Two good episodes of The Walking Dead in a row is not an unheard of occurrence, but it is auspicious. “The Bridge” continues last week’s strong narrative start as Rick, Maggie, and the others try to keep everyone united into one community, but a few cracks are beginning to show—and the same can be said of the TV series, too.
The episode’s main story is, unsurprisingly, about the joint effort to rebuild the bridge that broke last week, which Rick straight-up says is a symbol of working together and peace and their fledgling (zombie) nation. He isn’t beating around the bush with the metaphor, but then, neither is the show. For The Walking Dead as a series, the broken bridge represents the connections that need to be forged between disparate groups of people to genuinely unite them, and Rick is trying to build those and the bridge. No one has ever accused TWD of subtlety, but that’s fine.
Rick’s plan to rebuild the bridge is a lot more secure than his hopes for everyone to get along, however. There’s a tent city by the bridge where bunches of people from all the communities are working, with a logging operation nearby for materials. Eugene is working on a dam upstream. There are scouts looking for zombie herds in all directions, so they can be lured away with sirens, which will also be used after they do some rock blasting.
There are some contrived moments that are needed to mess with things and set up conflict, but I think that’s always been the case for The Walking Dead. (See the hilariously unnecessary death of Ken in the premiere, for example.) Here, it begins when an ex-Savior named Justin (Zach McGowan) decides to suddenly become a huge asshole, stealing a jug of water by pushing a child—Henry, currently relegated to water boy—to the ground. Daryl, who’s never stopped hating the Saviors, immediately starts a fight, which Rick breaks up. Rick chooses to let the incident slide, rather than get all the ex-Saviors working on the bridge riled up, but Daryl is pissed (as are others, I imagine).
The contrived bit comes later when the group does its blasting and attracts a herd. Jerry uses the first siren to begin luring them away, but the second siren doesn’t go off—meaning the herd starts heading directly toward their logging operation, where Daryl and Aaron are working. One dumb dude drops the rope holding a giant log—the guy practically tells “Yipe!” and leaves a smoke cloud in the shape of his body behind, like a Looney Toons character—right onto Aaron’s arm, pinning him to the ground.
As usual, the zombie herd is barely managed until the show reaches the story beat it wants—in this case, Aaron “barely” getting freed—and then it’s super-easily dispatched. I will allow it, however, for two reasons: 1) Daryl dual-wielding daggers and going all Assassin’s Creed was awesome, why doesn’t he do that literally all the time?; and 2) Rick shooting a rope to send a pile of logs rolling toward the herd like a goddamned Ewok trap was as entertaining as it was silly, and it was very silly.
But the really contrived part is when we find out why the second siren didn’t go off; it’s because Rick trusted the job to Justin the asshole who Daryl pummeled earlier that day. I don’t buy that he would be willing to kill that many people, including many ex-Saviors (surely some of whom are his friends) just because he’s pouting, but this is admittedly within the boundaries of Walking Dead behavior. No, the contrived part is Rick’s choice to give this guy a life-and-death job after he got his ass kicked by Rick’s middle management and is obviously very upset is obnoxiously dumb. Either way, the dude comes back to the camp (a very weird thing to do if he intentionally didn’t run the siren, so maybe he was telling the truth when he said it didn’t work) but Daryl beats him again in front of the whole camp, which should be great for ex-Savior/everyone-else relations. Rick just tells the dude to go back to Sanctuary the next day. Justin leaves immediately.
Meanwhile, over at Hilltop, the Earl and Tammy saga continues, but it’s pretty good stuff. Apparently, it’s been a full month since the first episode, because a distraught Tammy tells second-in-command Jesus that she hasn’t been allowed to see her locked-up husband for all that time. I know Earl tried to kill Maggie and imprisoning him is a perfectly correct punishment, but not allowing an old woman who lost her son to see her safely incarcerated husband is messed up. Jesus thinks so too, but he’s been content to accept Maggie’s decisions without (spoken) question for all this time. This gets to him, though, and he speaks his question to his boss.
Maggie eventually relents and overhears Earl and Tammy, including a conversation about Earl’s alcoholism. It prompts her to have a solo talk with Earl herself, where he tells her about his history of drunkenness and attempts at sobriety, and how only Tammy’s very rigid view on marriage commitment kept her by his side. He explains that Ken’s death was too much for him, but he boldly—yet correctly—takes responsibility for getting drunk and attacking her instead of saying “Gregory made me do it.” It’s not the most unique dramatic scene, but John Finn does a terrific job as Earl and elevates the material.
