Tuesday, March 1, 2016

The Walking Dead Season 6, Episode 11: Knots Untie

After dragging its feet for most of the first half of the season, The Walking Dead is finally picking up steam in the back half.

There wasn't a lot of action in this episode, and even fewer actual dead walking around, yet it was a huge game changer. The Alexandrians just learned they're part of a whole new world (cue the Aladdin soundtrack), as they're introduced to the Hilltop, another small settlement of post apocalyptic survivors.

We also heard more about Negan, the as-yet unseen boogeyman of the wastelands who bashes heads in first and asks questions later. Hopefully after all this buildup he won't turn out to be a disappointment.

As I watched Team Rick in this episode, it occurred to me that they're not all that different from Negan and his Saviors. Minutes after entering the Hilltop, Rick killed one of them and was once again covered in human blood. If we hadn't been watching these characters for the past six seasons and seen what they'd been through, they'd most likely look like complete psychopaths. 

If I had one complaint about this episode, it's the heavy-handed way the writers handle Team Rick's hubris. As soon as they hear about Negan, they offer to kill him, confident they won't even work up a sweat doing so. The writer's were a bit too obvious in the way they set the gang up for an epic fall. 

As a reader of the comic I know what's coming, and I'm scared for many of the characters. Maggie's most likely safe, since she plays a huge part in the comic later on, and I don't think even The Walking Dead would kill off a pregnant woman. But the others? They might as well be wearing red shirts.

Abraham is definitely a goner; that's a given. His twitchy manner in this episode, and the way he seemed to finally make peace with his demons practically guarantees he won't survive the encounter with Negan. I'm concerned about Glenn as well. In the comic, his meeting with Negan doesn't go well. But Glenn's already had two big "death-scares" this season. Will the writers go for a third? The one I'm most worried about is Daryl. He's a fan favorite character, and his death would hurt the most. Which is exactly why the writers would consider killing him off.


The Plot:
In Alexandria, Abraham comes off guard duty with Sasha. He sees kids playing in the street and says he can't imagine why anyone would want to bring a child into this world. Sasha tells him she's trading guard shifts with Eugene, which disappoints Abraham greatly. Later that night he lies in bed with Rosita (hey, the show remembered she exists!). She gives him a necklace she made out of a brake light (?), and invites him to take a shower with her. He lies there for a while, thinking about Sasha. Meanwhile Maggie tends to her garden, worrying it won't be enough to feed the Alexandrians.

Rick & Co. meet with Jesus, who escaped from their prison last week. He tells them about his community, and says their world's about to get a whole lot bigger. He invites them to come back with him to the Hilltop. Rick cautiously agrees.

Rick, Michonne, Daryl, Glenn, Maggie, Abraham and Jesus take the RV to the Hilltop. They approach a recent car wreck (because driving on empty roads is hard!) and Jesus says it's some of his people. He thinks they must have fled into a nearby building. Rick smells a trap and handcuffs Jesus, telling Maggie to shoot him if he tries anything. Rick and the others enter the building, kill a few walkers (to ensure there's at least a small amount of zombie action in this episode) and find several weaponless people inside. Abraham almost kills one of the Hilltopians, thinking he's a walker.

Everyone piles back into the RV and continue on their way. One of the rescuees is Dr. Carson, an obstetrician. He's excited to meet the pregnant Maggie.

The RV gets conveniently stuck just outside the Hilltop gates. The guards, armed with spears (?) refuse to let the Rick and his armed group inside. Jesus vouches for them, and they reluctanty open the gates. Inside they see a small community with gardens, livestock and a blacksmith. In the middle of all this is a large Colonial mansion called Barrington House. Jesus says they can see for miles from the top floor.

Jesus takes Rick & Co. inside, where they meet Gregory, the leader of Hilltop. Gregory insists they all get cleaned up before he meets with them, which is most likely a negotiating tactic. Rick says since Deanna was grooming Maggie to be a leader, she should handle Gregory. She meets with him, and as part of his tactics he deliberately calls her "Natilie" and "Honey," saying Alexandria has nothing the Hilltop needs. Maggie disagrees, and says the two communities could help one another. Gregory abruptly dimisses her.

Suddenly a group of three Hilltopians returns. A man named Nathan tells Gregory that his group took their "offering" to Negan, but he said it was too small and killed several of them. Nathan says his brother is being held hostage, and Negan will let him live if he passes on a message to Gregory. Unfortunately the message consists of Nathan stabbing Gregory in the gut.

Team Rick immediately springs into action. Daryl and Abraham wrestle with the other two scouts, while Rick is tackled by Nathan. Rick stabs Nathan in the neck, and of course is once again covered in blood. He turns to the stunned Hilltopians and says, "What?" The rest of the community brandish their puny weapons at Rick until Jesus calms them down. Abraham, who was knocked down in the struggle, gets to his feet, oblivious that the necklace Rosita gave him is lying on the ground.

