If there’s one thing I hate about a junkyard, it’s when you go there looking for a friend, discover it’s the home of a bunch of Vulcans, and one of them shoves you into a zombie gladiator pit. We’ve seen some grade-A whack jobs on The Walking Dead, from the Guv to the Terminus cannibals to the child-rapist gang to the Wolves, but this new crew might be the weirdest of them all. Folks on the internet have taken to calling them the Garbage Pail Kids, but that misses the nuances of their freaky-deaky-ness: names like Lord of the Rings characters, bad spoken-word speech patterns, and a thing for dressing walkers in spiked armor. It’s a sign of Rick’s desperation to build a coalition against the Saviors that he’s practically giddy at the thought of recruiting these nutcases.
“New Best Friends” begins with Zeke’s council, along with Morgan, meeting the Saviors to offer their regular tribute. As is typical, the powwow does not go smoothly, with Richard and his old nemesis Jared squaring off at gunpoint. Morgan disarms the Savior with his staff, and we see Benjamin show off the skills he’s learned from his sensei. (“You sick with the stick, man,” says Jerry. And hey, Zeke, stop yelling at Jerry for being Jerry!) Through all of this, the king acts like a real toolbox: telling Richard to hand over his gun, letting Jared take Morgan’s staff, and counseling Benji not to be so quick to fight. What is it going to take to get Zeke off the pacifism train and onboard with the rebellion? It might require something more dramatic and devastating to move the Kingdom to stop being so Switzerland. Maybe if someone who Zeke really cared about were killed …
Back to that in a moment. We can’t go any further without discussing the Junkyard Dogs, led by a woman named Jadis who’s a mash-up of Spock, a Tolkien elf, and Tilda Swinton. Her posse makes quite an impression: body armor and guns, a couple Frankenstein-size dudes, a lot of fiveheads and unfortunate haircuts, very little talking, and the filthy appearance one would expect from people who live among trash. We eventually learn that they’d been watching the floating supply stash that Rick and Aaron looted, and one of them was the Peeping Tom who spied on Gabe through binoculars in the mid-season finale. Sneaking into A-town and forcing Gabe to clean out the pantry was payback.
In a pleasant twist, it’s not Rick’s confident pitch that wins them over — it’s Father Gabe’s, after he steals a knife and holds “Tamiel” hostage. He senses these people don’t want to hear about a far-off threat or a noble fight. What intrigues Miss Spock is that the Saviors have a bunch of cool shit, like food and guns. To them, this war isn’t about revolution. It’s a shopping spree at Walmart. “We take,” says Jadis. “We don’t bother.”
Tell that to Rick, who is awfully bothered when Jadis declares, “Need to know if you’re real with this,” then pushes him into the fighting pit. Lurking there is a creature that looks like something from a Guillermo Del Toro movie, one of Clive Barker’s Cenobites, or the Megadeth mascot: a zombie in plate armor, with long spikes jutting out in all directions. (Nice detail with its helmet, too! The walker’s eyes are covered, presumably because they hunt by smell, not sight.) If last week’s walker mowing was one of the show’s best kills, Rick’s failed keyboard smash might be the lamest — and funniest — attempt at zombie extermination yet. With an assist from Michonne, Rick finally buries the thing under a pile of junk.
Miss Spock seems to have read The Art of the Deal, as she tries to negotiate half of everything they’ll take from the Saviors, plus guns and the supplies they took from A-town. She agrees to most of Rick’s terms, but in her expressionless, Yoda-like manner, she warns, “Deal expires. Soon.” Rick is a limping bloody mess when it’s all over and they’re on the clock to find more weapons for the Vulcans. But Rick is just happy they’ve struck a deal.
(Brief aside: Let’s assume that surviving a zombie apocalypse and the collapse of civilization does some serious psychological damage. Maybe you go crazy, like the Wolves, or take extreme measures to exist, like eating people, or letting your one-eyed son do whatever the hell he wants with his hair. But what causes a group like the Vulcans to start talking in clipped phrases and going by names that seem borrowed from fantasy books? We know why Zeke keeps up his Olde English routine. Let’s hope we get similar insight into Jadis and his deal.)
The other major plotline begins with Richard handing a crossbow to Daryl, who is then compelled to strike a pose while holding it in a most badass way. (Think it’s safe to say the old Daryl is officially back.) But what looks like the beginning of a beautiful friendship goes south when Richard reveals his plan to force Zeke into war: He wants Daryl’s help to take out a few Saviors and set up Carol as the killer. Daryl, of course, ain’t having it. If anything happens to Carol, from death to injury to ingrown toenail, he promises Richard, “I’ll kill ya.”
Carol and Daryl have a sweet reunion as his voice quivers when he asks her, “Why’d you go?” She finally opens up about her decision to be a mean hermit who takes fruit and gives nothing but shade in return: If the Saviors hurt anyone else, she explains, she’d try to kill them all, “And there wouldn’t be anything left of me after that.” Fair enough, Carol. She even breaks down when asking if anyone else has suffered. Daryl knows that if he tells her the truth about Glenn and Abraham, she’ll lose herself to revenge.
The curtain falls with Father Gabe’s status as a trusted ally cemented, Rick headed home to get stitched up before searching for guns to give the Vulcans, and Daryl en route to Hilltop — a risky play, given the Saviors could show up at any time. We’re left wondering about three people in particular: Richard, who watches Daryl leave and is still thinking about setting up Carol for a fall; Rosita, who’s angry and becoming a bit unhinged; and Tara, who knows precisely where to find a ton of guns and more people who could join Rick’s coalition of the living. Seems like a matter of when, not if, those three will take actions that’ll have serious consequences.