That didn’t take long. Lest we get our hopes up after a fairly promising season premiere, The Walking Dead quickly relapsed to its usual tedium this week. Sadly, that includes the return of overplayed villain Negan.
In an example of painful literalism, this week’s episode is all about building bridges between communities. Not just metaphorical bridges, mind you, but actual bridges. They’re metaphorical too, of course, because the show’s writers can’t resist turning potential subtext into straight-up text. While delivering a dose of terribly important exposition, Ezekiel states: “This boring structure connects us all.” He’s not wrong about the boring part.
Anyway, yes, Negan is back. The episode withholds showing him until the very end, but it’s obvious who Rick is talking to in the opening scene. He visits his former nemesis, confined in a prison cell, to gloat about all the wonderful progress his groups have made. “We’re getting back a piece of who we used to be,” Rick brags as he begins his recap of the day’s events.
Like the other communities, Oceanside is rebuilding and expanding. In other news, Jerry has a girlfriend. Carol and Ezekiel have taken to parenting the annoying young Henry. After training with the medic Siddiq for a couple days, Enid is promoted to full-fledged trauma surgeon. Siddiq leaves her behind while he returns to Alexandria, where a virus is going around.
Rick oversees the construction of an important new bridge. Most of the labor force comes from the former Saviors. Some of them bristle at being treated like indentured servants, especially a mulleted thug named Justin (Zach McGowan, recently of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.). When he behaves like too much of an abusive ass to Henry, Daryl flies into a rage and the two of them get into a big fight that Rick has to break up. Rick sympathizes with Daryl, but Justin is a strong worker. Rick urges Daryl to keep the peace for a few more days. Daryl sees this as another reason to question Rick’s leadership.
In addition to this, Daryl also mentions that they’ve experienced a number of walkoffs from other Saviors on the work crew. That just fuels Daryl’s prejudice against the group.
Jadis, now going by the name Anne (but I’ll continue to call her Jadis, because “Anne” is boring), has grown her hair out and speaks normal English. She bonds with Father Gabriel about how they both feel ostracized from the others, and gets awfully flirty with him.
While the bridge is being built, an elaborate system is concocted to keep Walkers away by using hand-cranked sirens to draw a nearby herd in different directions. Tara coordinates this operation from a watchdog position. When the second siren fails to go off, this puts the work crew in danger.
Seemingly within seconds of that siren failing, the herd descends upon the work camp. (Was the timing really that narrow?) The workers panic. One lets loose a log that rolls onto Aaron and pins his arm to the ground. Daryl saves him from the Walkers and gets Aaron free, but his arm is a shattered, bloody mess. They rush him to Enid as Rick rides in to the rescue with a team that clear out all the Walkers. In the biggest, and certainly dumbest, action set-piece of the episode, Rick sharp-shoots a rope that releases a pile of logs, which roll downhill and crush dozens of zombies that conveniently lined up, as if waiting to be killed in exactly this manner.
Aaron’s arm is toast. Enid has to amputate it… without any anesthesia. Ouch.
Wouldn’t you know it, Justin was in charge of sounding the second siren. He claims that his walkie-talkie died and he didn’t get the call to start. Daryl doesn’t believe him and beats the crap out of him until pulled off once again.
The indignant Justin shoots his mouth off to Rick about Daryl, but Rick won’t take any of his shit. He dresses the man down and kicks him out of the camp.
Aaron survives his surgery in pretty good spirits for a guy who just lost an arm. Good thing he’s right-handed.
Carol tells Ezekiel that she changed her mind and will take his ring, but doesn’t want to make a fuss about it in front of anybody else. Ezekiel is pleased. That means he’s probably going to die soon.
Jadis puts the moves on Gabriel and gives him a little nookie while they’re supposed to be on night watch duty. Afterwards, she climbs into a lookout position high up in a cherry picker basket. She hears something above her and looks up, where she sees blinking lights from what seems to be a drone. (Maybe it’s supposed to be that helicopter from last season, but it’s not very loud.) Jadis elects not to tell anyone about this. She clearly must know what it’s about.
The following morning, Justin trudges through the forest, drowning his anger with alcohol. He hears a sound from the bushes and turns, but lets down his guard when he sees someone he knows (but we viewers don’t get to see). The mystery party then attacks him.
Michonne pays a visit to the Hilltop to inform Maggie that a shipment of ethanol from the Sanctuary has gone missing. The Saviors claim that they sent it out, but it never arrived. She asks Maggie to front them the food they agreed to anyway, but Maggie is firm that she’ll only honor her end of the deal if they do so first.
It’s been about a month since Maggie executed Gregory. She’s kept the blacksmith, Earl, locked up for all that time, but hasn’t made up her mind how long that will last or what his ultimate fate will be. Michonne argues that this is a good example of why all the communities need to establish a common set of laws.
One consequence of locking Earl away is that he can’t fix the antique plow they raided from the museum in D.C. Without either fixing that plow or getting more fuel for their tractor, the Hilltop will eventually run through their surplus of food.
Earl’s wife, Tammy (Brett Butler), makes a stink about not being able to see her husband and camps out in front of the building he’s locked in as protest. Maggie eventually relents and lets her visit. Later, she has her own talk with Earl and concludes that he’s a fundamentally decent man struggling with a drinking problem. This reminds Maggie of her daddy, Hershel. The next day, she releases Earl from his incarceration and has him begin work fixing the plow. She also has another change of heart and tells Michonne that she’ll give the Saviors some food after all. She’ll even support Michonne’s attempt to draw up a common charter uniting all the communities.
Back to Negan
Rick finishes telling his story with some smug satisfaction, wrapping up with a moral about how his people continue to stick together and pull through even during setbacks and adversities. Negan (finally shown on camera) is unimpressed and remains defiant. He tells Rick that failure is inevitable, and boasts that when that happens, the world will be his to take back.
The ominousness of this speech would be more effective if the network’s ads hadn’t endlessly played clips from it for the past several weeks.
I think I get what the show is going for this year, trying to play up the political maneuverings between the different factions in a Game of Thrones fashion. Maybe that can work for The Walking Dead, or at least I thought so during the season premiere. This week, however, is just plain dull. Daryl’s behaving like a hot-headed idiot for no reason, and Ricks’ smugness is annoying. The log roll scene is also really dumb, obviously a product of the writers trying to find new ways to kill zombies no matter how impractical or far-fetched they may be.
The missing Saviors and the attack on Justin seem to be the first steps in setting up new antagonist group The Whisperers, which we’ve been promised will be different than any threat seen on the show before, but of course we hear that same claim every time a new villain is introduced. I can’t say I’m expecting much out of that storyline.