Spoiler warning: Do not read on unless you’ve seen “The Walking Dead” Season 6, Episode 10, titled “The Next World.”
After a climactic but messy midseason premiere, this week’s episode of “The Walking Dead” utilized a time jump to skip over two months of cleanup and recuperation, picking up with our survivors in a new state of equilibrium.
Following Carl’s brush with death and miraculous survival, the episode opened with an unfamiliar sense of optimism — with Rick, Michonne, Carl and Judith living in domestic bliss (or the closest approximation of it you can expect to find in a zombie apocalypse), bantering about toothpaste supplies and listening to “More Than a Feeling.”
As Andrew Lincoln told Variety last week, our fearless leader has acquired a new perspective about Alexandria and his place within it. “The final moments of the [last] episode can almost be day zero, it’s almost [like] civilization begins from this point, for the first time. Because I think the key thing that’s been missing for so long is hope. It’s the first time that Rick, in spite of the trauma and the carnage, [Carl surviving] has given him his first feelings of hope since he was shot two years ago.”
Because of Rick’s change in perspective, this week’s episode — deftly directed by Kari Skogland from a script by Angela Kang and Corey Reed — marked a pronounced tonal shift from the rest of the season to date (and arguably the series as a whole): it was funny. “TWD” has often been criticized for its unrelenting bleakness, but Kang and Reed’s playful script was a perfect demonstration of how charming the show can be when it gives our characters some breathing room and allows those well-defined personalities to bounce off each other.
Rick and Daryl certainly don’t get many opportunities to let off steam, and you wouldn’t generally describe either character as the life of the party, but from Daryl’s bewildered reaction to Denise’s request for soda, to their deadpan bemusement over Eugene’s grain advice, to Daryl’s despairing pleas for Rick to spare him from his musical choices on their road trip, to their Benny Hill-esque pursuit of thieving new character Jesus (you could almost picture Yakety Sax playing in the background as Rick did his best to drive over their nemesis in the truck while Daryl chased him around the field*), the episode had a kind of infectious joy that the show rarely allows itself to sustain — understandably, given the high stakes and even higher body count of living in a world full of walkers.
*And, because the Internet shares a hive-mind, an enterprising fan has already made our dreams a reality:
Skogland’s direction helped maintain that energy — everything from the musical cues to the comedic beats in Rick and Daryl’s banter elicited more chuckles than I can ever remember a “Walking Dead” episode prompting before, even if their repeated run-ins with Jesus were bordering on farcical by the time the supply truck rolled into the lake.
That Jesus apparently managed to slip his restraints and somehow end up on the top of the truck without Daryl or Rick realizing sooner — let alone that he later managed to get loose, get around Daryl standing guard and get the drop on Rick and Michonne while they were sleeping — did strain credulity a bit, but the newcomer obviously has considerable fighting and sleight-of-hand skills, so I’m looking forward to getting to know him further.
Despite the inherent humor, the episode still balanced those flourishes with some of the more poignant, emotional moments that make “The Walking Dead” so potent. We learned that Spencer has been going out into the woods after his watch shifts in search of his mother, Deanna, now reanimated as a walker. While the character has always made questionable decisions that, more often than not, put other characters in danger, it was apt that he was aided in his quest to lay his mother to rest by Michonne and Carl, two characters who are also intimately familiar with making painful choices when it comes to family. Lest we forget, Carl was the one who shot his own mother, Lori, to stop her from turning, and — as he later explained to his surrogate mother figure, Michonne — wherever possible, a walker should be put down by someone who loved the person they used to be. Carl’s quiet admission to Michonne (“I’d do it for you”) helped solidify the fact that the four of them — Rick, Michonne, Carl and Judith — have become an unbreakable family unit, which made what happened next all the more powerful.
As a poetic bookend to the domesticity of the opening scene, the episode ended with Rick and Michonne, both weary from an emotionally and physically taxing day, coming together on the couch to decompress, just like any partners might. While many fans have been rooting for the two to get together for some time, their first kiss and the sex that followed didn’t feel like fan service; their bond has evolved organically over the course of the show, and while in many ways it felt inevitable, given the connection between them, the moment still came as a pleasant surprise. The two have come to trust each other as companions and friends without ever crossing that line, but it’s fitting that now Alexandria has established some semblance of peace, and both of them are finally in a place where they can start thinking about the future (and, as Deanna challenged Michonne on her deathbed, to figure out what she really wants), there’s nothing to stop them from acting on the love and respect they obviously have for each other.
While it would be easy to dismiss this episode as pure scene-setting, the emotional closure and symbolic renewal seen in those quieter, character-driven moments made it one of the most emotionally satisfying to date. And while Alexandria’s newfound peace might be shortlived, given the threat of Negan on the horizon, it’s nice to see the first rays of hope emerging after so many dark days.
“The Walking Dead” airs Sundays at 9 p.m. on AMC.
What did you think of Rick and Michonne taking that final step in their relationship? Can Jesus be trusted? Share your reactions and theories below.