Last week’s episode left us on a cliffhanger, as Rick and company were surrounded by a well-armed group of morose looking people all dressed in grey, with Rick mysteriously breaking into a huge grin before cutting to black. Who are these people? Why is Rick smiling? Rick never smiles. What the hell is going on? And as per the episode title, who are these new best friends? Whose friends? As is my habit, the following article will be a combination review and synopsis of this week’s episode – beware of spoilers!
[Spoiler Alert: The following review will discuss plot points of The Walking Dead S07E10, “New Best Friends” – read further at your own risk.]
Naturally, we don’t get to find out any answers right off the bat, as instead of returning to Rick’s encounter, we begin the episode in The Kingdom – or, technically, just outside it. King Ezekiel, his seneschal Jerry, captain if the guard Richard, Lisa, Morgan, and Benjamin all stand awaiting the arrival of Negan’s men, led by Gavin and his idiot assistant with the hair-trigger temper, Jared. When they arrive for their tribute, Gavin plays Ezekiel a bit, trying to get more goods, but it is Jared that ramps things up, demanding that Richard not be allowed to carry a gun. The two pull their weapons, and we have a Mexican standoff.
Ezekiel, who has clearly made up his mind not to fight The Saviors, orders Richard to give his gun to Jared. He complies, but when he tells the Savior to “suck on it,” Jared makes to strike the guard down. Morgan intervenes, knocking Jared’s gun to the ground, and then letting Jared take away his bo-stick. Jared in turn hits Morgan and Richard with the staff, when Benjamin steps in, taking Jared to the ground.
Jared is ready to kill, but Gavin orders him off – for the moment. He tells Ezekiel that he can’t stand for this kind of behavior, and that there will be consequences – “visceral consequences.” And just as they all seem ready to leave, Morgan asks – politely – if he can have his staff back. Really, Morgan? Jared wants to kill him on the spot, but Gavin makes him leave. Morgan – reading people accurately is not his forte.
We cut back to The Kingdom a little later. Richard is practicing archery, and asks Daryl to join him – it’s good to see Daryl with a crossbow again. “We want the same things,” he tells Daryl by way of explanation. Richard takes him out to his weapons stash – where he previously met with Carol and Morgan in an earlier attempt to foment opposition to The Saviors – and then takes Daryl out to a hiding place alongside a road The Saviors often use. His plan? To ambush a group of Saviors with guns and Molotovs, and then leave a clear trail back to the stash and ultimately to Carol’s cabin.
He does this because he knows Ezekiel is soft on Carol, and he feels that if The Saviors kill her, it will bring Ezekiel around. He’s hesitant to reveal Carol’s name at first, but once he does, Daryl refuses to help him and, upon hearing approaching vehicles, knocks Richard to the ground, pinning him. He then pummels the guard brutally, and the two end up in their own Mexican standoff, Richard with a machine gun, Daryl with a crossbow. Daryl then drops into one of two monologues from The Kingdom side of the episode (the other is from Carol, which I’ll discuss later). This is by far the better of the two. He tells Richard, “She gets hurt, she dies, she catches a fever, she gets taken out by a walker, gets hit by lightning, anything. Anything happens to her, I’ll kill you.” Okay, not technically a monologue, but it is the longest we’ve seen Daryl talk in a long time – and of course, he draws it out dramatically. He leaves, and we just know he’s going to follow that spoor left by Richard to go find Carol.
Now, at last, we jump back to the junkyard from last episode. What about that smile? Rick, Michonne, Tara, Rosita, and Aaron are escorted into a sort of junk clearing, where one woman steps forward and asks, “Are you a collective, or does one lead?” Another shoves Rick – “This one,” she says. They begin to parlay, and Rick asks to see Gabriel. As the conversation goes on, it turns out that this group was unable to loot the boat Rick and Aaron looted several episodes ago, so they left notes and watched for others to do the work for them. They came to Alexandria to take what was looted, and brought Gabriel with them. Now, they figure that they “own” the groups’ lives, and wants them to pay to buy them back.
The dialogue here from members of the collective is very interesting, reminding me a bunch of the child-like patois spoken by The Lost Tribe in Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome, which in turn was heavily inspired by (I suspect) by Russel Hoban’s invented future language in Riddley Walker – a book well worth the read. Although it felt a little odd and somewhat inorganic, I appreciate it when the writers try to come up with something wholly original, and this group definitely looks to be that!
Rick, in a surprisingly good mood about the whole thing, explains that their lives are already owned by Negan and The Saviors, and that the junkyard collective would be better served fighting against the Saviors alongside Rick. They’re initially uninterested, and a fight breaks out – Rosita is the primary instigator, as she’s just turned into some sort of sullen don’t-give-a-shit fighter since Abraham’s death. Being surrounded by several dozen armed people doesn’t even faze her. The fight escalates until Gabriel – he of the running away and turning on his friends – grabs a knife from one of his captors, and holds it to her throat, threatening to kill her unless he can speak.
