A glimmer of what The Walking Dead can be when it’s at its best shines through in New Best Friends, and unsurprisingly, it comes from the reunion of Carol and Daryl. It’s telling that the episode’s best moment is based on a relationship that was forged several seasons ago, because while the show has moved towards bigger and more exciting action and drama, it’s consequently lost its feel for the humanity of its survivors. The scene in Carol’s cabin is a clear reminder that The Walking Dead is best when it’s intimate, and it hasn’t been that for a long time.
But let’s get to Rick and pals first, who have been ambushed by a huge group of survivors who live in a junkyard. They’re, uh, a little odd, but thank the maker, they’re not the same old bullies or cowards that we’ve seen a dozen times already. Their leader, Jadis, played with a mesmerizing economy of movement by Pollyanna McIntosh, is practical and chill about the apocalypse. Her people take, but they don’t bother, which is how Father Gabriel comes into all of this. They’d been watching the boat for a long time, and planned to swipe them from Alexandria after Rick and Aaron absconded with the supplies. But when they got there, the cupboard was already bare, so they made Gabriel take everything that was left because, I mean, hey, they’d already come all that way. Makes sense, really.
Rick naturally tries to persuade these new folks to help him against the Saviors - oh, come on, why else did you think he was smiling last week? - and they shove him in a pit with possibly the coolest looking Walker you’ll ever see. Someone in that junkyard has some mad art skills, and they’ve done up this guy (his name’s Winslow) with a helmet and blades and he looks like something Immorten Joe would keep as a pet. He kills the Walker, they’re impressed, they negotiate terms for their assistance in the war. It’s all stuff that we’ve seen before, but Jadis is wonderfully practical and unfussed about all of it. There’s no ego swinging around, no bluster or tearful revelations. The bit where she and Rick hammer out terms was particularly fun to watch, because it let’s you see the humans beneath the grime of the new world order. You can imagine them having similar negotiations over what to get on the pizza they’re splitting - half pepperoni, all olive, you pay for the garlic knots, and I’ll tip the driver. There are dozens of people in that junkyard, but in that moment, only two really matter; like I said, The Walking Dead is best when it’s intimate.
Which brings us back to Carol’s cabin. First, can we just show Jerry some love? Ezekiel’s man-at-arms maybe isn’t the brightest crayon in the box, but he’s utterly delightful every time he’s on screen. Carol comes outside after one of the guys clearing out zombies accidentally trips her warning wire, and Jerry is super happy he gets the chance to give her cobbler. See, he’s not allowed to bother her, but hey, if she came outside of her own accord, that’s not on him, right, so hey, Carol, have some cobbler! It’s adorable. Even Carol thinks it’s adorable. You’re the best, Jerry. I’m going to be really annoyed if you end up eaten.
Daryl has discovered that Carol didn’t actually leave The Kingdom like Morgan said she did (because Richard was going to let the Saviors kill her as a way of goading Ezekiel into joining the war effort), and knocks on her door once the others have left. We haven’t seen love on this show in a very long time, but it was certainly present on that porch as these two friends were reunited. He asks her why she left, and she explains that she just couldn’t bear to lose anyone else. She asks if the Saviors came, and if everyone back home is ok. She’s crying, and afraid to hear the answer, and it’s a Carol nobody outside of a handful of people on Earth will ever get to see. So of course Daryl lies to her. If she knew about Glenn and Abraham, she’d put her armor back on and saddle up and take the fight to the Saviors, of course she would, and in fact that’s what Daryl went to the cabin counting on. But he loves her, so he lies, and says everyone is fine. It’s getting hard to care about most of the survivors we see week in and week out, but you kinda wish Daryl would join Carol out in that cabin and they could just ride out the end of the world in quiet companionship. It’d be nice, you know? If anyone’s earned a semblance of peace, it’s those two.
But Daryl doesn’t stay, because he has a war to fight. He makes friends with Ezekiel’s tiger, grabs a crossbow, and heads to The Hilltop, where he will more than likely be spotted by Saviors. Ah, well. Hiding isn’t really Daryl’s style anyway.