Hoo boy. So last week, The Walking Dead had its lowest ratings ever. And mean, ever—below that even of season one, before it became a phenomenon. Compared to this disaster, Rick’s plans for a peaceful future are in pretty good shape! But that’s only because “completely falling apart” is still better than “presumed dead.”
The ratings disaster is actually sort of a shame because The Walking Dead feels more compelling than it has in years. Putting two actual mysteries in the forefront—why are Saviors disappearing, and what’s the deal with that damned helicopter—instead of left on the back-burner gives the plot a level of momentum that has been missing a long time. And as I said last week, given that Rick has willed a nascent, fragile civilization into being means now there’s something meaningful to lose, which in turn raises the stakes. Unfortunately, the metaphorical glass floor of the metaphorical museum Rick is metaphorically standing on has already shattered, and Rick just hasn’t realized he’s plummeting to his death yet.
It’s all Justin’s fault, Justin being the asshole who stirred up shit and got himself murdered on last week’s episode. “Warning Signs” begins as he rudely reawakens as a zombie, and comes across Maggie while she’s driving a wagon of food to the bridge crew. When the ex-Saviors learn one of them has been ambushed on the road and murdered (well, at least one), things get bad. The ex-Saviors and all the groups who previously hated/still hate the Saviors square off. People are accused; Daryl is the obvious candidate, although suspicions fall on Anne-née-Jadis as well. Alden tries to keep the peace and gets punched by one of his people for it. The ex-Saviors start grabbing shovels and stuff as weapons, bizarrely ready to throw down with the group carrying guns, until Rick rides in and stops everything, promising to get to the bottom of the murder(s).
The investigation begins when Rick asks Gabriel if he was with Anne all last night to rule her out, and Gabriel lies and says yes. Alden explained the reason the ex-Saviors are upset is that they have no protection from the murderer (understandably), and asks if maybe a few of the people he trusts could have some guns, but Rick says no. Then Rick talks to Daryl because it turns out the thing that killed Justin the asshole was a small, clean puncture would—like an arrow or crossbow bolt would make. Daryl says no, he didn’t kill him, but he also has no problem with whoever did it.
Rick and Daryl’s conversation here is one of my favorites in recent TWD memory, because it really cuts to the issue at hand—mercy or vengeance, be stuck in the past or work for the future—and takes away the bullshit. Daryl even calls Rick out for his hypocrisy, which is awesome, reminding him that murdering Saviors in cold blood for their past actions is “the kinda shit you used to do.” Rick acknowledges this, but has a solid counter-argument about how life will never improve unless people start concentrating on preserving it instead of taking it. He ask Daryl to just try, saying it might be the best decision he ever made—“Like not killing the guy who left your brother on a rooftop to die.” As Walking Dead mic drops go, it’s pretty solid.
Rick orders everyone pair off and search the area on a grid for clues. Maggie and Oceanside’s most prominent resident Cyndie are put together, and the latter points out a place Oceanside used to live before the Saviors massacred them, an arbitrary detail mentioned for no reason whatsoever. Alas, when Grid 5 is supposed to check in, they’re silent; Rick and the others arrive to discover Oceanside’s Bea has been knocked out, and her partner, ex-Savior Arat, has been taken. Dun dun dunh. Rick decides to keep this abduction a secret, since things are already sitting on a powder-keg, and orders a quiet search by his most trusted people. Jerry, bless his soul, continues cutting through the bullshit: When they catch the murderer, he asks, will it be “a Gregory or a Negan?”
Guys, I’m so down with this. Plus, the show gets on with solving this first mystery, not wasting any time. When Daryl and Maggie come across a body with an arrow in (I couldn’t tell if it was a regular zombie or an ex-Savior who had also been munched on, but whichever) Daryl instantly knows who the killer is, and Maggie knows where to find them.
Why, it’s Oceanside! Quelle surprise! I’ll be darned! Someone get the monocle that just flew off my face! And they’re about to execute Arat for her actions as a Savior at their old HQ, which was offhandedly pointed out earlier, even though they were perfectly content to murder Justin on the side of the road! Obviously, Oceanside is less thrilled than anyone to be working with former Saviors, given that they murdered Oceanside’s entire male population, forcing them to flee to the ocean (…side). They’re fine to pretend during the day, while slowly execute at night.
Arat was the first one they out-and-out kidnapped, with help from Bea, who was of course fooling. It seems an unnecessarily bold and risky move, but there’s a good reason why they want Arat dead no matter what: She executed Cyndie’s 11-year-old brother. Arat begs for her life, pulling the never-convincing “I was just following orders/they would have killed me if I didn’t” defense, and it continues its streak of not convincing anybody. In fact, when Daryl and Maggie—who originally showed up to stop the killing and keep the peace—hear what Arat they did, they simply walk away and let the execution take place, and Maggie grapples with the discovery that Oceanside felt they were allowed to kill the people who wronged them after she executed Gregory. Suddenly, Rick’s new world became a place where it’s okay to kill people for their actions. In turn, the Oceansiders’ quest for vengeance inspires Maggie and Daryl to give up on not killing the former Saviors for their actions, and they set off to go “see” Negan. I’m not sure I really buy the idea of Cyndie’s actions as what finally flips Maggie’s switch, but she was going to end up there eventually, so oh well.
