The Walking Dead: 7.10 New Best Friends.

Instead of faffing around with obnoxious villains and ever-escalating stakes, this week’s The Walking Dead returned us to the time where episodes mainly featured cool walker encounters, and scenes that focus on character relationships. New Best Friends wasn’t particularly eventful, but was extremely entertaining to watch as our favourites had some serious conversations in the Kingdom and the Junkyard.

The episode opened with another exchange between the Kingdom and the Saviours. The Saviour in command, Gavin, seemed reasonable at first in response to one of his men being an utter ass, but still didn’t hesitate to make threats, even though it was their man that antagonised Richard and took Morgan’s stick. Things are clearly approaching boiling point between these two groups. No matter how insistent Ezekiel is on keeping the peace, even Morgan can surely see the inevitable conflict building, and will definitely be getting his beloved stick back sooner or later.

Richard is a man that’s definitely not ready to take any of this crap lying down. He was the first person from the Kingdom to even mention a fight, and now that Rick and co. have arrived formally requesting their help, he seems completely impatient for things to kick off already. He seemed to have found a friend in Daryl ready to help start the ball rolling, but that camaraderie quickly unravelled once it became apparent that Richard’s plan was to make Carol the catalyst. He wanted to murder some Saviours, frame Carol, resulting in her death, and have that be the thing that pushed Ezekiel into battle (because everyone around Ezekiel thinks it’s obvious how into her he is, therefore her loss would be the blow that hit home). Richard’s urgency in wanting to strike first is understandable, but making Carol a scapegoat is unacceptable.

From there we left the Kingdom for a while to catch up with Rick and his new Junkyard buddies. You know, the ones he was so thrilled to be surrounded by at the end of the last episode. First things first: they’re a miserable lot. Aside from their leader, not a single one expressed any emotion whatsoever. The aerial view shot showing them all filing into the area between trash heaps to surround our group was reminiscent of how a colony of ants may behave, military-like as they settled into their wordless formation.

In an immediate move that almost seemed strange after things were moving so sluggishly in the first half of the season, Rick cut straight to the chase, asking this new colony if they would join them to fight the Saviours. Speaking of, the amount of new survivor groups popping up all over the place at the moment also seems strange, given how many seasons of the show have passed before without us ever encountering this many in total. Maybe people are able to congregate more easily, now that the undead are becoming less of a threat as they decay? It just seems convenient that where previously colonies and camps seemed few and far between, suddenly a lot show up at once now we need the extra manpower.

Anyway, so Rick asked them if they’d join the Let’s Take Down Negan cause without so much as asking anyone’s name first, and that didn’t go down so well until Father Gabriel made himself useful and threatened to kill one of the Garbage Men (who was a woman). Gabriel was more outspoken than he has been in a long time, if ever, as he put a little more thought into what he said than Rick did. Gabriel better explained that the Saviours have all manner of goods for the taking, and that defeating them would be mutually beneficial. I never thought I’d see the day where I thought Gabriel had done a better job at something than Rick, but here we are. These are strange times.

So apparently the Junkyard Ants live a parasitic, lazy lifestyle of “taking but not bothering,” which makes very little sense when you start to wonder exactly how much stuff they would be able to steal without provoking some angry group to descend upon them and take their things back. I find it difficult to believe that Rick is really the first person to track them down. Also, they are clearly armed with all sorts of makeshift weapons and not afraid to fight, which seems like a massive contradiction to their “we don’t want to actually do any hard work” philosophy. They found Alexandria in the first place by following Rick and Aaron after they salvaged all that stuff from the boat (which notably wasn’t theirs after all), which they’d been waiting for someone to retrieve for them.

The whole premise of their existence seems a bit silly, but either way Gabriel’s words seem to persuade leader Jadis. She escorts Rick to the top of a trash heap where they talk, and a backdrop fake enough to rival the CGI tiger depicts the expanse of the landfill site. Rick’s smiling and it’s real to him, so the audience has to just laugh and go along with it. The only thing that can really justify such an obvious green screen in such a high-budget show is the giggle factor.

Rick’s smile quickly dissipates when he’s thrown off the garbage pile and into a pit where there lies a walker called Winslow who has all manner of sharp and spiky things sticking out of him. It’s a competency test; if he survives this fight then it proves he and his people are capable. It’s a fun scene. Clearly Rick’s not going to die here so the focus isn’t on any suspense, but rather the “how’s he going to deal with it” game, which is way more fun to watch when you know no-one’s life is really meant to be on the line. It’s enjoyable and silly and Rick obviously survives but gets impaled in the hand, a wound I have no idea why people aren’t worried about it getting infected. A garbage heap isn’t exactly the most hygienic of places, after all.

Entertaining though that scene was, the motivation behind it wasn’t particularly logical. Why would Jadis make Rick risk his life facing Captain Spiky when she’s already seen him in action ransacking the boat with Aaron in even more perilous conditions? Jadis’ dialogue makes as little sense as her actions. She speaks in barely comprehensible sentences (“guns and jars”) that make me wonder if english maybe isn’t a first language for her and her people. At the moment, the Junkyard leader is a bit of an anomaly, and I’m interested in her backstory.

So next it seems Rick and crew are off on a side quest to find some guns for Jadis, so she can help them beat the guy that took all their other ones. This provides us with a helpful segway back to the Oceanside community, who happen to have all the guns they could possibly need. Tara hasn’t yet broken her silence about them, but she fiddled with her seashell bracelet as she thought about it. In the meantime, Rick should probably go get patched up at Alexandria, but Rosita was less than happy about that idea, practically spitting in Tara’s face at the thought of delaying the mission for even a moment. Rosita’s character really seems to be going downhill at the moment. She’s a loose cannon having temper tantrums left right and center, and at this rate is a likely candidate for someone that may not survive the season.

Back at the Kingdom, Daryl finally regained both a crossbow and the ability to formulate sentences that consist of more than just angry outbursts. He seems to be coming into his own as a character again, and his relationship with Carol is finally getting more attention after being neglected for a long time. Their dynamic and development is one of the best and most widely loved things about The Walking Dead, and their precious reunion was long overdue. We were blessed with not one but two hugs filled with emotion, and a vulnerable heart to heart.

Both Melissa McBride and Norman Reedus are to be commended for their outstanding acting. Carol’s tears and Daryl’s choked up “why’d you go?” broke my little fan heart and were some of the most touching moments we’ve seen in a while. Even though Carol will find out sooner or later what Negan did to her friends, for the time being she remains oblivious as Daryl told her everyone was fine. Carol is a straight-up killing machine when she needs to be, as we all know, but she doesn’t want to have to be any more. The knowledge would send her into full on massacre mode, but her conscience and mental health are already struggling under the weight of the deaths she’s already caused. She and Daryl don’t have the kind of relationship that normally involves lying to spare each other’s feelings - on the contrary, they’re the ones that are there for each other when reality is hitting hard - which is why he got away with it. Or at least she let him think he did. It wasn’t made obvious whether or not Carol knew he lied to her, but a suspicious look did cross her face as they said their goodbyes.

In conclusion, New Best Friends was an episode that aside from the deal with the Junkyard lot, involved very little furthering of the actual plot. However, unlike the many other episodes this season where not much happened, this time the writers managed to create a filler episode that doubled as actual good content. Rick’s fight with Winslow and Daryl’s reunion with Carol both definitely qualify as highlights of the season (even if they were over too quickly), and hopefully they’re indicators that the quality of the show might finally be back on the rise.

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