This episode of The Walking Dead felt much shorter than the previous two, and the reason may be due to the limited on-screen characters and lack of any significant plot development beyond the episode-specific plot lines, though the character development and dynamics more than made up for the lack of plot movement, so it is safe to say that the episode felt short due to its strengths rather than its flaws.
The episode followed three plotlines: Maggie (Lauren Cohan, The Vampire Diaries) reconvening with members of her team, the women of Alexandria working together to do what the others believe to be a hopeless cause, and Gabe (Seth Gilliam, Teen Wolf) interacting with another man of God.
Maggie’s plotline was definitely the most interesting, and it’s no wonder what this season has in store for her now that all The Wardens and allies from Hilltop are dead or, in Alden’s (Callan McAuliffe, Flipped) case, on the verge of death; that being said, it won’t be a surprise if, by the midseason finale or during a very tight situation, Alden reappears and saves the day, possibly sacrificing himself, but surprising the audience by reminding them of his existence nonetheless.
Watching Maggie’s interactions with her Hilltop allies as they were picked off one by one was an interesting contrast to her hardened demeanor of the two-part premiere. Alden even references how she left Gage (Jackson Pace, Homeland) without any hesitation yet she never once wavers in her attempts to keep all her allies close or, at the very least, alive. While it could be argued that Gage’s death prompted this change in perspective, there was no indication in the previous episode that she gave his death a second thought or was in any way affected.
If anything, this shift was meant to further emphasize the divide between Maggie and Negan; Maggie’s hatred for Negan stems from his prior negligence when it came to human life, her husband Glenn having been killed by Negan, so it wouldn’t make narrative sense to have her be on Negan’s side when it came to who lives and dies, which was shown in the previous episode when Negan was in favor of saving Gage.
As also seen in the previous episode, Alden sided with Negan more often than not despite disliking him as much as everyone else, setting aside his feelings if he felt the points made were logical; like Gage said in the first episode: “He’s a dick, but he makes sense.”
Alden’s entire character was meant to be the bridge between Maggie and Negan as Maggie was more inclined to listen to Alden than she was even acknowledging Negan as an ally. This running theme throughout the episode of Alden agreeing with Negan to convince Maggie was what made her final decision all the more impactful. She had argued with Alden when she insisted they take a break rather than continue, but he hadn’t necessarily agreed with Negan at the time. However, Alden did agree with Negan about killing him rather than letting him slow them down, which was when Maggie made her own choice separate from the initial two laid out; Alden wasn’t dying, but he wasn’t coming along either. This decision showed that Maggie’s decisions can come from more than a simple need to disagree and fight with Negan at every turn.
No matter how justified Maggie’s feelings were—and they are most certainly justified—the episode did take every chance it could to have Maggie disagree with Negan and highlight each interaction. It’s because of Alden and the memory of Glenn that it didn’t start to become exhausting and wholly counterproductive; the Negan of the past may have been fully deserving of her ire and distrust, and while no one in Alexandria trusts him farther than they can throw him—and for good reason—he was right that he has changed. The man’s first instinct when the explosives were thrown their way was to protect Maggie and he bodily carried her away from the walkers that would have overtaken both her and Agatha (Laurie Fortier, Hemlock Grove) if he hadn’t intervened. If his actions didn’t speak loud enough, his tired old man puppy dog eyes conveyed all anyone needs to know; he doesn’t even try to argue that he’s a good person, only that he was on Maggie’s side, he’s too tired to do anything else except keeping himself and as many as he can alive, which now includes Maggie.
That very well may change, Maggie did say she wouldn’t be fooled, he had left her at the end of the first episode, and he did switch sides last season and fought on the side of the Whisperers—while, yes, it was all a ploy orchestrated by Carol to kill Alpha, but he did admit to enjoying the role a little bit, which doesn’t bode well for the future.
Either way, with Maggie and Negan now on their own, it will be interesting to see how their characters both develop, especially Maggie, and whether their dynamic will be their saving grace or their downfall.
As for the rest of the episode, Gabe was only on screen for a few scenes, the total of which had to be under ten minutes, if not five. The point of this plot was to depict the religious motif of The Reapers from another angle, as the main plotline showed visual motifs such as the crucified walker and the abandoned chapel with a cross outside, solidifying to the audience that religion will play a major role this season in relation to the antagonists.
The secondary plotline of this episode was far more uplifting, similar to the last episode, which may be a running theme for the rest of the season. This was the first plot to follow Alexandria this season and it was a solid way to connect the previous season to the present, everyone still hard at work to rebuild and fortify the walls after the major attack from last season, as well as Carol (Melissa McBride, The Reconstruction of William Zero)doing penance by giving Kelly (Angel Theory, Kinderfänger) hope that her sister Connie (Lauren Ridloff, Eternals) is still alive, as Carol’s decisions were what led to Connie’s disappearance; or, as Magna (Nadia Hilker, The 100) believes, her death.
Beyond being the only positive plotline this episode, complete with scenes of the children playing cards and eating less than appetizing food—along with Judith’s (Cailey Fleming, Peppermint) earnest declaration that Michonne always comes back that was absolutely heartbreaking considering her whereabouts are currently unknown due to her search for Rick—this plotline also had an interesting connection to the main one in terms of theme.
As was previously stated, Maggie doesn’t trust Negan. It’s safe to say no one trusts Negan, and for good reason. This secondary plotline centers on trust and how the horses were willing to go back home, but different tactics needed to be taken; specifically, tactics that didn’t place the horses in situations where they didn’t feel safe or in control; rather, the trust was what kept them in line.
While this idea can be applied to Maggie and Negan’s dynamic in a variety of ways, it’s not far off to assume that this theme of trust and compromise will be significant in their scenes and relationship from here on out, and it will be interesting to see how they develop as a duo and which one of them is the wrangler and which one is the horse.