The Walking Dead
With time comes clarity, and in the case of the fate of Rick Grimes, it took approximately five minutes after his “goodbye” last week to learn that we’ll be seeing him again soon — in a trio of films that will follow Rick and Jadis-Anne to wherever-the-hell. Time also brings change, and there have been some major developments among the survivors in the six years since Rick died-but-not-really. We zoom in on the Randos, who turn out to be a complicated but mostly likable bunch. And we’re teased with a brief glimpse of the next threat that looms (and groans). But the fun in this episode comes in seeing how different nearly everything has become in the AG (After Grimes) era.
Let’s begin with Daryl, who’s in some sort of exile in the woods, spear-fishing and looking haggard and brooding 24/7. Lest you think his sensitive side is gone, Daryl spares a walker after seeing a momma bird pluck a worm from its carcass to feed her babies. More surprising is Eugene’s makeover — goodbye, mullet-wearing wuss, hello, ponytailed zombie slayer. He’s still so awkward that Rosita has to stop him from declaring his love for her as they’re fleeing a zombie horde, but he’s come a long way. Eugene also has the line of the night when he backhandedly says of Gabe, “Machete-wielding men of the cloth with zero depth perception aren’t exactly a dime a dozen.”
Speaking of the priest, raise your hand if you saw him hooking up with Rosita. Liars, all of you! It’s been a long time since his crush on Jadis-Anne, and you can see why he’d be attracted to Rosita. But Gabe doesn’t seem to be her type — Rosita dated the Sarge, who’s pretty much the opposite of Gabe in every way. So they’re an odd couple, but when you want to set up a remote amplifier to boost the signal of your makeshift radio in the hopes of finding more survivors, it helps if your girlfriend is a badass.
At the Kingdom, Zeke and Carol are enjoying the royal life — well, Carol isn’t, but that’s nothing new. It doesn’t help that the place seems to be falling apart and there’s a fair coming up, which I imagine Zeke spells “Faire” in the local advertisements. Carol does seem to dig her role as Henry’s mom, and for good reason; the kid has grown into a pretty responsible teenager, save for when he rushes off alone to answer a plea for help. (Oldest trick in the bad-guy handbook, kid.) The trap was set by none other than Jed, who reveals Sanctuary “went bust” and his people were so desperate that they ate their own horses. Once again, he wildly underestimates Carol — who’s now sporting a bow and looking like Legolas from The Lord of the Rings, which is ironic, since Jed makes Carol cough up her wedding ring. For a minute, it looks like motherhood has made the Boss Lady soft. But in the middle of the night, she doesn’t just return to Jed’s camp for her jewelry — she somehow covers everyone there in gasoline as they sleep and sets the whole damn lot of them on fire. Carolas is not to be messed with, people.
Add Michonne to the list of strong women who only seem to have grown stronger, despite the emotional baggage they carry. She talks to Rick and Carl so much that Judith keeps her distance when mommy is having one of her special conversations. But now in her role as A-town’s security chief — not leader, which is interesting; do they even have a leader? — Michonne is extra tough on the Randos, who are breaking A-town’s “no new people” rule. At a council meeting on whether they will be allowed to stay, the Randos are introduced one by one:
• Magna waitressed at a truck stop but also spent a considerable amount of time in prison, as Michonne magically sniffs out. She’s got a lot of ink, a lot of hidden weapons, and for a minute, a very bad idea about fighting her way through Alexandria.
• Yumiko is laid up in the infirmary, has a British accent, and is said to be Magna’s GF.
• Luke is a foodie and teacher who’s nearly as verbose as Eugene and gets emotional when talking about one of their lost companions, Bernie.
• Connie is a deaf journalist, which is a rather odd occupation for someone who can’t hear. Did she lose her hearing in the apocalypse?
• Kelly, who I thought was a dude, is actually Connie’s protective younger sister and a refreshingly straight shooter.
Magna wisely abandons any thoughts of rebelling against their hosts, especially when she sees little RJ running around — so, yes, Michonne did get pregnant and there’s a new Grimes spawn in the world! Cue the waterworks in that scene when “Jude” tells Michonne that the voices of her father and brother are fading in her mind. “I hope you can still hear them,” Judith says in her cute little kiddie voice, before running up the stairs, carrying a firearm. (Guess it could be worse, at least she’s not on her iPad all damn day long. #kidstoday)
Judith also has a rather surprising math tutor: Negan, who’s still behind bars but has cleaned up rather nicely. He thoroughly enjoys Judith’s company, and who wouldn’t, really? You have to wonder if some sick part of him simply delights in having outlasted Rick and lived to watch the Grimes kids grow up. But as kind as Judith has been to strangers, she ain’t no fool. Negan tells a story about how he learned to stop bringing home stray dogs in his youth. Judith’s response: “And look how great everything turned out for you.” Killer Grimesburn, kid!
By the end, there are a few narrative threads left hanging. Carol and Henry find Daryl in his Swamp Thing mode, though we’re not sure why. Michonne — who has an “X” scar on her lower left back — is that a brand, commemorating Rick’s not-quite-fatal wound? — has a change of heart and offers to take the Randos to the Hilltop. Wonder how that convo will go — Yes sure, Michonne, we’ll take the strangers you’ve kicked out, including the ex-con who slipped some weapons past you. Note that Michonne says she’ll talk to their female “leader,” but doesn’t mention Maggie. (Spoiler alert: showrunner Angela Kang confirmed that last week’s episode was Maggie’s last appearance for the season, though it might not have been the end of her time on the show. That’s the quietest exit of a major character on any show that I can recall. How will they explain this? And who’s running the Hilltop?)
We’re left with gimpy, awkward Eugene, and Rosita, on the side of the road, covered in mud in the hopes that the pursuing herd will pass them by. If Rosita thought Eugene’s crush was weird, it pales in comparison to what they hear as the zombies pass by — a growling, horrifying voice says, “You let them get away.” I’ll spare the purists among you who haven’t heard anything about this season’s new threat, but these don’t seem to be smart zombies who’ve taken speaking lessons and reconstructed their rotten throats.
(One last word about Rick’s departure: I liked the helicopter rescue much more when it seemed that he’d vanished to parts unknown. But TWD creator Robert Kirkman sees his creation as its own expansive world, of which Fear the Walking Dead and TWD itself are simply pieces. Some stories will intersect, others will be their own thing entirely. That’s respectable and understandable and exciting. It also makes sense that the central hero, Rick Grimes, is the one who will kick off the franchise’s expansion into feature films. Luckily, the storyline was strong enough to overcome the heavy-handed, bait-and-switch-y marketing of Rick’s finale and the film reveal. I don’t think TWD can handle another Glenngate.)