Spoiler Warning for Season 7, Episode 10 of “The Walking Dead.”
If you thought that the world of “The Walking Dead” was done expanding, you couldn’t be more wrong. As the march to war continues, Rick and company discover that the list of potential fighters proceeds to grow. Trust is something that is hard to come by in this world, but in the current state, the group is forced to align with strangers to assure that they have a future. This episode feels as though it was ripped right out of the graphic novels, but also manages to incorporate completely unique storylines to keep the overall plot feeling fresh and original. As the lines of war are drawn, the time has come for the characters to decide what side they will fight for.
Season 7 has done a fantastic job at establishing and showcasing the relationships that exist between the Saviors and the various communities. While the Hilltop and Alexandria are almost crumbling under the weight of Negan, the Kingdom has been able to thrive, thanks to the peace agreement that was established. This episode, however, shows that the agreement isn’t as simple as King Ezekiel makes it seem. In a supply-drop with the group of Saviors that were last seen in “The Well,” tensions run high as Richard “pokes the bear” and pretty much threatens the erratic Jared, who retaliates, but is stopped by Morgan and Benjamin. This causes the Savior-leader Gavin to step in and tell Ezekiel to reel in Richard or else there will be consequences. The absolutely terrible Jared takes Morgan’s staff with him, which is incredibly upsetting as this staff was a gift to Morgan from Eastman back in “Here’s Not Here;” could this be a bit of foreshadowing that Morgan’s pacifism will soon come to an end? This scene once again proves the fact that the Saviors are by far the most despicable group of villains that have been seen in “The Walking Dead” thus far.
After returning to the Kingdom, Ezekiel commends Benjamin for his skills with the staff, but warns him against acting recklessly, furthering my belief that Benjamin’s days are quickly running out; there’s also a brief interaction where Jerry cheers Benjamin on (I think it’s safe to say that Jerry is the most lighthearted and humorous character in the series at the moment as he actually seems to be enjoying life in the apocalypse). Daryl speaks with Morgan about the Savior meeting and the disappearance of Carol, both of which are clearly weighing heavy on him. Moments later, Daryl meets up with Richard, who is practicing with a recurve bow at the archery range. Much to the celebration of the fans, Daryl is given a crossbow by Richard, helping to build him back up; this signifies the return of the Daryl Dixon that we all know and love, moving away from the caged animal that we saw earlier in the season.
The cliffhanger at the end of last week’s episode was one of fear, but also hope. Rick, Michonne, Tara, Rosita and Aaron find themselves stumbling into the homestead of a group of survivors while searching for Father Gabriel. This episode shows this new group to the viewers and characters, but leaves them as an enigmatic force that isn’t completely trustworthy. Officially called “The Scavengers,” the faction resides in a massive junkyard that seems to have been modified into a fortress. Jarring cinematic shots shows the scale of the community as dozens of survivors, dressed in black clothing and armed with a variety of weapons, flood into a central area and form a human circle around Rick and the others. The leader, a woman named Jadis (Pollyanna McIntosh), steps forward and explains that Rick’s group “must buy back their lives” with supplies. Rick tells Jadis that they have no supplies because someone from her group raided Alexandria and kidnapped a member of their community, Gabriel. Rick asks to see Gabriel and Jadis complies, ordering him to be brought forward. A struggle erupts after Rick asks Jadis to join the fight against the Saviors; some of the Scavengers beat up the group, but Gabriel puts a stop to it by holding Tamiel (Sabrina Gennarino), a high-ranking member of the camp, at knifepoint. He then gives an impassioned speech about how fighting with the Alexandrians is in the interests of the Scavengers; if the Saviors are taken out, there will be more supplies to go around. Seeing Gabriel garner up the courage to do something like this is a major highlight and demonstrates the immense development that his character has undergone since his introduction; as a hated coward for much of Season 5, Gabriel has grown into a warrior, risking his life to save his adoptive family.
The speech that Gabriel gives seems to have an effect on Jadis, prompting her to take Rick to the “Up Up Up,” which is apparently code word for a high point in the trash heap. From this position, Rick is able to see the impressive size of the community, reaching far out into the horizon. While this isn’t something that I would normally point out, I think it is worth noting just how fake the shots of Rick standing with the junkyard background behind him, clearly a green-screen effect. While this did take me out of the scene a bit, I have to say that the main junkyard set is truly impressive and the set design crew deserves complete praise for this. From atop the trash heap, Jadis tells Rick that she may be changing her mind about joining the war efforts, but in a dramatic twist, she pushes him down the pile of garbage into a pit-area. This causes Michonne and the others to panic and rush over to an area where they’re able to view Rick in the pit through pipes. In a terrifying reveal, an epic walker covered in armor with shrapnel and knives attached to it appears and attacks Rick, leading to a tense standoff. Rick is forced to fight off the unusual walker with his surroundings; after being stabbed directly through the hand and being cut on the leg, Rick manages to use the trash to his advantage to trap and kill the walker, thanks to advice from Michonne. This incredible walker, named Winslow by the Scavengers, is one of the most unique zombies that we have seen in the series, essentially becoming a weaponized pet to test newcomers. This walker holds an underlying darkness to it when you remember that the undead were once living humans and have now become guards of the living. It’s also remarkable that the production crew still manages to come up with creative ways to keep the walkers interesting and frightening, even in the 7th Season.