The fighting stops, and the leader listens. He tells her that Negan’s people have lots of things – food, weapons, vehicles, gas – and that they can have a large share of it if they help in the fight. This gets the leader’s attention, and she tells two of her people to show Rick – something. It sounded a lot like “Obnob” or something along those lines. The three of them – two plus the leader, and Rick – climb to the top of an overlooking junk pile, and then she pushes Rick into a steep-walled pit.
Inside is a bespiked and helmeted walker, looking more like a Cenobite out of Hellraiser than anything else. Rick’s mettle is being tested, to see whether or not he and his group are worth bargaining with. He struggles, taking wounds to his leg and his hand – pierced right through by a helmet spike – and he appears to be losing, until Michonne yells at him to use the walls of junk. He begins to pull at items propping up the walls, and drops a bunch of junk down on the walker, pinning it. He then finishes it off, and with the help of a lowered rope, gets himself out of the pit.
The leader – who eventually tells him her name is Jadis – agrees to help fight The Saviors, if they are provided with “guns – lots of guns.” Plus, she wants half of the spoils, and to keep everything they looted from Alexandria. Rick, still in surprisingly good spirits (perhaps the blood-loss is leaving him giddy), negotiates her down to one third of the spoils, and half of the food taken from Alexandria. They part, with the final warning that the deal has an expiry date, so they’d best get the weapons soon.
We cut to Carol’s cabin, but it’s not Daryl showing up – it’s Ezekiel with Jerry and some apple cobbler. Carol is non-committal and tells them to leave, but she does take the cobbler. Just as she settles in to read a book (is that a romance she has?), there’s a knock. Exasperated, she gets up, and her jaw drops – it’s Daryl at the door. “Why did you go?” he asks. “I had to,” she replies. The two have a few tears, share a hug, and then go inside.
Back to the junkyard, we see two very different dynamics. Two former borderline enemies – Rick and Gabriel – share a moment of camaraderie, whereas two erstwhile allies – Rosita and Tara – nearly come to blows. Gabriel asks Rick why he smiled, and Rick tells him, patting him on the back, “Someone showed me, enemies can become friends.” Awww – right in the bro-feels, amiright? Meanwhile, Rosita is raring to go – she wants to head out immediately to round up the necessary guns, despite having all of Alexandria’s food with them, and an fairly seriously injured Rick. Tara points out the obvious to her – Rick needs to get patched up, and they need to take food to the people in Alexandria – and the some total of Rosita’s comeback is, “Grow up.” Seriously. Now, I do like Rosita, and I understand her pain at losing Abraham (twice, really), but she’s no longer thinking rationally, and is becoming dangerous to herself and the group. If she doesn’t snap out of this mode soon, she’ll get herself or someone else killed.
Now evening, we see Daryl and Carol in the cabin by firelight. She tries to explain to him why she had to leave in a more complete manner, but it comes out confused and sounding as though the writer of the episode – Channing Powell – really, really wanted this speech to sound profound. Carol says, “I couldn’t lose anyone. I couldn’t lose any of them, I couldn’t lose you. I couldn’t kill them. I could. I would. If they hurt any of our people, any more of them, that’s what I would do. And there wouldn’t be anything left of me after that.” I blame the writer, although it may have been the delivery (I hesitate to say that, as I think Melissa McBride has been masterful these past seven years), or it may have been the direction (although Jeffrey F. January directed “Always Accountable”, which was quite a strong episode, the one that introduced Dwight and parted Daryl from his bike and crossbow). But for whatever reason, Carol doesn’t come across as anything by confused – maybe this is what they are going for at this point.
She does look on the point of breaking down, especially when she follows up her admission with a question – she wants to know if The Saviors have come after the group, and if everyone is alright. Daryl hesitates, near tears. Finally, he lies – he tells her that they have a deal with Negan’s people similar to The Kingdom’s, and that everyone is alright. He recognizes that if he tells her about Glen and Abraham, that it might be too much for her.
Cut to The Kingdom. Daryl is now sitting outside Shiva’s cage, watching the big cat. Morgan comes, and compliments him on his communion with the tiger. He tells Morgan that he’s been to see Carol, and Morgan makes some flimflam excuse about Carol wanting to stay hidden – but to me, it just doesn’t ring true, as Daryl is her best friend. Okay, Morgan is honorable, I get it, but he’s got to know she’s hurting, and Daryl is the balm that soothes, is he not? Daryl tells Morgan he’s got to work on Ezekiel, get him to join Rick, but Morgan refuses. Daryl pets Shiva through the bars – he’s tough, no kidding – and he walks out – right out of The Kingdom, on his way to Hilltop. This is a pretty dangerous move – after all, The Saviors openly enter Hilltop all the time. We’ll see how much trouble this brings down soon enough.
