The Walking Dead S7E10: New Best Friends
I spoke last week of the somewhat fragile state of The Walking Dead right now. Despite still having monster ratings, they lost nearly 40% of their audience in the first half of season seven. They came back with a very strong midseason premiere, and now is not the time to drift back into narrative problems of the past, or graphic violence problems of the past. New Best Friends avoided both of those pitfalls while also moving the story along and providing compelling dialogue between characters.
As expected, Ezekiel begins having more problems with the Saviors during their drop-offs. Now, though, it is set against the proposition of fighting back against the bullying they have to put up with. Ezekiel maintains his composure, and his desire to keep the peace. It is clear however that he is losing support among his community, at least those that know of the deal. One wonders what the community at large would think if they all knew of their agreement with the Saviors. This raises other questions of what will it take to change Ezekiel’s mind? Pressure from his community? Morgan persuading him? Richard seems to think if the Saviors kill Carol, it will spurn Ezekiel into action. He recruits Daryl into a plan to make that a reality, but when Daryl learns of his intentions he wants nothing to do with putting Carol in harms way. Especially since he didn’t know Carol was still around. Richard seems hell-bent on making this war happen and involving the Kingdom in it. I have to believe his moves to this end are not over.
The remainder of the episode can be split into two parts; Rick dealing with a new group, and scenes with Daryl.
Last episode ended with Rick and his small group surrounded by a new, larger group, while Rick smiled in apparent satisfaction. I guessed he might have seen Heath in the group, but such was not the case. This group is known as the Scavengers, and as their leader Jadis says, “We take, we don’t barter”. Th Scavengers are a curious group. They have a strange way of speaking, black clothing seems to be a requirement, there are traces of a hive mentality in their movements and communication… oh, and they live in a junkyard! They’ve apparently also been able to make it this long in this part of the country without running into the Saviors. The first thing Rick sees in them, and presumably the reason he’s smiling at the end of last week’s episode, are their numbers and weapons. He sees them as a potential ally in the fight against the Saviors. But first he must earn their trust.
This trust is earned by fighting a spike-ridden zombie with a metal, spiked helmet. Because how else do you earn someone’s trust? What I liked about this portion of the show were the ways that faith is displayed. In the Bible James says, in describing the works and faith of Abraham, that his faith was perfected by his works (Js. 2:22). We can read elsewhere in the New Testament that Abraham’s faith was credited to him as righteousness (Rom. 4:21f), and in the Old Testament we learn that God was testing Abraham by requiring certain actions of him (Gen. 22:1). I almost hate to engage in the debate among Christians about faith and works because the Bible seems to speak of them as complimentary of one another (as is the case with Abraham) while we are determined to rip them apart and speak of them as two unrelated things. In Rick’s task he performed for Jadis, he was proving worthy of the faith she was considering to place in him. She even says it before tossing him down the junk pile. She needs to see if he’s worth it. This is a test for Jadis to extend faith to Rick and his group. But there’s another form of faith happening, and that is Rick’s faith in Gabriel. Gabriel had come so far, and Rick saw every step of his growth into a stronger, more capable man. Given Gabriel’s past, it’s easy to see why everyone but Rick assumed he abandoned them. But Rick remained faithful. This is a more accurate picture of biblical faith, the kind we have in the Father, because it’s based on the evidence of things done before and promises made. Rick had faith that Gabriel didn’t forsake them because of the changes he saw in him and promises Gabriel had already made to him. The moment between them after the agreement between Rick and Jadis, when Gabriel expresses appreciation for Rick’s faith, is a terrific moment for these two characters.
I can’t review this episode without touching on Daryl’s increased presence and deep interactions in this episode. I’ve mentioned his skirmish with Richard already. This leads to his reunion with Carol. Between his scene with Carol and his short scene with Morgan, we have some of the best dialogue between characters we’ve had this whole season. His reunion with Carol was emotional and happy, but also somewhat tragic. Carol still doesn’t know what happened with the Saviors finally caught up with them. She doesn’t know that Abraham and Glenn were brutally killed. Or that Olivia and Spencer were murdered in the middle of their own town. Daryl knows what Carol would do if she learned of it all, but she shares with him that if she killed more people because they killed ones she loved, “there wouldn’t be anything left of me after that.” There is so much history behind that statement and what killing people has done to Carol’s humanity. She has taken it harder than it seems anyone else has. Perhaps it’s because she’s facing it more than anyone else. Her and Morgan are two sides of the same coin. Morgan won’t kill because he believes all life is precious. Carol won’t kill because she’s afraid of losing her own humanity. Daryl recognizes this, and his love for her drives him to a compassionate response; a lie. He tells her they took out the Saviors, and came to an agreement with the rest, and that everyone was fine. For Daryl, her relief at hearing this was almost worth the loss of her as a companion in the fight. And you get the feeling he would not have done this for anyone else. Carol holds a special place in his heart. Not a lover, not really a mother, but with their shared experiences and full consideration for one another, they are about as close as two people can be.
Finally, in a shot that I think perfectly captures the episode as a whole, Daryl sits across from a caged Shiva, and the symbolism is evident that Daryl is caged as well. He won’t let himself bring Carol to fight, the Kingdom won’t stand up for themselves and join in the fight… He is as free as he’s been in a while, but the decisions to bring him a greater, fuller freedom are out of his control. Even in him calling Morgan out for hanging onto something that is already gone (his view of life), he is confronted with the fact that he’s hanging on to things as well. If not, he would’ve told Carol the truth. Daryl welcomes a fight, that has never been a question, but he also yearns for freedom from the tyranny the Saviors have brought to them. What he wants for himself, he sees as a possibility for Carol. So he lies to her, allowing her to hang on to something that has probably been long gone.
My Rating: A-
I am cautiously hoping that TWD is hitting a stride in this second half of the season. I didn’t have the problems with the violence in the first half that many did, but I wasn’t a fan of the episode layout and pacing of the story overall. These two episodes are moving the story along in believable fashion (or at least as believable as we should expect a zombie show to be) while also adding depth to important characters and creating terrific points of engagement between them. Next week we learn of Eugene’s fate with the Saviors, and Negan learns of Daryl’s escape. Expect the death toll to begin rising again. One final note; in Rick and Gabriel’s heart-to-heart moment, Rick says to Gabriel, “even enemies can become friends.” Remember that line, because it could be a significant bit of foreshadowing for Rick and Negan down the line.