The Walking Dead: The Next World
Last week, we talked about some of the more absurd moments in the mid-season premiere and I speculated about whether or not the show should embrace its goofiness. This episode’s main story was a buddy comedy starring two inept red necks being frustrated by a guy who looks like Jesus but acts like Bugs Bunny. How perfect would it have been if he would have peered over the roof of the truck and asked Rick and Daryl “What’s up, Doc?” Bonus points if he was chomping on a carrot while doing so.
When The Next World opens, time has passed since the events of the last episode. As is always the case, the passage of time is left intentionally vague. But it was enough time for Carl to have recovered from being shot in the face last week. When last we checked in on Alexandria, it was the site of massive carnage. They set a lake on fire on watched as who know how many zombies marched into it. But now the place is back to looking like Main Street USA.
I’m going to dwell on this for probably a moment longer than I should. It’s weird that this is the second episode of the second half of the season. The conventions of storytelling would suggest that the act break (and therefore the show’s hiatus) should have occurred after the zombie attack last episode. That episode tied up a lot of what was being built up in the first 10 hours of the season. If The Next World had been the midseason premiere, the passage of time would have coincided with the viewer experience and felt more organic.
No Way Out was a natural chapter ending and The Next World is the start of the next chapter. So why didn’t the show schedule follow the story’s natural flow? Because the writers were probably worried that The Next World wasn’t explosive enough to serve as a suitable midseason premiere. So they split the story’s conclusion in half which is a very odd thing to do. But the show is doing everything it can to cultivate social media exposure. The need to light up the Twittersphere is dictating the show’s pacing which is unlikely to result in quality storytelling.
The passage of time finds all of our characters unusually chipper. Even Rick, who spent most of the first half of the season waiting for the Alexandrians to just die already, has decided that maybe there is hope for humanity after all. The only person who seems to be in a pessimistic mood is Daryl. When Rick and Daryl go on a supply run, they have completely reversed their previous positions with regards to trusting outsiders. Rick, whose previous stance could be summed up as “let ’em die” is willing to take a few chances on newcomers. But Daryl, whose job it is to recruit good people to the community, had decided that is no longer in the town’s best interests.
Why the reversal? Rick’s mind changed when the seemingly worthless citizens of Alexandria followed him out into the streets for what should have been a suicide mission but somehow turned into a great victory. Presumably, Daryl is still shaken by his run-in with Negan’s biker gang. Given the fact that Daryl has encountered the corrupt town of Woodbury, the cannibals of Terminus, that weird gang of claimers, and the Wolves, you wouldn’t think he’d be all that shaken to find that there is another group out there that means them harm.
Last week’s confrontation with Negan’s crew was Daryl’s second run-in with the group. Whether or not he realizes this or even suspects it isn’t clear. But by this point, Daryl knows that there are other groups out there that could threaten the peace and security of Alexandria. That’s pretty important information. It’s clearly weighing on Daryl to the point where he has reversed his entire position in his role in the community. When the recruiter thinks it’s time to stop recruiting, something is up!
But does Rick ever ask Daryl why he changed his stance so drastically? No. He just insists that Daryl was right before and wrong now. Despite spending who knows how long on the road together, the two men never have a meaningful conversation about their future plans or recent events. More distressingly, Daryl is in possession of information that is of critical importance to the community. And yet, he doesn’t appear to have shared this vital intel with the community’s leader.
One might assume that during the passage of time between episodes, either Daryl, Sasha or Abraham might have told Rick about Negan’s men. It’s so obviously what they should have done. But I’m willing to bet that Rick has no clue there is a group of dangerous thugs lurking nearby. Why? Because the characters on this show don’t have conversations off camera. If they didn’t devote screentime to it, it didn’t happen.
When Rick and Daryl don’t agree on how to deal with a stranger who calls himself Jesus, it makes sense that they would have a detailed conversation. If you are the leader of a community and your right-hand man who also happens to be one of the town’s two recruiters tells you he doesn’t think recruiting is a good idea anymore, aren’t you going to ask him why? Especially when you have recently come to the epiphany that growing your numbers is in the best interests of the town? But no. Instead they engage in what passes for banter on The Walking Dead.
Rick and Daryl find a truck full of supplies all gassed up and ready to go. In the zombie apocalypse, this is the mother lode! At a minimum, this is a highly unlikely find. It’s even a bit suspicious. Could it be a Trojan horse situation? R&D don’t question their good fortune. They don’t even take inventory of the truck’s contents. After a cursory inspection, they decide to leave their old car behind and drive the truck back to Alexandria. Never mind the fact that they have two drivers and two vehicles. They decide for plot reasons to leave their car behind and come back for it later.
