The Walking Dead
How dumb was it to let Maggie stand guard during last week’s raid on the Savior compound? Really dumb. The result — both Maggie and Carol were taken hostage by a particularly fascinating foursome, including three no-nonsense women with little regard for the post-apocalyptic patriarchy. That’s bad news for Mags and Carol, but great news for us, as we’re treated to another top-rate episode and the A-towners inch closer to a confrontation with Negan.
We’re quickly introduced to the voice on the other end of Rick’s walkie — and whaddya know, it’s Alicia Witt, who’s even tougher than the Florida-based paralegal she played on Justified. Witt plays Paula, a recovering secretary and alpha female who doesn’t blink while negotiating with Rick and couldn’t care less about bonding with her captives. The guy Carol shot in the arm calls her “babe,” but as Paula makes clear, he’s little more than a warm blanket with a penis. Her posse is rounded out by Gina Carano, and a cig-smoking, lung-cancer-having, bandanna-wearing bruiser who looks like that one cafeteria lady who scared the hell out of you in middle school.
Gender politics are an obvious theme throughout the episode, beginning with the Lunch Lady’s gonads crack to Paula’s boy toy when he calls Carol a “bitch.” Something about the extra stank he puts on that word rubs the Lunch Lady the wrong way. Inside the Savior safe house (which, by the way, is crawling with zombies and thus not quite so safe), Gunshot Gary calls Maggie a “dumb uppity bitch” and Paula ends the ensuing brawl by knocking him out. Girl power!
Although it’s clear these five women have a lot in common, they never slip into a false sense of female bonding. When Gina Carano explains she was going to name her baby after her father — an oddly personal admission, given her otherwise icy demeanor — Maggie doesn’t soften. Paula’s equally unmoved by Maggie’s pregnancy, offering this blunt take: Dumb idea to make “bite-sized snacks for the dead.” By the episode’s horrific end, both Carol and Maggie seem to recognize there isn’t much difference between them and the Savior women they slaughtered. All of them face unique challenges in walkerworld, and they’re doing whatever it takes to survive.
Despite their poor choice in safe houses, give Negan’s gang some credit for organization. When Paula uses her walkie to call for reinforcements, she speaks in code to ensure they talk on a secure channel. The Saviors also apparently refer to walkers as “grabbers,” which begs the question — how many synonyms for “zombie” can there possibly be? (Groaners, moaners, munchers … I guess this list could, and will, go on.) And they’ve thought up a clever, mindfucky strategy to both protect their leader and elevate him to mythological status. Ask one of them about Negan and you’ll get a cryptic answer: We’re all Negan. But when it comes to strategy, it’s definitely not wise to keep a gas can in the room with your prisoners and a woman with a lighter.
Meanwhile, the Academy would like to recognize Carol’s outstanding performance as a hyperventilating, God-fearing, rosary-bead-clutching worrywart. She’s so convincing, Maggie should be truly horrified by her pal’s ability to slip into someone else’s skin and completely disappear. A great exchange between Carol and Paula underscores their similarities, those traits buried deep down beyond the roles they play. Like Carol, Paula has killed other people so she could live (the first being her former boss); unlike our favorite baker, Paula stopped counting when her hit list reached double digits.
Paula: I lost everything and it made me stronger.
Carol: You sure about that?
Paula: Your people are killers, Carol. That makes you a killer.
Carol: You. You’re the one who’s afraid to die. And you’re going to. That’s what’s going to happen if you don’t work this out.
Paula: Are you going to kill me?
Carol: I hope not.
Right there, you knew Paula was doomed and that Carol would punch her card. But so soon? Maybe it was Paula’s “no effs left to give” attitude, or her refusal to let Gunshot Gary be a misogynistic prick, even to her hostages. Maybe it was lingering memories of the 1998 movie Urban Legend. Whatever the reason, I was hoping she’d stick around for a while.
Carol and Maggie have other plans. First is their wicked trap for Lunch Lady, who, in a cruel twist, gets mauled by Zombie Gunshot Gary. Next up is Gina Carano. Her hand-to-hand combat with a pregnant Maggie — including a knife-swipe to the stomach — makes for some very tense moments, until Carol puts a bullet in her head. The best is saved for Paula, who mocks “nervous little bird” Carol to the bitter end. The redhead didn’t hang out for long, but she’ll be remembered for one of the nastiest exits in Walking Dead history, right up there with Noah’s revolving door of death. It’s not enough that Carol impales her — she’s turned into a walker kebob, as a zombie takes a big bite into her cheek. Her screams fade to bloody gurgling, then silence.
The gals have one more trick in store for the Savior rescue party. (Note to self: If anyone recommends meeting somewhere called the “kill floor,” politely decline.) As flames overtake the Saviors and their cries go unanswered, even Carol seems disturbed by what they’ve done. On the way out of the shelter in slo-mo, Maggie is in full Mama Grizzly mode, stabbing and stomping every undead in her way as Paula — still impaled, half her face missing — groans away.
Their reunion with Rick’s crew is an emotional one, as Maggie breaks down under the weight of what she’s done. One look at Glenn and her armor falls away: “I can’t anymore,” she tells him. Carol and Daryl share a tender moment that’s nothing short of perfect:
Daryl: You start a fire?
Daryl: You good?
Daryl: Well come ‘ere.
That hug, right? It’s a temporary tranquility, though, as Rick grills Primo about Negan’s whereabouts. Primo’s response — “I’m Negan, shithead” — ends with a point-blank execution. Carol clutches her rosary so tightly that her hand bleeds. Like Morgan last week, she knows they’ve crossed into dangerous territory. For the first time, Rick’s crew isn’t defending themselves or seeking revenge. They’re the hunters. And they have no idea whom they’re dealing with yet.