The Rick vs. Winslow battle convinces Jadis that the Alexandria group is tough and able to survive under harsh circumstances. She and Rick negotiate a deal wherein they will help fight the Saviors in exchange for guns and a third of supplies; this scene showcases the fact that both of the leaders are very strong negotiators. Jadis tells Rick that her group was watching and waiting for someone else to get the supplies off the houseboat for them; if they can get someone else to do risky jobs for them, they will. This deal will force the group to increase their supply runs to collect for not only themselves and the Saviors, but now also the Scavengers. After striking up the deal, Rick is allowed to join back up with Michonne and the others, leading to a touching moment of relief as the team realizes that their leader is not just safe, but that he was successful; “we have a deal” he proudly proclaims.
While packing up the supplies that the Scavengers stole from Alexandria, Father Gabriel explains to Rick how he was kidnapped. There is a moving moment where Rick elaborates why he was smiling while in such a dangerous situation; “someone showed me enemies can become friends,” referring to the well-developed relationship between Rick and Gabriel that has greatly improved over the past three seasons. There’s also more Rosita drama as she once again proves that she is a loose-cannon, wanting to go out and collect supplies rather than returning home and regrouping. Tara calls her out on her recklessness, but Rosita isn’t listening to anyone but herself. While I do commend the writers for fully portraying the various ways that people deal with grief, Rosita’s actions come across as incredibly irritating and awkward; even though she is fully responsible for the the death of Olivia and Eugene being taken by Negan, she seems completely unmoved by the mess she has created. Her anger is a perfectly acceptable stage of the grieving process, but it feels as though she is being written to be disliked by the viewers; I’ve always enjoyed Rosita as a character, but she is rapidly becoming one of my least favorites. The junkyard scenes come to a close in an emotional scene where Rick retrieves a metal cat sculpture for Michonne, a powerful callback to the colorful cat sculpture that Michonne found in the Season 3 episode “Clear,” that she described as being “too damn gorgeous” and which was presumably lost during the prison battle. This again solidifies my claim that Rick and Michonne are perfect together; even as they traverse the hellish landscape, they still take the time to think about each other.
One would think that the new community would be the highlight of the episode, but in reality, the scenes involving Carol and Daryl stand out far more. While initially seeming like two like-minded individuals, Richard and Daryl head out to plan an offensive attack on the Saviors. Hiding behind a crashed semi-truck, Richard explains that they will ambush a group of traveling Saviors, which will cause any survivors to follow a trail to his hideout and eventually a cottage where a friend of Ezekiel will be turned into a scapegoat. Daryl finds this to be fishy and deduces that the friend is actually Carol, leaving him to cancel his plans with Richard. This causes a fight between the two men and Daryl warns Richard that if anything happens to Carol, he will kill him. Later, Ezekiel and a group of his knights pay a visit to Carol’s cottage to “clear the area of the dead,” an obvious excuse for him to check in on her and deliver cobbler. She orders them to leave and returns to her cozy cabin to read, but a knock at the door sets in motion a truly beautiful reunion that fans have highly anticipated. Daryl and Carol tearfully embrace in a hug after being separated for a total of 12 episodes; they haven’t seen each other since “Twice as Far,” when Carol left Alexandria. Reunions have always been some of my favorite moments and this one joins the list of the show’s great character-driven scenes.
This episode gives viewers a far more calming ending than many of its predecessors. Carol and Daryl sit by the fire in the cottage living room. Carol opens up and shares her reasoning for leaving Alexandria, stating that she didn’t want to see anyone else die because she would be inclined to fight and kill out of revenge. As the only character from our group that is unaware of the deaths of Abraham and Glenn, Carol begins questioning Daryl about the status of the conflict with the Saviors and if everyone back home is safe. After a few seconds of contemplation, Daryl decides to lie to Carol, telling her that a deal was made with the Saviors similar to the one with the Kingdom and that everyone is alive and well. Carol is relieved to hear this and the two sit down to have a meal together. Later, Daryl leaves, but not before hugging Carol and reminding her to take care of herself. He returns to the Kingdom and sits next to Shiva’s cage as Morgan appears, beginning a deep conversation between the two about their different ideologies. Daryl states that Morgan has to stop living in the past and must come around to fighting and killing, but he responds by telling Daryl that they are both similar, citing his decision to lie to Carol. There is a great bit of symbolism here as Daryl was a figurative caged animal during his time at the Sanctuary and has now returned to being a fighting tiger. Daryl pets Shiva and announces that he will be returning to the Hilltop in the morning and the episode ends as he walks out of the Kingdom gate, moving away from safety and into enemy territory.
“New Best Friends” is packed full with great character moments that progress the plot forward. Everything is coming together and it is becoming clear that war is on the horizon. The introduction of the Scavengers is an exciting development that is a major departure from the graphic novels and is unique to the television series. This expansion of the world reminds viewers just how many players are involved now; Alexandria, the Hilltop, the Kingdom, the Saviors, Oceanside and now the Scavengers all have their own roles in the march to war. Speaking of Oceanside, it seems as though Tara could reveal its existence with Rick and the others soon; their supply of firearms and fighters could play an integral part in taking down the Saviors, but only if they willingly join. This episode features stand out performances from Karl Makinen as Richard, Andrew Lincoln as Rick, Danai Gurira as Michonne, as well as Melissa McBride as Carol and Norman Reedus as Daryl, both of which have incredible on-screen chemistry together; Norman’s delivery of Daryl asking Carol “why’d you leave?” gave me chills. The musical score of this episode helps to add another layer to the emotional and action scenes. Overall, I am very much impressed with how this season’s back-half is progressing and I am ready to check in on Eugene, Negan, Dwight and the other Sanctuary residents in next week’s episode. Be sure to tune in to “The Walking Dead” next Sunday at 9 p.m. on AMC.