilt upon finding him alive after all. Morgan, meanwhile—well, I don’t know what exactly is supposed to be going on with that guy, except for the fact that he’s also crippled by guilt, presumably for starting little Henry down a path toward becoming just like him. I did find it kind of hilarious that he was pitted in one-on-one combat with Jared, of all people, in a scene that was presumably supposed to generate some kind of tension. Let’s see, who is going to die here: The cartoonish Savior villain? Or the guy being advertised as a new member of the Fear the Walking Dead cast during every commercial break? Hmmmmmmm.

Meanwhile, Jadis and Negan engage in a very weirdly staged stand-off, and Negan drops some personal information about his pre-apocalypse self. What kind of job do you think Negan was working back then, Josh? What sort of career does a guy like that possess, who is prone to weirdly self-congratulatory and profanity-laden speeches at the drop of a hat?

Regardless, the big takeaway here—beyond Jadis’ spartan underground apartment—is the reappearance of that mystery helicopter! I have so many questions regarding the helicopter, which Jadis was presumably trying to signal.

1. First and most obviously, who is flying this thing around? What community is well-supplied enough to have regular access to the fuel for this thing? What is its function? Is it related to Georgie and her band of traveling knowledge saleswomen?

2. How does Jadis know about the helicopter, and the fact that it will be there at that time? Why would Jadis, whose group lived in that one location (which is apparently called “The Heap”), know that there are helicopters patrolling the skies, but Negan, who has a group with HUNDREDS or THOUSANDS of people spread out among numerous outposts, never hear of a helicopter cruising around? Does that make sense?

3. Am I missing something when it comes to the Trash People/The Heap? Why do they have a helipad, according to Simon? Was that a bunker of some kind that Jadis was living in? Was the trash heap not really a dump or landfill, but just made to look like one by Jadis’ people as some sort of cover? As Negan says, what the shit?

At the very least, I’m glad that “Still Gotta Mean Something” has me asking all of these questions, because that means something happened on this episode of The Walking Dead. It wasn’t the prelude to a big battle that I was expecting, but it advanced some personal storylines and gave us an unexpected glimpse of the wider world outside of the Grimes Coalition and The Saviors.

As for next week, though, can we agree that Simon and his little attempted rebellion are definitely going to be crushed into the earth? I’m expecting a really fittingly disgusting death for Simon. He’s certainly earned one.

Before I go: Who was the person that Negan picked up on the road, and why the secrecy? I tried to deduce the answer by applying Roger Ebert’s Law of Economy of Characters, but I can’t think of anyone major who is unaccounted for. Who am I forgetting?

What the shit?
—Jim

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Jim,

Unlike most of the episodes this season, one thing “Still Gotta Mean Something” had going for it was something on the line. Rick had a choice tonight that kept presenting itself over and over. To read Carl’s letter or shut himself off to both grief and compassion. To consider mercy or have only death on his mind. To try to bring Morgan back from the precipice or to encourage his murderous rage. And finally, to keep his word or to betray those who’d just saved his life. He, of course, chose the path of what can only be called murder. Even Negan saw people as resources that should always be saved if possible. Rick only saw them as potential enemies who needed to be put down.

It was an interesting twist—one that makes the protagonist of the last eight years into a bit of a villain. And if it makes me like Rick a little less, it at least made me feel invested in the choices he was making. In case the audience was going to miss the fact that it’s the death of his son that’s turned Rick into a cold-blooded killer, the writers spelled that out for us with his conversation with Morgan: Morgan only saved Rick because his son was alive. Once Duane died, Morgan lost his humanity. But Rick still has people he loves and who love him. He has Michonne and Judith. I’m not sure how he could even face Michonne after what he did. Something is going to have to pull him back or he’s going to lose everything he loves, and you’re right that finally reading the letter might help him do that.

That was the theme throughout the episode, as Michonne talks about Andrea helping bring her back when she was lost. And Carol, who’s lost and found herself as much as anyone, was able to open up to Ezekiel about that very journey. It was the people, she said, who helped her become a better version of herself. But that’s a lesson that Rick, Morgan and even Daryl are struggling with right now.

Meanwhile, Negan somehow convinced Jadis to just give him back Lucille and set him free (and even give him her car). It’s true that he wasn’t the one responsible for the death of her people, but it still seems crazy that she’d just let him go. And it seems equally crazy that he wouldn’t force her to answer that first question: “What the shit?” Who is flying a helicopter around zombie land, and how did Jadis—sitting in her Ikea hovel—call it to her trash dump? Because there was definitely something beeping—an alarm on her watch that maybe told her that the helicopter was scheduled? Couldn’t she just call it back? I have no answer for you, Jim.

