The Walking Dead
Full speed ahead! When Carol appeared in the pantry, it seemed like this chapter would be an interlude, a slow hang with the folks who stayed behind at Alexandria until Rick’s crew returns from Hilltop. Instead, the fully stocked RV arrives right away and Rick calls for a meeting. No time to wait — they are taking the fight to the Saviors, pronto.
That, of course, inspires all manner of existential angst. Training the A-towners to kill zombies was no easy feat. But murdering people, even if they’re homicidal sadists, proves to be far tougher. Rick forms a plan and they execute it with lethal, bloody efficiency. But in the end, it’s Negan’s gang who’s calling the shots.
Before we discuss the assault on the Saviors, there’s a lot of character development woven through the episode — starting with Sarge’s decision to leave Rosita. Just a couple days ago, he was telling her she was amazing, wearin’ her chain, steaming up the shower with her. Rosie understandably does not take this news well, and his rationale doesn’t help: “Why are dingleberries brown? It’s just the way shit is … when I first met you, I thought you were the last woman on earth. You’re not.” If you’re being extremely generous, you might say that the tough guy is being cruel just to break things off cleanly, perhaps to hide his own emotional pain. Or you could just say he’s being a grade-A asshole.
Father Gabriel also becomes, dare I say it, interesting for the first time. On the list of survivors who are begging to be eaten, he’s been near the top for a while. But Judith’s babysitter finally shows us something. He tells Rick he’s keeping his priest’s garb, because that’s who he is, even though he carries a rifle and is ready to use it. The priest shows us something when he corners one of the fleeing Saviors. “Let your heart not be troubled … ” he says. The Savior has a few ominous words for him in return: “You’re all dead. Blood’s coming.” The holy man answers with a single shot and an “amen.” A scripture-quoting killer? Okay, Gabriel. Now you’re earning your keep. (Which makes me wonder if his time is short.)
Then there’s Carol, who makes a welcome return after ghosting for a while. Apparently, she’s been busy getting her Betty Crocker on and whipping up more of her now-infamous cookies. (It’s the acorn and beet variety, including one left at Sam’s grave; even in death, that poor kid is still haunted by Carol.) The opening scene is nicely staged — while out foraging, she’s set upon by a sexy nightgown-wearing zombie, which prompts an eye roll and a head-stab that ruins Carol’s otherwise clean white top. Such is domestic life in this time of the undead. Carol’s also got a thang goin’ on with Tobin, who is apparently into women with strong maternal instincts and a bloodlust that scares the bejeezus out of him.
Yet Carol is conflicted by her dual roles as town mom and resident Rambo. On her nightstand is a journal that she’s using to keep track of the human lives she’s taken. We see the telltale initials: R (for Ryan, Lizzie and Mika’s dad, whom she mercy-killed); K and D (Karen and David, the jailhouse duo who led to her banishment); and L (Lizzie, her adopted psycho daughter). Carol’s magic number is 18, and for a moment, you can see she’d rather be baking. But duty calls.
As expected, Morgan is the only one to raise a concern about Rick’s plan to wage war with the Saviors. Yes, Morgan is a pacifist, but his Mr. Rogers worldview is wearing thin. Try talking to these guys? The ones who were an RPG-blast away from killing Sasha, Sarge, and Daryl? And who beat a kid to death? Even Aaron is onboard with the preemptive-strike idea, and he doesn’t even know they’re getting a cow. Rick minces no words in laying out his strategy: “We kill them all.”
The assault begins with a gruesome twist, as the gang goes headhunting to find a zombie who looks like Gregory. Chances of locating one that still has some flesh on its face and bears a resemblance is slim. Finding three? Laughable, but let’s just go with it. (Broken Hand Dude’s reaction when Rick goes all Rocky on the winning head is both funny and disturbing: “The Saviors, they’re scary, but those pricks got nothin’ on you.”)
Judging by the Saviors we meet and the one that Daryl blew up, membership in their gang requires a knack for colorful language (“needledick,” “shitbrain”) and extreme antisocial behavior (severed-head ventriloquism, photo collages of corpses). The raid of the satellite station goes Hollywood-perfect for the most part — the Saviors are sound sleepers, they don’t think to shoot at floor-level through a flimsy door, and their aim sucks. The most disturbing moments of the night, and maybe even the season, come when Rick, Glenn, and Heath find slumbering gangbangers. Rick barely hesitates to slide his knife in a sleeping man’s head. That’s harder to stomach than any walker-related gore. We’ve seen untold zombies kill and be killed, but note that we don’t actually see what Rick does. We just see his reaction. Glenn looks deeply affected by taking out two Saviors; Heath can’t bring himself to play executioner at all. But then they see those Polaroids on the wall and understand what these men are capable of doing.
The hallway firefight is a heart-pounder, complete with a badass shot of Rick, Michonne, and Daryl running through a darkened corridor, weapons drawn. (I suspect someone’s already turned that screenshot into a dorm-room poster.) As dawn breaks, it appears the A-towners have won — at least they think so. Oh, Michonne. You really think Negan would go out like that? Back at the safe zone, Morgan welds and weeps, as he seems to sense his companions have started down a path from which they can’t turn back. After Daryl tackles a Savior who had commandeered his old motorcycle, a female voice comes over a walkie-talkie — they have Carol and Maggie.
Why, oh why, did Maggie go on this mission? Just because she negotiated the deal? As a plot device, it makes perfect sense. Logical, it is not. If building a future is the priority now, keep the pregnant woman at home.
The faces we see in the closing moments speak volumes. Glenn is tortured. Rick grimaces, looking in vain for the Saviors. Checkmate, Negan. Rick’s plan, to use a word Sarge would appreciate, is officially FUBAR.