“You see this guy here? That’s the toughest opponent you’ll ever have to face. I believe that’s true in the ring and it’s true in life”. While Rocky had a more positive lesson in mind for young Adonis Creed, for most people facing themselves, it can be a very negative experience. When most of us look in the mirror, we often see our flaws more than our attributes but sometimes that’s exactly what we need. We need to see the worst parts of ourselves staring back at us as they force us to consider whether or not we need to make a change. It may not quite be in a mirror but some of our survivors are confronted with themselves this week, and they may not like what they see.
The Same Boat – After being captured by a small group of The Saviours, Carol and Maggie are taken to a nearby safe house while their leader, Paula, negotiates a deal with Rick for a prisoner exchange. While they wait, both Carol and Maggie face moments of self-examination when some of their captors bare similar life choices.
So this is a great example of a claustrophobic episode form The Walking Dead. It’s very self-contained within a small character base and a lot of it even takes place within the same room. The early camera work really builds into this well as we look down from Maggie and Carol’s hooded perspective. It keeps things very close and personal which eases into the main character study content of the episode. The story itself is quite minimal, allowing us to fully explore Carol and Maggie being confronted by alternative versions of themselves in Paula and Michelle respectively. Paula is very effectively shown as a quick witted resourceful badass and a stone cold killer. Her “lack of static” deduction really sells this the best as the smallest detail triggers a vast flow of counter-intelligence thinking. She feels just like the one woman army we’ve seen Carol to be. Yet it’s Paula’s exchanges with Carol that provide the best material of the episode. It builds excellently on Carol’s prior episode inclinations of regret and remorse over more violent actions. Paula is identical in terms of survivalist determination but lacks even the concept of remorse. She is the personification of who Carol is afraid she’ll become if the killer inside her takes control. It makes a great comparison to the classic man verses monster internal battles of Dr Jekyll & Mr Hyde or even Bruce Banner & The Incredible Hulk. The final confrontation between the pair is the most powerful moment of the episode as it turns out not all of Carol’s frightened “Bambi” routine was a lie. She was not afraid of what would happen to her but who she would have to become to save Maggie and escape. The two lethal ladies get a suitably brutal showdown too. Carol’s crisis of faith seems set to continue for at least the rest of the season and feels like it will be rewarding.
Then Maggie gets a similar examination through her interactions with Michelle. This doesn’t quite pack the punch of Carol and Paula but it’s fascinating in the way much of the empathy comes from Michelle rather than Maggie. Michelle is pledged as Maggie a few chapters ahead having failed in her attempt to bring a baby into the new world and become a hollow shell because of it. Similarly, her notions of reckless actions and consequences following the loss of her boyfriend echo back to Maggie’s determination to remain an active fighting group member despite carrying a plus one. The most interesting part becomes the resolution. We’re slowly sold the idea of Maggie realising she needs to step away from the battle lines for the sake of her baby only see her experience what can only be described as hormones, The Walking Dead style. In fact, arguably Maggie and Carol actually switch characters around the two thirds marks as Carol tries so see an exit while Maggie’s just seeing red.
This episode also gives us our best insights yet into the organization of The Saviours, which is to an almost military level. They have radio codes, protocols and fall back procedures. They’re a lot larger and wider spread than last week implied. It looks like the previously assaulted location was just one branch or one unit of theirs. The bazooka blasted biker gang are confirmed as another (“T’s unit”) and we must assume there are several more out there even if Rick and the survivors may call this mission accomplished. Then, there is Negan.... or the lack thereof, via the comic loyal mantra of “We are all Negan”. It sums up their organization better than any radio call sign. They’re driven and motivated to almost cult-like status making The Saviours far more dangerous than anyone they have encountered before. Whether it’s out of inspiration or fear (Michelle shows us they have a harsh punishment system), The Saviours are dedicated to their cause far more than the residents of Alexandria which could easily give them the edge in what looks like an inevitable looming conflict. The most likely outcome is that the final episode of the season (or maybe late in the penultimate), we’ll see Negan and the rest of The Saviours rolling up in force on a weakened and low supplied Alexandria (Just like Rick said would be the worst scenario last week in clear foreshadowing), and things will not end well for either side.
This is a superb example of The Walking Dead isolating and drilling down on a few of its characters. It’s a low action episode but compelling throughout and at times good and tense. Alicia Witt’s (Justified) Paula is possibly the best guest star performance, the show has ever seen and powered by the killer dialogue of Angela Kang’s script. It’s just the right change of pace from last week’s action fest before cycling back around to a blow out finale. This spring season’s run of excellent form continues. This boat is one hell of a cruise.