[Spoiler Alert: Do not read even a little tiny bit ahead unless you've watched the March 4 episode of The Walking Dead, "The Lost and the Plunderers." You have been warned.]
Well, that was weird. From the individual vignettes requiring name tags, lest we forgot whom we are dealing with, to that pair of kung-fu-movie closeups on Rick and Michonne, to poor Jadis making SPAM of her people, The Walking Dead followed up its gut-punch of a midseason premiere with one hell of a mind bend.
That’s not to say that some "The Lost and the Plunderers" moments weren’t incredibly powerful—or at least incredibly unique—because there were doozies. Secondary players got serious work and rose to the occasion. And that closing moment was a monster.
The post-Carl era of 'The Walking Dead' begins with a gut-twister of an episode.
But, at least for me, “The Lost And The Plunderers” required several passes through before I felt like I had my footing in some overarching message. I’m still not sure I do. But I think this one is about consolidating individual perspectives on—and any global prospect for—Carl’s envisioned peace. Whether killing becomes habit (or justifiable) when there aren’t laws to dictate otherwise. Whether the loss of a few are worth the salvation of the many. Whether force will always overcome pacifism. The power of mercy... the lure of revenge ... choose your mood.
Or maybe it's just about so much ground-people meat. Er, let’s dig in.
We start with: MICHONNE.
Who watches as the perpetually damp Rick (It's starting to bug me in earnest again) hangs the gun Carl used in his final act on the cross that marks the boy’s grave. Good for you, Rick. Make it real, starting now. Or don't. Seconds later, Rick takes the gun back, tucking it into his waistband. Michonne takes out her own anger on the dead, offering a dandy walker kill with the Alexandria gate before returning to her katana and then just knocking it off altogether.
Then it's on to the business of mourning/honoring/avenging Carl—which is clearly going to mean different things to different people. Michonne and Rick clear out their house (Michonne taking a sweet moment with Carl and Judith's handprints), leaving the still-fresh makings of tasty salsa on the counter. Before they drive off, Michonne spies the burning pergola upon whose roof Carl used to park his keister. It must be saved, even if it almost gets her killed the same way Carl did. Rick joins in, then—as puzzled about the whole affair as I am—talks some sense into his gal. They bolt for their van.
The actor made a music video scored by Camila Cabello's hit
It’s one of those car rides. A few moments of awkward, sweaty (bugging me!) silence, and then Rick picks a fight, pretty much proving that Carl’s words rang hollow to dear old dad. What does Michonne want, anyway? For Negan to win? Michonne's thoughts are still on her lost boy.
She suggests they pull over and read Carl’s letters. Rick’s not ready. Michonne notices a note to Negan in Carl’s stack. Yeah, he's not about that either. Instead, it's business as usual. He needs to talk to Jadis. Bolster the ranks and the armory. The Saviors saw Rick and the Heapsters together, so the latter now have a target on their heads. Make that two: “They’re ours, not theirs,” he growls.
At the junkyard, the pair nearly get smushed by a booby trapped entrance, but the only real damage is to Rick's boot. He steps in some paint the very color of Carl and Judith's handprints. No time to ruminate though, 'cause here come the walkers. And those kooky closeup shots.
Next up is: NEGAN.
Who is wondering where the hell Gavin is and admiring how Carl—make that, "Rick's little one-eyed pride and joy"—outfoxed him and let the Alexandrians slip away. “That kid," Negan announces. "That kid is built for this s--t!” Well, he was, pal, but never mind that, because here's Simon with a million bees in his bonnet.
Forcing me to recall the midseason finale, Negan wants to know how things went with the Hilltop gang. "As requested," Simon says. It's sort of truthful. Per the Saviors' "standard message," Simon did only kill one guy to make his point, which is that the Hilltoppers should stop with the mutiny crap and go back to being good providers. It's just that he didn't bother to follow Maggie home, where he would have discovered dozens of his men held captive in a pen. And seen Dean become the very dead courier of Maggie's response.
May these characters rest in peace.
Now Simon wants to go Rick-hunting, but Negan says no. Yes, but Simon needs a project bad, and he’s getting on Negan’s nerves about it. Negan wants him to go deal with the double-double-crossing Heapsters, but not in the shoot ’em up way Simon has in mind. Jadis and Co. are a resource, Negan reminds him. He is only there to enforce the original deal. One kill to get the others to comply is fine. Anything more is not.
