The Walking Dead
In past seasons, when an episode would end with a tense confrontation like the one we saw last week between the Whisperers and Hilltop, we’d often take a detour for a week or two until it was resolved. The good news is that we’re spared from wondering whether Alpha gets her daw-dah back (yes, for now) and what fate befell Alden and Luke (they’re safe, yawn). The bad news is that, in the end, there’s a lot of sizzle but no steak as the standoff ends not with a bang, but a slap. And don’t get me started on Zeke’s side mission and Henry.
Actually, let’s get Zeke out of the way. We begin with scene that’s obviously a flashback because Jesus is alive and less obviously because Carol’s rocking a mid-length ’do which is far more flattering than the full Legolas that will come. (I will never get over the fact that they gave Carol long silver hair and a bow this season.) Jerry is peak Jerry, reeling off slang like “We’re bunned up!” and chewing gum like no one over the age of 7 chews gum. The rewind is mostly a reminder that the communities are fractured and that the stupid faire has been in the works for-ev-er. But it’s also the not-so-big reveal of the charter, or as it’s officially titled, the “Multi-Community Charter of Rights and Freedoms”—a constitution of sorts complete with fancy handwriting and articles of law.* Zeke is convinced he’ll bring everyone together for Walkerpalooza and the leaders will sign his parchment and they’ll all be one big happy family.
Back to present day, with Zeke on a mission he’s been planning for weeks—after they go elk hunting (elk hunting?), there’s a movie theater he needs to raid. Carol is understandably skeptical, but in the end, Zeke sells her on the value of risking their lives for a movie projector bulb and a poster frame. A few things that are almost as weird as this not-so-precise-or-swift “cobra strike”: Zeke calling Carol “Queen,” Jerry calling Zeke “Your Highness,” Zeke being okay with that, Zeke’s continued use of the faux accent, and the fact that I don’t despise Zeke despite all of this. The lone zombie highlight of the night comes when a few fleshbags try squeezing through a popcorn machine and tear their scalps off in the process. Cross that item off the list of must-haves for the damn Faire. Also, on the list of the most fragile things in the new world, projector bulbs are way ahead of babies.
Zeke’s multiple side quests are extra side-questy in comparison to the tense, high stakes showdown at Hilltop. As expected, Daryl isn’t ready to give up Lydia on demand, and also as expected, Alpha’s got Alden and Luke. She’s also rather reasonable for someone who looks disturbingly (and I assume not coincidentally) identical to Marlon Brando in Apocalypse Now: “Your people crossed into our lands,” she says. “There will be no conflict. Your people killed our people. There will be no conflict…Bring me my daw-dah, or there will be conflict.”
Daryl very quickly moves from “We gonna light your asses up” to “m’kay, let me see where Lydia is” as soon as he sees a baby Whisperer in their posse. When the kid starts to wail at a very not-whisperlike volume, it’s Alpha that its mom should be worried about: “If the mother can’t quiet the child, the dead will,” she says with a grin. “Natural selection.” The Brando comparison is more than cosmetic—like Kurtz, she’s journeyed into the heart of darkness and lost her humanity. “We’re animals,” she tells Daryl.
Of course, Henry feels the need to protect someone he’s known for only a few days at the expense of two Hilltoppers, so he sneaks Lydia away to the Angsty Teen Hideaway. That sets up a rather awkward appeal as Enid insists that Henry—the kid who was crushing on her hard not so long ago—gives up his gf so Enid can save her bf. (Ah, such is love in a time of creeping death.) Henry doesn’t put up much of a fight. Neither does Lydia. Was this just a ruse to get her a shower, a Hilltop skincare treatment, and some Old Navy threads?
The tradeoff goes surprisingly smoothly until Alpha greets her lost daughter with a brutal slap to the face for calling her “momma.” Weirdly, the whole Connie-rescues-the-baby subplot isn’t clearly resolved—we never see what happens with the kid, but judging by Earl and Tammy Rose in the end with an infant, it looks like they kept it. (Perhaps the night’s scariest moment came when Connie ran through the cornfields and we could hear muffled audio to mimic her impairment—she’s the only one with any excuse for a walker sneaking up on her.) So the Whisperers lose one kid, get another back, and leave without incident.
There’s no such thing as a happy ending in this world, though. Zeke gets his bulb and his frame without losing anyone, but jinxes himself by saying, “Maybe we’re done losing for a while.” (Lest you believe that, the camera lingers on an ominous red symbol painted on a street sign.) Back at Hilltop, the Newbies celebrate with moonshine, Enid and Alden get freaky, the old timers coo over the new baby, and Henry sulks. What’s amazing is that as infuriating and impulsive (and hormonal) as Henry is, none of it is out of character for a teenage boy. Still, there’s no one more deserving of becoming a zombie snack: He goes off to “find Lydia” (and do what, exactly, dumbass?), which means his babysitter, Daryl, needs to save him. Connie decides that she can’t “live with” the Lydia deal, either. So Daryl, Connie and Dog head off into the night to rescue Stupid Henry and move Alpha and her dead-flesh peeps into conflict mode.
*For all of you post-apocalyptic historians who’d like to explore the language of the charter but aren’t psychotic enough to pause the show to scrutinize it, here’s most of the preamble: “Any person who would live in peace and fairness, who would find common ground, this world is yours by right. We stand together for life, not death, in this new world. Together we make this world bigger. The future is ours so long as we hold onto our faith in one another…”