(SPOILER ALERT): What a solid episode! I’ve mostly been down on The Walking Dead over the last several years and think the show “is what it is” at this point, but this was a very unique episode. Not just that it was “good,” but that it was tonally different.
For one thing, the time jump forward from the mid-season premier was a breath of fresh air. So often this show feels like being tied to a moving train: and then this happened, and then THAT happened, and then THIS OTHER THING happened, etc. This felt like falling asleep on the train and waking up somewhere new. Kudos for that because I really didn’t want to watch Carl recovering from his gunshot wound or watch an episode where they repair the wall (although it would be fun to do an HGTV-style episode about wall repair, this show would never have the balls to do it and be funny with it).
The other great thing is that it took a major page from the comics after the zombie beat-down at the end of No Way Out. Prior to No Way Out in the comics, the story oscillated between the zombies being the biggest threat to Rick & Co. and other humans being the biggest threat. No Way Out was a tonal shift for the comic series because the zombies were never really a threat again. It was almost like Comic Rick realized that they’re slow and decaying and why not kill all the zombies and live in peace. I feel like that same thing happened here in the TV show. That scene of the Alexandrians rising up against the zombies (and winning) was the last time they’ll be a major threat. And that syncs with what we’ve heard from Robert Kirkman over the years in interviews where you can hear his annoyance when it’s implied that TWD is about zombies because he clearly thinks it is about the people. Also….Fear the Walking Dead will have plenty of time to have hot zombie action, so it won’t surprise me if TWD proper will become all about the people.
The nice thing about that is it allows this light and fluffy (and FUNNY) roadtrip for Rick and Darryl. Rick looks decidedly chilled out. He’s jamming to country music, joking around about the fate of Jesus (more about him later) and annoying Darryl. This is exactly the type of episode that we couldn’t have if the zombies are still scary. Now they’re about as scary as a bunch of stray cats so we can have this odd Steal the Truck episode without the stakes feeling high at all. When the truck sinks into the lake, it just seems funny… Not that everyone will have to resort to cannibalism because Rick failed to bring home some food. After season after season of Rick always being sweaty, dirty and having bandaids all over his face, it was nice to see him stop being a total dick and just be a dude.
I think the jury is still out on Jesus as a TV character. One of the show’s persistent weaknesses is casting actors who look like the comic counterpart. Jesus is a neat character in a comics because of the role he fills, not because he has long hair and a beard. He’s the martial arts badass of the group and while we get to see some of that here, he seemed a little too slap-sticky for my taste. Perhaps the writers will figure it out in the future?
And of course, the big reveal is that Rick may be chilled out because he and Michonne are now a couple. Maybe Rick just needed to get laid? This is cool for a few reasons. For one thing, Michonne has always been the best acting companion for Carl (as in she makes him seem the least awkward). So, having Michonne around Rick and Carl more is a good thing because it neutralizes Carl’s negative impact on the show. But it is also cool because in the comics Robert Kirkman clearly toyed with the idea of a Rick/Michonne relationship before going with a Rick/Andrea pairing. Comic Michonne has always been fascinating romantically because she’s basically had a relationship with every black, male character. Sometime around issue #80 or so, it was clear that there was a romantic spark between Rick and Michonne, but neither pursued it and the next thing you knew, boom! Rick and Andrea were an item (and still are). In issue #102 there were hints that Michonne was a little jealous and made some snide comments about Andrea and then she bounced into her relationship with Ezekiel (a black man who is now dead, leaving Michonne single again). It’s a fascinating little thing: Michonne clearly had/has romantic feelings for Rick, clearly prefers black men and clearly has some hang-ups about the whole situation. And Kirkman has been subtly stirring that pot for about 75 issues. So, it’s nice to see him get to play with “the road untraveled” on the TV show (especially because there is no Andrea for Rick and the Andrea-surrogate Carol wouldn’t make any sense at all). I dunno if this is enjoyable for pure TV watchers, but as a comic fan it was very nice to see.
The only dud in this episode was the whole nonsense with Spencer and his zombie mom. I just can’t believe that anyone with half a brain said, “You know, the viewers will be very disappointed if they don’t get to see Spencer finish his dramatic arc. We need to carve out time for Spencer in the spring season.” I mean, how does that even come out of a writers’ room and get onto the TV show? Nobody cares about Spencer! Or his mom! It’s stuff like this that reminds you that even when TWD has a pretty great episode like this one, that a return to mediocrity is coming very soon.
All in all, a very fine episode of TWD. It was nice to see a total change to a light-hearted tone. And it was nice to let us enjoy it for at least an episode since we know that Negan is lurking out there and will trash it all again.