Whether intentionally or not, this season of ‘The Walking Dead’ has really tested the limits of how ridiculous an episode or storyline can get without lapsing into outright parody. This week comes close. Very close.
At the end of last week’s episode, Rick, Michonne, Tara, Rosita and Aaron had all been captured by a never-before-seen band of survivors. Rick is unconcerned about this. In fact, he’s happy, because he sees them as a potential alliance against the Saviors.
The new group are officially called the Scavengers (though the show’s production team has also nicknamed them the “Heapsters”). They’re a bunch of raggedy ‘Mad Max’ wannabes who live in a trash dump that they’ve converted into their own personal Thunderdome. They dress in garbage tatters and speak in broken English like the language has been forgotten over the centuries, even though they’re all adults and, in the TV show’s timeline, less than two years have passed since the outbreak of the zombie apocalypse.
Rick is brought before their leader, a woman named Jadis (Pollyanna McIntosh). He asks to see Gabriel, so they drag him out. Rick delivers a spiel about the Saviors and how their two camps should team up. Jadis isn’t interested in that and refuses. Gabriel somehow gets loose and holds a woman named Tamiel by knifepoint. He points out that the Saviors have a lot of good food and supplies that the Scavengers might want to steal, and that Rick is a particularly resourceful man. Rick tells Gabriel to stand down.
Jadis brings Rick up to the top of a trash heap so that he can look out over the expansive scope of their fiefdom, and the green-screen visual effects backgrounds are so embarrassingly terrible I can’t believe they actually made it into the broadcast version of the episode. Jadis then shoves Rick off the heap into a pit, where he has to do battle with a hulking mutant zombie impaled with dozens of spikes and spears through its body and a metal helmet bolted to its head. The rubbery muscle-suit this thing is wearing is only slightly less fakey than the aforementioned green-screen shots. Rick takes a nail through one hand and cuts his leg pretty badly, but eventually gets the better of the monster by using the trash around him. He decapitates it with a blunt blade.
This was apparently a test, and Rick passed. Jadis agrees to an alliance, on the condition that Rick and his people bring them a lot of guns first. Rick doesn’t have any guns, but he’s sure they’ll find some. The two of them also negotiate over how much of the stuff Gabriel took from the Alexandria pantry the Scavengers can keep. (Gabriel claims that Tamiel captured him and forced him to steal everything from the pantry, but that doesn’t make a lot of sense. How did she get inside the Alexandria walls?)
Rick is a big, bloody mess, but happy at having formed a new alliance. (I think it would be hilarious if this season ended with Rick dying of tetanus from his injuries sustained here.) He orders his people to return to Alexandria to regroup, but Rosita wants to immediately go out and search for guns. Because she’s been out farther than anyone else, Rick asks Tara if she can at least point out which areas they shouldn’t bother searching. Obviously, she feels conflicted about whether to tell him about Oceanside or not.
Morgan, Ezekiel, Richard and a couple of others from the Kingdom have another awkward interaction with the Saviors, this time led by a guy named Gavin. Richard and the obnoxious Savior he punched in an earlier episode pull their guns and have a standoff. Ezekiel is able to de-escalate the situation, but Gavin chastises him and threatens that they’ll have to kill Richard if anything like that happens again. A Savior also takes Morgan’s stick (the one given to him by his mentor, Eastman). Morgan isn’t happy about that.
After they return to the Kingdom, Daryl figures out what they were doing. He’s upset at Morgan for capitulating to the Saviors.
Richard recognizes that Daryl could be an ally in his quest to start a war between the Kingdom and the Saviors. He gives Daryl a new crossbow and asks for his help on a secret mission. The two of them trek out to a stretch of highway where Richard has set up an ambush for a Savior convoy. The plan is that he and Daryl will kill the small group of Saviors expected to drive past that spot, and leave an obvious trail of clues leading back toward the Kingdom – specifically toward a house outside the Kingdom where some weird loner chick that Ezekiel has a thing for is living by herself. He believes that sacrificing this one person will finally provoke Ezekiel to war.
Because Daryl’s not an idiot, he quickly realizes that Richard is talking about Carol. He fights with Richard and holds him back until the Savior convoy passes without incident, then threatens to kill him if any harm ever comes to Carol.
Daryl then goes straight to Carol’s house. They hug, and he asks her why she left. They sit by a fire and talk. Carol asks if everyone at Alexandria is all right. Sensing that she’s on the verge of a breakdown and won’t be able to take it if he tells her what happened to Glenn and Abraham, Daryl lies and says that everybody is fine. Something tells me that Carol knows that’s not true but wants to believe it anyway.
Daryl eventually leaves, and goes to mope about his sorrows by watching Ezekiel’s tiger in its cage. Morgan interrupts. Daryl asks him to help convince Ezekiel to join Rick’s fight against the Saviors. Morgan says he can’t. Daryl tells him to, “Wake the hell up,” then looks down and realizes that the tiger is nuzzling his hand.
Daryl decides that he can’t stay any longer, and walks out of the Kingdom the next morning to return back to the Hilltop.
Frankly, everything about the Scavengers/Heapsters is just dumb. I’ll leave it to fans of the ‘Walking Dead’ comic to tell me whether this storyline comes from there or not, but the way it plays in live action feels to me like the show has simply run out of ideas and the writers are getting desperate to keep it going.
The Daryl/Carol reunion is nice enough, but Daryl lying to Carol to spare her feelings seems terribly contrived. He knows she’s stronger than that. I’m also really tired of Morgan being such a pansy. Maybe the plan is for that to change by the end of the season, but the journey to get there is excruciating.