Coming off of arguably the best episode of the series so far, AMC’s The Walking Dead opted for vaudevillian levels of slapstick in “The Next World.” Showrunner Scott M. Gimple warned that humor would be “attempted” in this episode, which saw Daryl and Rick go on a supply run, but it’s ultimately up to the viewing audience whether or not that humor came across on screen, and if so, whether or not they enjoyed it. (I got it; I still don’t know if I enjoyed it.)
Directed by Kari Skogland and written by Angela Kang and Corey Reed, “The Next World” skips ahead in time a bit after the traumatic and wildly exciting events of the midseason premiere. This allows for a bit a pressure release, a deep breath before the plunge into the rest of the season and the eventual arrival of Negan. In fact, this episode actually introduced a fan-favorite character from the comic books, freshening up the cast. And surprisingly, a former cast member we thought we’d said “goodbye” to came back in unexpected fashion. Let’s get into it.
Before we hit the road with Rick and Daryl, let’s take a moment to appreciate how serene and normal the town of Alexandria seems to be in this episode. It’s been enough time since the Walkers overran the walls that the citizens were able to rebuild, though not so much time that Carl has completely regained his former dexterity before he lost an eye. Despite that tragedy and the loss of the Andersons, Carl, Rick, and Judith seem to be getting along just fine along with housemate Michonne. Their house’s environment is straight out of a sitcom, which oddly sets the light, playful tone of this episode.
But it wasn’t all fun and games. The woods just outside of the town’s walls held some dark moments in this episode, an hour which saw Michonne tracking a shovel-carrying Spencer’s mysterious wandering, and crossed paths with Carl and Enid trying to figure out how to be kids again. Though Maggie checks on Enid to let the young girl know her door is always open, she seems most at ease with Carl. During their little sojourn out into the woods, which Enid soon decides isn’t for her anymore, the teens spy Michonne and Spencer taking a stroll through the forest. A short time later, they also come across a lone Walker, one they seem to recognize because Enid wants to put it down immediately since it “shouldn’t be here” but Carl has other plans.
Meanwhile, Michonne is chatting with Spencer, concerned with his behavior after the loss of his family. He says that since his family’s dead, his house is no longer a home, so he has to take care of something before he’s going to be okay again. Michonne then relates the word of advice that Spencer’s mother Deanna told her just before she died, that Michonne needed to discover the person she wants to be and what she needs to do in life. It’s at that moment that Michonne and Spencer see Carl leading a Walker through the woods, a Walker who turns out to be Deanna. It’s clear to everyone there that Spencer must be the one to put her down, which he does via a knife to the back of his dead mother’s head; she dies (again) in his arms. The shovel is put to good use as he’s able to bury her near a memorialized tree and put his grief behind him.
While this is a rather sad moment, seeing Deanna in such a state, it’s good for Spencer and the viewers to get some ironclad closure on her character. (And it was probably fun for Tovah Feldshuh to go through the Walker process.) But back at home, Michonne chastises Carl for doing something so reckless as leading Deanna’s Walker through the woods instead of just killing it. The quickly maturing young man explains that whoever put her down needed to be someone who loved her, someone who was family; it’s what Carl would do for Michonne. And after a moment’s consideration, Michonne admits she’d do the same for Carl. This is what passes for familial love in the world of The Walking Dead and it’s an oddly sweet scene.
And now, the silly stuff. After getting the strangest supply request list ever seen on the Oregon Trail – toothpaste, a particular brand of soda, and sorghum – Rick and Daryl head out in search of foodstuffs. The dwindling food supplies in Alexandria were hinted at in the opener where Rick is seen cutting a new hole in his belt, but beyond that, no one seems particularly ravenous or weak. Eugene surmises that the sorghum stock is likely left untouched by other raiders and could really help their food situation; the soda is for Denise as a gift to Tara, who will be departing on a two-week mission soon; and the toothpaste is a special request from Michonne, which Rick looks to procure. The drivin’ buddies hope that the Law of Averages finally plays out in their favor as they hit the road again.
Here’s where the humor starts to come into play from all sorts of angles. There’s Eugene’s awkward-as-usual discourse on sorghum which is met with blank faces from Rick and Daryl, Rick’s decision to blast music in the car to draw the Walkers away from home despite Daryl’s obvious protests, and Rick blowing through a stop sign before backing up to the intersection and making a right turn. It’s all played very straight, which feels so odd and alien in this world where most of the characters’ waking lives are plagued with stress and horror. It’s a little stilted, but it works well enough.