If you’re willing to accept that this truckload of supplies is exactly what it appears to be, the smart thing to do is drive your newfound treasure straight home and chalk up the entire day as a highly successful supply run. But they don’t do that. Instead, they stop at an abandoned gas station so Daryl can loot a vending machine for Denise. It seems that Tara has been talking about Orange Crush in her sleep and Denise would like to surprise her with one if at all possible.
Against all odds, this vending machine is still stocked with Tara’s soft drink of choice. My work place has vending machines on every floor. Not a single one of them contains Crush despite the presence of both Coke and Pepsi products. In fact, there is no orange soda of any kind. Orange soda isn’t exactly a vending machine staple, but it might be a nice bit of product placement. This strange vending machine contains both snacks and soda – a combination I don’t think I have ever seen before due to the fact that soft drinks are traditionally refrigerated and mints are not. A minor point, I realize. But the mind wanders during TWD. Would it have been too much to have two vending machines? Do they think their viewers are unfamiliar with the conventions of automated snacks?
While at the gas station, they boys meet a polite scavenger named Jesus. Jesus proceeds to make fools of Rick and Daryl by boosting the keys to their supply truck and leaving them stranded at the gas station. If Rick and Daryl had driven separately, this would have been less of an issue because they could have pursued Jesus in their car. But the writers wanted them on foot, thus the earlier decision to leave the car behind.
Before they head off in pursuit, Daryl liberates a couple of Orange Crushes. He and Rick share one which was presumably damaged. They then catch up to Jesus and get the truck back from him. They leave him tied up by the side of the road and as a final insult, Daryl shakes up a can of soda and leaves it with Jesus. Kind of funny, but weren’t the soft drinks important enough for you to jeopardize the entire supply run? Maybe don’t waste them now.
But Jesus isn’t done yet. It turns out he slipped his bonds in seconds and somehow climbed on top of the truck! It’s completely implausible and more than a bit silly. The whole thing ends with Jesus knocked out and the supply truck sinking into a lake. Because the entire interlude is being played as a light comedy, the guys just shrug off the loss of their supplies – aka their entire reason for leaving the safe confines of their town.
Real people in this situation would have been upset. Their foolishness just cost them a small fortune. Those supplies could have kept their friends and family safe and fed for who knows how long. This was no small loss, but the supplies were never really an issue here. They were just the thing that got the plot going. Since the stakes were never real, Daryl and Rick are free to laugh off their reversal of fortune.
The end result is that Rick and Daryl bring this highly skilled individual back to Alexandria for medical treatment. They know Jesus stole from them. They know he is dangerous. They have reason to believe that he belongs to another camp. After all of their experiences with other groups, it makes no sense whatsoever to expose the location of their community to a guy like Jesus. But characters on The Walking Dead don’t make sensible decisions. Or if they do, they reverse them almost immediately.
The episode’s B-story dealt with Spencer and Michonne putting a zombified Deanna out of her misery. How did Deanna get into the woods? The last time we saw her she was indoors and surrounded by zombies who certainly would have consumed her as zombies do. It’s kind of their whole thing. Deanna’s death was only two episodes ago. The writers couldn’t have written it in such a way that having her end up as a woods-zombie would have been plausible? Do they really not know what’s coming two episodes in advance?
In Start to Finish, Deanna spend a lot of time preaching to Michonne. It didn’t make a whole lot of sense at the time because Deanna and Michonne weren’t especially close. Maggie was the logical character for Deanna to confide in. But now we know that those scenes between Deanna and Michonne existed to set up a relationship for this episode in which Michonne helps Spencer put his mom to rest. It’s weird that they were planning ahead in that respect but not the details of Deanna’s demise.
All of this happens to set up the episode’s big finish. With a little down time, Rick and Michonne realize that there is something going on between them. ‘Shippers celebrated as the two characters finally initiated a rare romantic subplot. Comic book readers know this is a departure from the source material. In the comics, Rick started a relationship with Andrea. But the show ruined its version of Andrea so badly they had no choice but to kill her off in season 3. So Michonne fills in which is just as well since the show has never really known what to do with the character.
It all ends with Jesus walking into their bedroom in a post-coital moment. That Jesus is such a hoot! here’s hoping the show continues to embrace the character’s absurdity. It beats the hell out of watching Enid mope. There’s a character who can’t be killed off soon enough!
All in all, an okay episode by the show’s standards. Which is to say, it could have been so much better than it was if anyone had actually put an ounce of effort into thinking things through. But still, a goofy, lighthearted episode of The Walking Dead is almost as rare as a truck full of supplies or an Orange Crush. Let’s not be like Daryl and waste them and then blame the lack of soda on Jesus.