The Walking Dead continues its Season 6B hot streak. Most impressively, “The Same Boat,” a Carol-centric episode, was a great example of what Season 6A did not do well: highlight specific characters while moving the plot forward.
The episode was laser-focused on Carol and Maggie’s predicament, being kidnapped by the surviving Saviors from last week’s climatic massacre.
But they framed it within the context of the previous week, rather than going off on a unrelated tangent. There’s nothing wrong with bottle episodes; in fact, they can even better than the story proper when done right. And “The Same Boat” does it very right.
The two women find themselves captured by four Saviors – Paula, Michelle, Molly and Donnie – who try to make an exchange with Rick for another captured Savior. They call in backup and hole up at a slaughterhouse (the aforementioned “bottle”).
Paula and Michelle act as effective foils for Carol and Maggie respectively. Alicia Witt, who played Paula, was especially good and reminds me of how another bottle episode feature – the one-off guest star – can actually be a character rather than a cipher or function of the plot.
One of this week’s failings was Carol’s arc in the episode – continuing to come to terms with her body count (20 as of this episode) – felt woefully unearned. Melissa McBride can sell pretty much anything but nonetheless there were pieces missing. This despite the fact that the Carol/Morgan conflict (Lennie James is sadly missing this week) was the best subplot of the first half.
While there was a month between the end of the Alexandria walker invasion and this era of the show and Carol could conceivably begin reflecting during that, the show tells (literally when Carol writes her murder list) rather than shows her growing doubt and regret. This makes it seem to come out of nowhere, particularly when she started as far at the other end of the spectrum as she did during the Wolves’ attack in “JSS.”
But the flaws, few that there are, in this episode are far over shadowed by the good, such as Billy Gierhart’s direction and, man, those performances. Witt and McBride are great and so is Lauren Cohan, thankfully better utilized this half-season than as Glenn griever in the last.
The show is finally willing to actually let the audience doubt their characters. Even when the group killed the Terminus cannibals, it was made clear they had it coming. Our group’s morality remained unsullied. That facade seemed to start breaking when Rick and the others got to Alexandria
Now the show has taken a page from the playbook of AMC’s masterpiece Breaking Bad and finally examined the moral relativism, both inside characters. There were hints of this way back in the premiere where Rick seemed edging closer and closer to the selfish, me-first nature of Walter White. It was dark, it was compelling, it was . . . more or less dropped after.
Now, with the conflict with the Saviors in full-swing, Angela Kang’s writing did a great job graying it up, presenting Paula and her group not as cowards like the Termites or savages like the Wolves but people just a few moral gradations away from our protagonists.
“We are all Negan” is not just an obfuscating tactic of their leader’s behalf but a thematic point – they are all human and they are all dedicated. The Governor had to manipulate people to do his bidding. The Saviors’ do Negan’s willingly. And that is what makes them so much more dangerous than anyone Rick’s crew has yet met. These people have been radicalized to the point they all have become “Negan.”