Never mind that that that hasn't really worked too well in the past, what with Glenn and Abe both getting it and the Alexandrians still acting up. And poor Ben getting it, albeit by accident, and the Hilltoppers feistier than ever. But whatever. Negan's on message and that's a fact.
Simon’s still in favor of mass execution. He tells Negan that nobody is learning their lesson, so maybe it’s time the Saviors learned theirs: “Scrap the plates into the trash (oh, the future resonance of this statement!). Find other communities to … save." My dad has a colorful expression for missteps: “That went over like a fart in church.” It applies here. Simmering (and echoing both Carl and Ezekiel!), Negan reminds him that killing everyone to solve the problem is the easy way. Saving people is hard, but it works.
Not lately, says Simon. Surprisingly, his skull stays intact. Negan says the only person they need to kill is Rick and then the debate is interrupted by a special delivery— the very turned Dean in his coffin that bears Maggie's message: "We have 38 more. Stand down."
Simon freaks. Realizing that her captives are his men, he howls death to the farmers, but Negan tells him to follow orders. Quietly at first and then loud enough to make me jump. Simon respond with a facial-tic-Olympics long program.
Next comes: ENID.
Who, along with Aaron, is trying not to die at the hands of their Oceanside captors after she gunned down Grandma Natania in the midseason finale. An action she's doing her best to justify now. “She made it so I had to do it," the girls mumbles, setting her chin. "She made me kill her. I’d do it again. I’d have to. Even though I knew I’d feel this way." Time for a teen girl stare down—Enid versus Cyndie—who has taken over the community's leadership. Enid tells Cyndie that killing her and Aaron won’t make Cyndie feel better; it just sets off a murderous chain reaction. Enid and Aaron, on the other hand, have honorable intentions. If Oceanside won't join the battle, fine. But let her and Aaron live to fight on.
Aaron takes a different approach. Does Cyndie want to know if the AHK wins? Yes, she does. Then help us win, says Aaron. Still now. She's helping them win by letting the pair live. Now get out and stay out. Enid tells her she's mistaking friends for enemies, but that remains a hard argument to make when you have gunned down grandma.
When they're freed, Aaron tells Enid to go debrief Maggie on what went down. Convinced Kathy and Beatrice can be lured into the fight, he's going to stay behind. "Promise I'll see you again," Enid quavers. He asks her to promise the same. Instead of an answer, she bear hugs him. D'aw!
Who takes a troop to the landfill to fulfill Negan's orders. Or not. What follows is horrific—and what makes Steven Ogg the most watchable soul on this show. Blessed with his malleable Jack Nicholson-esque mug, Cheshire cat grin and more charisma than anyone has a right to, Ogg demands that your eyes not leave him, even when you dread his actions.
Simon starts with the Negan, Jr. charm. Gonna need a genuine apology for aligning with Rick and then they can get down to business. Jadis counters that she delivered Rick to the Saviors. If they blew that opportunity, not her fault.
Simon's mood shifts. "BULLLLLS--T," he bellows, then collects himself. Presents Negan's offer: No punishment for the trangression if they go back to the way it was. What good luck! But they will have to turn over all their guns. Here it gets dicey. Did Negan really order him to completely disarm the Heapsters? Or is Simon setting up what he was planning all along?
Simon wants to know the origins of the heap. Why the helipad outside (Hmm. Remember when we watched Rick watch a copter sail overhead in the front end of the season?) and the solar panels? It's a dump, Jadis smirks. They have the guns and the refurbished deal, so there's the door.
There is no turning back.
Simon's eyes flash. The apology was fine, he says. The guns are solid restitution. But where is the remorse? She senses his mood shift. There is remorse, she says calmly. It earns the Heapster who looks like he could be Jadis' dad a bullet. Jadis says it again and Tamiel goes down. Panicked, Jadis slugs Simon, knocking him into the same blue paint Rick stepped in are we marking unfiltered killers with Carl's shade of blue?). “There is remorse, you son of a bitch,” she snarls. And then watches as her entire commune is mowed down.
Back at the Sanctuary, Negan is still waiting on word from Gavin when Simon returns. Simo says he accomplished the mission "and then some." Standard message and delivery (feh!)—and, oh yes, there was remorse. He notices the paint on his boots, just as Negan gets a caller. It's Rick on the walkie. But we don't hear the exchange just yet.
