It’s rare that an episode of AMC’s The Walking Dead opens the door for a discussion on the Second Law of Thermodynamics, but “Knots Untied” did just that. For once, it wasn’t Eugene explaining away the complicated nature of bioweapons manufacturing in tech-speak or elucidating the beneficial traits of sorghum, but rather the newcomer Jesus (Tom Payne) who gives the Alexandrians a practical lesson in entropy. In an episode that showcased some of the series’ best writing to date, that brief demonstration of order decaying into chaos was but a taste of the fight that lies ahead for Rick & Co.
Briefly defined, entropy is disorder. In physics, where things have a tendency to get very complicated very quickly, the level of this disorder is maintained at best, and increases at worst, but never decreases without a balanced increase to offset it. Another way of defining entropy is the energy that is unavailable to do work. In other words, it takes energy and effort to keep pace with the nature of disorder, and an excess amount of work to maintain order. The Walking Dead gave us a great example of entropy in the world of the zombie post-apocalypse in “Knots Untied” and strong hints that maintaining the order the survivors have finally achieved may come at a cost they’re unable to pay.
The agent of chaos within the otherwise ordered walls of Alexandria is Jesus, the clever and capable survivor that Rick and Daryl brought home with them on the previous episode. Despite the fact that he was left under Daryl’s watch, Jesus managed to slip his bonds and make his way to Rick and Michonne’s bedroom in the middle of the night (after a long-awaited coupling of the fan-favorite characters, no less). Luckily, they decided to hold off on killing him outright (Carl, too) in order to hear what he had to say. It’s here that Jesus gives them their first lesson in entropy and opens their eyes to the wider world of The Walking Dead.
The midseason premiere was a watershed moment for the series and “Knots Untied” picks up from this new storytelling starting point. Jesus, the Chaotic Good of this new world, resists the group’s efforts to restrain him and reveals that he’s already done a bit of reconnoitering around town. He knows they’re well-supplied, well-organized, and well-trained, but it’s also very apparent that they’re woefully short on foodstuffs. That’s where his goal of setting up a trade agreement comes in, an agreement between Alexandria and the newly revealed Hilltop Colony.
Rick, Daryl, Abraham, Michonne, Maggie (who’s pregnant, remember), and Glenn accompany Jesus on a field trip to Hilltop Colony; Carl stays behind because “a kid with a messed-up face probably wouldn’t make the best first impression anyway.” (Carl’s totally fine with Rick and Michonne hooking up, by the way. That was a nice, awkward little father/son moment.) The road trip starts out fine but it’s not long before they run into trouble by way of a recent crash and a few nearby Walkers. Experience tells Rick and his crew that this could be a trap set by Jesus’ allies, so they keep a close eye on him while the rest of them search out a structure for potential survivors or enemies. (Why they left mother-to-be Maggie alone with a potentially deadly stranger is beyond my understanding.) But other than Abraham almost killing one of the people still left alive inside, they manage to safely rescue the remaining members of Jesus’ people without any losses. And it’s a good thing, too, since not only are they bringing medical supplies back to Hilltop, but one of the men they saved happens to be obstetrician Dr. (Ben?) Carson. That bodes quite well for Glenn and Maggie!
Our first look at Hilltop Colony … is a weird one. From the outside, the wooden wall, which isn’t that different from a primitive palisade, has a frontier quality to it. Two guards on the gate are wielding spears … like, wooden, hand-crafted spears. Gun-toting Rick & Co. could easily have escalated things right then and there were it not for Jesus and his friends vouching for the Alexandrians. Inside the walls, things get stranger still. People tend crops, feed chickens, and work in a blacksmith forge; there are rows of FEMA trailers lined up against a far wall; and in the center of it all sits Barrington House, an old-timey mansion that serves as the colony’s vantage point atop the hill and home for its leader, Gregory.
Let’s talk about Gregory. He’s obviously a bit of a neatnik since not only is the mansion pristine and polished, he also sends his new guests to get cleaned up immediately upon arrival without any sort of warm welcome or gratitude. That wouldn’t be the worst quality if Gregory was also a polite gentleman befitting his station, but unfortunately his stubbornness and male chauvinism leave a lot to be desired. He’s unwilling to deal with
Natalie Maggie despite the fact that Hilltop needs ammo and medicine while Alexandria desperately needs food, so Jesus pleads with Rick to give him a few days in order to convince their leader that a trade deal between settlements is in everyone’s best interest. But like so many moments in The Walking Dead history, things are about to escalate rather quickly.
