“People who aren’t leaders always think they know best”
Last week’s pit stop from the war between The Saviors and everybody else continues this week as the allied forces communicate to the various communities what has transpired so far – mainly that The Saviors are all but defeated. These stalling episodes are a much maligned trope of the show but the traditional war narrative has always welcomed time for the reflection.
The episode opens with troops returning to their respective communities and handing out notes, detailing the events that took place in the previous episodes, to those who remained. The Kingdom mourn their dead, having taken the heaviest casualties and we learn that King Ezekiel (Khary Payton) has become a depressed recluse.
We then jump over to Rick’s (Andrew Lincoln) subplot for the episode and it turns out that that long road he was heading down at the end of last episode leads to The Scavengers. He wants to broker a new deal with them: join the allied forces or be destroyed. He hands The Scavenger leader, Jadis (Pollyanna McIntosh) – whose introduction this episode has her making a junk yard sculpture naked, which apparently passes for character development – photos of The Sanctuary and the hundreds of walkers that surround it. Despite this, and the fact that she knows full well Rick has more numbers than her, she refuses and Rick is placed in a shipping container naked. And that’s it for Rick in this episode. The reveal that he was heading to The Scavengers all along served as the most interesting sub-plot this week but instead of focusing on this and moving the plot along the writers have inexplicably, and perhaps predictably at this point, decide to stretch it out to next episode(s).
Next up, we land in familiar territory as we catch up with ongoing ethical decision about what to do with the Savior POWs. Currently, they are being held outside The Hilltop’s walls without food – an issue that Jesus (Tom Payne) is quick to rectify by providing some spare turnips to the prisoners, much to the chagrin of, well, everyone. He is quick to repeat his “peace when it’s all over” spiel to Maggie (Lauren Cohan), who now has Gregory (Xander Berkeley) in her ear trying to convince her that The Saviors and Jesus must go. “You need someone to tell you it’s okay to go with your gut,” he tells her, in attempt to make himself seem purposeful, but they are words he may regret saying.
Things get tense overnight as the guards and prisoners both feel the danger of sitting out in the open during the zombie-apocalypse. One prisoner, seemingly not all-out-evil – the usual mold for a Savior – tries to convince Jesus that not all the prisoners are bad people. Despite his character seeming genuine, we can’t help but think he’s playing a long con.
In the morning, Maggie arrives with a decision: The Saviors can come inside but must stay inside a make-shift prison. This of course angers Gregory, who had thought he was doing apt work as Maggie’s confidant. Things are about to get even worse for the cowardly former Hilltop leader, as Maggie also places him in prison. Turns out she was listening to his words earlier, only her gut was telling her not to trust him.
Whilst the Hilltop sequences are fine enough and ethical discussions always have a place in the war narrative, we can’t help but think this could have all been achieved quicker. There may, of course, be more to come from the growing factions within the allied communities, and if Maggie’s plan – use the prisoners as bargaining chips or kill them if that doesn’t work – is anything to go by there will be. But whether this is the end of this certain moral dilemma, or whether it is a turning point, we could have got here a lot quicker than the span of a few episodes. For each episode to have an impact and stand out not only as part of an ongoing narrative but as its own contained story, the show needs to provide subplot arcs that don’t superfluously span several episodes. Great TV writing comes from understanding story structure needs to be in place for both season and the individual episodes that compile it. So far, this is one of the shows biggest weaknesses.
Following this, we catch up with some Alexandrians we haven’t seen much of late: Michonne (Danai Gurira) and Rosita (Christian Serratos). Still recovering from the wounds they received last season, the two women decide to head out to see for themselves what has happened to The Sanctuary. However, they are sidetracked by the sound of music blaring out of a mall. They investigate and find two Saviors are trying to rig up a truck with several speakers in an attempt to lure the walkers away from The Sanctuary. Despite being hardened apocalypse survivors the two make some very bizarre rookie mistakes and reveal themselves to The Saviors too early and end up being hunted. Michonne fights one but is still recovering from her injuries so The Savior manages to escape. Meanwhile, Rosita casually takes the other one out with an RPG in an attempt to usurp Daryl as “most bad-ass character of the show”. They run after the other fleeing Savior but are too late, she has gotten away with the truck until… Daryl-Ex-Machina (we have fun but this is beginning to occur every week and it is not a good thing) and Tara (Alana Masterson) arrive and take the Savior out. It is scenes like this that make the world of The Walking Dead seem so small when everything else about the show tells us it is very large. It’s lazy writing and we all deserve better.
Daryl (Norman Reedus), who earlier revealed to Tara he plans to kill Dwight (Austin Amelio) before this is all over, reveals to Rosita and Michonne his plan for The Sanctuary, which we presume is the very one that Rick told him not to carry out. Both Rosita and Michonne agree it is what needs to be done, thus intensifying the growing divide in the allied communities and setting up a major conflict with Rick down the road… eventually… we hope… there is every bit of chance it might just fizzle into nothing at this point.
What about Carl (Chandler Riggs)? Asked no one ever. Well, Carl has been tracking down the man Rick scared off in episode one of this season. Turns out the man is named Siddiq (Avi Nash). Carl performs the admission test we’ve seen so often ( How many walkers have you killed? How many people have you killed? etc.) and after he proves himself saving Carl from a group of walkers, Carl accepts him into Alexandria knowing full well that Rick won’t be happy.
We can’t help but feel sorry for Rick. His plan has worked so well to this point but it seems that when its all over (if it ever ends) he’ll have to deal with more problems at home. Its understandable that after last season’s tragedy the community might begin to question Rick’s leadrship but so far this season he has been a hero and then some. However, it will make for good drama when it finally reaches boiling point and with the war seemingly coming to an end, we’ll need something to get exasperated at.
Finally, we have Carol’s (Melissa McBride) role in the episode. She has returned to The Kingdom, which, it would appear, is her new permanent home. After a bit of resistance she agrees to let Henry (Macsen Lintz), fulfilling this season’s “annoying kid” role, help her take out The Saviors. Whilst this is of course a stupid idea and not one a real adult would agree to, it does show that Carol has firmly returned to her old ways and is willing to invest in people again. After this, she finally confronts the still-grieving Ezekiel. Carol desperately pleads with him to lead his people but Ezekiel is too tired to play The King anymore. He can’t keep the act up but Carol insists that he either be himself as The King or pretend to be one. But it is all too late for him and he refuses to lead The Kingdom anymore.
There was certainly a lot more going on this week and a few nice moments here or there but ultimately we are back in filler territory. There is no real reason that the show can’t have an episode that features quieter moments and exposition whilst also moving the plot along at a reasonable pace and incorporating some set pieces. It is something Game of Thrones exceeds at and is the reason it is the best show on TV. There is one simple solution to the show’s issues: make the seasons shorter.