An effective extended episode breathes life into the series.
Last night The Walking Dead returned from the customary mid-season break in a big way. The episode packed in a ton of narrative, even for its extended runtime (65 minutes without commercials). The episode was almost entirely focused on Rick’s crew and wrapping up loose ends prior to the break. It should go without saying, but massive spoilers from here on, folks. When we last left off with Rick Grimes and company they had been reunited with Daryl (having escaped the Saviors camp with the aid of Jesus) and discovered newfound determination to end Negan’s reign of terror. The episode opens with Father Gabriel mysteriously stealing every last bit of food from Alexandria’s pantry and leaving in the dead of night. Not a good look for a character who seemed to have changed for the better. Back at the Hilltop Team Rick attempted to talk Gregory, dickbag in chief of the camp, into joining forces with Alexadria to fight the Saviors. Naturally, Gregory scoffs at such a notion and even angles for plausible deniability should Negan learn of Rick’s plans. The group leaves Gregory’s mansion dejected, but are immediately met by the people of the Hilltop, who pledge they are willing to fight the Saviors. The seeds for a rising coup against Gregory are firmly planted.
Not satisfied with a few committed redshirts from the Hilltop, Jesus urges that Rick meet King Ezekiel to gain the Kingdom’s allegiance. The episode wastes virtually no time getting the group there. Rick quickly reunites with Morgan, whom has been living in the Kingdom since the end of season 6. He learns from Morgan that Carol is alive, but doesn’t want to be troubled by anyone. Rick is soon granted an audience with the King and delivers a rousing speech wherein Morgan finally learns the fate of Glenn, Abraham, Spencer, and Olivia — all dead at the hands of Negan. The threat of the Saviors is fully communicated to Ezekiel, yet he turns to Morgan for his opinion. Though he recently killed to save Carol’s life, Morgan is still reluctant to sign off on a move certain to costs dozens more.
To be honest, he was 100% correct when Rick first wanted to confront the Saviors on behalf of the Hilltop. That decision costed Glenn and Abraham their lives. Even with the Kingdom’s aid, Rick has neither the people nor the firepower to match Negan. This leaves Ezekiel with much to consider and he offers Rick’s group refuge in the Kingdom while he ponders his decision.
Meanwhile, Carol is up to her old tricks of scaring the shit out of children as she greets a young Kingdomnite ( who Morgan trained at bit earlier in the season) travelling alone in the woods. The boy reveals that Ezekiel is keeping tabs on her and will never give up on people he cares about. This scene felt odd, but seemed necessary in pulling Carol out of her self-imposed exile. It’s certain that once she learns the fate of Glenn and Abraham she’ll snap back to her homicidal ways and may just annihilate the Saviors single-handed. But alas, it’s all a journey and we’ll have to wait to see if this plays out.
Back at the Kingdom the night has passed and Ezekiel has come to a decision. Though the Saviors are total assholes, relations with them remain peaceful and he’s not willing to put his people in harms way. He does, however, offer to stow Daryl in the Kingdom as Negan is surely prepping him for a hot date with Lucille. Daryl initially balks at the offer, but Rick tells him it’s the best option to save his life and change Ezekiel’s mind. Rick’s group departs the Kingdom, but decide to scope Negan’s operations on the way home.
In route they come across an elaborate walker trap involving a trip wire tethered by two cars and rigged with explosives. Rick knows defusing the trap and getting their hands on the explosives can help even the odds against Negan. Rosita quickly defuses the trap (maybe training from Abraham?) and the group snags the explosives with little effort and good timing. Not only do they learn the Saviors are heading to Alexandria to search for Daryl, a herd of walkers quickly approach them and they need to get the hell out of dodge. Rick and Michonne decide to buy some time and use the tethered cars to set the Guinness World record for most zombies dismembered with an epic vehicular clothesline. The remaining explosive make short work of the rest and the group heads back to Alexandria.
They arrive just before the Saviors show up. They demand to know if Daryl is hiding out there, but Rick plays it cool and say they haven’t seen him. The Saviors tear Alexandria upside down. Of course, they don’t find Daryl, but they discover the empty pantry and Rick learns of Gabriel’s actions. After some customary threats the Saviors leave, but Rick wrestles over the possibility that Gabriel betrayed them. While searching the pantry he comes across a clue left by Gabriel that could reveal his location. Rick takes some of the group out to search for him. While following Gabriel’s trail they arrive at a scrap yard, where they are ambushed by a massive, unknown group of well-armed survivors, all with their guns trained on Team Rick. Where a sane person would piss their pants in fear, a smile cuts across Rick’s face. End episode.
This mid-season premiere, though low on action for the extended runtime, is one of the most effective episodes ever crafted for the series. It breezes along at a steady clip, resolves a number of dangling story threads, and provides a good mix of tension and levity. I won’t entertain thoughts of this trend continuing for the season. If it did the season would be over by episode 12, but it’s a welcome departure from the show’s trademark laborious pace. The episode was directed by series stalwart Greg Nicotero, who seems to have such a taut style it’s a wonder that he isn’t showrunner at this point. It was a satisfying episode from start to finish that leaves you excited to see what comes next.
REVIEW SCORE: -A
- Ezekiel’s right-hand man Jerry continues to be hilarious and the best new character in season 6.
- After Rick and Michonne completed their co-op special move they were swarmed by zombies who seemed pretty disinterested in actually eating them. It’s at the point where mild shoving is enough to fend off a dozen walkers with no problem.
- Jeffery Dean Morgan as Negan was completely absent this episode, but still had the best line with his walkie-talkie eulogy of Fat Joey (who was killed by Daryl during his escape). Poor Skinny Joey loses all context for his namesake.
- Rosita, after seemingly making amends with Sasha, slips right back into being bitch to her with for no real reason. She’s a tough one to figure out.
- Carol seriously needs to stop talking to minors.
- Surely Rick was all smiles at the end of the episode because he found a sizable force capable of fighting the Saviors. This group looks to be specially created for the show to balance against the larger ranks of of the Saviors.
Preview ‘The Walking Dead’ Season 7 Episode 10 below.