“He’s a coward. They’re more dangerous.”
Walkers have entered the compound. There’s a car playing loud music, attracting them in. There’s also a bunch of fire all over the place. What would Jesus do? Some insane wall kicks and kung-fu ought to do it. That’s right, this episode see’s the return of everyone’s favourite bearded ninja; Jesus. This episode saw the return of a few characters. We finally caught up with Maggie and Sasha, and we saw more of Gregory. There is perhaps a slight Negan-withdrawal this week, however. Or maybe that was just me.
The community at the Hilltop, Gregory in particular, is a bit rubbish. After making a deal with the Alexandrians last season to wipe out Negan and his men, Gregory wants his community out of it now the deal has gone pear-shaped. Xander Berkley is perfect as Gregory, somehow making him more slimy than in the comics. “I’m a good guy” he tells Maggie, instantly confirming that he is, in fact, the worst guy. From the minute we see him we know this guy isn’t cut out for leadership, as he forgets people’s names and is a complete pushover. All of his scenes with Simon (Steven Ogg) are the highlight of the episode, as he constantly caves to his demands and grovels for the Saviors. The Hilltop and it’s leader have now been broken by the Saviors and this is a glimpse into the future that Negan has planned for Alexandria. It’s complete servitude, but how long will Rick put up with it? At this point I can imagine him kneeling like Gregory.
I mentioned him briefly, but Steven Ogg is excellent as Simon in this episode. He is clearly cut from the same cloth as Negan, threatening but also funny. His moustache makes him look like someone straight from the 1970’s and he goes nicely alongside the other surreal villain’s and side characters of this season. The Saviors are often just a faceless enemy, so it’s nice to have a clear person to give them a voice and to give the audience someone to root against.
Back in this episode are two major characters; Sasha and Maggie. Both are still reeling from the deaths of the most important people in their lives, and that element is handled very nicely. The scene of Maggie visiting Glenn’s grave is very sad, but the show doesn’t draw it out. Sasha has buried them (against the Hilltop’s rules) and they both mourn. The show could very easily have made this episode all about the two of them wallowing in grief, but it doesn’t. Both women are strong and plan to move ahead in this world, and won’t allow themselves to be held back by what Negan’s done. What exactly the two of them plan to do next is up for debate. Sasha looks ready to go to war at the end, asking Jesus to find the location of the Savior HQ, and Maggie looks set to overthrow Gregory and finally take the Hilltop in a good direction. Maggie and Sasha are two very strong female characters, but not in the cheesy, in-your-face Whedon-y way.
The major set piece of the episode is stylishly done. When a car blasting out classical music is sent into The Hilltop, Sasha, Maggie and Jesus take charge over an ineffectual Gregory. Maggie has a cool moment where she crushes the car with a tractor, a nice callback to her life on the farm from season 2. We’ve seen bits of Jesus in the previous season, when he first fought Rick and Daryl for example, but this episode we got a proper look at his abilities. We see him kicking all kinds of zombie ass, with some really cool kung fu moves straight out of the comics. By the end of the episode it also looks like Jesus is about to take centre stage in a big part of the plot too. In the comic he is one of the best characters and he looks destined to be a fan favourite here too.
Carl and Enid get a subplot in this episode too. With young romances like this, it can often come across as a bit embarrassing but it’s done really well here for the most part. The scene of them finding roller skates and then skating together is really sweet. One minute you’re watching The Walking Dead and the next it feels like some indie movie. But it’s awesome to see some happiness for two of the more damaged characters in the show. It looks like Carl and Jesus’s plots are about to intertwine too, with both of them on route to Negan by the end of the episode. In the comics, the Carl and Negan scenes are some of the most famous so it’s exciting to see how the show handles it.
The pacing of these first few episodes has put a few people off. I think some people would rather it followed the Game of Thrones format and dropped in on a whole lot of different characters in one episode. But The Walking Dead isn’t like that, it’s more like Lost where they have character specific episodes. And that’s not a bad thing! Especially when there’s a huge cast of interesting characters. The comics also went whole issues without Rick. Also it allows them to do something a little different each week, they have different styles and tones depending on who the focus is on. The show is building a world that we haven’t seen up until now, we should at least give them a proper chance to do it.
This episode was perhaps not the very best of the season, but it was still a great episode. There were some great character moments for all the main players and seeing more of side characters like Gregory and Simon was welcome. Jesus has a few really memorable moments too, usually involving a walker and a dropkick. Best of all it’s nice seeing Maggie and Sasha not giving in to The Saviors and generally just being badass. It was another really strong episode to an excellent season.
Reviewed by Jack