Tonight’s episode of The Walking Dead gives us a break from Negan and his band of merry Saviors, and refocuses our attention on doings with the Alexandria group. This second half of the season is gradually building momentum, and the overall pace and quality of the episodes has been a pleasant change over the water-treading we got in the first half. But even with that steady build, there are those among the survivors who don’t think things are going quite quickly enough. As always with my TWD reviews, this is part synopsis, part analysis – scroll down with that in mind.

[Spoiler Alert: The following review will discuss plot points of The Walking Dead S07E12, “Say Yes” – read further at your own risk.]

While last week we spent the entire episode focusing on two characters – Eugene and Dwight – this week we focus primarily on two groups, one made up of Rick and Michonne, and the other Rosita with whomever she happens to be with, alternately Tara, Father Gabriel, and, at the very end of the episode, Sasha (although this may turn out to be the most important part of the episode going forward). We also get to see little Judith for the first time in ages, and she helps bring Tara to something of a crisis of conscience. In order to avoid the confusing back-and-forth of jumping from character to character, I’ll cover the episode by dealing with each group in turn.

The majority of the episode follows Rick and Michonne on a scavenging trip. We get a few montages of them breaking into buildings, searching for guns, and making love. They seem to be in their element, and when Michonne suggests they should be getting back to Alexandria, Rick asks her for another day and a half – “Just a little more,” he asks for. What he’s actually asking for, of course, is for this idyllic little murderous roadtrip to continue. It’s an escape for both of them, and they’re truly in their element. They’re doing something for the first time in ages, and both Rick and Michonne feel alive. Yes, she was always rebelling against Negan’s strictures in her heart, but now that Rick is on-board, they’re truly rediscovering the foundation of their love and relationship. As Rick says, almost wonderingly, “We’re fighting the fight. It’s better.” And things seem to be going there way, as well. Just when they need batteries for their walkie-talkies, they come across two guys playing golf – they look like Saviors, though it isn’t clear – and their nearby pickup full of gear, including a box labelled batteries. We cut to Rick and Michonne driving away, munching on pretzels they also stole, and a case of beer between them (interestingly, also the two items that Dwight left for Sherry in last week’s episode).

The next morning, Michonne spots a deer near their van, but when she retrieves her silenced pistol to go get it, it’s already headed off. Rick tells her he owes her a deer, recalling when he made Michonne give a freshly killed deer (and her hunting gun) to Negan way back in Episode 704. This is another way he’s trying to show that he’s making amends – he was trying to keep things safe and stable, still reeling at the time due to the deaths of Abraham and Glenn. And now that he’s turned the corner and rediscovered his inner badass, he’s trying to show that he’s going to make things right between them. It also speaks to a conversation they have later in the episode, about possibly losing each other. When he basically forced her to turn over the deer to Negan, it was really about saving her. He knew that Negan would kill if pushed, and Michonne looked about ready to push at that point. Things have changed now, but more on that later.

After they try to briefly follow the deer, they come across a fenced-off compound. A lone walker is inside, carrying a nice big machine gun. They climb up onto the roof of a building inside in order to get a better scope on things, and see laid out below them a small carnival, complete with “guests.” Several dozen walkers are roaming about, including a bunch of fully armed soldier walkers – here are the guns they’ve been looking for. They consider the situation, and whether or not they can take it on. Michonne shoulders a sniper rifle they picked up, sights down it, and then fires – but she isn’t shooting walkers, she’s shooting bottles in a carnival game at range. They smile and laugh – everything’s going their way! – and then the roof collapses beneath them. We’re not left in suspense for long, however, as we almost immediately hear Rick laughing from below.

They’ve fallen into a storeroom – one that’s full of canned goods and MRE (Meals, Ready to Eat) military rations, as well as a bunch of bottled water and some cots. Rick’s quite happy to make home there with Michonne for a bit, although she’s eager to get back now that they’ve found the guns and supplies they need. We even get a touching scene that, according to production notes from Talking Dead, was an homage to the candlelit scene from Sixteen Candles. How sweet! The talk about what comes after the fight with Negan, and Michonne suggests she’d like to see Rick lead, to help create a new order out of the old. He’s not interested, save for creating a new order with her – yes, a little saccharine, but they deserve a moment here and there. Of course, such interludes are necessarily brief in the zombie apocalypse, and the next day they go about trying to gather in those weapons.

