Tonight’s episode of AMC’s The Walking Dead chose to focus on a select few characters, opting for a close up on the captured Carol and Maggie rather than Rick and his soldiers or the folks back in Alexandria. They chose wisely thanks to fantastic performances from Melissa McBride, Lauren Cohan, and guest star Alicia Witt. Like previous episodes of The Walking Dead that focused mainly on female characters–“Slabtown” and the episodes following Carol’s exploits come to mind–“The Same Boat” felt like a fresh look at the story so far.
That’s not to say the second half of Season 6 has dragged at all; far from it. Rather, with only three episodes left in a season that will reportedly see the series’ biggest bad yet, each hour since the midseason premiere has felt like a necessary step toward that ultimate confrontation. Tonight’s episode also gave audiences a hint as to the identity of the mysterious Negan.
One great thing about The Walking Dead focusing on Maggie and Carol in tonight’s hour is that I get to tailor my reactions to just those characters. Let’s start with Maggie. Last week, I asked whether or not it seemed like a smart move on her part to be near the front line of the assault on the Saviors. Clearly it was not. Unfortunately that realization apparently hasn’t dawned on Maggie. When she’s captured by the remainders of the Saviors group–led by Paula (Witt), with the cancer-stricken Molly, another woman named ‘Chelle, and the injured Donnie–she and Carol have two wildly different tactics for ensuring their own survival. Maggie plays it tough, trying to escape her duct tape handcuffs at the first opportunity and even attacking Donnie when he goes after Carol. Not super smart considering that she’s not only pregnant, she’s also trying to negotiate their release in exchange for the Savior named Primo, who’s being held by Rick & Co. (Not to mention Maggie’s super-violent method of dispatching the Saviors throughout this episode. Yikes.)
Carol, however, has a totally different approach. Much like she played the character of a domestic dormouse in Alexandria to fool them into thinking she wasn’t a threat, now in the hands of the Saviors, Carol hyperventilates, clutches at a stolen string of prayer beads–from a fallen Walker, no less–and tries to conjure up the ghost of her abusive husband Ed in a ploy gain sympathy from her captors. Meanwhile, Carol is completely playing them and she’s doing it in plain sight. She covertly leaves a trail behind her in the forest so that Daryl can track them. And once she’s in the Saviors’ safehouse, she turns up the drama in order to get her captors to remove her gag so that she can tell them that Maggie’s pregnant. (Would this move have worked as well if all the captors were men?) It’s all in an effort to get them to let their guard down just enough so that, when the moment’s right, Carol can strike and take them all out.
Of course that’s the way it all eventually plays out, though with interesting twists and turns. Maggie stays defiant throughout, but Carol rolls through dynamic changes, moving from a Nervous Nelly to Rambo. We’ve seen that from Carol before, but what we haven’t seen is her own doubts and regrets embodied in the form of Paula. Witt plays the leader of this band of Saviors with edge and attitude, making Paula a perfectly believable character in this world were only the hardiest of survivors remain. Essentially, she’s an alternate version of what Carol could have been and could still be; they’ve each killed in the double digits, and it wasn’t too long ago that Carol was hellbent on executing the Wolf they had captured in Alexandria. It’s becoming clear that even though Carol knows she has to kill to survive in this world, where there is life, there is a chance to change the situation. This is what Morgan has been trying to tell her: “All life is precious.” Is it starting to get through to Carol? With Maggie safe towards the episode’s end, Carol tries to convince her that it’s better if the two of them just run away, but to no avail. Like Rick & Co. in the previous episode, it’s up to Maggie and Carol to “kill ’em all.”
While the final standoff between Carol and Paula ended as it needed to, there followed a moment where Carol questioned herself and her actions. To be fair, she warned Paula that she was going to die but admitted to hoping that she wouldn’t be the one to kill her. Maggie, clearly not affected by Morgan’s cheesemaker mantra in the slightest, bolsters her confidence just before they burn two more men alive, thanks to Carol channeling her best “Paula voice” to lure the Saviors to the killing floor. It’s a badass scene, but I’m getting increasingly worried that Carol’s psychological state will bring her low long before a bullet or a Walker bite will.
Meanwhile, after the Leading Ladies of The Walking Dead have taken care of business, the rest of the gang shows up, expecting to be on a rescue mission. With Carol and Maggie safe, however, their attention quickly turns to the remaining Savior: Primo. In a clever bit of strategy from the not-so-simple Saviors, Primo himself claims to be Negan (just before Rick shoots him through the head). This is the exact same phrase that Molly uttered earlier in the episode, which suggests one of two things: Either the real Negan has ordered his followers to go all Spartacus whenever a stranger asks about him, in order to throw them off the scent, or “Negan” is more of a smokescreen to give the aura of a strong leader at the head of a disparate group. I’m banking on the former (especially since he’s been cast).
While tonight’s departure to Time with Carol and Maggie was a well-executed hour, we’re running a bit short on time if they’re hoping to work up to the major confrontation between the Saviors and the Alexandrians, and ultimately between Negan and Rick. The men and women of The Walking Dead have put their lives on the line this season and have escaped relatively unscathed so far, but that’s likely about to change.
Rating: ★★★★ Very good
Molly: “Nice jacket.” ‘Chelle: “For a murderous bitch.” Paula: Well, we’ll take it off her before we shoot her.” By the pricking of my thumbs, something wicked this way comes…
Molly: “She said shut up, so shut it. You should be glad she doesn’t have a sack of gonads to trip over.”
Paula: “Omega, Omega, Savior is down, go to Gamma code: Fire. Alpha channel is not clear, we follow the protocol.”
Molly: “Honey, you need to take some yoga breaths and calm your ass down.”
Carol: “It doesn’t matter what happens to me, just don’t hurt Maggie…don’t hurt the baby.”
Paula: “Babies are the point, children are our future. Making bite-size snacks for the dead? The point is to stay standing.”
Molly: “Honey, in case you haven’t noticed, you’ve got bigger problems than a bit of second-hand smoke.”
‘Chelle: “You’re not the good guys; you should know that.”
Maggie: “I’m not planning to die today.” ‘Chelle: “Yeah, me neither. The thing is, one of us is wrong.”
I like that the Saviors call the zombies either Growlers or Cold-bloods.
Paula: “What do you think you know about Negan?” Carol: “He sounded like a maniac. We were scared; we had to stop him.” Molly: “Sweetie, sweetie, sweetie…we are all Negan.” Carol: “What do you mean? What does that mean?” A fair question, Carol…
Paula: “You are weak. You’re so scared you can’t even stick to your own principles.”
Paula: “You’re supposed to want to be the coffee beans.”
Paula: “If you could do all this, what were you so afraid of, Carol?” Carol: “I was afraid of this.” ::bang::
Carol: “I think I might have killed 18 people…20. I should have killed Donnie, too, in the woods.”
Daryl: “Hey, you good?” Carol: “No.” Daryl: “C’mere.”
Glenn: “Are you okay?” Maggie: “I just … can’t anymore.”
So are you guys the boiled egg, the boiled carrot, or the coffee?