Break out your best portmanteau because The Walking Dead has a big romance going on! After a relentless start to Season six, following by an inconsistent middle, we’re now edging towards the finale with the 10th episode, “The Next World”, taking a breather with a calmer, more relaxed focus on the show’s drama. The tone shifts completely from last week’s action heavy “No Way Out”, thanks to a time jump (a few weeks after the carnage) that, while awkward at first, comes at exactly the right time.
Much of the weaker moments of the series come with the meandering and forced fallout episodes, giving us one or two big action pieces and then taking a few weeks to pick things up here and there. We saw it with Rick going crazy after Lori’s death, for example, and it really does require a lot of patience. The benefit of a time jump after such a big episode is a clean slate of sorts, shifting dynamics around (one of which takes a big leap forward) and focusing on giving viewers a relatively lighthearted, adventure-centric entry into what has been a nihilistic nine-episode run. Most importantly, avoiding all that tiresome “picking up the pieces” drama.
Of course, the biggest “wait. what?” moment came towards the very end, with the show now coupling Rick and Michonne (yes, cue the Richonne hashtag). “You’ll never guess who finally made out” is an actual headline from one of the recap articles resulting from The Next World, which is depressing considering that The Walking Dead should be – and often is – much more than just another tween drama. It’s nice to see them both smile and act like normal people in a normal situation for a change, and the romance gives context to a more optimistic and open Rick which we see throughout his little supply run with Daryl.
Teaming Rick up with Daryl is another slice of fan service that’s long overdue, playing on the strong chemistry between these two (they’ve come a long way since the leaving-Merle-on-the-roof conflict) as they run into the biggest addition to the show since Abraham and co: Jesus – or at least that’s what his nickname is.
Comic book fans have been anticipating Jesus’ debut for some time and Tom Payne makes a great first impressions, charming if not a bit scrappy, and witty if not a bit frustratingly vague. One of the most interesting plays between him and Rick/Daryl is that Rick is now the one who gives him the benefit of the doubt, entertaining bringing him back to Alexandria while Daryl is the suspicious one who wants to leave him. Throughout the episode we get glimpses of Rick in perhaps the best mood he has been since he reunited with Lori/Carl in the first season’s third episode. He is cranking up the country music, smiling at Daryl, talking about his day with wifey material Michonne; he is optimistic for once. The writers do a great job at letting this change shine through Rick, juxtaposing him with a more sullen Daryl and bringing Jesus in to bring it both of them.
The subplots were fairly inconsistent though, and often distracted from Rick/Darly’s engaging hunt, switching to Maggie for the purpose of beefing up her relationship with Enid for example. Those scenes felt contrived and on-the-nose, though fleshing out Spencer wasn’t as bad as an idea as it could have been. Playing on Michonne’s relationship to Deanna as well as giving a possible platform for Spencer to become less of an incompetent liability, the writers had our favourite samurai follow Deanna’s last remaining son off into the woods, curious as to why he was carrying a shovel around.
As it turns out, Spencer saw his walker-fied Mother roaming around the woods at one point and set out to bring some closure to himself, killing her reanimated corpse and burying her. This tied into our time with Carl and Enid as the young man who has now survived being shot twice wasn’t about to let Enid kill walker Deanna. Why? Because someone who loved her should do the deed, leaving it to Spencer. It’s a touching idea and once again brings it back to a message we haven’t seen the show handled in awhile: how do we deal with the dead when it’s someone we loved? From Morgan’s wife to Hershal keeping walkers in a barn, the earlier seasons were littered with these philosophical questions, and though it was dealt in a far more rushed way here, it added greatly to the more hopeful, relationship-centric episode; telling a complete story with brevity and bringing dignity to Spencer’s character, something Austin Nichols, who has been doing a great job, deserves.
It doesn’t make a whole lot of sense that Rick and Daryl would be going out on a scavenger hunt together when there are plenty of runners in Alexandria that can be utilised (they need to use Aaron more) but The Walking Dead often make up for this lack of logic with great, concise storytelling. There’s a lot to digest here from a dramatic perspective and a lot of potential for the remainder of season 6, especially now that Jesus is about to expand the world of The Walking Dead (supposedly).
Review Score: THREE AND A HALF STARS (OUT OF FIVE)
- Daryl and Rick teaming up and finding Jesus
- Rick’s new personality
- A witty Jesus outsmarting Daryl/Rick over and over again
- Spencer subplot surprisingly touching and tying in with Carl’s maturity.
- Humour throughout the episode
- Scene with Maggie and Enid felt wedged in and contrived to set up a future dynamic.
- We spent more time with Enid and Carl then was necessary.
- It’s strange how Denise is now the most developed Alexandrian when Aaron and Heath are far more interesting.
- Ignoring certain characters and dynamics (eg, Carol and Morgan) was disappointing.
Episode MVP: Jesus.
The Walking Dead airs on FX every Monday at 1:30pm and 7:30pm.