While all this is going on, Michonne has arrived to ask Maggie for more food for the bridge crew, but Maggie says no deal, because she never received that corn ethanol she was promised for the food she gave in the premiere. Apparently it, and the ex-Saviors that were transporting it, all disappeared, so Maggie thinks she’s been cheated. But between Earl, Jesus’s pro-mercy agenda, and Michonne’s constant talk of drafting some common laws for all the communities, Maggie ends up pulling the traditional “Maggie”: She starts the episode as a hard-ass who refuses everyone everything, but by the end relents and decides to do the good-hearted thing, also for everybody. Maggie sends the food, Earl is released to fix the plow and do other blacksmith work while under supervision, and tells Michonne she’s willing to work with her. Maggie does this all the time, but it still means storylines progress consistently over at Hilltop.
Questionable moments aside, I think both these storylines are strong. Obviously, the peace between the communities is going to shatter into a million pieces, but I like how it’s the difficulty of acceptance and forgiveness that’s wrecking what Rick has built, and not some villain. Of course, the episode is bookended by Rick half-telling, half-gloating to the imprisoned-for-life Negan about the progress everyone’s made and how they’re all working together. Negan remains confident it’s all going to fall apart like a certain bridge, and smugly tells Rick so in predictably Negan-y ways. “The bridge is not the future. It’s a monument to the dead,” he says, the dead in this case being a peaceful world.
In the grand scheme of The Walking Dead, all these plot problems are pretty small, or at least too commonplace to really be surprised by anymore. So my biggest concern is how “The Bridge” puts Rick front and center again, which is only going to make his death hit harder—or, more precisely, make Andrew Lincoln’s absence after episode six more glaring, and very potentially more problematic for viewers who might already be looking for a reason to stop watching. For now, though, we have four more episodes to watch Rick watch everything he’s built destroy itself. Sounds like fun…!?
At least it looks like there will be two mysteries during the season to keep us occupied. The first is six ex-Saviors have disappeared from the bridge crew over the last month; Daryl and Rick assume they’re walk-offs, but none of them have returned to Sanctuary, which seems immediately weird, as setting out on your own is usually a death sentence. (There’s also the Saviors who disappeared while transporting that ethanol meant for Hilltop.) It’s capped with what is the stupidest decision of the episode, and potentially of the entire season. Justin the asshole decides to walk from the camp to Sanctuary alone. At night. He, of course, gets attacked (fatally?)...but it’s by someone he recognizes.
The second mystery is that Anne (née Jadis) and Father Gabriel are falling for each other. Wait, okay, that’s not the mystery, but while flirting Anne pointedly tells him he can ask about her past, but not about her secrets. Hey, remember the helicopter landing pad in the trash kingdom and the helicopter she had clearly been waiting on to pick her up last season? Everyone else on the show did, but while on lookout that night, Anne hears the faint sound of a helicopter with a desperate look on her face. Desperate good? Desperate bad? Stay tuned for the mid-season finale to find out, probably!
- Other news: Aaron’s arm has to be amputated, and by medic-in-training Enid. She doesn’t hesitate to cut off his arm and saves his life. Enid has turned into a champ, and it made me realize how easy it is for TWD to make these minor characters more empathetic by making them useful to the larger group. It’s what happened with Siddiq; the show hasn’t done much with the character, but as the sole doctor if he dies that’ll cause major problems for the characters we do care about, so I’m invested in his survival. Even Earl, a character who’s only been in one previous episode, is more compelling because he’s Hilltop’s blacksmith, and his skills are badly needed no matter what he’s done.
- Aaron’s assumption that Daryl was absolutely going to be a father someday made me very angry. It’s a pet peeve of mine, but it seems extra annoying when you’re living in the zombie apocalypse.
- I am fully confident the actual bridge will continue as a metaphor of the groups’ unity, which means when everything goes to hell the bridge will have been abandoned, or completely built but quickly blown up by one of the non-Alexandrian colonies as a “Go to hell” message to Rick. Given this is The Walking Dead, my money’s on the explosion.
- If you recognized the long-haired jerk Justin but couldn’t place him, he’s Zach McGowan, likely best-known for playing the long-haired Russian jerk Ivanov on Agents of SHIELD. You probably could place him, though, since he looks exactly the same.
- Line of the night, from Ezekiel to Carol, about little Henry: “He’ll be off to college before you know it.”
- If Rick’s Ewokification means he dies when an AT-ST steps on him, I will forgive every shitty episode of The Walking Dead ever.