Their initial plan is to take out the nine walkers in a forecourt area beside the carnival proper, blocking a gap in the fence with a handy nearby car. There’s some playful banter – Rick’s only taking one, while leaving eight for Michonne – and then they get to work. Rick runs into some difficulty. There’s an army walker half-in-half-out of the windshield, and he has to pull it out of the way to get inside the car. First, he pulls it by the boot, which just results in pulling off the walker’s foot. This led to the first problem I had with the episode – as the foot and boot come off, the leg gushes two or three squirts of blood on Rick. So now the walkers have a working circulatory system? Sure, I know it’s a cool looking effect, but coming, Nicotero, let’s stay consistent in-universe, okay?

Next, Rick grabs it by the legs, and it rips at the torso – no luck whatsoever! He does manage to pull it free as Michonne shows up, giving him a hard time for taking so long. As they push the car, Rick realizes that it doesn’t have any brakes – and one of the soldier walkers, shambling into the rear of a truck piled high with rebar, manages to get its machine gun trigger bound up on one of the bars, and starts inadvertently firing at Rick and Michonne. Michonne jumps in the truck to avoid the fire, while Rick hunkers down below the dash. The car rolls to a stop, and they’re in the middle of the crowd of walkers they were trying to contain.

They don’t panic, however – they’ve been through worse. Popping the sunroof (lucky there is one), they jump into a little fenced off area around a kiddy swing ride. The walkers easily push over the thigh-high barrier, so the two split the herd and head in opposite directions. While Michonne handily beheads hers, Rick grabs a gaffer’s hook and does his best to imitate her. He gets distracted before his job is done – there, near the Ferris wheel, is the deer they saw earlier. He climbs up to get a better shot – he’s going to get that deer he owes her come hell or high water – but before he shoots, he notices a small herd of walkers approaching from that side of the ride. If he shoots the deer, it’ll just get eaten by the walkers. As he lowers his gun, however, the bar he’s standing on suddenly gives way, and for a second time, Rick is dropped unceremoniously on his ass. This time, he isn’t laughing at the bottom.

I just have to go a little out of the thread of the synopsis here to mention that this deer looked horribly, ridiculously fake. What the hell were they thinking? TWD has a considerable budget, and is the most watched cable television program in the world, and yet they allowed this sub-par effect to make it to air. Seriously, when you watch it, look at the deer – it’s almost smoky looking, like they didn’t have the budget to animate it properly, so they just smudged the image a little to give it the illusion of life. The deer Michonne stalked earlier was either a real deer, or was damned fine CG. This was just embarrassing, and served to jar me right out of the suspenseful nature of the scene.

Do you see a box? I don’t see a box

Back to our regularly scheduled review. Rick appears stunned, and struggles away from the walkers, leap-crawling for his gun. He starts firing at them from his prone position, taking out a few, but getting backed up against a fence and a pile of junk with no apparent escape route. Michonne sees him fall, yells, “Rick!”, and starts running toward him. As she approaches, the gun runs out of bullets, and she sees the crowd of walkers moving in on Rick’s position. She stops – they’re feeding on something. Certain it’s Rick, she stands, stunned, and drops her sword to the ground. A few long beats, and then Rick, suddenly appearing healthy again, bursts out of a box against the fence, and starts playing whack-a-walker. He picks up Michonne’s katana and tosses it to her, and the two finish up the rest.

The problem with this scene is that, frankly, there wasn’t even a second of tension or concern. I can buy Michonne, as a character within the TWD universe, believing that Rick was dead. But as a viewer, I knew there was no way he’d get taken out in such a simple and meaningless manner. And to be honest, I found the whole set-up to be rather cheap. This was what they did with Glenn and the dumpster last year, without the three episode lag in finding out he was still alive. Its only meaning lay in the way that Michonne reacted, and the conversation that she and Rick have as a result later on. But the scene itself, following on the heels of the fake deer, smacked of false tension. Here’s Rick in trouble! He’s up against the fence with no escape! And somehow, he kills the deer that’s still there despite the gunshots (really?), finds an open box that isn’t apparent in any of the shots, hides himself inside without getting noticed by any walkers, and then is suddenly healed from his fall and ready to jump out when Michonne really needs him. I mean, c’mon. Yes, I know that the whole central conceit of this show is that I need to suspend my disbelief so that I can accept the dead walking, people losing basic language skills in about three years (Jadis’s junkyard group from two weeks ago), roofs rotting through, again, in only three years of regular weathering, etc. etc. etc. But this felt like cheating, and had me shaking my head as I watched.

