All photos courtesy AMC

So, last week I posited that The Walking Dead might have gotten good again. After watching last night’s episode, I would like to amend that. The Walking Dead is no longer bad or boring, it’s still a definite improvement over the first half of the season. But now, it’s, uh… insane?

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“New Best Friends” introduced yet another new group to the mix, which I can say without fear of hyperbole are the weirdest group of people in the zombie post-apocalypse. I know TWD has given us some weird ones, but these guys make Ezekiel and the Kingdom look like the height of reasonableness. They live in a giant garbage dump and wear all black. Only their leader Jadis (Polly McIntosh) speaks, yet she tries to use so few words she usually omits pronouns. They made that wonderful Spike Zombie. And, oh, they have elaborate, flash mob-esque walking patterns in the off chance they bring a bunch of people home with them, apparently just to unnerve them. They’re like a community theatre group made up exclusively of Nine Inch Nails fans that decided to start a cult.

Maybe the weirdest thing about the Scavengers (that’s what McIntosh named them in Talking Dead) is that while they seem to have a lot of people and a lot of weapons, they are very lazy. Their philosophy, uttered by Jadis at her most loquacious, is, “We take. We don’t bother.” So remember that houseboat full of supplies Rick and Aaron got? Apparently they were watching it for months, waiting for someone else to get it for them. And when Rick did, they broke into Alexandria, made Gabriel pack up all the stuff, and drove off to Dumpsville.

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If this seems incongruous with the smile Rick had on his face when he and the others were surrounded by them at the end of the mid-season premiere, yeah, it is. But Rick is grinning like a maniac during pretty much the entirety of the episode. He is delighted to be surrounded by these weirdos. He gives them the sales pitch to fight the Saviors with them, to which Jadis says “No.” She may be a weirdo, but she’s not an idiot. To be fair, though, Rick stops smiling when Jadis pushes him into a pit to fight the Spike Zombie we’d seen in all the teasers, but after dispatching him with a garbage landslide and a handy shard of glass—despite getting a nail poked through his hand—he’s smiling again when he crawls out.

It turns out beating their Spike Zombie and a bit of haggling is all it took to enlist the Scavengers to Team Rick. Now Rick has to find them some guns and promise them a third of the spoils when they beat the Saviors. Rick is so pleased to have these murderous nitwits on his side he grabs a wire dog from the dump to give to Michonne, which she’s delighted by. Rick is so bizarrely happy even Father Gabriel, who I’m pretty sure would have declared Rick the Second Coming of Jesus a few weeks ago had they not met a guy named Jesus and Gabriel was afraid he’d just confuse everybody, has to ask him what the hell he’s been grinning about this whole time.

“Because someone showed me enemies can be turned into friends,” is Rick’s reply, which is sort of a happy platitude until you remember it’s almost never true in the world of The Walking Dead. Sometimes enemies will try to eat you, sometimes they’re kill-happy nihilists with a fondness for the letter “W” and self-harm, and sometimes they’re really big assholes who weren’t going to be your friend even if you hadn’t killed about 30 of them in cold blood last month. Very, very rarely do they become friends, and the Scavengers are absolutely, 100% not their friends. They are mercenaries who are joining Team Rick purely for material gain, albeit mercenaries made up of a well-armed but surly death-mimes.

If that fact wasn’t enough to wipe Rick’s dumb smirk off his face, you’d think the realization that he has to find a bunch of guns for the Scavengers—almost exactly like he’s been forced to find stuff for the Saviors—would be sobering. But apparently he trusts Jadis and Scavengers to keep their word after a single afternoon with them, a generous portion of which he spent trying to escape a zombie who was cosplaying as the Iron Throne. Still, I suppose these guys are weird enough that they probably will accept one payment and then leave, presumably to go practice their choreography.

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Guys, writing all this out, this all sounds sort of terrible, but again, there are two things that TWD has been lacking for me for quite some time—a plot that actually moves forward, and surprise. I had absolutely no clue about the Scavengers or how completely bizarre they would be, and I didn’t know that this would be the episode that shows Rick Grimes at his happiest. This all may be dumb, but it’s still entertaining, and I for one thank Winslow the Spike Zombie.