So what did I think? Who are the new best friends? The obvious ones are Rick and the mysterious junkyard collective, although depending on a time-sensitive deal does not best friends make – yet. More likely, I think the title is referring to Rick and Gabriel’s newfound mutual respect. Gabriel explains how he was brought here by collective, and Rick believes him – something he would not have done before, at least not until very recently. It can’t be Daryl and Carol, as they were already best friends, but it could be a reference to Daryl and Shiva – wouldn’t that be interesting, if she decided somehow to go and fight against The Saviors alongside Daryl? Now there’d be an interesting narrative! It could also be that the title is being used ironically – Rosita and Tara were friends, Daryl and Richard should be friends, Rick almost seems to embrace the Cenobite-walker a couple of times.
In addition, several characters are having crises of various sorts here. To begin with the beginning: Morgan, who is avowedly anti-killing (although admitting to Rick last week that he had had to kill someone – almost as though it were a badge of honor, or a way to tell Rick that he was changing), escalates a situation with The Saviors to the point that he almost gets people killed, then has the chutzpah to ask for his staff back, re-escalating a seemingly resolved issue. Then, he refuses to help Daryl, and makes excuses for keeping Carol hidden, which he probably shouldn’t do when it comes to Daryl, her best friend. His consistent refusal to try to influence Ezekiel is beginning to ring hollow on two counts: One, he’s seen and now, through Rick and the group, knows exactly how dangerous and unstable Negan and his people are; and Two, how did he get so much influence over Ezekiel in such a short period of time? Yes, we all know how cool Morgan is, but we have a history with his sweet, unstable self. Ezekiel barely knows him, and yet everyone – Ezekiel’s captain of the guard Richard included – seems to think he’s the key to getting Ezekiel to join the fight. Why? It simply doesn’t ring true.
And as for Richard. He tells Daryl, “I would die for The Kingdom.” Yet his willingness to sacrifice Carol is justified by the fact that she wants to be alone. “Along out here, she might as well be dead already.” This, after telling Daryl that she has more guts than either of them. Respect and a willingness to sacrifice seem at odds. Richard could, I would think, parlay his own influence with Ezekiel, simply pointing out how the most recent meeting with The Saviors went, and explaining to Ezekiel what “visceral” means. Ezekiel already knows what happened to Glen and Abraham, thanks to Rick explaining the situation to him. If Ezekiel is at all reasonable, there would be no need to follow this path – but his plan did serve one major plot point, which was getting Daryl and Carol together again – so there is that.
Ezekiel – I love this character in the books, and I love how Khary Payton plays him here. And what’s not to love about a stentorian stage actor with a pet tiger? But get a grip – you are directly threatened, your people are threatened, there is obviously escalating violence and threats of more to come, and yet you still won’t take the necessary step? Ezekiel, man, be a king! (But in fairness, he’s doing what he thinks is best for the majority, and he is being played close to his character in the books, so…)
And lastly Carol. She had the long talk with Daryl about why she ran away tonight, and while I know it was supposed to sound deep and important, it just sounded like someone writing a dialogue that was supposed to sound deep and important. If what the writer was trying to do was make Carol sound confused, without purpose, and on the verge of a breakdown, then I guess they succeeded. But as a series of reasoned thoughts – which she’s had plenty of time to get in order here in the cabin in the woods – it just comes across half-baked. It saddens me that Gimple and co. have taken a character who was a favorite for a lot of people not that long ago, and made her basically ineffectual and uninteresting. Get on it, writers!
As for characters definitely in-character right now? Rosita is most definitely not having a crisis of conscience – she knows what she wants to do, if not exactly how. She wants vengeance, pure and simple. Daryl, too, is on that same path. Between the two of them, Daryl seems to have the more level head, but either one of them could end up in serious trouble in the near future – I just hope that nobody dies because of their actions (and this includes Ezekiel’s captain, Richard – I quite like the guy).
Steve’s Rating: (8 / 10)
A slightly better episode than last week, with a hand-to-hand fight pitching Rick against an armored walker, resonating not only with Mad Max and Hellraiser, but also not a little with Kirk’s battle against the Gorn in the old original Star Trek, S01E18 “Arena”.
Airdate: February 19, 2017
Directed by: Jeffrey F. January
Showrunner: Scott M. Gimple
Written by: Channing Powell (written by); Robert Kirkman, Charlie Adlard, Tony Moore (graphic novels); Frank Darabont (creator)