Faux crisis averted, the two embrace, and then we cut to them walking around collecting weapons and, presumably, loading the van. We cut to the two of them driving, Michonne looking haunted and refusing to make eye contact with Rick. Here’s where the foreshadowing with the deer comes full circle. Rick stops the van, and they talk. He tells her he’s still feeling heavy remorse over Glenn’s death – he tells her that Glenn saved him, right at the beginning, and the fact that he could do nothing to save Glenn has kept him from sleeping. He gets a look of resolve on his face, and says,

We’re going to fight them. That’s what happens next. And we’re going to lose people. Maybe a lot of them. Maybe even each other. Even then, it’ll be worth it…. You can lose me. I can lose you. It’s not about us any more. It’s about the future…. If it’s me who doesn’t make it, you’re gonna have to lead the others forward because you’re the one who can.

Michonne looks at him and says, “I can’t lose you.” But he’s having none of it – he recognizes that he’s compromised in the past (the deer back in 704 mentioned above), and that the fear of losing each other holds them back from doing what they need to do. He tells her that he’ll go on if she dies, and she needs to be able to do the same – because she, too, is a leader.

After this conversation, we end up at the junkyard. Rick and Michonne have been joined by Rosita, Tara, and Father Gabriel, and Rick is speaking with Jadis. She appears to maybe, kinda, sorta look happy (though she’s got a serious poker face), but she tells Rick in no uncertain terms that the guns are not enough. “Twice” she says, meaning she wants twice as many as the 63 Rick and Michonne have managed to scavenge. Rick tells her they’ll find them, but he needs to take ten in order to help them collect more. “Five,” she says. “Ten.” “Six.” “Ten.” “Seven.” “Ten.” She pauses. “Nine, and you return the cat.” Rick looks surprised, then says, “Twenty, and I keep the cat. Say yes.” Jadis actually does smile, and she says, “Yes.” They shake – the deal’s still on.

We get to see Rick once more before the end of the episode, but in order to get there, I need to go over the other events of the episode first. Most of these involve Rosita and her simmering rage at the world. First, we get a scene where she’s removing her own stitches, because she’s tough. Tara shows up and tells her she was going to do it, and offers some cream to prevent scarring. Rosita refuses because again, she’s tough. Tara’s had enough, and tells her, “Maybe you can just save all this for them,” before stalking off. Good for you, Tara! I haven’t liked her much this season, but this moves her back toward my good books. Rosita then goes out scavenging for guns, and finds only a toy pistol while taking out a walker. She’s super angry about this, so naturally, she blames Father Gabriel, going to his church and accusing him of not caring that she didn’t find any guns – “I didn’t find any guns, in case you were wondering.” I doubt he was, because why would he even know she was out? And she follows that up with another little gem, telling him, “You don’t know shit about shit.” This is just a weird diatribe with very little grounds. I mean, the thing she accuses Gabriel of – preventing her from killing Negan – was something she attempted in any case. It was her own ineptitude in hitting Lucille that caused her plan to fail, not anything that Gabriel did. But Rosita’s not that interested in personal responsibility or others in general right now, so there. Because she’s tough. Gabriel, like Tara, doesn’t take Rosita’s garbage lying down, but his is a more diplomatic approach, telling her, “Anything is possible until your heart stops beating.” He’s trying to steer her true, but she’s not interested in listening to anyone else at the moment.

We get a brief but interesting scene with Tara that’s rife with foreshadowing. She’s looking after Judith – who has grown like a weed since last we saw her – and she’s playing with the shell bracelet Cyndie from Oceanside gave her back in Episode 706. She starts talking to Judith about the all-woman colony and about why she can’t reveal its existence to Rick. As she does so, she’s obviously talking herself into revealing it after all, but she can’t seem to make up her mind. She asks Judith a rhetorical question – “What makes our life [sic] worth more than theirs?” She answers herself, as she comes to a realization about what she must do: “Dammit.”

This leads to a conversation right near the end of the episode. Tara is coming out of Rick’s house as he approaches. He asks her if she knows where Rosita is – she missed her watch shift. Tara looks very distracted, and she says that she needs to tell him something. We don’t see the rest of the conversation, but it’s definitely Oceanside she’s going to talk about. This should make for an interesting visit with this shoot first, shoot second group (there really is no talking with them) sometime in the next few episodes.

