An old threat and a new one are the focus of this episode, as Daryl’s rescue party deals with the fallout from crossing the Whisperers and Zeke’s Faire hits a snag thanks to a mysterious band of cinephiles who call themselves the Highwaymen. This leads to a few surprises (didn’t expect to meet a whole new group at this point in the season, or that they’d be so easily converted from enemies to pals) and some no-brainers (Henry and Lydia are still dumbasses).
Things are not looking good for Daryl’s posse at first, fleeing through the woods (where luckily Connie is able to lip-read in the moonlight) with the Whisperers in pursuit. As if we needed more proof that those creeps are not to be trifled with, Beta has a disturbing chat with one of his followers who’s about to join Team Walker. B shares some encouraging words: “You will always be one of us.” I’m interpreting that to mean they’re going to make a mask out of this dude’s face when he’s dead. How heartwarming; Whisperer membership really does have its privileges. (Note that the Whisperers are calling the undead “guardians.” I’m guessing that this series will finally end when they can’t think of any more new nicknames for the zombies. So sometime in the year 2073.)
With Beta on the hunt, Connie has a plan. There’s a high-rise under construction nearby where her crew used to stash supplies. The strategy: take the high ground, separate the Whisperer strike team from their walkers, and set a trap. Daryl seems more and more impressed by Connie at every turn. Not to get all Days of Our Lives about this, but there’s chemistry between these two. Could Connie turn out to be the woman who softens Daryl’s hard heart? Or is there a hookup ahead, at least?
Speaking of hookups, Henry and Lydia are positively stupid for each other, which is fitting, because she catches a bit of Henry’s dumbass flu. Lydia confirms what’s been obvious since their romance blossomed on the cold, dirty jail cell floor: Henry’s crushing on her hard. Kudos to Daryl for busting up their make-out sesh with a stern, “Hey!” He also wisely locks her in a closet with Dog, knowing that she’s on the record as being unable to kill her former low-talking pals. Instead of staying put, though, Lydia breaks free — not a smart move, but to be fair, that allows Dog to execute a sweet flying Whisperer attack and save Henry from being pitchforked to death. (Dog and Judith are in a dead heat for first place in my ranking of favorite characters at the moment.)
Meanwhile, the Kingdom faces another logistical challenge with Zekeapalooza. Remember that weird red symbol on the street sign after they raided the movie theater? Turns out that it’s the very minimalistic logo for a group called the Highwaymen (clearly all the graphic designers in the greater Virginia-D.C. area are dead). They’ve ambushed Jerry’s scout patrol and stolen all their gear, including Jerry’s sword — which, if I heard correctly when he whispers to Zeke, is named Janis Joplin. Queen Carolas has a very un-Carol-like take on the Highwaymen’s demands, opting to negotiate rather than fight. She notes that they could have simply killed Jerry’s group instead of robbing them, and as we all know, even in the middle of a zombie apocalypse, grammatical correctness is next to godliness. One thing Carol knows for sure: these Highwaymen definitely ain’t Jed’s group. (That’s because she burned Jed’s group to death, ICYMI).
The Kingdom sends its best fighters to the Highwaymen headquarters, which is filled with mannequins and a bunch of armed, unfriendly folks (including one with a gun who’s wearing some sort of Sgt. Pepper’s jacket). Their leader sports a cowboy hat, talks tough, and executes a perfect villain’s laugh when Zeke offers them a deal: work with them to keep the roads safe, and the Highwaymen will get all-access passes to the Faire. The negotiations take a turn when Carol asks, “When’s the last time any of you have seen a movie?” That’s apparently all the Cowboy needed to hear — done deal! (Given their flair for the dramatic, perhaps the Highwaymen are a community theater group.) This odd truce was a well-placed moment of levity and a reminder that it’s been a long time since most survivors could enjoy any of the comforts of the past. It also leads to the burning question of the night: What movie will they watch? (Probably not a horror flick. I’m hoping they go meta and show Love Actually.)
While the standoff with the Highwaymen comes to a peaceful conclusion, much blood is spilled in the showdown between Daryl and Beta. (Love it when Daryl talks tough, like when he asks Lydia for a scouting report on Big B: “This Beta, he their best? Good. We’ll kill him first.”) Henry and Connie fare well in the fight — save for Henry’s nasty leg wound — but the title bout is Daryl versus Beta’s hit squad. After Daryl delivers two vicious kills — one with an axe followed by a merciless throat-slice — it’s time for the main event. Despite what appears to be a “Have A Nice Day” T-shirt under his jacket and his penchant for bursting through walls like the Kool-Aid Man, Beta is one tall drink of trouble. Daryl appears to have met his match, and at one point, I think both of them are holding at least 13 knives simultaneously. The brutal donnybrook ends with Daryl knocking Beta into an elevator shaft, hocking one on his corpse for good measure, and strutting off like a boss.
But slow your roll, bro. The plan worked nearly perfectly, until Daryl breaks the first rule of superheroing—always make sure the bad guy is actually dead. Beta’s in rough shape, but appears to be surprisingly mobile for a guy who just fell a few stories onto his back. This development is bad news for the Faire once Beta hobbles home to Whisperville and reports to Alpha. The Highwaymen definitely did not know their deal would involve fighting a bunch of skin-mask-wearing freaks. Only upside when the Whisperers crash movie night: at least they talk quietly.