Two Carol-centric episodes in a row! Somebody up there must like us. (Or else this is just some sort of horrible long game to prepare us for her demise. After all, any time a character on this show starts to show serious regrets about murder, their survival chances are substantially lowered.)

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“The Same Boat” is an odd duck of an hour, a story whose ends are interesting even if the means used to achieve them don’t completely hold up. We pick up more or less where we left off last week, backtracking a few hours to show Carol and Maggie getting nabbed by a group of Saviors, and then following that group through a hostage situation that ends in all of the “bad guys” (and gals) dead by Carol and Maggie’s hand. In the long view, it’s a brutal look at how ruthless our heroes have become, how far they’re willing to go to protect themselves and each other, and what those efforts cost them. That’s an idea we’ve seen play out many times before, but the brutality here is still effective, especially as we see Carol’s internal struggles.

The problem, though, is the shorter view. The episode is a long slow burn to get us to those final minutes of carnage, and while the situation should be rife with dramatic possibilities, a lot of it falls flat. The Saviors’ characterization ranges from cartoonish to flat, with only a few stand out moments for Paula (Alicia Witt), and that’s a problem because it robs their eventual deaths of much impact. For this hour to work, we have to regret Carol and Maggie’s murder spree almost as much as Carol does. Instead, it’s simply a relief when the killing starts. Finally, something that matters is happening.

Give the writers this much: they were trying for something more ambitious than a simple “good guys vs. bad guys” thing. In case last week’s confrontation wasn’t obvious enough, “The Same Boat” doubles down on the idea that our heroes are, in their way, just as fucked up and villainous as the people they’re fighting against. Rick and the others did murder a bunch of strangers in their beds without warning, and by the end of the hour, Carol and Maggie have shown themselves of being capable of acts nearly as vicious. Admittedly they’re fighting in self-defense, but there’s still a fundamental brutality to their choices, and the assumption that this brutality is ultimately the only appropriate response, that robs them of the right to see themselves as heroes.

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Like I said, though, we’ve been down this road before. Who are the real monsters, etc, and while it’s arguably a more realistic approach, it has the unfortunate effect of robbing the confrontations of a lot of their suspense. At this point, Carol and Maggie have survived so much that it takes a lot to make us legitimately concerned for their safety. While there was always a chance that Paula or one of the others could’ve snapped and shot one of them in the head, there was never any real sense that this would happen. These people weren’t a convincing threat, despite having gotten the drop on our heroes—the whole thing felt like a fluke.

While that’s fine for the back half of the episode, when Carol and Maggie finally take control and get shit done, it makes the first half a slog of waiting for the inevitable to happen. None of these new characters are particularly likeable or interesting for the most part. Paula’s speech about coffee and boiling water is a nice, memorable anecdote, but it does little to distinguish her, and the idea that she might be some harsher, meaner version of where Carol is heading is undercut by her utter incompetence as a leader. Really, I can’t stress this enough: we can’t take people on this show seriously anymore if they aren’t good at the job of staying alive.

So far, our heroes have run into Negan’s saviors a handful of times, and almost every time, they’ve come out on top without any cost to themselves. Daryl blew up a group with a rocket launcher; Rick and the others slaughtered a whole garrison of men without a single casualty on their side; and Carol and Maggie take out the group that kidnaps them without that much fuss. If this season is building to Negan’s final arrival (which it almost certainly is), it’s going to be hard to take him seriously no matter how ruthless or violent he is. Trying to play up ambiguity only works if you’re really, really good at it—ideally, the Saviors should’ve been both threatening and sort of understandable. As is, they’re an annoyance, and while the show is clearly trying to lull Rick (and us) into a false sense of security, they’re doing far too good a job of it.

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That leaves us with Maggie trying to bond with her interrogator (who is not very good at her job), and Carol faking a breakdown to catch her captors off guard. It’s something I almost want to see again before assessing, even if that would mean watching the rest of the episode again—Carol’s panic attack and desperation to protect Maggie and her baby are so convincing that it’s hard to be sure just how much of it she’s faking. The idea that Carol would be deeply invested in protecting a new mother makes sense as a concept, but right now it plays more as like a choice made by the writers to give her something do, rather than an internal development.

“The Same Boat” works best when we see just how much Carol’s efforts to stay alive and move past tragedy have cost her. It gives us a few more tidbits about Negan and the Saviors; “We are all Negan” is interesting, although right now the line only really seems to exist so that Rick’s hostage can pretend to be Negan at the end just long enough for Rick to shoot him. And we learn the Saviors have their own name for zombies (“growlers”) which is just as dumb as every other name. The end result is an hour with laudable ambitions that only comes into focus in its final moments.

Stray observations

  • In retrospect, Carol telling the others that Maggie is pregnant seems like a clear attempt to appeal to their common humanity. But it’s an oddly optimistic choice on Carol’s part; she’s so ruthless now in how she deals with anyone outside of her small group of friends that it’s curious that she’d think the Saviors would show mercy towards an unborn baby.
  • If nothing else, it was neat to have almost an entire hour devoted to a group of women arguing about who was going to kill who. (Also interesting how the one man in Paula’s group gets injured, and then tries to assert his dominance before getting roundly shut down by both sides.)
  • I’m not sure telling someone she’s going to die and then demanding she answer your questions is an effective interrogation technique.
  • Goodbye, woman who smokes and doesn’t like religion. I’m sure you had a name, and I’m sure I don’t care what it was.
  • Daryl hugs Carol. Aw.

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