Some of the Hilltop colonists return from their mission to deliver goods to Negan as part of his gang’s protection racket, but not everyone who left makes it back. It seems that Negan changed the deal and said that their delivery was light, so the Saviors killed two of the colonists and kept Ethan’s brother Craig hostage. Negan also has a message for Gregory, which Ethan delivers by stabbing the Hilltop leader in the stomach. As expected, all Hell breaks loose.
All semblance of order breaks down in this moment, all on account of the actions brought about by the Chaotic Evil, Negan. Everyone’s at each other’s throat with Abraham nearly getting choked to death and Rick almost getting his own throat cut, but Ethan gets the worst of that exchange and bleeds out (all over Rick’s face) after taking a knife to the throat. Now with his gun drawn, Rick’s ready for any fight that the colonists are willing to bring, but Jesus calms the situation between the two groups.
With Gregory in the process of being patched up, Jesus fills Rick and the gang in on the Saviors. Their deal is that Hilltop gives the Saviors half of everything they have, and in return, Negan won’t burn their place to the ground. Jesus tells a particularly harrowing story about how Negan beat a 16-year-old named Rory to death right in front of them so that they’d understand his intentions. But when it’s revealed that they’ve never seen the Saviors traveling in groups larger than 20, Rick and the others think they can take the threat out on their own. Maggie uses this decision and the group’s superior weaponry, training, and fighting ability as leverage in another round of negotiations with the wounded Gregory. They’ll handle Negan and rescue Craig in exchange for half of the Hilltop Colony’s food (and a bonus ultrasound session from Dr. Carson). Gregory, now on the short end of the negotiating table, agrees.
So as Rick & Co., along with Jesus and another of Hilltop’s colonists, pack up the RV to head back to Alexandria, Rick checks with Michonne to make sure that he’s made the right decision. She agrees and says that they can win this fight, but it doesn’t feel like her heart is in it. But rather than end on that note, we’re treated to a sweet scene of Glenn and Maggie passing around the first ultrasound image of their new baby to the rest of the gang resulting in smiles all around, including Abraham’s nod of respect towards father-to-be Glenn.
And yet, in keeping with the theme of entropy, Maggie expresses one of the simplest yet most telling concerns in the episode: this fight is going to cost them something. It takes effort to maintain order, to keep chaos from reigning. Rick and the Alexandrians have done a decent job at establishing their version of order in the new world and they’ll have to fight to keep it that way … but what will that fight ultimately cost them? And even more to the point, is it a fight they can win?
Rating: ★★★★ Very good
Sasha: “Camels don’t eat keys.” Abraham: “They do, and it did. And it shit it out. I shit you not.” Sasha: “You’re an idiot.”
Abraham: “You can’t teach chemistry.”
Abraham: “Sweet flamin’ mercy. I was just … beyond.”
I don’t know about you, but I’m worried about Abraham. No, not just for his wandering eyes and cheatin’ heart. He seems genuinely interested in Glenn and Maggie’s baby and the decision to bring life into this brutal world. So while his apparent readiness to finally settle down might be a good thing for the red-headed rascal, his indecision on just who he ultimately wants is still up in the air. Any time someone becomes that invested on this show, it ends poorly. And the loss of the charm necklace that Rosita made for him does not augur well, either…
Maggie: “Still haven’t seen a single bud.” Glenn: “Babe, it’ll grow. It’ll be okay.” Are we talking plants or babies here?
Jesus: “Hi. I’m Jesus.”
Rick: “So how’d you get out?” Jesus: “One guard can’t cover two exits, or third floor windows. Knots untie, locks get picked, entropy comes from order, right?”
Jesus: “Your world’s about to get a whole lot bigger.”
Denise: “Shit’s still better than roadkill … okay, just eat it.” Denise says that Daryl reminds her of someone she used to know … is she talking about the Wolf?
Abraham: “When you were pouring the Bisquick … were you trying to make pancakes?” Glenn: “Uh…yes?”
The writing in this episode is fantastic, even if Abraham and Maggie are starting to sound a bit more like Eugene from time to time.
Abraham: “For the record, I see rain coming, I’m wearing’ galoshes. I double up.”
Daryl: “How do we know this ain’t firecrackers in a trash can?”
I crack up anytime someone says, “We’re with Jesus,” or “We’re friends with Jesus,” but I imagine it’ll get old quickly.
Jesus: “That’s us. That’s the Hilltop.”
Abraham: “You ever think about it, settling down?” Daryl: “You think she’d settle?”
The editing is seamless and on point in this episode, especially in the scene transitions.
Blood-covered Rick, having just killed Ethan: “What?”
Jesus: “He said that we needed to understand, right off the bat.” Interesting choice of words…
Rick: “Confrontation’s never something we’ve had trouble with.”
Jesus: “Even Negan didn’t take this much up front…”