Dr. Carson treats Gregory and says he'll survive. Rick asks Jesus who this Negan character is. Jesus says he's the leader of the Saviors, a group that regularly demands half the Hilltop's food and supplies in exchange for "protection." The first time he visited the Hilltop, he killed a sixteen year old boy "right off the bat" (heh) so they'd all get the message. Daryl asks why they don't just kill Negan and get it over with. Jesus says the Hilltopians don't know how to fight. Rick asks how many people Negan has, and Jesus says they're not sure, but they've seen groups as large as twenty. Daryl scoffs at this number, which seems like tempting the screenwriting gods. He says they'll kill Negan for them and save the hostage in exchange for supplies and a cow.

Maggie meets with Gregory again, who's recovering in bed. She says they'll eliminate Negan for half the Hilltop's supplies. Realizing he'll lose half of everything either way, he agrees. Rick questions one of the Hilltop scouts about Negan's compound, and insists he come with them. Rick assures Maggie that they'll win. She agrees, but says it's "going to cost them." If that ain't foreshadowing, I don't know what is.

As they all drive off in the RV, Rick smiles at Michonne, Glenn and Maggie look at the sonagram of their baby (courtesy of Dr. Carson) and Abraham looks like a man who's made a decision. This practically gurantees they won't all make it to the end of the season.

• I completely forgot about Rosita until she made a rare appearance in this episode. She was a much more important character in the comic, and she's been criminally underdeveloped and underused on the series.

• Speaking of absentees, where the hell's Carol? Daryl makes a brief reference to her being "out of town." What the heck does that mean? Is she on a supply run?

• On the way to the Hilltop, Abraham tries to ask Glenn if he meant to get Maggie pregnant by saying, "When you were pouring the Bisquick, were you tryin' to make pancakes?"

Boy, I bet the Betty Crocker Company just lovvved that little bit of product placement!

• Whenever one of the cast says, "Jesus is with us" or something similar, it makes me laugh. It sounds like they're all evangelists.

I was hoping Rick would get tired of driving the RV so he'd say, "Jesus, take the wheel." 

• The gang's detour to rescue the trapped Hilltopians was completely pointless and accomplished absolutely nothing. The only reason it was tacked onto this episode was to include a couple of zombies and justify calling this show The Walking Dead.

• So about this RV... I guess it's the same one Rick was driving earlier in the season in Thank You? If you'll recall, Rick was using the RV to lure the quarry full of zombies away from Alexandria. The last we saw of it, it stalled and he was surrounded by hundreds of walkers. Next time we see him in Now, he's on foot, with no explanation whatsoever as to how he escaped the RV, and is pounding on the gates of Alexandria.

Apparently they must have gone back for the RV during the time jump, got it running and drove it back to Alexandria?

• Rick and Co. are driving along in their RV when it unexpectedly gets stuck in the mud. Rick tries to free it for a minute or so before giving up. Jesus says, "No worries. We're here." The camera pulls back and the RV is literally a hundred feet from the walls of the Hilltop. So no one noticed the giant wall in front of them until Jesus pointed it out?

• Abraham asks Daryl if he's ever considered settling down. Dayrl says, "Shit don't settle." 

I have no idea what that means, but Abraham's question reminded me that once upon a time Daryl and Carol were sort of an item. Whatever happened with that subplot? Apparently the writers either forgot about it, or thought it wasn't going anywhere and banished it to the land of wind and ghosts.

 The series has been sticking pretty close to the source material lately, but this may be the all-time most comic-accurate episode yet. Whole swaths of dialogue were taken directly from the comic, as well as most of the plot and action. Jesus, Gregory, the Hilltop— they all looked like they stepped right off the page. Heck, many of the scenes were even staged exactly like they were in the comic. Awesome!

 After Rick kills Nathan, the other angry Hilltopians threaten him with wooden spears. While he stands there with a gun.

While bringing a spear to a gunfight is a dumb idea, it wouldn't be the worst weapon to use against the undead. You could stab a zombie in the head with a spear while keeping your distance. It would definitely be safer than stabbing zombies at close quarters with a knife, as most of Team Rick insists on doing week after week.

 When Jesus tries to calm everyone down after the stabbing, he looks like he's trying to train a bunch of raptors!

 You know, Negan's inevitable appearance and the shocking thing he's going to do to one of the cast might be more shocking if Jesus hadn't telegraphed the entire thing in this episode.

• When Daryl asks Jesus why the Hilltopians don't kill Negan, he says it's because they're not fighters. Hmm. Jesus put up a pretty good fight against Rick and Daryl last week. And just a few minutes earlier Nathan stabbed Gregory, and he and several others attacked Rick, Daryl and Abraham. Isn't all that kind of the definition of fighting?

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