‘The Walking Dead’ Recap: ‘The Same Boat’ Asks Whether There Are Any Good Guys Left

The Walking Dead Season 6 Episode
Courtesy of AMC

Spoiler warning: Do not read on unless you’ve seen “The Walking Dead” Season 6, Episode 13, titled “The Same Boat.”

When a show has been on for a few seasons and established an emotional status quo among its characters, it earns the right to give us episodes like “The Same Boat,” an incisive chamber piece that serves as a compelling analogue to last week’s “Not Tomorrow Yet” in its surprisingly deep examination of moral relativism, ably penned by Angela Kang and directed with claustrophobic intensity by Billy Gierhart.

Instead of focusing on a larger group going up against the Saviors, as we saw in last week’s bombastic installment, “The Same Boat” gave us a chance to sit with Carol and Maggie as they argued the merits of their choices against an equally tight-knit posse of survivors — one that was arguably every bit as justified in their defensiveness as our group. We’ve been told that the Saviors and Negan are bad news, thanks to the residents of Hilltop (and Daryl, Sasha and Abraham’s encounter on the road), but when you take a look at the damage inflicted so far, Rick’s people have a much higher on-screen body count, and far less justification to attack the Saviors than the Saviors have to harm them, given Daryl’s rocket launcher trick in the midseason premiere.

This proactive approach of “do it to them before they can do it to you” may be logical and even advisable in a zombie apocalypse, but overall “The Walking Dead” seems far less interested in delineating the line between “good” and “bad” this season than it has in years past, a narrative choice that is proving to be a creative goldmine in terms of character development. We’ve seen Carol evolve from a meek and battered housewife into the hero of her own story over the past six seasons, but despite her battle-hardened exterior, this is a woman who still clearly has a conscience and a conflicted soul — a fact that’s sometimes easy to forget, given her pragmatic outlook.

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While Rick is unflinchingly mutilating zombie faces and shooting men in the head at point blank range, Carol is still keeping a running tally of all the human lives she’s taken and giving her enemies second chances to do the right thing, even when logic says killing them would be the safer route. While I don’t believe that Rick takes these acts of violence lightly either, it’s been fascinating to see where each character lands on the spectrum of whether the ends truly justify the means in recent episodes. That these characters remain likable even when doing heinous things is a testament to the groundwork that the writers have laid over the past few years, and the show is finally venturing into territory so expertly trodden by another AMC hit, “Breaking Bad,” which wasn’t afraid to take its “hero” to dark places in the name of good storytelling. While “TWD” often lacks the elegance of Vince Gilligan’s TV masterpiece, it’s nice to see the show tackling those thorny ethical questions without worrying too much about whether a few shades of grey in our heroes will put us off.

In seasons past, it’s been easy to talk in absolutes: Rick’s group = good, Governor = bad. But as “The Walking Dead” expands its world and introduces more characters who have all found their own means of surviving this long, we’re finally starting to get a more nuanced look at what the cost of living is in this new world. Is one group more entitled to live than another? How is that worthiness determined? That conflict was personified in Paula, Carol’s dark mirror image, who believed that shutting off her conscience made her somehow greater than she used to be. “I’m still me, but better,” she told Carol. “I lost everything and it made me stronger.”

The same is undeniably true of Carol, but it’s interesting how subjective the idea of strength is in this apocalyptic landscape: I’d argue that it takes far more strength to allow yourself to feel in a world where loss is a constant, relentless certainty — making yourself numb might be easier, but it doesn’t require much intestinal fortitude, if you’re just trying to sleep at night. Carol, on the other hand, has been an insomniac for a long time now, and these decisions weigh heavy on her — as much as she was adamant that Maggie should stay outside during last week’s episode (a choice that inadvertently got them both captured), this episode crystallized the fact that Carol was probably trying to find a way to avoid bloodshed just as much as she was concerned for Maggie’s safety. The point isn’t just to stay standing, as Maggie points out to her own twisted reflection, Michelle — because “the walkers do that” too — they’re choosing something else: to try and find a better way to live than the way they’ve been living up until now, whether that means opening themselves up to the possibility of love, or children, or the ideals of Alexandria that Deanna believed in.

