The two warriors, badly damaged by the zombie apocalypse, finally realized they were what the other wanted after an episode of palate-cleansing misadventures. Rick and Daryl encountered a stranger named Jesus (new series regular Tom Payne) on a supply run and Michonne, with an assist from Carl, helped Spencer find closure by ending his zombified mother Deanna (an unexpected final appearance by Tovah Feldshuh).
The romance is another example of showrunner Scott Gimple’s remix approach, which has been largely embraced by fans. Around this point in the comics, Rick begins a relationship with longtime companion Andrea (dead since the Season 3 finale in the show).
As I mentioned in last week’s recap, The Walking Dead is, for better or worse, a predictable show by virtue of its construction (eight episode batches every spring and fall) and its own folly. That said, this episode was unique. It was lighter in a way few episodes of this show are. Starting with the classical pairing of Rick/Daryl, the addition of comic fan-favorite Jesus and the consummation of Richonne, there was humor, normalcy and even sex – things usually absent or in short supply from this perpetual survival tale.
It plays into the theme of this back half – that of a “larger world” and figuring out where Alexandria fits in it. It reminds the characters (and thus the audience) that there is more to the world, this world, than constant decapitations and a growing numbness to horror. That is a beautiful thing and I can’t think of a more beautiful summation of this idea than the concluding shot, with Rick and Michonne artfully entwined after lovemaking. Of course, in another Dead theme, the moment was all-too-brief, with Jesus entering and insisting he and Rick talk.
For all intents and purposes, this was “breather” episode. The aftermath and cleanup from last week’s Battle for Alexandria is skipped, as is Carl’s recovery from his de-eyeballing. Rick and Daryl’s misadventures with Jesus echo a buddy cop dynamic and their camaraderie was sorely missing from the first half of the season. And speaking of Gimple’s remix method, the scenes of Carl with Enid (and her with Glenn last week) seemed to continue setting her up as a surrogate for Sophia (a character killed in Season 2 yet still alive in the comics, like Andrea) who becomes a daughter figure to Maggie, especially after some upcoming tragic events occur.
Some point to Rick hooking up with Michonne so soon after the tragedy with Jessie as gross, but that discounts the time skip between “No Way Out” and this episode, as well as the relationship between the two that’s been evolving since they met in Season 3. It’s not like they introduced a new chick for Rick to bang for this episode. Most importantly, it felt like the Jessie storyline mattered. She got Rick to open up one emotional place to another where he was looking for romance.
What was lovely was how natural instead of gimmicky the Danai Gurira and Andrew Lincoln made it feel, against Internet odds wherein Richonne shippers have existed for years. Together, they collectively clued the audience to the unspoken truth the characters were only now acknowledging. It’s the benefit of strong actors combined with longform storytelling, so kudos to Gimple for doing this story right.
I’ve been burned too many times by the show to say that The Walking Dead has conquered its lingering problems. Still, there’s too much good to ever write the show off, even if it succeeds on a case-by-case basis. This chapter is good addition to the canon, accomplishing the feat of introducing new elements, moving pieces into place and paying off long-running arcs.
Loving this show, like loving most things, means learning to accept them as part of the imperfect whole, in this case the whole is planet Earth’s favorite TV show.