All too often after a traumatic character death like Carl’s, The Walking Dead serves up a catch-your-breath chapter that’s slow, cerebral, and a total snooze. But this time around, we’re instead treated to a series of chapters loosely focused on six individual characters — think Reservoir Dogs meets the Junkyard Dogs. By the end, we’ve seen some major dissent amongst the Saviors, a major reveal about Jadis and her (former) clan, and what looks like the official end of Carl’s dream of peace between Rick and Negan. Let’s go through the story lines one by one.
It was a good move when Rick decided not to leave Carl’s gun behind on his grave. After all, he might need that heater one day. A bad move? Michonne risking both their lives in a failed attempt to save the burning hut where Carl used to hang out. They’re grieving and all, I get it, but it’s one of those moments that sacrifices any shred of realism for the sake of drama and emotional resonance. I’d rather spend more time with the walker that Michonne skull-skewered at the gate; after a minute of groaning and writhing, its face looked like a bad plate of chicken parm.
On the way out of A-town, as the dead reclaim their territory, there’s one final look at the sign outside: “Welcome to the Alexandria Safe Zone — Mercy for the lost, Vengeance for the plunderers.” Rick is in a precarious state of mind, at once wondering if Carl wanted him to surrender to Negan, and insisting that the Junkyarders “are ours, not theirs.” Just to mess with Rick’s head a bit more, he sees that one of Carl’s letters is addressed to Negan.
Rick doesn’t read it yet, of course, because that would make too much sense and we’re only like five minutes into this thing. Instead, he drives to the house of Jadis, where things get super weird: A garbage trap, a walker attack, blue paint, and funky Tarantino-esque zoom-in shots on Rick and Michonne’s faces as they wonder WTF is going on.
Neegs has a short chapter, but it’s packed with tension. He’s wondering if “Rick’s little one-eyed pride and joy” played him back at A-town by trying to bond while buying his people some time to escape. Negan’s relationship with Carl has always been a curious thing: He respected the kid’s cajones, but always seemed to be angling for something, maybe a way to turn Carl’s teen angst against his old man.
Carl is probably higher on Negan’s list of The Best Human Beings He Thinks Are Still Alive than Simon. The mustachioed henchman is fed up with sending messages and wants to kill a bunch of Junkers for their betrayal. That’s when Maggie’s message arrives on a box from Hilltop: “We have 38 more. Stand down.” Inside the crate, it’s zombie Dean, one of Simon’s men. But Negan makes it clear, loudly, that Simon is to follow orders: Take their guns, kill one of them.
Enid earns the distinction of the most boring segment, as she heads to Oceanside with Aaron for the usual runaround and threats. Credit Carl’s crush for delivering some real talk that would make Negan offer her a gig: Hey Cyndie, your granny got herself killed, don’t make the same mistake. Cyndie offers a stay of execution and tells them to scram; Aaron’s plan appears to be to stay behind, squat by a big tree at the edge of the property, and wait for someone to come his way. Guess we’ll see you in the second-to-last episode when we’ve forgotten all about Oceanside and Sure Shot Cyndie saves the day?
For a minute, it looks like Simon just might behave himself at the junkyard. He admires J’s artwork, a blue creature that looks both wicked and vulnerable (like the artist herself). He asks why they chose to live in a literal dump. He also inquires about their helipad and solar panels. Um, what’s that, Simon? Helipad? Solar panels? Could there be Savior-fighting gold in them thar hills of trash?
But it doesn’t take long for Simon to abandon the “sit on our dicks” plan and go full homicidal maniac. Looks like he’s going to kill both of J’s henchpeople, in defiance of Negan’s one-kill plan. But then Jadis slugs him and speaks perhaps her first complete sentence: “There is remorse, you son of a bitch!” That’s when Simon loses it and gives the order to wipe them out — every damn one of them, save for Ms. Spock.
Back at the Sanctuary, Negan suspects Simon didn’t follow orders. How in the eff does Simon think his boss won’t learn that he executed scores of people, a.k.a. resources that need saving?
The plot thickens when we switch back to Rick and Michonne fending off the Junkyard walkers. They climb a trash heap and find Jadis alone in a white sheath, eyes welling up, speaking without the slam poetry cadence. ”These weren’t heaps before,” she says. “Just trash, as far as the eye could see. I used to come here to find things to paint on. Metal sheets. Fabrics. And then after everything changed, I realized this whole place was a canvas. That we were the paint. We could create something new. We could become something new. We did. This was our world, apart from everyone else, in every way.”
Rick is so not impressed by the story of Jadis and her hippie friends creating a shithole artist commune. These trashniks played both sides. So while he grabs a spiked car door and Michonne uses an oven door to make a run for it, Rick leaves Jadis behind. Later, he’ll tell Michonne he didn’t want Jadis to die, but damn, it sure seems like he did.
Her chapter ends with one of the better gore scenes in recent memory: Jadis is apparently in possession of a fantastic, industrial-strength Zombie Meat Grinder, which turns walkers into a meaty paste and, in a fine touch of artistry, splatters pulp on her artwork. So avant-garde! Hungry and pissed off, Jadis is a total wild card now. Will Rick regret not showing her mercy?
I know some of you nutjobs tried freeze-framing the letter from Negan that flashed briefly on the screen. So did I, and here’s the only discernible line with meaning: “…the way out is working together. It’s forgiveness…”
Rick presses his fingers into his forehead a lot and uses the walkie-talkie he grabbed at A-town to dial up Negan. It’s quite an exchange, as Negan is genuinely bummed to hear of Carl’s demise. “That kid,” he says, “that kid was the future.” Could there really be a way out of this? Will Judith one day call him Uncle Neegs?
That optimism dies real fast. Rick makes it clear he’s still going to kill Negan. In return, the Savior doesn’t mince words: “Carl is dead because of you … you failed as a leader, and most of all, Rick, you failed as a father. Just … give up. Give up because you have already lost.” And that sound you hear is the door slamming shut as forgiveness leaves the building.
The final shot is Rick, alone in a field, looking lost. He’s obviously not the surrendering type. Let’s just hope it doesn’t take an episode or two of emotional turmoil for him to figure that out.