We're at the sixth episode into The Walking Dead season 8 and by now I could tell you exactly how every episode will start. Queue the emotion-stirring music and a montage of the different camps, playing with what little care you have left for whether Rick's crew will be successful or not. And, as you can imagine, that's exactly how episode 6, The King, The Widow, and Rick, starts. It’s so predictable it’s almost a cliche. This time it might be a tiny bit different thanks to some overly simpering voice over by Carol and Rick, but it's much the same as we've seen before. Spoilers to follow.
Don’t let the title fool you into thinking that this episode is about Negan. Despite the fact that it’s the Saviours that constantly refer to the heroes as “the King, the Widow and Rick”, our leather-jacket wearing antagonist is nowhere to be seen… again. AMC is very much back to its old tricks after reintroducing Negan in episode 5. Instead, after the montage opening, episode 6 tries to move the plot forward in anticipation of the big battle. At one point there’s mention of the last big move being a mere two days away, just to tease that we’ve still got to wait a while longer.
The plot again focuses on clusters of groups making small moves towards the eventual goal. Maggie and Jesus tussle over whether to kill or imprison the Saviour captives (yes, that discussion is still going on); Carol is attempting to coax Ezekiel back into his role as the King in order to rally what’s left of his troops; and we get the first look at Michonne, Rosita, and Carl for a long time. Michonne and Rosita decide to get out of Alexandria and take a look at what’s been going on for themselves. Both are wounded and weakened from the fight at the end of season 7, but that doesn’t stop them from discovering a Saviour cache blaring operatic music at full volume. Meanwhile, Carl’s on the hunt to rescue that guy from the gas station, Siddiq, and bring him back to camp.
It’s refreshing to see a few (fairly) fresh faces in this season, even if the episode feels more filler than killer. Especially as Rick, much to my surprise, isn’t heading to the Sanctuary but to the Junkyard instead to give Jadis and the Scavengers an ultimatum. “Join us or die,” basically. You know the spiel. But it all ends up with a few grunted dismissals and Rick sitting in a shipping container in his birthday suit and an A scrawled on the door. We’ve seen that symbol a few times this season. Oh, ho! What’s this? A sliver of intrigue perhaps?
The limited success of this episode lives in a pair of near death misses. Carl and his new pal Siddiq almost get eaten by Walkers, and Michonne and Rosita almost get shot to death by a pair of rogue Saviours. There was a moment where I thought Carl might actually die and we’d have to laugh at Rick getting all sad and screaming “Coral” into the ether. But no, he, Siddiq, Rosita, and Michonne are all fine a matter of minutes later, reducing what little tension the moment had to a sigh. As horrible as it may sound, I’m willing AMC to kill off a key character minute by minute while watching season 8. It may sound drastic, but the constant disappointment that the series is now delivering episode after episode makes me fear that AMC is just pandering. The audience wanted action; now you’ve got action in abundance. But it’s been traded in for a plot that doesn’t progress. The shock and intrigue provided by The Walking Dead at the end of season 6 into the premiere of season 7 is a very distant memory at this point.
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This episode does raise the question that maybe Daryl and Tara are about to mess Rick’s plan up and blow the series wide open. We’re a mere two episodes from the mid-season break, which usually leaves things on a dramatic cliffhanger. At this stage I’ll take anything to liven things up a bit - including the Walkers. Daryl’s mention of a truck full of explosives in the last episode hangs in the air as he takes out the opera-mobile, and seeing as the episode ends with Daryl saying he’s going “end this thing, right now” while sitting with Tara, Michonne, and Rosita in - potentially - said truck.
There’s some potential here for a great mid-season cliffhanger, but I fear next week’s episode is going to be more exposition before we get anywhere near an exciting moment. AMC has got to stop relying on nail-biting moments that resolve so quickly to add pace, and give Ezekiel more lines than "And then I smile". Thankfully there are some redeeming qualities here, but those nuggets aren't enough to make this episode feel like anything more than just a time killer.