Back at the landfill, Rick and Michonne tackle a swarm of walkers that we now know are the razed and raised Heapsters. Instead of killing just one, Simon left one standing: Jadis, who is sitting atop the mounds of garbage in an etherial white gown. She speaks in full sentences now. Tells the story of the dump.
Before the apocalypse, she came there to scavenge things to paint on. After, she says, she realized that the whole place was a canvas and that people were the paint. Within the heaps, she and her followers could create a new world of their own. Become something better ... someone better ... and they did. Rick is unmoved. He refuses her plea for help escaping the dump, fires a shot over her head and reminds her that she had her chance to align with him, and that he got shot in the leg for his efforts. "This is because of you," he tells her.
What comes next is some of the most disturbing stuff TWD has fed us since Glenn's post-Lucille head. Seated at the edge of the dump's compactor, Jadis summons her minions, all dead this time. Via some masterwork by Pollyanna McIntosh, her face flickers with pain and regret and shock and sorrow as, one by one, they plunge in to be ground into a revolting river of coarse pink pulp that flows into the heaps behind her. I gotta walk that one off. Not Jadis, though. She pours out some pulverized apples for her pulverized homies and chows down on applesauce.
'The Walking Dead' shed some light on those flash-forward scenes.
Finally, we have: RICK.
And another awkward car ride. He's trying to justify his actions to Michonne. Didn't kill Jadis. Didn’t want her dead. Just wanted her ... gone. Michonne colors it as at least a baby step toward honoring Carl's wishes, and that gets to her man. He pulls over for a bit of alone time with the notes and his walkie. But he doesn't read his own letter first; he reads Negan's. Much of the missive is obscured (and Carl's handwriting ain't great), but a few things are readable. Carl believed that Negan has to be who he is. I’m pretty sure it says Carl doesn’t believe this is what Negan wanted. This stuff is clear: "Maybe you’ll beat us. … The way out is working together. It’s forgiveness."
It’s also why Rick is ringing Negan. But not the least bit about forgiveness. More powerful stuff follows.
Negan is genuinely rubbled by the news that Carl is dead, and that he used his dying moments to ask Negan for peace. Rick snarls that it's too late for that. Too late for a deal. Too late for Negan. We learn a lot about these two guys in these moments. Negan, too mired in his own shock and sadness, ignores Rick's bluster. He wants reassurance that the Saviors' assault wasn't the cause of Carl's death. Rick tells him that Carl died helping a stranger. "That kid was the future," Negan tells Carl's dad.
Maybe only one of them saw it. “The only future is one where you’re dead,” Rick snarls.
That does snap Negan out of his sorrow—but not in the way we'd expect. The bluster and one-liners are gone. His tone is measured and weary. Had Rick only fallen in line with the Saviors and their vision of a future, Rick could have devoted himself to raising his boy. Giving his kids a proper home and a hopeful future. Sure, they could all die at anytime in this world. But Rick ensured Carl's fate. He set the course. Who will be next?
Rick is unmoved: "You are."
Just when you thought you'd seen it all, 'The Walking Dead' proves you wrong.
Negan is undeterred. "No," he tells Rick, quietly. "But someone is. You see, I stop people from dying. I am the answer." Well, not for Jadis and company. Or, Gavin and company. But another story for another day.
Negan tells Rick it's time he stops bad decisions from causing people he loves to die. Then he gives us a hint into what drives him. "That garbage, that sticks with you. Forever," he advises, his thoughts clearly on his own past. "Just like Carl. Hell, I’m feeling it and I’m going to be feeling it for awhile. You could have just let me save all of you. That’s why I killed your friends in the first place. You failed as a leader and most of all, you failed as a father."
We close on Rick standing alone in his misery. But the last words are Negan's: "Give up," he says sadly. "Give up—because you have already lost."
So what do you make of "The Lost and the Plunderers"? Is Negan losing control of his own world, even as he admonishes Rick? Did you feel a few flickers of sympathy for the guy ... or at least a better understanding of what drives him? Are you worried for Jadis—who, we also know has a fondness for nudity and when we've been promised our first naked walker? Or did she get what she had coming? Is Simon a dead man, or will he keep his bloody secret from Negan long enough to pay a visit to Maggie? And will we finally see something of Lauren Cohen's pregnant badass in a season Scott Gimple promised was a major one for her?
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