*SPOILERS AHEAD … AND WALKER PARTIES LIKE YOU’VE NEVER SEEN BEFORE WITH LOUD MUSIC, BONFIRES AND ROPED-UP GUARDS*
Thank the Diseased Big Walker in the Sky, we have a reprieve from Negan’s swaggering blandness this week.
Admittedly we get it still by proxy with Simon (Steven Ogg), The Walking Dead‘s Bond Villain Writ Large’s second-in-charge leading a violently instructive raid on Hilltop in a bid, quite successfully we might add, to teach Gregory (Xander Berkeley) not to step outside of their blood-soaked lines.
Simon is, however, what the character of Negan is not – less brutish swagger, more cool, calculating nastiness which is more in keeping with a somewhat nuanced Big Bad; well, as close as The Walking Dead seems to get these days anyway.
He does the customary intimidation schtick which works a treat on Gregory at least who folds like a pack of rain-drenched cards, all too eager to play the acquiescent leader.
Of course what he sees, rather shortsightedly as a realpolitik manoeuvre of impressively Napoleonic proportions, Jesus / Paul Rovia (Tom Payne), heir apparent or putsch leader (same same really) whether he likes it or not, sees as craven capitulation that will only harm Hilltop in the long term.
What Gregory, for all his fine art and Scotch, much of which he loses in a failed attempt to hand over Maggie (Lauren Cohan) and Sasha (Sonequa Martin-Green) fails to see if that the more you cowardly give in to a sociopathic bully, the more they will take from you.
Sure, a full frontal assault on Negan and his civilisation-pillaging Saviors isn’t even remotely feasible – hear that Rick (Andrew Lincoln)? NOT FEASIBLE – that doesn’t mean you can’t play some kind of defensive end game that preserves your interests while serving up to Negan all the supplies he wants.
Jesus gets it, Maggie and Sasha get it and I’m pretty sure all the residents of Hilltop do after Simon’s opening shot – gates flung open, bonfires and loud music to attract the walkers – leaves them all horrifically vulnerable, saved only by Sasha and Maggie’s quick thinking (and damn big farm vehicles!).
But Gregory? Seems not. He’s still the benign, or not so benign, give the damage his acquiescence could inflict down the road on Hilltop, ruler of Hilltop who thinks he has it all figured out. He doesn’t of course and Simon and Negan, know it (they also know he colluded with Rick too but hey, let’s keep pretending that didn’t happen either OK?)
Meanwhile, in the midst of all this realpolitik gone horribly wrong, Maggie,whose baby is fine thankfully, and Sasha do what mourning they can.
Forced by Maggie’s need for R & R and round-the-clock medical care, they are now residents of Hilltop, even if Gregory, in another striking example of non-leadership, is determined to turf them out on the grounds of “plausible deniability”.
While they do their best, with Jesus’s ineffectual then authoritative help, to ward off Gregory’s attempts to ineptly repair the damage of an alliance with Rick gone south, they mourn Glenn (Steven Yeun) and Abraham (Michael Cudlitz)’s violent deaths, burying them in graves which are the first of their kind in Hilltop which prefers to burn and remember than dig.
Of course, mourning can only last so long in the world of The Walking Dead, and as Maggie stands next to the graves at the end, a recently-arrived Enid by her side, she realises that it’s time for action again, time to take a stand against Negan in a way that will do him most harm.
Yup, that means finding out where The Sanctuary is so there can be yet more killing! Hurrah! True that seems to be the only way to get anywhere these days thanks to Negan but also thanks to Rick who has played a key role in establishing violence as the only true currency of the apocalypse.
The reality is, and this has been pointed out before, is that Rick is every bit as complicit in this violence as Negan and to pretend otherwise is fanciful; it’s a good old Darwinian survival of the fittest moment with Negan the latest threat to Rick-ian dominance who, if The Walking Dead‘s broken record narrative is any guide, certainly won’t be the last.
The only saving grace in all of this is that the humanity of someone like Jesus was allowed to shine through – he seems to be the only one, bar people like Maggie and Sasha, with some kind of actual beating heart; even so it is he, along with a hidden Carl (Chandler Riggs) who end up on one of the trucks heading back to The Sanctuary, the better to begin to take down Negan.
Where that will lead would be anybody’s guess if there was even a hint of subtlety about The Walking Dead, which there is not; what we will have, eventually, is another big bloody battle, another victory of relative good over relative evil, and thus will the cycle begin again … and ever more shall it be so.
Thankfully one of very sweet shining light in this very welcome character-driven episode – for the most part anyway; The Walking Dead seems unable these days to just let characters be without adding in some bang boom action – was Carl finally demonstrating to Enid (Katelyn Nacon) that he likes her … A LOT.
After she sets out for Hilltop on foot and then on bike, Carl goes after her, taking out a walker that comes a little too close to her for comfort; to be fair she seems less troubled by the walker than Carl’s poorly-driven sudden appearance but happily accepts his offer of an accompanied walk to Hilltop.
The chance discovery of roller skates – yup someone decided that what they needed to ensure their survival was roller skates which since they were found abandoned clearly didn’t work – gave the happy twosome a chance to get to Hilltop just that little bit faster, allowing them just enough time to kiss. Awwwww it was very cute and sweet, a welcome respite from the doom and gloom of late.
Of course Carl then leapt on a truck to The Sanctuary, adamant that kowtowing to Negan is no way to live, a point on which he (and maybe Michonne) and Rick pointedly differ, so true love will have to wait a while, assuming that Carl actually lives through his spontaneous decision to help take Negan down.
“Go Getters”, a reference to Simon’s sleazy evocation of Rick and the Alexandria crew as willing servants to the cause, stands out as a Fear the Walking Dead-esque episode that actually took some time to step back from the fratboy violence and murder porn of late to let us have a look at the state of mind of some of the characters.
It’s one thing to see Maggie And Sasha recoiling from the deaths of their partners; quite another to sensitively take a look at the aftermath of that grief which this episode did quite nicely.
It should be a reminder to the show’s reminders that taking a good look step back, dialling down the testosterone-fuelled violence and let characters breathe a little isn’t such a bad thing.
After all, if you forget to focus on the characters, who are the engine of any good narrative no matter the show, then you end up with a whole of apocalyptic sound and fury signifying nothing.
If The Walking Dead has any hope of arresting its declining relevance as a show, it needs to go back to basics; have some action sure and yes violence where it’s appropriate but remember that without good strong characters who matter and are well used that no one, beyond the empty spectacle-addicted, will really care all that much.
- And as we head into episode 6 “Swear”, normal programming resumes with Negan rather dementedly proclaiming he and the Saviors are there to save the world … yes but who will save it from him hmm?