Fittingly for an episode titled “Bonds,” this week finds The Walking Dead meditating on the ties that connect us, sometimes separate us, and also sometimes lead us to hide zip ties in our knapsack so as to take a hostage without our best pal knowing about it until it’s too late. Friendships are tested, a surprising alliance is forged, and things get kinky in Whisperville.
Let’s begin with the headliners rather than the supporting acts, starting with Carol, who’s both radiant and deviant this season (simmering rage and deception seem to suit her). From the jump, it’s clear she’s not being up front with Daryl as he joins her on what she claims is a Negan search mission. In truth, she’s got a plan: Stake out the Whisperers and by watching their movements, somehow divine the location of their undead army. If Daryl says that makes sense then, well, who am I to argue, but it sounds like dog shit to me.
Amidst the chucking of acorns and breaking of stones, things get personal as Carol asks Daryl about Connie — finally! — and encourages him to drop the “it ain’t like that” routine and do some conscious coupling. (Of course, if they do hook up, that’s likely a death sentence for poor Connie.) She also senses that Daryl doesn’t trust her, and for good reason. Daryl begrudgingly agrees to cross into Whisperer territory on the condition that they leave no trace and kill no walkers. That pact doesn’t last long as Carol ignores the master tracker’s signal to move away from an incoming herd; worse, she steps on a branch, and not just any branch, but one that snaps loudly enough to be heard above the rumble of groaning undead and attract their attention.
It’s bad enough that Daryl resorts to the old “entrails facial” as camouflage for survival, but then he finds Carol has taken a hostage. Sure, the Whisperer spotted her so she had to either capture or kill. But Carol also had restraints that she hid from Daryl, suggesting that this was her true plan all along. It’s a major gamble, with the odds greatly in favor of Alpha finding out.
Speaking of our favorite cue ball, Alpha gives her righthand monster orders on how to handle their uninvited guest, Negan: “Test ’em. If he is wuu-thay, I will hear ’em. If not, theyn, I kill ’em.” Sounds like a plan! A and B engage in a little role play, with Alpha asking Beta if he’s threatened, or more, if his lippy attitude means he wants to be in charge. “Never,” he says, and as he bends the knee, Negan can’t help but laugh out loud at all the dom/sub kink going on in the middle of the woods between two freaks who like blood, masks, and mind games. (Maybe “Bonds” is actually short for “bondage”?)
Beta’s “test” of Negan’s worthiness turns into a rather hilarious montage as Negan digs some deep holes and tries to keep up with the bigger, stronger, grosser competition. When Negan flays a meager strip of flesh from a zombie, Beta carves out a walker-skin rug. Neegs struggles to drag a limp body; Beta casually marches over with one over each shoulder. To be fair to Negan, he’s been spending most of his time in a cell, so his frame isn’t as imposing as it once was (time to hit the squat rack and beef up those quads, bro).
More surprising than Carol’s deception is Negan’s power play. When Negan returns with the pig he wrestled into submission, Beta denies him food. That’s when Beta’s jealousy really escalates, as one of his foot soldiers hooks Negan up with a strip of jerky. Neegs tries to make peace — in the middle of what seems to be a walker herd, so I’m not sure how he can run his mouth without getting eaten — but Beta stabs the generous jerky friend and leaves Negan to fend off the ensuing zombie-dinner call.
Much to Beta’s surprise and not at all to ours, in struts Negan, very much not dead, his face streaked with blood and a gore-soaked tree limb on his shoulder that harkens back to ol’ Lucille. “I’m ready for my goddamn skin suit,” he announces. “You best bring an extra long tape measure on account of my humongous balls.” It’s hard to tell if Alpha is smitten or infuriated — Negan is a badass, sure, but he’s also the most un-Whisperer human alive (wears a flashy jacket, not good at taking orders, never shuts his cake hole). Then comes the shocker: Negan not only declares he’s “all in,” but also kneels before his new leader. Like an animal, Alpha moves in and inspects his face, literally sniffing him out and so close that it looks like they’ll kiss. She puckers up, then raises a finger to her lips: “Shhhhh,” which seems like her way of saying, “Welcome to the cuckoo club.” Negan smiles and Beta stands behind them, mouth agape and super butt hurt. So much for Beta’s declaration that Negan will never be one of them.
Meanwhile, sticking with the theme of bonding, Sid and the funny-weird doc Dante get past their awkward exchanges and team up to deal with a fast-moving virus that seems like something much worse than stomach flu. (Best unintentionally funny line: Sid’s command to “Start crushing some herbs!” And wouldn’t you think a physician would keep his infant away from all the sick people?)
Then there’s the president and lone member of the Hilltop Singles Club, who stumbles across a friendly woman on the other end of his makeshift radio. While she’s smartly cautious about the personal info she shares, Eugene is desperate to make friends — particularly of the female variety. The mystery gal says she’ll keep chatting on the condition that they talk alone, and you know “Taterbug” will find a way to screw that up. (Also, maybe it’s the fever, but Rosita seems to finally be developing some feelings for Captain Ponytail. Talk about bad timing.)
As for Negan’s new pals, it’s an alliance that’s sure to end badly. Alpha is weirdly fascinated by him, but as useful as he may be, there’s only so long she can take his wisecracking before she’ll want to literally murder him. More likely is that Negan doesn’t really want to spend the rest of his days carving skin suits and digging in the dirt — this has the makings of a long con that will end up with Negan proving he’s worthy of trust and the key to taking down Alpha for good.