Let’s close out this holiday weekend by giving thanks to this episode’s highlights: the sight of Gregory weeping in the fetal position, Ms. Spock’s curious trash-sculpture-making attire, Rick joining Junkyard Hot Spa, and two jaw-dropping action sequences that redeem an otherwise slow hour. The Walking Dead is becoming more and more like an NFL football game — an hour-long special with a lot of huddles, talking, and commercials with roughly four minutes of quality action.
It’s another ping-pong affair as we bounce between Hilltop, the Kingdom, the three Alexandrians who defy Rick’s order to stay put, and Officer Friendly’s final move before the real final move. Two days — that’s the timeline for the completion of Rick’s master plan, which lines up perfectly for the midseason finale in two weeks. In a world without email or snail mail, sometimes you have to Ricksplain your strategy via voice-overs and hand-delivered notes (and use an old microwave as a mail box). With the Saviors surrounded by undead and cut off from supplies, Rick is counting on an offer they won’t refuse: Surrender or die. Are they on the verge of ending this, as Rick declares? Hopefully. It’s time to bring the Negan story line to an end. Will this be their “last fight,” though? No chance. (The distant laughter you heard after that line was courtesy of Robert Kirkman and AMC’s executives.)
As expected, Rick’s solo gambit brings him to the Scavengers. As not expected, we find Jadis expressing her artistic side while wearing a long smock and nothing else. Any chance for more uncomfortable sexual tension with Rick disappears when Jadis puts on a negotiation-appropriate outfit and engages in her bizarre conversational haiku. Credit to Rick for trying to speak her language — remember, folks, she didn’t shoot him, she grazed him — and for using those Polaroids to prove he really has the upper hand on Negan. But talks go south when Rick delivers his ultimatum, which is essentially the same offer he’s giving the Saviors. Well, yes or no, Ms. Spock? “No,” she says. “Talks too much.” Amen, sister! To the shipping-container sweat lodge you go!
The goings-on at the three settlements are a mix of story lines that continue to slowly play out and reintroduce characters we haven’t seen in a minute. Life is slowest at the Kingdom, where everyone is in mourning except Benjamin’s little bro, Henry, who’s so hungry for vengeance that even Carol’s trusty scare speech can’t curb his bloodlust. (I admit, this is a little wishful thinking that Henry turns out to be a preternatural killing machine.) So Henry gets his first firearm, Jerry stops Carol from blasting open an unlocked door (even depressed Jerry is good for a laugh — love that guy), and poor Zeke can’t even muster the strength to speak in his Shakespearean accent. My cold TWD heart thawed a bit as Carol and Zeke kinda, sorta admitted they’re catching feelings. Carol confides that she’s just like him, playing a role every day because that’s what their people need. But Zeke is broken. Even if the King returns, who’s left to fight for him besides Lil’ Henry the Merciless?
Over at Hilltop, life seems relatively calm, but there’s chaos swirling underneath the surface. Every time Needle-D Gregory pops up to dole out advice to “Margaret” or trash her “hippie dippie kung-fu friend,” it’s a reminder that he’s easily the most annoying character left standing. (Yes, Negan butchered Glenn and the Sarge, but if I could only toss one person in a walker pit, it would be Greg.) Maggie decides to jail the Savior captives rather than execute them, much to the relief of Jesus and the mouthy Savior who tells Jared to stop being an asshole for once. (Jared is currently my No. 2 in the “Walker Pit” rankings.) Thankfully, Greg’s speech about wolves among sheep hits Maggie like it hits us — Greg is the wolf! So Mags tosses him in the clink to wild flailing, protests, and tears. She also makes it clear that the Saviors are only alive because they may be useful, but it’s hard to imagine she’d actually execute them all. Meanwhile, Aaron decides it’s time to go rogue and that bringing teenage Enid along for some unspecified action is also a good idea.
More bad decisions are made at Alexandria, starting with Officer Dopey, a.k.a. Carl, who makes an always ill-advised solo trip outside the gates to bring supplies to his mystery friend. Luckily for Coral, Siddiq seems to be good people, albeit a wee bit zombie-shocked. His impressive kill count translates to some handy combat skills when he and Carl end up in a completely unnecessary and gravely outnumbered walker battle.
Then there’s the dumbest move of all: Injured Michonne and Rosita go full Thelma and Louise simply because Michonne has spent less than two days on the sidelines and needs to see the Sanctuary first-hand. (Rick takes a lot of heat when his plans fall apart, but these people are the absolute worst when it comes to following orders. Current AWOL roll call: Aaron, Enid, Michonne, Rosita, Daryl, Tara, Morgan, Rick’s own son.) Yet their poor judgment leads to a whopper of a throwdown. Turns out two Savior scavengers have assembled a rig of speakers, nicknamed “the Fat Lady,” that would make Metallica proud. Their plan: Drive the mobile opera to the Sanctuary, draw the herd away, and free Negan’s army. A skirmish ensues and a weakened Michonne is in trouble, until Rosita finds an RPG and scores the best kill of the season by vaporizing that Saviordude at point blank range. Saviorgal makes a break for it with the Fat Lady blaring at full volume, and it looks like Rick’s plan is about to crumble. UNTIL DARYL AND TARA APPEAR JUST IN TIME TO T-BONE THE FAT LADY WITH A GARBAGE TRUCK.
Despite Rick’s insistence that his people are winning, victory looks anything but certain. Daryl’s new crew is preparing to launch a preemptive end strike that’s certain to backfire. Zeke and the Kingdom are in disarray. And no one seems concerned about Rick’s solo trip to negotiate with a bunch of weirdos who live in trash and already betrayed him once. Peering through a hole as Spock marks his container with an “A,” the sight of Rick’s eyeball (and his sweaty, naked captive state) suggests his plan won’t come together.