“The Same Boat” eventually bore out Rick’s warning that everyone they let go will inevitably come back to bite them (no pun intended), after Carol gave Paula multiple choices to escape rather than to pursue violence and yet still ended up having to kill her. But was Carol and Maggie’s decision to lure the remaining Saviors to the kill floor and burn them alive an act of resignation — a concession that there’s clearly no point trying to give people second chances? That remains to be seen, but the events of the episode clearly took their toll — in the closing moments, an emotionally drained Carol told Daryl that she wasn’t good — a rare moment of vulnerability — while Maggie admitted to Glenn “I can’t do this anymore,” after narrowly avoiding having her stomach slashed by Michelle. Everyone should have a line they refuse to cross, and this season seems determined to test whether that’s a hill that each character wants to die on: Morgan refuses to kill under any circumstances, perhaps for the sake of his own sanity, but Glenn, who had previously been the only member of the group never to take a human life, was willing to make that sacrifice for the supposed greater good, and both will have to live with the consequences, just like Carol’s decision to take out the Saviors to ensure their own survival.

One of the most interesting aspects of the episode was the way that a number of the Saviors decided to channel their inner “Spartacus” and take credit for being Negan — implying that this many-headed beast can’t be so easily eradicated, and that this leader clearly espouses a philosophy that the Saviors believe is worth dying for. While we’ve heard enough from the cast, the executive producers and the comics to know that the real Negan is no laughing matter, it’s still interesting to consider, from a hypothetical standpoint, what it would mean if Negan wasn’t real, and really was just the boogeyman that Daryl suggested he might be. What if we met Negan and he was actually a nice guy, and all our characters had turned themselves into human-killing monsters for nothing? Would all this have been worth it?

Food for thought.

“The Walking Dead” airs Sundays at 9 p.m. on AMC.

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  1. I don’t believe for a second that that was the real Carol. It’s a common trope in movies and TV for the strongest character to appear weak to give the captors a false sense of security.

    She didn’t seem to have any issue killing Paula or burning to ‘innocent’ men.

  2. imthetruth says:

    really everyone exaggerates how gooood walking dead is, and all the other cable shows. relax, these shows really aren’t sooooooo great you imbeciles. they aren’t deep and meaningful, so get over it. you are being milked for the clone/drone you are.

  3. This was a really good episode, but not for the ‘female empowerment’ it set out to push. It was good because the acting (particularly that done by the scene steal-er from The Mist, Ms. McBride). It was good also because it is possible that during something like this is is POSSIBLE, if however unlikely, that a couple of chicks could be taken captive by a few other chicks. What actually hurt the episode was a combination of Carol’s reaction to Darryl (more aloof and stand offish than would have been real). The second part of what hurt tonight’s episode was Ms. McBride’s response to a question regarding that awkward scene on the after show Talking Dead. When asked about it, because even the host could not accept the fact that she did not respond realistically by falling into Darryl’s arms and perhaps weeping. She stammered out a few words, circling the fact that it would have been more realistic if she had done that, but settling on ‘When she is with Darryl, Carol can let her mask down a bit’. It was nothing more than Ms McBride attempting to keep the ‘3rd Wave Feminism’ idea being pushed by the show alive.

  4. T. Walker says:

    Very provocative insights, considering this is a TV show. As it explores fascinating social morays within life and death. The show and its character are most interesting, but what is even more remarkable is the dialog and conversation generated by what we have seen. Never has there been a time in history when so much could be said of TV shows in so may different areas in media. Would we be spending this much time on Gunsmoke, All in the Family or controversial shows like Maude or Flip Wilson?

    TWD has developed this season beyond the typical what would you do if scenarios. It is making us examine motives, meanings and thought processes far beyond just “killing walkers.” The humanity and moral issues are what pushes viewers to continue to watch, as some may identify with in the flaws and attributes of characters. Would we all be humane or moral under these conditions – is really the question the TWD series begs us to ask ourselves?

  5. larrypatten says:

    Thanks for the article. I was thinking again how powerfully TWD has honored and extended the success of George Romero’s original “The Night of the Living Dead.” TWD is not just gory/grim, but pushes for deeper questions about our current culture. One trivial thing that has bothered me about the recent commitment to rid the world of the Saviors is Rick’s (along with others) willingness to plunge ahead while knowing so little about them. No one tried to scout out the location (or locations) where they call home. Minimal information has come from the brief encounter on the road with the motorcycle gang and one of the Hilltopper’s sketchy data. They have made blind guesses about strength of numbers, and firepower. Not smart.

