Don’t let the above picture fool you! Much time has passed since Alexandria was saved, and Rick and the Alexandrians actually have a moment of peace. I daresay they’re actually kind of happy! The town’s been rebuilt! A much-anticipated hook-up finally occurred! And the episode also introduced a delightfully absurd character who will undoubtedly help destroy it all.
If you watch TWD for the brutal zombie kills and slayings, then “The New World” must have been quite a disappointment for you. I was thrilled. After spending nine full episodes on two brutal, nightmarish days of death and destruction, I’d say the survivors and the viewers had earned a respite. Not only was it nice to finally have a break from the high stakes murder-action of the first half of the season, it’s nice to show that Rick and the others still have the capacity to be happy, if only because now that they have become Alexandrians, hey they consider the town their home and its people their people, now they have something to lose.
This will be important later when The Walking Dead returns to making its characters’ lives a miserable hell, but for now it was a delight to see these guys actually not be worried about getting murdered for a while. If you didn’t break out into a grin when Rick put on his CD of old honky-tonk songs to purely irritate Daryl (who was so irritated), then I pity you.
Something else that might have put a smile on your face: Rick and Michonne, as the couple fan-mandated as “Richonne” finally came into being this week to the delight of many. The episode began with what could have been any pre-apocalyptic family dramedy, as Rick, Michonne (lounging in a bathrobe!), and Carl discussing the day ahead, passing around Baby Judith. They seem happy. They seem normal. Even Carl doesn’t seem to have any lingering resentment about being shot in the eye, so bully for him. Most importantly, Rick and Michonne’s hands linger a bit too long on each other when they say goodbye.
It’s been several weeks (maybe two months?) since the events of the last episode, so clearly they’ve gotten close during the time skip. I wish that the show had foreshadowed this relationship even the tiniest degree, because pre-ordained by the comics or not, it feels very rushed, even arbitrary. But then again, it’s still great to see two of the show’s most prominent characters in what may be the apocalypse’s first functional relationship. I mainly want to point out that’s it’s a bit of sloppy storytelling, but a bit that is very easy to get over (if not completely ignore) when the rest of the episode is so entertaining.
And that’s largely thanks to Jesus.
Jesus—known to some as Paul Rovia—is an odd, long-haired chap who Rick and Daryl run into when they head out of Alexandria looking for supplies, and chance upon a truck full of very useful supplies. When Rick and Daryl stop a bit later so Daryl can grab Denise some soda to give to Tara, Jesus runs into them, literally. He’s an oddly amiable dude who is perfectly happy to go his separate way from Rick and Daryl… or he seems to be, until he uses firecrackers to distract the two, grabs the car keys from Rick, and steals their truck full of supplies.
Rick and Daryl literally run after the truck, which is one of those things that should never work but somehow often does, and they come across Jesus having momentarily stopped for some reason. The two sneak up on him, and Daryl managed to get him in a hold… which is when Jesus reveals he knows kung fu. He soundly kicks Daryl’s ass, but eventually he and Rick get the better of him. But Jesus is still very pleasant as the two tie him up and leave him on the side of the road, and drive away.
I imagine he’s still got a smile on his face when Rick and Daryl hear something as they approach a barn later (their supply run is still happening) and realize Jesus not only freed himself from his restraints instantly, but managed to get on the truck roof without them noticing and has been riding along the entire time. Rick slams o the breaks, Jesus flies off, a very irritated Daryl jumps out of the truck to kick ass, a few zombies approach and madness ensues.
There has never been nor will there ever be a more appropriate scene for The Walking Dead to use “Yakety Sax,” but alas, it was not to be. Still, Rick, Jesus, and Daryl don’t run around like chickens with their head caught off as Rick and Daryl try to catch Jesus, while Jesus tries to lead them away to get back into the truck. Somehow, Jesus is the one who succeeds when Rick has to take a break to off a few zombies. Daryl catches up to Jesus in the truck cab; the two tussle only for Jesus to steal Daryl’s gun… and then shoot a zombie who was about to take a bite of him instead. In thanks, Daryl knocks him out cold, which has the unfortunate side effect of causing the truck to roll into a lake and sink, with all those precious supplies in it.
As a character, Jesus is ridiculous. He’s a martial/escape artist with a sunny attitude; he makes Morgan’s therapist-turned-Master Splinter look almost reasonable. But there’s clearly more to him than that. It’s weird that he chanced upon Rick and Daryl; weirder that he stopped in a manner where the two could catch up to him; weirder still that he would try to secretly stowaway on the truck roof if he wasn’t confident Rick and Daryl wouldn’t kill him.
I have severe doubts that TWD will be able to pull this character off, for there to be a coherent reason for everything he did last night, and everything he is. But I’ll worry about that next week. For now, I’m merely delighted that someone this unique survived the zombie apocalypse to torment Rick and in the others in a non-sinister way (for now).
