Be warned! This review will cover aspects of the episode. Spoilers will lurk like groaning walkers…
The Obliged, for much of the episode’s running time, almost feels like a budget-saving exercise, the show pinching pennies so as to afford a blowout next week (more on why in a moment). That said some of the scenes that are simply two people talking are actually more compelling than bigger action moments, though there’s at least a couple that work. Our initial focus is Michonne, caught between her duties as Alexandria and her drive to go out and keep killing walkers. Writer Geraldine Inoa and director Rosemary Rodriguez provide Danai Gurira with some well-considered scenes, and of course she crushes them. We’d question some lack of subtlety (the series has rarely been able to put foreshadowing in without announcing it through a megaphone) with her discovering Lucille out in the woods, pointing to her later verbal sparring with Negan, but it’s eased away by the startling image of a black walker hanged, which gives her pause and sees her sideswiped by a walker, fighting for her life.
Her scenes with Negan also work, Jeffrey Dean Morgan allowed to play some truly different sides to the man, even if he is still the slippery snake trying to slide his way past her defences. It was still a refreshing change to see him change gears from his usual snarky self, and both actors did fine work in those scenes.
Elsewhere, Maggie and Darryl’s Big Plan To Kill Negan has yet to bear fruit, and largely seems to be a spur for the dramatic finale (again, we’ll get there). It leads to more tension between Rick and Darryl, and while their fight scene is a little stupid, the result of them falling into a pit (they might want to call Leslie Knope to help with that) is both a decent stand-off between the two (perhaps the last they’ll ever have) and a nicely tense scene where it starts raining (well, more of a shower) walkers down upon them, and they have to team up to get out. The arguments they put forth for Rick’s plan for the future and why it might not work are both actually compelling.
And yes, it all leads to the cliffhanger at the end. Rick, offering to lead a herd of zombies away from the camp, finds himself trapped when the second herd spooks his horse and he’s left impaled on some rebar. Zombies to the left of him, walkers to the right, here he is, run through the middle with a bloody great bar. It’s a creepy, tension filled way to wrap things up, though we have to question whether this is actually the way Rick Grimes goes out. Tune in next week to see…
But wait! There was more. The Saviors’ continued bad behaviour remains the least compelling element, but their discovery of Oceanside’s offing of their members and declaration of war does at least ramp things up a little. Mostly, it was a chance for Jed to once again totally underestimate Carol. Some lessons just don’t stick, we suppose. And as for Anne and Gabriel? Their scenes mostly felt like a way for the pair to say goodbye, filler material before we finally learn who the former has been talking to (this year’s big bads, no doubt).
This season has so far been a mixed one; while some elements have been watchable and it’s a blessed relief to be away from the driving misery of All Out War, there are still times it feels as though the show doesn’t quite know how to sustain any plotline. Perhaps next week’s entry – not-so-coincidentally Andrew Lincoln’s swan song as Rick – will be the kick in the pants it needs as it begins the dive towards the end of this half-season.
Highlight: The pit!
Lowlight: Stand-off at the bridge camp.
Kill of the week: Darryl’s two-knife, no-waiting zombie kill.
Quote of the week: “You keep askin’ us to have faith in all these other people. But the truth is, you don’t have enough faith in us.” Darryl, to Rick in the pit.
Zombie of the week: The poor fellow Michonne uses like a piece of fruit, slicing his head in two.
MVP: Michonne, and, to a lesser extent, Negan.
The big question: We’ll have to wait to see how the Rick situation (the Rick-uation?) resolves, but hands up who think he’ll be saved at the last minute, only to die some other way. Anyone else wondering if he might just give up on everyone and strike out on his own? Surely not, given Judith and Michonne in his life? Does the show really want to just kill off Lincoln, never to return? (Except in potential flashbacks – the actor is, after all, scheduled to be back to direct an episode, so they could always have something ready for him).
Read this season’s reviews
Read last season’s reviews below… The Walking Dead Season 8, Episode 1: Mercy
The Walking Dead airs Sundays at 9pm on AMC in the States and Mondays at 9pm on Fox.