Knots Untie – When Jesus wakes, he tells the group of his community (Hilltop) and their willingness to establish trade relations with Alexandria. Yet upon arriving at Hilltop, Rick and the group learn that they are being extorted for supplies by Negan and his gang, The Saviours.
“Your world’s about to get a whole lot bigger” is the boast from Jesus and he wasn’t wrong. This episode comes with no shortage of world and story expansion as we’re introduced to the new location and many new faces at Hilltop. In keeping with the strengths of the recent mid-season premiere, it comes with a lot of comic loyal material. Although smaller in scale, Hilltop has some excellent visual resemblances to its original depiction, with the large “Barrington House Museum” in the centre around the more rustic faming facilities. In fact, the residents feel more like settlers than survivors with their greater levels of self sufficiency, which makes an excellent contrast to Alexandria. With the venture based on the idea of trade we immediately distinguish between the two communities as having different strengths and weaknesses. Hilltop is well fed but with no ammunition and mere spears for weapons, if The Wolves had chosen a different a target, Gregory would only be savouring that painting if they put his head on a spike in view of the window. Speaking of Gregory, the Hilltop community leader is definitely the most interesting new character we meet this week. In many ways, he’s a pseudo-governor --ruthless in his own ways but with some lingering morality that stops him becoming a fellow eye patched psychopath. His scenes with Maggie (her best this season) develop into a fascinating political and intellectual tug of war as both try to position themselves with leverage over the other.
The play out also pulls together the big baseball bat-wielding elephant in the room is Negan and the Saviours, and finally explained as exploiting Hilltop for supplies. This nicely sets up the main story for the rest of the series as Rick looks to be a new kind of Saviour for Hilltop. It gives us exactly what we want Rick & co. Vs Negan in direct conflict, and it does so via a good natural approach. The setup has some great fun to it, especially when Rick once again finds himself adrenalin pumped and blood splattered in front of a whole community. Yet the biggest gain here is escalation and tension. Right from when the infamous car horn sounded last October, there was a constant feeling of anticipation and impending doom through the autumn episodes. We knew the mass walker herd would be bad news for Alexandria; it was just a case of when. Now, a few months down the line, Knots Untie puts us in that great position again. We know that Alexandria and The Saviours will come together eventually, all hell will break loose and not everyone will walk away from it. All the season needs to do now is just feed that enough each week to keep those feelings alive before letting rip in the final (only 3 or 4 weeks really). Being a setup episode, it is light on the action but the early truck encounter does have some merit to it. The crashed truck with the failing walkers hanging off it is a brilliant sight, and the subsequent building clear out is much more pacey than expected, almost like a police/SWAT style room sweep. The only problem is that it becomes painfully hard to keep a straight face when everyone keeps doing Jehovah’s Witness impressions, “We’re with Jesus!”.
The Abraham love triangle on the brew could have been an unwanted side order in the episode (like the black pudding of a Full English) but fairs far better linking into broader themes of the episode. The idea of life and civilization outside the walls of Alexandria has many people looking towards the future so it does make sense for the big ginger war machine to contemplate who he wants to spend that with: Sasha or Rosita. The opening act of the episode does a good job of showcasing both to make it feel like a dilemma (even if later events imply a decision). Abraham has a clear connection with Sasha but Rosita is pretty dam awesome to him, has stood by him throughout his worst moments and that is a lot to walk away from. The writers continue to reap comedy gold out of his more eloquent expressions. While the immortal “mother dick” may never be beaten, his pancake based baby metaphor with Glen certainly makes the short list. Carl also gets an honourable mention despite only featuring in the first act. Despite some initial awkwardness over Rick and Michone’s crash-outing in his parting words to Rick, we don’t just get a sense of maturity from Carl but also responsibility. Now, he doesn’t just see himself as a kid fast tracked into adulthood but as someone that shares Rick’s responsibilities. Just as there must always be a Stark at Winterfell, so does Carl believe there must always be a Grimes at Alexandria to keep it safe.
It may be more of a character and conversation episode than some like their Walking Dead but there is an unshakable sense of purpose to this episode. At many points in the past, the show has been criticized for stagnated whereas this is a clear statement of intent. We still haven’t caught a glimpse of Jeffrey Dean Morgan yet but we can be sure he’ll be swinging by soon.