The episode’s real problem is Rick—but this time it’s the show’s fault, and not the character’s. I feel extremely confident the heavy-handed “Rick is happy” montage at the beginning of “Warning Signs” was a bad idea. Not only does his thank you paean to Michonne (he also calls her the leader of Alexandria, which isn’t true but is obvious foreshadowing ) basically put a countdown clock over his head, like someone cast the “Death” spell on him from Final Fantasy, but it’s just going to make Lincoln’s departure more tragic for viewers, and thus turn off more of them when he exists, exactly when the show needs to keep them more than ever.
Even more obvious and bad was Rick’s sudden desire to have another baby with Michonne, like, that morning. Impregnating a female character is also often a very clichéd death sentence for beloved male characters so that they can be killed off for dramatic effect but let viewers feel like some part of them lives on. (This is more awful for the female characters, of course, as they are turned into little more than delivery systems for Beloved Hero 2.0.) It’s exactly what happened to Glenn. I’ll eat my Masters of the Universe Castle Grayskull playset if Siddiq doesn’t tell Michonne she’s pregnant by the end of the midseason finale, which, ugh. Do you want to watch Michonne to be pregnant for three full seasons like Maggie was? Yeah, that’s what I thought.
And still the show feels like it’s running better than it has in years, although I fully admit I’m grading on a curve here. This conflict is actually interesting because both sides have such understandable points of view, which makes The Walking Dead’s current ratings situation actually a bit tragic. Now, I sincerely doubt that AMC will cancel the show after season nine. In fact, the network will give it at least one more chance to bounce back and rebuild its viewership—probably even three—because the potential rewards of earning back even half the ratings of the series at its peak are just too extravagant not to give it a few more chances, just in case. (Also, the network needs the flagship Walking Dead if it wants to continue making spin-offs.)
But right now the show is practically on life support, and this is still before star Andrew Lincoln exits in just a handful more episodes. It may be what actually kills The Walking Dead, even if the series shambles around mindlessly for another season or two afterwards, a decayed husk of its former self. But we’ll see for ourselves soon enough.
- (No, I haven’t forgotten.) The show finally told us more about the helicopter, while giving us an even more baffling mystery—one that replaces the murder mystery with ease as a reason to tune in. After Anne realizes the ex-Saviors still hate her and no one on Team Rick is particularly interested in having her back, she returns to the garbage dump, unearths a hidden walkie-talkie, and asks for a pick-up. A mysterious voice asks if she has an “A” or a “B.” Anne tries to negotiate, but the voice demands payment by tomorrow.
- But….it turns out Gabriel followed her! And wants to know who she was talking to! A protagonist has finally learned about this plot point! Gabriel susses out that Anne was trading people for supplies, though she claims she doesn’t know why they were taken, or where. She begs Gabriel to come with her but, concerned for her yet still struck by her deceit, says he can’t. Then Anne drops a wonderfully enigmatic line—“And all this time I thought you were a ‘B’”—and bops Gabriel on his head. Looks like he’s going to get some answers about this mysterious man and place soon, and hopefully we will too. I’m genuinely interested to see where this is going, finally.
- An angry ex-Savior grabs Carol and when she and Rick are searching for Arat, and holds a knife to her throat. It’s a spectacularly dumb way to request some guns for the Saviors, so they can protect themselves, which is all he really wants. But he also calls Rick out, asking if his determination to not kill people also extends to someone pulling this kind of shit. Carol, of course, takes care of business and frees herself by stabbing the dude in the hand, meaning they subdue him without killing him. Carol still doesn’t seem particularly confident Rick’s plan will work out, but she’s clearly more invested in giving it a try than Maggie and Daryl.
- The smashed tomato was dumb. Yes, we know everything has fallen apart. We don’t need a tomato to spell it out to us.
- So did Oceanside steal the ethanol and wipe out all the Saviors transporting it? That’s the implication, but if so, what did they do with it?
- Not gonna lie; Rick cutting out the part of the deck where Carl and baby Judith had painted their handprints and nailing it to the wall inside his house as a sort of memorial was very nice.
- That said, is it me, or does having a “family fun day” seems like it’s in incredibly bad taste during the zombie apocalypse? Guys, a lot of people would probably like to have a family fun day, but their families are all dead. You don’t need to rub it in their faces.
- Finally, if you’re wondering why I was focused on Rick having a baby with Michonne as his legacy instead of the already existing Judith, here’s the answer. The only time the show even tried to make us care about her is after the prison fell, and we saw the blood-covered baby seat, four-plus seasons ago. She’s been so narratively nonexistent that she doesn’t really mean anything in regards to Rick. That said, if the show actually kills her so it doesn’t have to deal with her existence anymore—if that’s what her little cough is foreshadowing—I will riot.