What works better is the Law of Averages, leading Rick and Daryl to find a working truck with a trailer packed full of food in an unopened storage shed labeled simply, “Sorghum.” Their luck improves when Daryl spies a toppled vending machine at a rundown gas station down the road. And even though it takes the effort of the truck and a chain to flip the machine over, they find a good amount of soda cans and road-trip snacks inside. Everything’s looking great until a strange man bumps into Rick and then finds himself staring down the barrels of guns drawn by our heroes.
Who is this rather clean and clever fellow who talks his way out of trouble before distracting Rick and Daryl in order to steal their truck? None other than Paul Monroe/Rovia, aka Jesus (and yes, that’s pronounced like the Christ figure), as played by Tom Payne. In the comics, he’s a martial arts expert and accomplished survivalist who’s quite knowledgeable about the area around Alexandria and can seemingly slip into and out of trouble on a whim. Payne’s performance might not please every comic book fan out there but I found him to be an interesting wrinkle added to an already massive and diverse cast of personalities. He’s playful, capable, and even helpful, when he’s not trying to steal supplies out from under Rick and Daryl’s noses. Our heroes eventually catch up with him, however, in a series of slapstick stunts that are easily among the goofiest scenes ever witnessed on this show.
After watching the truck and their entire supply of goods sink to the bottom of a lake, Rick and Daryl return home with little more than a few punctured soda cans, some snacks, and the unconscious person of Jesus in their possession. There’s an interesting conversation that occurs between Rick and Daryl here, one that sees Daryl questioning his previous commitment to bringing newcomers into Alexandria, and that sees Rick flipping on his previous opposition to that idea, essentially confirming that Daryl was right all along. Alexandria needs new blood, even if it starts with this very odd fellow. They’re not stupid, though; they leave him tied up under guard until the morning.
As for the moment of the episode that most people will likely be talking about Monday morning, that happens as Rick and Michonne are sharing a seat on the couch at the end of a long and trying day. If they weren’t talking about putting the Walker version of the town’s former leader out of her misery and losing a supply truck to the depths of a lake, the scene would play out like any network sitcom. In fact, Rick and Michonne seem so compatible that they might as well just kiss already, which they do. And then they quickly take their relationship to the next level. While this diverges from the comic books a bit, I’m personally a fan of #Richonne; I only worry that, with two of this show’s untouchable Mary Sues now in a (presumably) strong relationship, the chances that one of them is going to suffer a horrific tragedy just jumped up a few notches.
Oh, and then Jesus shows up in their bedroom, with a fully nude Rick and Michonne brandishing their weapons toward him, because he wants to talk. It’s funny, see!
Like Robert Kirkman said when asked about the humor in this episode, “It’s definitely an episode of The Walking Dead. There’s some trauma involved and some tragedy, but seeing those two guys together is a lot of fun. It’s a very fun episode.” Sure, it was fun and still pretty good, just weird. Something tells me we’ll be looking back to this moment in the season as one of the few times that our characters were able to have a moment of humor, tenderness, or peace. Things are going to get very ugly sooner than later.
Rating: ★★★ Good
Carl, bouncing a tennis ball: “Denise says this is PT.”
Denise: “I don’t drink pop.” Daryl: “The hell’s pop?”
Nice shot of the memorial wall before Rick and Daryl head out on their supply run. Lots of names though…
Eugene: “Even if they’ve been cleaned out, my bet is that the sorghum would be untouched. That there’s a criminally underrated grain that could change the game with our food situation from ‘scary’ to ‘hunky-dunky.’ I’m talking standability, drought tolerance, a grain-to-stover ratio that is the envy of all corns. Think about it.”
The humor in this episode is so weird, but if it hits your funny bone just right, it helps to brighten up the gloom.
Jesus: “There’s more of us than them, right? Gotta stick together. Right?”
Jesus: “Sorry for running into you. I’m gonna go now. If this is the next world, I hope it’s good to you guys.”
Rick: “I’m Rick. This is Daryl. What’s your name?” Jesus: “Paul Rovia, but my friends used to call me Jesus. Your pick.” I either heard his last name wrong, or the writers changed it from Monroe to avoid any confusion with Deanna’s family.
Norman Reedus has one of the weirdest running styles I’ve ever seen.
Daryl: “So long ya prick!”
Daryl: “Law of averages. It’s bullshit, man.”
I love how Rick kept swerving to send the unconscious Jesus falling onto Daryl.
Rick: “It is pretty stupid of us to go out there, isn’t it?” Daryl: “Yep. Do it again tomorrow?” Rick: “Yep.”
Rick: “I have a crate of toothpaste for you, but it’s currently at the bottom of a lake.” Michonne: “Oh, so you had a day!” Rick: “Yeah, all on account of your dental hygiene.”
Jesus: “Rick! Rick, wake up! We should talk.”