Josh Jackson and Jim Vorel review each week’s episode of The Walking Dead in a series of letters
This was an up-and-down episode of The Walking Dead, was it not? I went into it annoyed at the very possibility that some additional small piece of the plot might revolve around our most hated of cast members, the Trash People, but left it with a greater degree of interest in almost every one of our main characters: Rick, Negan, Simon, and yes—even head Trash Person, Jadis. There were a lot of interesting teases here that will play into the rest of season 8.
To begin with, though, I was immediately infuriated that both Rick and Negan were still at all interested in the fortunes of the Trash People (or as Negan called them, “The Garbage People”), or whether they could have them as allies. It seems absurd to me that you would have two opposing groups in a war who are both competing for the affections of a group that is known to immediately betray whoever they’ve most recently sided with. How do you manage to betray BOTH of these groups, and still have both of them clamoring for your support?
Meanwhile in Oceanside, I was likewise dumbfounded by the gall of Enid and Aaron, trying to recruit the women of this community to their side. Allow me to review the history of Grimes Coalition/Oceanside diplomatic relations.
1. Tara stumbles upon the Oceansiders and finds out they are refugees from The Saviors, who are supposed to kill her according to their laws, but escapes thanks to one of them taking pity on her. She promises not to reveal their existence or location.
2. Tara reneges, revealing that Oceanside exists. Rick and co. then raid the community and steal all of their weapons.
3. Members of the Grimes Coalition then return as recruiters in their war, and their first act is to MURDER THE LEADER of said community, Natania.
4. They then request the group join a war against The Saviors (the group the Oceansiders were initially fleeing), which will almost certainly get them killed. Somehow, Aaron still thinks this is a good idea.
Now that I’ve gotten that part of the episode out of the way, though, I feel better. I have to be honest, Josh—the rest of this episode, I really liked. In fact, as soon as they started dividing the episode into characters—complete with big headlines that say intros such as “SIMON”—things suddenly got much more interesting and complex. A lot of questions were raised in a short period of time, here.
What do you make of the tensions and seeming ideological divide between Negan and his chief (and our favorite) lieutenant, Simon? Which of the two has the more reasonable approach, here? Is it Simon, who came off here as more of a psychopath than ever, but simultaneously was pretty logical in saying “why don’t we cut relations with this group that has already betrayed us?” Or is it Negan, who is holding steadfast to his philosophy that “people are a resource” and shouldn’t be wasted? Negan is trying to play the long game here, and kudos to the writers for making his outlook on this consistent. From a short-term perspective, I’d be tempted to say that Simon is making more sense, but from a long-term perspective, Negan is clearly doing more thinking.
Speaking of Simon, there was a very interesting throwaway line he offered to Jadis that could potentially have answered one of the show’s biggest current mysteries. While asking why the Trash People lived in a dump, he said something like “What’s up with the helipad and solar panels?” Does this mean that the Trash People were the ones flying around the helicopters we saw a few episodes ago? If so, is their entire luddite lifestyle just a front for a secret trove of technology? I assumed you noticed the change in Jadis by the episode’s end—she was speaking in regular ‘ole English sentences rather than the Trash People’s traditional caveman patois.
Were you equally fascinated by the sudden ramp-up in character-driven moments at the end of this episode? And what did you make of the intense walkie talkie conversation between Rick and Negan at the episode’s end?
Despite all my frustrations with The Walking Dead over the last two seasons, the show’s main character, the always-stressed, pissed-off, clever, unforgiving, unstoppable Rick Grimes, has never become tiresome. His character’s eight-season arc has remained engaging, and I’ve rarely cared more about about which way his conscience would take him than in the wake of his son’s death. We know what Carl would want for him: to try to see the good in people. In particular, Carl would have wanted him to rescue Jadis, whose people were slaughtered by Simon, the rogue Savior no longer interested in doing any saving.
But it’s going to be difficult for Rick to heed Carl’s words and fulfill the promise he made to his dying son, even with constant reminders from Michonne. And seeing how the Saviors completely wiped out the Scavengers will just make him trust Negan even less.