Although to be fair, I didn’t think the show was going to be able to pull off Carl’s bit of weirdness in this episode either. He and Enid sneak out of Alexandria to rebel in a meaningless teen sort of way when they spy a zombie—a zombie who turns out to be Deanna, who decided to go down fighting instead of killing herself, and who shambled out of Alexandria during last week’s battle. Instead of killing her, Carl starts leading her through the woods; Enid is understandably freaked, but Carl tells her to just go home. It’s really weird, and I thought Carl might be cracking under all the strain of being Carl.
Meanwhile, it turns out Deanna’s son Spencer has also snuck outside the walls and Michonne left her guard post to follow him (which seems like a bad idea, but oh well). Spencer is mum about why he’s out there, to why he has a shovel. But when Carl inadvertently leads Zombie Deanna to him, he admits that he thought he saw her and has been searching for her ever since. Spencer drives a knife into the thing that was once his mother and buries her. It wasn’t exactly a cool moment, but Spencer has spent most of the time on the series being an asshole or a dumbass, and it was nice to see him settle down and have a moment of vulnerability that didn’t endanger anyone.
So what was Carl’s deal? Later that night, Michonne asks Carl what the hell he was doing—that he should have taken the zombie out or run away. Carl’s response is that he was leading her back to Alexandria so that she could be killed by someone that loved her. Michonne is stunned, but Carl is quietly adamant—he essentially tells Michonne that if she turned, he would kill her, because he cares for her. Michonne can only say, “Me too.”
This is insane, but it’s insane in a way that makes sense for the survivors in the show—they’ve lost so many people that taking out their zombies must actually offer some kind of emotional closure. It especially makes sense for Carl, who was forced to shoot his own mom (after a hasty c-section). Carl doesn’t say this in bitterness, nor he is he wild-eyed. It’s an actual truth that they live in a world where being able to take out the undead versions of their loved ones is… cathartic. It’s messed up, certainly, and it’s supposed to be. But this is what I come to The Walking Dead for—to see these glimpses of what life in the zombie apocalypse is like when after the zombie attack.
And for tonight, at least, life is good. Rick returns home and crashes on the couch; Michonne joins him. They tell each other about their crazy days, as if they’d both gone off a 9-to-5 job, and relax. They even watch Judith on the baby monitor. It could be a Wednesday night in any family’s home in pre-apocalyptic America. And when Rick and Michonne’s hands find each other, this time they don’t let go.
I will say that despite the utter lack of set-up for their new relationship, Andrew Lincoln and Danai Gurira have a chemistry that genuinely feels like they’re friends who became lovers. Their trip to sexy town is more happy and amused than lustful, and it goes a long way to making Richonne make sense as opposed to throwing the male and female protagonists in bed together. It would be a perfect end to a perfect episode.
Except later than night, Jesus walks into their bedroom and asks if they can talk, and it’s even more perfect. It’s perfect because of course Jesus immediately slipped out of his ropes again, that he found Rick and Michonne’s bedroom without disturbing them, that they both grab their weapons and brandish them while both being bareass naked, and that Jesus never once stops smiling.
“The Next World” is the polar opposite of last week’s “No Way Out” and whether you loved that episode or hated it (it might have possibly escaped your attention, but I for one didn’t care for it) this was badly needed. It’s not a matter of not loving the action or the horror—this is a show about the zombie apocalypse, after all—it’s that in order for the action and the horror to continue to be effective, it has to, you know, stop once in a while. There have to be breaks, moments were the show pulls back, or the characters—and the audience—just get numb to all the misery.
Now we have time to dread things, and that is something that The Walking Dead always does exquisitely well. As content as the characters may momentarily seem, the show has done an excellent job at finding ways to tearing them down. Currently, I’d say Rick is happier then he’s been since he woke up in the apocalypse.
We all know it won’t last. I bet even Rick knows it won’t last. But now, Rick and the others actually have a life worth living—and worth fighting for. And that makes all the difference in the world.
• Sweet Jesus this should have been the mid-season premiere and last week’s episode the mid-season finale. Ignoring that last week’s ep was the conclusion of that storyarc, this ep’s time jump would have had a lot more impact, and Rick/Michonne wouldn’t have felt so rushed.
• I should possibly clarify: I haven’t and don’t read The Walking Dead comics, on purpose, so I can better assess how the show stands on its own. I did just enough research to know that Paul “Jesus” Rovia is Paul “Jesus” Monroe in the comic, but I left it at that.
• Crush: The official soft drink of the zombie apocalypse, apparently.
• Line of the night, by Jesus: “Do you even have any ammo?” It’s pure set up so that Rick and Daryl could immediately shoot a nearby zombie in the head in response, but it was so, so worth it
• I love that when Jesus was pretending to be knocked-out, he kept managing to fall against Daryl. No, the show didn’t confirm that Jesus was actually awake, but I am 100% positive he was. If you watch him, you can see him move himself just slightly to get into position to lean against Daryl, over and over again.
•Daryl goes out of his way to try and do something nice for Denise, by finding her some soda. His good intentions are thwarted by Jesus, but I am highly suspicious of the show taking the time to show Daryl doing something so generous but simple. I have a very bad feeling about this.