The Walking Dead
There’s a classic scene in This Is Spinal Tap where the band — late in its career, with dwindling interest from its fans — decides to leave its heavy-metal sound behind in favor of free-form jazz. “We hope you enjoy our new direction,” says David St. Hubbins to a nearly empty amusement-park theater. I was a little concerned that this season of TWD was headed into its “Jazz Odyssey” phase with its emphasis on society (and bridge) building over zombie mayhem and cartoonish human villainy. But this episode is cause for hope that the show can tell compelling stories and build suspense without suffocating in talk of trade routes and infrastructure projects. It’s also the conclusion of a murder-mystery triptych involving the missing Saviors — essentially Law & Order: Undead Victims Unit.
Once again, much of the drama comes from the growing philosophical divide between Rick and Maggie. Lest you feel unclear as to Rick’s motivation, he wakes up in the morning, says a quiet good-bye to his family, and — like a football player slapping a motivational sign on the way to the field — taps the piece of his porch that hangs on his wall, the one with Carl and Judith’s blue handprints. Maggie, on the other hand, is constantly reminded that the thug who murdered her husband is alive and many of his followers are still total scuzzbuckets. Take Billy Walsh — er, Jed — who’s in search of Justin, his MIA buddy. Jed stops Maggie’s carriage, gets all mouthy, and has the nerve to eat a tomato without permission. Buff Glenn, a.k.a. Kal from Hilltop, sums up their current mood well: “I can’t believe we’re working with these assholes.” To review: Rick gets family fun days with Judith and tells Michonne he’s ready for a different kind of future building (a.k.a., let’s get to baby makin’!). Maggie is raising a child alone, dodging drunk assassins, and trying to fuel up a goddamn tractor. Hard to blame her for being angry.
(Speaking of angry, is anyone else frustrated by keeping track of the randos and minor characters who are now playing semi-significant roles? Or is this just #recapperproblems? I’m constantly thinking, “Have we seen this person before and/or what is his or her freaking name?” In addition to Jed and Kal, we have Neck Tat Blonde Savior (Laura), Buzz Cut Savior (Erat), Oceanside Sniper’s Pal (Beatrice, a.k.a. Bea), Good Guy Savior from Hilltop (Alden), and Jed’s tough lumberjack buddy who, frankly, I’m just not in a mood to Google.)
Tensions between the Saviors and everyone else boil over with the discovery of Justin’s body. Every crime procedural needs a cop, and Rick notes that the cause of death was a puncture wound — perhaps an arrow or a bolt. Daryl says exactly what we’re thinking as Rick gently questions him about who might be known for killing people in that exact same way: “Is this the kind of shit you used to do?” It’s a long overdue moment, with the rebel anti-authoritarian calling out his law-and-order pal. Rick and Daryl wouldn’t have been friends in their past lives; as the world slowly shifts back toward what it once was, it’s reasonable to think they’d begin to drift apart. Can’t help but wonder if Rick might regret mentioning one of Daryl’s “best decisions” was “not killing a guy who left your brother on a rooftop to die.”
When Rick suggests they pair up for an all-night search for Justin’s killer and Erat, it’s telling that he goes with Carol and Daryl partners with Maggie. (I overlooked a rather major development last week: Carol’s Totally Awkward Engagement. In past seasons, I’d think their union means certain death for one or both of them. Now, though, it’s more likely that they’ll end up as the show’s “It Couple,” since we know Rick and Michonne won’t be a thing for long.) When Carol gets ambushed by Jed, the Boss Lady has something up her sleeve — specifically, a knife. Instead of killing this lowlife and his lumberjack bro, Rick and Carol show mercy. Their motto: “Every life counts now.”
Then there’s the discovery that Cyndie, Bea, and the Oceanside gals are the Savior executioners. With Erat on her knees, Cyndie explains they’re standing on the very spot where her little brother was slain by the Saviors. They’ve tried to turn the other cheek, Cyndie says, but Maggie’s brand of frontier justice in dealing with Gregory inspired them to go on a killing spree instead. “Rick’s rules aren’t the only rules,” she explains. “You showed us the way.” Maggie looks horrified by this revelation at first; it’s like there’s a little Michonne on her shoulder saying, “Told ya this would happen!”
This grim scenario gets even darker as Cyndie tells Erat to repeat what she said before she murdered her 11-year-old brother: “No exceptions.” Maggie and Daryl hear that, exchange a knowing glance, then simply walk away. Erat pleads for their help and swears she’s changed. Then Cyndie straight up spears her in the back of the head. That scene was by far the most intense of the season, with long-lasting ramifications that go well beyond the Saviors walking off the job site.
Perhaps as intriguing is the Jadis-Anne subplot and a major reveal. We learn she has a hidden walkie at the junkyard, which she uses to communicate with the pilot of that mysterious helicopter. She also has a deal with him, to deliver what they call either an “A” or a “B,” which is some sort of grading system for people she’s captured and handed over. When Gabe catches her, she tries to convince him to help with “one small part of the deal” so they can fly away to some sort of paradise. All of this raises approximately 5,743 questions — none of which Gabe can ask, because instead of playing along to extract some more info from her, he admits he’s going to run and tell Rick. Jadis-Anne cracks him in the head and says ominously, “And all this time I thought you were a B.” (Make that 5,744!)
Now the fissure among the survivors has become a chasm. Come sunup, with no sign of Erat, the Saviors head home, step on a perfectly good tomato, and give Rick a total F-you look. Meanwhile, Maggie tells Daryl that Cyndie showed her the way — and it’s time to visit Negan. Daryl nods in agreement and the two walk down the road with their fuel and a new direction that seems less free-form jazz and more death metal. That unfinished bridge will soon be the least of Rick’s worries.