So I think the A and B plots were solid this week with Rick, Michonne, Negan and Simon all making their next moves. Unfortunately, Aaron and Enid’s efforts to sway the survivors of Oceanside, after stealing their guns and killing their matriarch, just seemed like an unimportant filler.
A few random notes:
- I was thankful Jadis dropped her post-apocalyptic speech affectation. That was always so incredibly stupid.
- As much as I’ve hated the garbage people and barely cared that they were all slaughtered, the dump actually made for some cool set pieces. Having all the zombie Scavengers walk lemming-style into the meat grinder wasn’t one of them.
- Michonne seeing the handprints was heartbreaking. Seeing some gazebo where Carl used to sit burning to ashes just…wasn’t. That seemed like a stupid thing to risk their lives to save.
- Negan is becoming a more believable villain. He was still a dick to Rick, blaming Carl’s death on his fathering, but you can see he was really upset by it. And he’s certainly more humane than Simon. He really believes he can restore order and wants to do it with the least possible killing. He seems, dare I say, redeemable in a way that Simon isn’t.
And a few questions:
1. How does Simon think he can hide the slaughter of the Scavengers from Negan? His people must be more loyal to him than they are to Negan. Does this portend some kind of power struggle for the Saviors?
2. I always imagined Simon would die before Negan. The question now is, will it be from a barbed-wire-wrapped baseball bat to the skull?
3. How much will Rick continue to fight against the promise he made to Carl?
4. Does Maggie think her hostages will really stop Negan from attacking?
Some good points there. Suffice to say, I honestly have no idea how, if you’re Simon, you’re intending for Negan to not find out about what happened to the Trash People. I can only assume that in the character’s headspace, he’s thinking that it’s better for that community to be slaughtered and out of the way, one less thing to worry about, and that Negan will eventually find out about it after the whole war is over. And that he’ll be okay with it then, when he does?
Actually, the more I think about it, the more confused I become about what exactly Simon is trying to pull off within the Saviors. It seems to me that disobeying orders and behaving as a rogue are a one-way ticket to getting a hot iron to the face, in this community. The only reason to work against Negan’s wishes is if you’re actively scheming to overthrow him and fully take over at some point, and we’ve never quite gotten the impression that this is something Simon really wants to do. If anything, when things are going well with The Saviors, he seems like Negan’s biggest cheerleader. Perhaps he simply can’t handle it when any cracks are showing in his leader’s facade?
As for the Maggie question, it’s something I hadn’t really considered, and I think it’s kind of a complicated answer. The question you asked is “Does Maggie think her hostages will really stop Negan from attacking?” And I think the answer to THAT question is no. I presume she just sent that thing to antagonize him and show that she’s willing to be ruthless—although it seems like a waste, given that she was just pretending to be back on the program the last time she met Simon on the road. But no, I don’t think that the character of Maggie would actually expect those hostages to prevent more hostilities. She probably expects to fight Negan to the bitter end.
The irony, though, is that the way Negan has been characterized, it’s actually logical to assume that the hostages would work. I was just talking about it in my first message—Negan’s conversation with Gabriel revealed that the key to his philosophy is deeply rooted in utilitarianism. His credo is that “people are a resource,” and he absolutely hates to waste them, especially if they’re on board with taking his orders. He’s cold about it, but when he looks at The Hilltop’s prison pens, he sees 38 very useful tools, and he most definitely wants those tools back in good condition. He might even barter or end hostilities to get them back. The question is whether Simon (being much more unhinged and emotional about this issue) would stand for Negan adopting a more diplomatic stance here.
As for Rick, I don’t think there’s a day that will go by in his life when he’s not torn between his gut instincts for survival and the idealistic world that Carl envisioned, and that he promised to facilitate. Carl’s vision of a peaceful future has given him something to strive for that he may never be able to reach, and it may drag everyone to destruction, trying to get there.
I must say, it’s refreshing to actually get to discuss character motivations on The Walking Dead in this depth.
With that said, I fully expect to toss it all aside in a few episodes when a bunch of soldiers from Oceanside show up alongside Aaron and Enid, despite all logic insisting that they should tell those former Alexandrians to simply get bent.