The Walking Dead: New Best Friends
The Walking Dead has been ridiculous for a long time now. But lately, the show seems to be in on the joke which has made the last couple of episodes much more enjoyable than the first half of the season. When The Walking Dead takes itself seriously, it just keeps hitting the same depressing notes over and over again leaving viewers little choice but to focus on the glaring flaws in the narrative. But when you’ve got an episode focusing on a group right out of Mad Max complete with a Thunderdome battle between Rick and a zombie in spiky armor, there’s enough entertainment value to not sweat the small stuff.
What’s the small stuff? Well, this group doesn’t make a bit of sense. It’s only been a matter of years since the start of the apocalypse. The show’s timeline has always been intentionally vague but Judith was conceived sometime around the end of society (most likely while Rick was in a coma) and I don’t think she’s walking yet. If she’s a slow developer, that puts us at two years which is not enough time for an entire group of people to adopt a weird new language.
Then again, we’ve already been introduced to The Kingdom which we accept largely because we know King Ezekiel is putting on a show and his followers are playing along. Maybe something similar is going on here. Either way, I don’t care. I prefer The Walking Dead to be a show where a band of scavengers live in a trash heap led by a charismatic woman with a very serious haircut who says things like “take Rick to the up up up.” If it’s a choice between a show that veers into Z Nation territory and one every other episode is Negan terrorizing people for 90 minutes, I want to go to the up up up.
We know where this storyline is going. Heck, Rick’s smile at the end of last episode demonstrated that he had apparently read ahead because there was no reason for him to think being taken prisoner was a positive development after everything he has been through. Rick tells Gabriel he grinned because he knew the Scavengers were potential allies against the Saviors. We know that’s how this will eventually play out because it kind of has to. But all Rick knew about this group at the time was that they had somehow kidnapped Gabriel and stolen most of their supplies. For all he knew, the Scavangers could have been worse than the Saviors.
Which brings me to another point I could quibble about if I were feeling less charitable. How many reasonably large settlements are there within walking distance of Alexandria anyway? So far we have Alexandria itself, The Hillside, the Kingdom, that group of female fishermen (fisherwomen?) with the stockpile of guns which are clearly going to be important later one, the Saviors of course and now the Scavengers. This is quickly turning into The Warriors. Negan even carries a baseball bat.
We know Negan has been putting the squeeze on three of these groups while having nearly wiped out the riverside fisherwomen. You would think these groups would come together on their own realizing that united they probably have the numbers to take on Negan’s forces. Obviously, that’s going to happen eventually. But we still have six more episodes to kill this season so for now we just need to enjoy the fact that the show has a CGI tiger in it.
The real highlight of the episode was of course the reunion between Daryl and Carol. These characters are special and so is their relationship. Unlike most of the other characters on the show, Daryl and Carol developed into who they are naturally over time. Since these characters don’t exist at this point in the source material, the writers have been free to let them follow their own path. And more importantly, Norman Reedus and Melissa McBride have a natural chemistry that makes up for any holes in the writing.
The episode opened with the Saviors picking up supplies from the Kingdom. Saviors being Saviors, they are dicks about it and a fight breaks out. If Ezekiel thinks his deal makes him immune to the Saviors’ tyranny, he’s kidding himself. The scene makes that obvious. Even Morgan, who has spent the last couple seasons taking his pacifism to stupid extremes, seems to realize that sooner or later the Kingdom is headed for a fight. (He’s also probably pretty ticked that they took his favorite stick).
Afterwards, Ezekiel’s right hand man Richard tells Daryl what happened. They both want the same thing – for the Kingdom to join forces with Alexandria to take on the Saviors. But Richard goes about setting this up in about the only way Daryl might object to – he wants to use Carol as bait. Nope, not happening.
This leads Daryl to Carol’s Kingdom-adjacent cabin. For someone who is trying to stay out of the fray, Carol should maybe rethink her home address. She is constantly receiving visitors. Then again, if she moved, she’d miss out of Jerry’s cobbler deliveries. When Carol opens the door, her emotional reaction informs viewers that Daryl is standing just out of frame. It’s one of the few genuinely emotional moments in a show that is constantly trying to make viewers feel something.
Carol asks Daryl how things went down with that whole Saviors thing. Not wanting to draw his friend into the whole mess (and also needing to delay her involvement for at least a few episodes) Daryl lies. He tells her the happy ending he thinks she needs to hear. We know sooner or later Carol’s going to find out about Glenn and Abraham and that when she does she will be leading the charge for vengeance. Cynically, I could view this development as one of the show’s typical delay tactics. I mean, it is. But this time I’ll allow it because these characters’ history together makes it feel earned.