It also helped that “New Best Friends” didn’t just lock us at the garbage dump, but also spent time at the Kingdom, where, after another tense supplies drop-off to the Saviors, Richard begs Daryl’s help in effectively starting a fight and forcing the Kingdom to join the war. Richard’s plan is to kill a car full of Saviors, get ‘em mad, lead them to that house where Ezekiel’s weird lady friend lives alone, the Saviors kill her, and Ezekiel gets so mad he declares war. Two problems: 1) Daryl has talked to Morgan about Carol and knows her general situation, and 2) Daryl is not an idiot. He beats the shit out of Richard to prevent his attack, and then insinuates that if a sacrifice is needed to get the Kingdom engaged, maybe Richard should be that sacrifice.

This is just a prologue to the emotional heart of the episode: the reunion of Daryl and Carol. Daryl knocks on her door, and the two embrace in a completely unromantic and completely affectionate way. It’s when Daryl asks Carol, plaintively, “Why’d you go?” in a small, sad voice, practically like a little kid, that got me. “I had to,” she says, explaining in their next scene that, essentially, she knew if she stayed with the group and lost someone, she would start fighting again, and killing again, and then lose what’s left of her humanity. And then she asks Daryl if the Saviors finally came and if everyone’s okay.

Carol is crying while she says all this, so I’d like to think Carol is actually asking Daryl to lie to her. She’d have to be an idiot to think he’ do otherwise after hearing that—or that the group would survive an encounter with the Saviors completely unscathed—and Carol is no idiot. Ignorance is bliss, and Daryl telling her everyone is fine is the only way she can continue living her little, lonely life, as opposed to rejoining her friends but becoming Completely Dead Inside Killer Carol again. I don’t begrudge her that, and neither does Daryl, and he leaves after one more hug.

He also decides he needs to leave the Kingdom to return to Hilltop to prepare for the war, telling Morgan that he needs to be the one to convince Ezekiel to join the fight. Since Morgan is the only person in the post-apocalypse who actively believes in avoiding conflict, this doesn’t seem likely.

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I… I honestly don’t know what TWD is trying to say here. We know for a fact Morgan is wrong about the Saviors, but when Daryl calls him out for believing in something false, Morgan calls him right back out for not telling Carol what happened to Glenn and Abraham (if he had told her, Carol would be back in the Kingdom, arming up). Daryl wanted to spare Carol pain, and Morgan wants to do the same, just for everybody. If it was up to Morgan and Ezekiel, they’d never fight back—so I guess it’s a good thing that Richard is going to do something stupid and horrible to make the war inevitable.

If there was a theme to last night’s episode—no, wait, actually there wasn’t. There just wasn’t one. Rick and the gang met a bunch of loonies he’s going to pay to help kill the Saviors, Daryl and Carol reunited, and there was a zombie covered in spikes and duct tape. I don’t have the faintest idea what’s going to happen for the rest of this season, and that makes me very happy. So maybe The Walking Dead still isn’t as good as it used to be, but it’s entertaining again, and that’s good enough for now. (Seriously, though, a few more Spike Zombies wouldn’t hurt.)

Assorted Musings:

• The most ridiculous part of the Scavengers is that fact that, while only Jadis speaks and she speaks poorly, she also apparently has childishly simplistic names for things, as if she had been abandoned in the woods as a child and had only recently started learning English. She calls the top of the trash heap the “up up up” like she’s about to call the sun “the great sky ball” or something. It’s the worst thing ever, and I love it.

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• Seriously, the zombie apocalypse could not have happened more than… six years ago, right? One year per season? And you’re telling me not only did Jadis’ crew of Big Lebowski Nihilists take a vow of silence, but Jadis has forgotten three-quarters of the English language? Or is she talking like that on purpose because it’s terrible and she and Scavengers are committed to being the most hilariously pretentious community in the post-apocalypse? It’s the latter, isn’t it?

• When Carol spots Ezekiel, he explains he was just taking out a posse to kill some zombies, and happened to come this way. This would probably hold more weight if: 1) Ezekiel weren’t personally leading the group, 2) they hadn’t brought Carol a cobbler “in case” they ran into her, and 3) they weren’t standing in her fenced-in front yard.

• I find it sort of heartwarming that The Walking Dead can have such amazing practical effects, and then still have the world’s least convincing greenscreen on occasion. Rick looking out over the dump from the “up up up”… woof.

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• Ezekiel’s tiger Shiva is instant friends with Daryl, because of course.

• Rosita and Tara have a brief tiff about whether they should stay out and look for guns or go back to Alexandria to recuperate that has all the emotional power of the writers being ordered to give them each a couple of lines at the very last minute.

• Line of the night, Savior goon Gavin to Morgan: “Read the goddamn room, sensei.”