“Nah, I got cancer. But that’s okay, ya know what I’m saying?”
I don’t know how they do it. Even after ten years – and the same amount of seasons – nothing gets me hyped like a big battle on this show. This time it ‘s the battle for Hilltop. And judging by the end of this episode, our heroes are going to need a miracle if they hope to win.
Though, in the complete opposite to usual Walking Dead fashion, the first two thirds of this episode are nice. The characters are not exactly in good places, and there’s the threat of imminent death, but love is in the air. Eugene is still in contact with his new friend on the radio, Stephanie. And he’s coming around to thinking that he might really care about her. Firstly, this is great news for our resident apocalyptic incel. He’s been pining after Rosita since day one, so it’s great to see him interacting to someone who’s on his wavelength (pun 100% intended) and who also seems genuine. But it also sets the stage for the aftermath of The Whisper War. In the comic, this plot point takes the gang to The Commonwealth – a seemingly idyllic community that is dealing with the apocalypse a hell of a lot better than anyone else. But it’s also where the stage is set for the finale of the story (spoilers – it’s where comic Rick meets his end). It’s all very exciting, and quite different to anything the show has presented us with so far. So let’s just hope that Eugene makes it to his rendezvous at the rail yard.
Elsewhere, Carol and Ezekiel are knocking boots. He’s come to terms with his cancer and spends a lot of this episode telling people about it. His interaction with Daryl – “I got cancer. But that’s ok, you know what I’m saying?” – is a really superb moment of humanity in the midst of this increasing terror. It’s the same with him and Carol. Their spontaneous lovemaking is the best they can do in the face of armageddon (though Carol denies that the sex was spurred by their impending deaths). Though, through the unspoken language of television, we get the feeling that The King isn’t long for this world. Even without the cancer, his arcs have all been wrapped up, he spoke to Daryl and put aside any differences, and his character was long-dead by this point in the source material. On top of all that, he was lying on the bed in the age-old Jesus position. I think I’ll be more shocked if he doesn’t go out with a heroic sacrifice next week.
A couple of seasons back, it seemed ridiculous that Norman Reedus’ Daryl Dixon could carry the show. He barely spoke and seemed to be kind of two-dimensional – even if both of those dimensions were incredibly cool. But just look at him now! He has a whole host of fantastic interactions in this episode. With Ezekiel, we see his more awkward side, unable to deal with the touchy subject of The King’s cancer. And with Judith (who has fixed his biker cut in the most adorable way) we see the father figure that he’s turning into – a role he may have to get more used to in the wake of Michonne’s departure. And with Carol we have two of the real OG characters, a pair who have been around since the very early days, the last of the originals. And if you didn’t feel the emotional weight of their exchange, as Daryl promised “I’m never gonna hate you“, well you’re as empty inside as one of the walking dead themselves.
But things couldn’t be nice for too long. Death is coming for Hilltop, shambling through the woods, sending the rats scurrying in fear like a biblical plague. Alpha is coming. And she’s got Negan helping. He provides her with a few of his classic Saviour techniques – blocking the roads, stringing people up, etc. It seems like an evil thing to do, but Negan is playing the long con. He’s trying to save as many people as possible, and if that means forcing a surrender instead of all-out slaughter then that’s the best bet. But it certainly seems like he’s misjudged Alpha in this regard. She’s going to tear Hilltop to the ground and use its reanimated occupants to fill out her horde. Negan is going to have to decide who he stands with, and he’s going to have to do it in the next episode. If things follow the comics, he’s going to decapitate Alpha, proving his loyalty once and for all. Though at this point, it could be Carol that lands the killing blow.
The battle here is set up to be almost an improved version of The Battle of Winterfell in the last season of Game of Thrones. But this show is not afraid of showing off it’s pulpy b-movie inspirations, and we get some really awesome action this week. From Eugene’s electric fence to the 300-style speed ramping, it was all very fun to watch. And it was cool to see them using genuinely good tactics, proving that they have learnt something in their past decade in the apocalypse. But ultimately, it’s the whisperers that get the upper hand this week with their ingenious flaming tree sap. In a cheek-clenching scene, the gang are doused in some unknown liquid. But then it hits home – they’ve all been turned into extremely flammable targets for the whisperer’s flaming arrows. If the white walkers had tried something like this, things might have gone differently.
On Game of Thrones, the key disappointment in the Battle of Winterfell was that no one of any importance died. They were all wearing their weight in plot armor. It’s up to The Walking Dead to deliver now, and kill off some characters. My bets are on Alpha and Ezekiel both biting the bullet. Either way, I’m more excited for next week’s episode than I have been in years. Bring it on.