  6. Billy says:

    The Saviors that stopped Daryl, Abe, and Sasha were two seconds from shooting Abe and Sasha. Before they were blown up, they stated that Negan owned them. Then, Negan (real or metaphorical) sent a Hilltopper back with instructions to kill the Hilltop leader, which almost happened. That is all the evidence needed for Rick and our gang to know that Negan and the Saviors needed to be taken care of preemptively. There can be no doubt that our heroes are still the good guys. Rick and Daryl did not kill Jesus when they first met, even after he stole from them. Rick and Daryl were looking for seeds before meeting Jesus so that they could start growing their own food. If they were bad, they would do what Negan does and take from other groups under the threat of violence. Rick put the decision to raid the Savior’s compound to a vote. Nothing they have done, even taking out the Saviors in their sleep, changes things. We all know Lucille is going to make her appearance anytime now. There can be no argument who is bad and who is good. Morgan is an idiot and I really hate how much he has gotten into Carol’s head. I think he is building a jail. That is fine. If a bad guy can be captured alive and tried, imprisonment is fine. But Morgan just about got Carol killed this last episode by filling her head with nonsense. She was in a life or death situation and need to kill that red-headed woman the first chance she got.

  7. Wild says:

    Not that a story like this has to be grounded in anything realistic, but I wonder just how many Saviors there are. In a semi feudal system (and if Negan is essentially searching out small communities to ‘tax’ and to support his militia, it is close enough), you need a pretty high ratio of peasant to soldier. This isn’t an efficient world where communities seem to be able to raise large amounts of crops due to the constant threat of zombies.

    Rick and team have already killed about 27 Saviors on screen. Perhaps more offscreen in the raid. That is a very large # of people who don’t seem to be busy raising food. Consider how few fighting types Rick has managed to pull together, or even that the Governor really had with a whole town behind him. How many more Saviors can there really be in a believable way? And even if there are a reasonable amount more, can they really afford to remain in conflict? Decimation was named for losing 10% of your troops, and the morale loss it created. I know it’s based on the comic, but when #s get this big for the story setting, and people don’t seem to react to extreme losses, it certainly detracts.

    That said, extreme kudos for the exploration of what it means to be human, and the crises each of the survivors have gone through as they change and come to recognize the changes that surviving has inflicted.

  8. Maaaa says:

    Just one tiny thing to nag about, Daryl didn’t ask if she was okay, he specifically asked “you good”, which Carol is obviously not considering her reluctancy to kill and also the overall theme of them no longer being the good guys.

  9. Bo Lee says:

    I am thinking they need to begin to look at an end to the series. The waters between right and wrong, good and evil are becoming muddied. They are turning into the people they have been fighting against for so long. Rick is on the verge of becoming another “governor.”

    • Mary says:

      I don’t agree Bo Lee. The Governor also had a “Kill room” if you remember with Darryl’s brother…. Rick’s camp has a jail, not a “kill room” also like the “survivors” . Rick’s camp is still trying to make a future. It’s not muddied is complex. I hope they never end the series, the writing is Phenomenal.

  10. therealeverton says:

    “and far less justification to attack the Saviors than the Saviors have to harm them”

    Don’t know where the logic for that statement comes from at all?! The Motorcycle gang were killed by Daryl because they took them hostage and were debating which of Sasha and Abraham to kill – whilst bragging / stating tha they always kill one person from a group before they force them to take them to their settlements so they can take it over / wipe them out and steal their possessions.

    Survival depends on sending people out in twos and threes and Negan’s group have made that a danger. Of course there’s a justification for what they did. Negan has no need to attack peaceful settlements and steal / blackmail, with death and the threat of more death, from them.

    It isn’t nice, but it is what had to be done and the moral high ground remains fully with Rick’s group.

    Even in the show ~(spoiler) they considered that having been attacked by the bilkers, there was a justification for Carol and Maggie attacking the Saviours.

  11. toni says:

    I guess the writer missed the part where the guys on the motorcycle were going to shoot Sasha and Abraham….and the part where they wanted the guys head and kept someones brother….not nice guys…

  12. Joe Labrat says:

    Great article. More thought-provoking than a simple recap.

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