So where did Rosita go? Somehow, she’s gotten all the way to Hilltop (remember, it’s not that close to Alexandria, taking over a day to walk). She goes to Abraham’s gravesite, and finds Sasha there. Sasha offers to leave, but she’s the reason Rosita’s come. She asks her to help her do something. Sasha gets serious, and says, “One condition. I get to take the shot.” Rosita doesn’t hesitate, but puts together a sniper rifle she took from the junkyard stash (presumably one of the twenty guns they negotiated for), and hands it Sasha. She tells Sasha that she knows Rick and the group are working toward taking out Negan, but she’s not willing to wait any longer. And she’s not fooling herself about what this kind of a decision means. “It’s a one-way ticket for both of us,” she says. “If it is both of us.” “It is,” Sasha replies.

So now it looks as though Rosita’s selfish anger is going to get not only herself killed, but possibly Sasha as well. I know she’s mad, I know she wants to take out Negan, but this reaction is just a little over-the-top for me. It’s not like every single person hasn’t lost someone in the apocalypse. Sasha already went through this selfish, dangerous anger episode two seasons ago when she lost first Bob, and then her brother Tyreese. So if anything, she should be trying to reason with Rosita. After all, that unfocused anger almost got her and others killed, and that’s what’s going on here. Rosita’s choices have already led directly to Olivia’s murder, and to Eugene being taken to the Sanctuary. She’s out of control, and she doesn’t care – and that can’t stand for too much longer. Even if she succeeds in getting Negan, or getting close to him, it isn’t like his people don’t know where she’s from – Alexandrians will, again, pay a price for her personal vendetta. If she continues down this path, I hope she trips and gets bitten on the way – good riddance to a bad character.

All of that said, I’m enjoying her in this particular mode. It frustrates me because it is so effectively adverse for the group, and it makes sense from a character perspective because she’s done with being a victim. But still, I hope she doesn’t get anyone else killed.

It was enjoyable to watch Rick and Michonne’s relationship grown in this episode. Andrew Lincoln and Danai Gurira have excellent chemistry together, and they genuinely seem to like each other. Michonne’s transition from the pillar of strength to feeling powerless in the face of losing Rick rings true for anyone who has felt the kind of love that can make your heart stop in your chest – and Rick’s reaction, while seeming cold on the outside, was exactly what needed to be said to bring her back. Love is wonderful, and what they have is more so, but they need to be willing to lose those things closest to them in order to achieve their goals. I think they’ll both be ready, should either one have to sacrifice to win the war.

Tara was interesting again tonight for the first time in a while. She was actually making decisions, and standing up to Rosita was a nice touch. Tara’s generally been a bit milquetoast, but I think that her experiences in Oceanside have helped to knock a bit of the innocence out of her – necessary, if she intends to survive. Betraying Cyndie and the other Oceansiders is a difficult decision for her (despite that the rest of them actively tried to kill her), but one that I think will ultimately turn out to be the right choice. Who has reason to hate Negan and the Saviors more than the women who lost every last one of their men? Revenge is sweet…

The carnival scene resonated with a couple of other pieces of zombie media, both the comedy-horror movie Zombieland, and the Valve game Left for Dead 2, which sets one of its episodes in a Fun Park. I would have liked to see more engagement with the rides, as that would have been an opportunity for some cool interactions, but other than the fake looking deer and Rick’s contrived fall/survival, I thought that the set was a nice change of pace from the usual ruins or forest shots.

I thought that this was one of the stronger episodes this season, and would have likely given it about an 8.5 or 9 out of ten – if it weren’t for Nicotero dropping the ball with the deer and Rick’s apparent demise. Those unfortunate choices drop this episode into the above-average category for me.

Steve’s Rating: 8 Stars (8 / 10)
Overall, a solid episode that is undermined by jarringly poor CG and a contrived “is-he-or-isn’t-he” moment where Rick is imperiled.

Episode: 712
Airdate: March 5, 2017
Directed by: Greg Nicotero
Showrunner: Scott M. Gimple
Written by: Matthew Negrete (written by); Robert Kirkman, Charlie Adlard, Tony Moore (graphic novels); Frank Darabont (creator)