Aaron and Enid get away from Oceanside with their lives, Simon goes rogue (which is not likely to end well for him), Rick deals with Carl’s death by threatening Negan, and Jadis has a really, really bad day on a differently-structured, above average Walking Dead.
There are some good plot elements in this week’s episode, but the most interesting feature is that it’s crafted unlike all the others. Several segments had a title card with a character’s name, and that segment would mostly deal with that character. They’ve had many episodes where they’ve shown several individual story arcs through the course of an hour, but because of the way this one is built, it flows better than most and allows us to get valuable insight into some of the characters- always a good thing.
For Michonne and Rick, this episode was about the aftermath of Carl’s death.
Michonne takes it almost as badly as Rick does, though she’s just devastated, and Rick is devastated and angry.
Michonne and Carl having a close relationship is a relatively new development that kind of sprang up out of nowhere, (it’s not the first time the writers have done this- more than once, they’ve had two characters we’ve barely ever seen interact suddenly be the closest of friends or lovers. Rick and Michonne come to mind) but the actors (Chandler Riggs and Danai Gurira) made it believable. Early on in this week’s show, Rick and Michonne are getting ready to leave the now abandoned, Walker-overrun Alexandria when Michonne sees the gazebo Carl liked to sit on top of on fire. She decides she can’t let it burn down, though she and Rick are vastly outnumbered by the dead, and putting out the fire would put them both in grave danger. Michonne doing something so risky in order to honor Carl’s memory did more to show how close they were, and what kind of person Michonne is, than any conversation could have.
Rick struggles throughout the episode to deal with his son’s death, alternating between sadness and rage. Rick may not be thinking clearly, but it’s understandable since he just lost his son. As he and Michonne are headed out of Alexandria, Rick says they have to go get Jadis and her Scavengers back on board for the fight against Negan; Michonne seems incredulous since the Scavengers have turned on Rick before, but she goes along.
When they arrive at the garbage dump that is the Scavenger’s base, Rick and Michonne find that the Scavengers, except for Jadis, have all been killed and become Walkers. Rick thinks that this is some sort of ploy and decides to leave Jadis behind with the herd of her former friends, letting his anger get the best of him. The fact that he still needs all the allies he can muster for the war against Negan hasn’t changed, but he isn’t thinking clearly in his grief.
Later, Rick breaks down and reads the note Carl wrote for him, and the one Carl wrote for Negan.
This leads to one of the best scenes in the episode- Rick contacting Negan to tell him that Carl died, that Carl asked Negan (and Rick) in a letter to just “stop” fighting, and that, even so, he is going to kill Negan.
Andrew Lincoln (Rick) and Jeffrey Dean Morgan (Negan) are great in this scene, as Rick focuses all of his pain into threatening the man he feels is responsible for Carl dying, and Negan counters by putting the blame squarely on Rick’s shoulders, because Rick was so busy trying to fight him that he neglected to protect his son. It’s a fair point, and Negan making it hurts Rick. It’s rubbing salt in the wound, and makes Negan far more menacing than any of his hammy, cartoony speeches have done before.
Negan actually fares well in his scene with Simon, too. Near the beginning, Simon tells Negan that he wants to kill the Scavengers, move on to another area, start over again and find new groups of people to “save.” Negan explains that that is NOT what they do- saving people isn’t always easy, and he truly believes that what the Saviors are doing is the right thing. Whereas Rick and his allies see Negan as a bullying, tyrannical oppressor, he sees himself as doing what is necessary to keep people alive. Like his talk with Rick, this conversation with Simon does more to make Negan a compelling character than any of his over the top villainy has. Negan tells Simon to let the Scavengers live as they are still a valuable resource, but Simon has his own agenda.
Simon goes to meet up with the Scavengers, but instead of just taking their weapons and punishing one Scavenger, as Negan instructed, Simon goads Jadis into hitting him, thus giving him justification to kill all the Scavengers, save Jadis. This will undoubtedly cause problems between Simon and Negan- Negan isn’t the type to tolerate disobedience.
Simon’s brutal act led to Jadis finally becoming an interesting character.
Before this episode, she struck me as just weird for weird’s sake, like the other Scavengers.
Living in a dump, speaking in that bizarre pattern- it always felt forced. It was nice to see that after her people were killed and Rick and Michonne showed up, she dropped the pretense and spoke like a normal woman. That, and learning a bit about her past (she was an artist before the apocalypse) helped make me care about the character for the first time. Plus, watching her lure the Walkers (who, just hours before, were her friends) into the trash compactor so she could escape was clever, gory, and sad all at the same time. She may resent Rick now since he abandoned her, and perhaps she will be a problem for him down the road.
Aaron and Enid’s story was by far the weakest plot this week. They spent most of their time trying to keep the Oceansiders from killing them, succeeded and were let go, but Aaron decides to go back for…reasons. And Enid isn’t thrilled about it because seemingly she and Aaron are close now. Really, the story is weak and tedious. Hopefully, that changes soon.
Overall, this is a more than solid episode- it makes Negan a stronger villain, Jadis an actual character instead of just an assortment of odd traits, and let’s Rick be a mess, as he should be, because he lost a child.
NEXT WEEK: We catch up with Gabriel and Daryl, and Maggie gets tough on her Savior prisoners.
***1/2 out of 4
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