Sunday, February 28, 2016

REVIEW: 'The Walking Dead' - Alexandria Realizes They Aren't the Only Community in This World in 'Knots Untie'

AMC's The Walking Dead - Episode 6.11 "Knots Untie"

After Rick comes to the realization that Alexandria might not be as safe as he thought, decisions must be made about where to go from here.

The Walking Dead has always fared better in times of action rather than peace. A lot of that is fueled by a cast that is simply too large for the show to know what to do with all of them. Characterization has never been something the show has been great at. That has made peacetimes difficult and boring - Hershel's farm, the time at the prison, the start of Alexandria, etc. However, last week's episode was pretty great even though it didn't derive its story from escalating tension. It had a lot of fun just being a solid road trip episode. And yet, Daryl, Abraham and Sasha's run-in with Negan's group indicated that things were only going to get more tense with another bad group of survivors during this second half of the season. That's certainly the direction that is set up in "Knots Untie." It's not bad by any means. It just feels formulaic and familiar. It's a type of story the show has told before. That's somewhat frustrating given the potential of the group learning that other communities of survivors have formed in this same area.

Rick and Daryl didn't know what to make of Jesus last week. They thought he was prick who was simply trying to steal the truckload of supplies from them. It was entertaining watching the two sides battle with each other - though neither ultimately emerged victorious. But Rick and Daryl chose to save Jesus from the outside world. Jesus is a very capable fighter. He was a little too implausibly skilled in last week's episode - though that's toned back quite a bit here. And now, Jesus sees something in Rick and Daryl that he didn't before. He sees a community of strength. He looks around Alexandria and sees just how strong this community really is. He has knowledge that Rick and company don't. He radically changes their world in just a few minutes. That reveal holds a lot of promising things for the future of the show as well.

It seems very reasonable to believe that after awhile in this apocalypse, communities would start to form that would allow civilization to develop once again. It was an idea that the show introduced with Alexandria and is now expanding upon it by adding the Hilltop colony as well as Negan's group known as the Saviors. Jesus also teases that there are several other communities in the surrounding area that they have been trading with. It opens up this world in interesting ways. So often on the show, Rick and his group have just been battling with the latest evil threat. It was always the same depiction of corruption and power as well. The world has ended and manipulative guys have used that to their advantage in order to make their worlds significantly better. Rick and his group have always come into trouble during their adventures on the road. Why should this time be any different? And yet, this new story avenue also has the potential for this world to evolve. The threat from the walkers is no longer the same as it was. They are simply an annoyance in this world. The world has evolved past that.

All of this makes it perfectly understandable when Rick and his group who have gone to the Hilltop colony agree to take out the threat from the Saviors in exchange for half the food supply that this community has grown. Alexandria is low on food. That plot point is made abundantly clear in this episode. The episode hits it over the head a little too much. But it's also significant in showing why Rick and company want to take on this war even though they haven't had any real contact with Negan yet. Daryl did kill a bunch of his thugs. But Negan still hasn't discovered Alexandria. He hasn't paid them a visit the same way he did to the Hilltop colony. So, Rick takes on this mission willingly just in order to provide for his people at Alexandria and show his community's strength to the rest of the world.

But it's also very compelling that Rick isn't the man who goes into this meeting with the Hilltop leadership in order to negotiate a partnership for survival. It shows a lot of growth on his part that he entrusts such responsibilities to Maggie. He believes she can step up and fill the void left by Deanna. Of course, such growth in Rick only comes in short bursts. He is still horrible at making first impressions. His hands are bloody soon after he arrivals. He really can't go anywhere without killing someone over some kind of disagreement. In this case, it's because of Negan. He is holding the Hilltop colony hostage in order to get their supplies. He is bullying them into handing more and more over. That's an unsustainable relationship. It almost gets their leader, Gregory (played by 24's Xander Berkeley), killed in the process. That gives Maggie the leverage she needs in order to get the supplies from this community. It's honestly the best material Maggie has had on the show in a very long time. It's hard to remember the last time she was this active and important to the narrative. She shows just how strong she is and how great she is as a leader. She understands that Alexandria will be hit with loss because of taking on Negan. But it's also understandable why Rick and company believe they can handle this latest threat. They've gone up against men like Negan before and have always won. They may be over-confident right now. But it's still an interesting place for the story - even though it's very familiar of past narrative setups.

However, "Knots Untie" also spends a lot of time trying to give Abraham importance as a character again. After he gave up his mission to take Eugene to Washington, D.C. to help save the world, he's been lost in the shuffle of blandness. He has struggled from the fact that the cast is too large right now. He hasn't had a ton of importance. The episode last fall focusing on him, Sasha and Daryl was pretty bad and didn't serve much purpose. And now, he finds himself caught in a love triangle of sorts with Rosita (another character who is easy to forget is still alive until she appears onscreen again) and Sasha. Love dynamics haven't always been the show's strong suit. Maggie and Glenn largely work because they've just been a couple for so much of the show's run. Meanwhile, Rick and Michonne are fairly new and it's not that big of a deal at all. Carl doesn't react horribly to it at all! And yet, it's hard to care about Abraham as he struggles with what it means to live knowing what the world has become. He doesn't know how people like Glenn and Maggie can think about bringing a baby into this world. That does give this episode it's very best line and reaction shot when he asks Glenn, "When you were pouring the Bisquick, were you trying to make pancakes?" But it's still hardly satisfying when Abraham gets his sudden moment of clarity and learns to embrace the hopefulness of the future when he is faced with death head on. That's problematic throughout this episode though it doesn't really alter the hour's overall effect all that much.

Some more thoughts:
  • "Knots Untie" was written by Matthew Negrete & Channing Powell and directed by Michael E. Satrazemis.
  • It's also impossible to forget that Maggie is pregnant because it's brought up so many times in this episode. But it's also sweet that Hilltop has an OB/GYN who is about to show the parents-to-be their child on a sonogram. The group is even able to pass around the picture later on.
  • Gregory does feel like the same character type that Berkeley has played in the past. But he's also very good in this type of role. He's not the bad guy in this situation. But he's not Jesus either. He's pretty determined not to negotiation from a power of weakness. He wants to force Alexandria into helping Hilltop. That makes him an interesting pairing with Jesus - though they don't spend much time together.
  • Jesus is just a fun character. His look is still a little too outrageous to be all that functional though. The beard and hair still look too fake. But his willingness to work with Rick and company shows just how crucial an ally he can be in this upcoming fight with Negan.
  • What are Carol and Morgan up to? This is the second episode in a row in which they haven't appeared. And yet, they easily could have been on this mission to Hilltop to see if these survivors are friends or foes. 
  • The dynamic that's developing between Denise and Daryl is amusing. She makes him a snack for the road and he's pretty much a dick about it. But their dynamic still has potential. Don't know if it's building up to anything significant though.