Following last week’s drawn-out midseason premiere that gave an unnecessarily extended goodbye to Carl (Chandler Riggs), The Walking Dead decided the best course of action was to spin its wheels yet again, resulting in another episode that spends too much time to make too little a point.
While we still haven’t seen what’s been going on at The Hilltop since Maggie (Lauren Cohan) sent a fresh corpse to The Sanctuary, this week does divide its time between Rick (Andrew Lincoln) and a couple other factions of characters. But it does so by giving us the characters’ names on a title card introducing their little segment.
It’s a baffling narrative choice that seems redundant at best (oh, look it says ‘Michonne’ and then we get a scene with Michonne) and condescending at worst, assuming viewers are so overwhelmed with its ham-handed storylines that we couldn’t possible figure out the difference between a scene with Negan and one with Enid.
Michonne (Danai Guriria) is first up, starting where last week left off with the two of them burying Carl, then slowly realizing that Alexandria’s been overrun with zombies. Also a gazebo’s on fire, which seems to be a major concern for both her and Rick for some goddamn reason. At least until enough zombies show up that they can’t keep knocking them over with fire extinguishers. With the fire still burning and the streets still lined with the dead, the two of them leave Alexandria and head toward The Junkyard.
Meanwhile, back at The Sanctuary, Maggie’s delivery arrives, but not before Simon (Steven Ogg) and Negan (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) butt heads over how to handle this increasingly difficult insurrection they’re facing. Simon has a ‘go nuclear’ attitude about the whole thing, but Negan’s steadfast in his belief as to what The Saviors really stand for. Having reasserted his mission statement, he also sends Simon to The Junkyard to procure any extra weapons and ammunition while reminding Jadis (Pollyanna McIntosh) and company to stay in-line after their recent double-double cross.
You’d think this would lead to some kind of confrontation between Rick and Simon, but no, thanks to the show’s effortless disregard for both the passage of time and linear storytelling, nothing of the sort happens. We see Rick and Michonne show up first, avoiding a Looney Tunes-esque trap set up at the entrance while the two of them try to get Jadis to help before Rick abruptly changes his mind and leaves, fighting through a horde of zombies with a car door.
Later in the episode, we see Simon and a group of Saviors arrive to take their weapons, prior to Rick and Michonne’s visit. When he demands an apology from Jadis, he kills one of her people — which was the plan given to him by Negan. But Simon, obviously tired of fighting a war on multiple fronts, kills another, before telling his goons to light the rest of them up, killing all of them but Jadis.
It seems unnecessarily convoluted, especially since it’s supposed to culminate into an emotional moment where Jadis turns on a giant trash grinder and slowly lures her now-zombified army into it. It may have been effective had it been, I don’t know, a character that’s had more than 10 minutes of total screentime that wasn’t spent double-crossing somebody.
For what was another standard-issue episode full of nothing — which includes a sigh-inducing subplot with Enid (Katelyn Bacon) and Aaron (Ross Marquand) back at the Riverside community — it does give us one truly memorable moment: a devastating monologue from Negan.
Rick contacts Negan via walkie-talkie, telling him that Carl is dead, and that even though he wanted them to stop fighting and make peace, Rick won’t do it. It’s classic Rick through and through. After he puffs out his chest and goes on and on about how he’s coming to kill him, Negan calmly and coldly explains how Carl’s death was Rick’s fault. He tells him he’s a failure as a leader and as a father, and that everything bad that’s happened is because of his piss-poor decision making.
It was damn near note-perfect, and one of those necessary reminders that Jeffrey Dean Morgan can give real dimension to a villain that spends too much his time on screen twirling his mustache. But beneath all of that was real emotion. Negan cared about Carl, and even when he was outsmarted by him, it only caused him to respect him even more. “That kid was the future,” he tells Rick, letting just a hint of emotion work its way into his voice.
Rick, ever the wordsmith, simply repeats his promise that he’s coming to kill him, which almost certainly means we’ll spend the next three or four episodes with secondary characters before anything interesting happens.