The mystery hitchhiker has to be Gregory, though, right? There’s no way he’d have stuck around with Maggie. And he wasn’t with Jared’s group. And he seems exactly like someone Negan would describe as “if shit took a shit” or whatever Neganism he said. Gregory’s role in this isn’t over, but what part do you think he’ll play going forward?

With Daddy home, you know that Simon will be getting more and more desperate for a regime change. And you know that’s not going to go well for him. Do you think Dwight will sell Simon out before finally turning on Negan? Or will Negan strike first? And the previews showed Rosita and Daryl scoping out the bullet factory. Do you think they’ll actually take out Eugene? And is that the last we’ll see of Jadis or is that just wishful thinking?

—Josh

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Josh,

Damn, you are completely right—the person being picked up in the car by Negan is obviously Gregory. I didn’t apply Ebert’s law stringently enough. If he had still been at Hilltop, he would have appeared alongside the helpful Savior whose name I still don’t know. And if he had been among the dive bar group, we obviously would have seen his death. So that only leaves the one alternative. Of course, why that’s worthy of being a secret, I have no idea—Gregory has zero power or sway over anyone at this point. He’s probably substantially less useful than just about any other random human being that Negan could have picked up along the road.

As for why Jadis would simply let Negan go, even after coming to some kind of understanding that he wasn’t directly to blame for the loss of her people … hell, you can’t ask this show to make sense in that sort of fashion. Nor can you ever really expect people on The Walking Dead to have reasonable human conversations, when it comes to important plot points like the helicopter. Would any real-life person simply have chosen to drive off, with such a hugely important question left unanswered? The answer is “of course not,” but it’s not time for us, the audience to learn more about the helicopter people just yet. And so, we have to settle for Negan suddenly having no real curiosity about the most unique thing he’s seen in the last year. It doesn’t make sense, but I’d be lying if I said I didn’t enjoy having some unanswered questions hanging over the narrative here. It makes things seem bigger than just “waiting for the big battle we all know is coming.”

Likewise, I was laughing at the very idea that Rick would somehow be able to convince any of those Saviors that he would be bringing them back to The Hilltop. Here these guys are, having just captured the leader of the war against their boss—who they don’t know had gone missing, by the way. So what, if Simon wasn’t willing to trade for them? That’s war. It shouldn’t be hard for these guys to see that if they showed up at The Sanctuary with Rick in chains, they’d be welcomed back as heroes. And they would be! Jared, as much as I hate to say it, was 100% right about that. Instead, Rick somehow managed to convince them that it would be better to go back to the community run by Maggie, who just threatened to execute all 38 of them one episode earlier as a deterrent to Simon’s planned attack.

Frankly, I’m surprised that the “next week on The Walking Dead” preview even had any clips of Simon trying to foment a rebellion at all. Negan already knows that Simon has gone rogue; why wouldn’t his first act of business be killing him? One would think that he’d walk in, cap Simon and then immediately start interrogating his other captains (such as Dwight) to see if any of the others were also getting too big for their britches. He’s seriously going to give Simon enough time to gather a secret meeting to advocate for a freakin’ putsch. We know it’ll fail, but Simon will be lucky to even get it started.

I don’t think anyone will have the heart to kill Eugene, when it all comes down to it. And no, we haven’t seen the last of Jadis, but for possibly the first time, I’m actually curious to see some more of her—if only to explain any of the MANY things that still aren’t explained about Jadis and that helicopter.

Anyway, we’re now headed into battle preparation mode. So let me ask you: Of the surviving cast, who are your top 3 most likely selections to not survive the end of season 8?

What the shit,
Jim

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Jim,

I realized I hadn’t answered your first question about Negan’s former occupation. Considering his colorful speech and his innate ability to boss everyone around, he either had to be a marine drill sergeant or, more likely, assistant director on a cable TV drama.

But the three most likely cast members to end up on Chris Hardwick’s couch in the next two weeks are:

1. Steven Ogg (Simon)
You come at the king, you best not miss. And Simon swung hard and missed. I don’t think he’ll even make it as far as the finale.

2. Josh McDermott (Eugene)
I agree that it won’t be Rosita or Daryl who end up killing Eugene, but that doesn’t mean he’s long for this world. My guess is that, despite the cowardice that’s kept him alive thus far, he’ll do something desperate to save Rosita, and that will get him killed.

3. Alanna Masterson (Tara)
The T-Dog principle states that when a minor character is about to die, they get a lot more screen time, and Tara has gotten more than her normal share lately. I’m guessing Dwight will be present for it, but not the cause of it.

Please don’t die, Daryl Dixon.
—Josh

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