Photo: Gene Page (AMC)

People behave in unexpected ways when they’re grieving. If you’re Jadis, you capture Negan and tie him to a cart you can wheel around the dumpster by a chain. And if you’re Rick, you promise to let scared Saviors return with you to Hilltop, get them to free you and save your life, then shoot them all in the back.

The best aspect of Rick and Morgan’s vengeful hunt was seeing the ex-sheriff finally abandon his once-firm values about his word. Think back to the shocked Rick who promised a scared Savior his freedom near the start of this season (it’s been what, a couple of weeks in the timeline of the show since then, tops?), only to have Daryl turn around and shoot the guy dead. That was a Rick who genuinely believed in all his speechifying about the value of his word, and how it’s the only thing that still counts for something in this hellish world, and blah blah blah. New, Carl-less Rick doesn’t give a fuck. Sure, he comes home, apologizes to Michonne, and sits down to read his son’s final letter to him. And maybe that’ll be enough—maybe the show will sweep this little episode under the rug and return to having Rick be the noble good guy trying to do the right thing. But that would be a shame, because a Rick who has abandoned his principles, who has out-Negan’d Negan in the cruelty and lying department, a Rick we can no longer trust or depend on...well, that would be the most interesting the character has been in years.

“Still Gotta Mean Something” became a bit of a letdown the minute the opening credits ended and it was clear we weren’t getting an entire episode from Jadis’ point of view. Pollyanna McIntosh’s performance was always the most compelling thing about the otherwise absurd Scavengers, with the actor giving a warped charisma to the leader of the garbage folks that exceeded the actual actions of her character. The show tends to improve whenever it focuses on magnetic supporting players anyway, so giving us a chance to inhabit Jadis’ reality for an hour would’ve made for intriguing drama. Instead, we immediately cut back to our major players having the same arguments they always have, albeit in slightly altered circumstances. It made for frustrating but intermittently rewarding viewing (which may as well be the show’s motto, at this point) as we toggled between a number of exhausting narratives, only a couple of which paid dividends.

One of those rewards was Jadis and Negan, however. It’s a bit odd to have Negan suddenly open up about his past, but let’s give the story the benefit of the doubt for now and say the realization Simon had disobeyed him and killed all the Scavengers genuinely rattled something loose inside Negan. You know all that claptrap about the value of a man’s word that Rick said just before admitting he lied and killed a bunch of guys? Negan really believes that stuff. His word is his bond, and now there’s an entire community destroyed that puts the lie to his word. “I didn’t order this,” he repeats, but then steps up to say the buck stops with him: “It’s my mistake.”

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Maybe he’s right: Maybe some part of Jadis didn’t want Negan dead, and left him with the flare and gun because she wanted to see what would happen. Now that we know she basically lives inside a minimalist Ikea display, and the mysterious helicopter from the premiere is somehow linked to her, there’s a new side to the character waiting to be explored. But instead of that, we get the story of Lucille: Negan’s wife was the person that got him through life before the zombie apocalypse, so he named his bat after her as a token of love, to symbolize what’s getting him through everything since then. It’s silly, sure, but it’s a rare Negan moment that actually feels genuine. And if it creates some strange bond between these two oddballs, so much the better.

Photo: Gene Page (AMC)

The Morgan and Carol stuff, by contrast, just felt like steps backward for both of the characters. Lennie James is a fine actor, but there’s only so many different ways he can keep doing a gloss on the crazy-Morgan shtick. He rants, and raves, and eventually reveals the crying and broken man behind all the ponderous doomsaying about how there’s no coming back and everybody turns, but it’s just a more extreme version of what he’s been dealing with all season. Similarly, Carol literally goes from formerly caring and engaged badass last episode to despondent and depressed here, only to end up more or less right back where she started once she rescues Henry. Her maternal instincts are best applied as a means of showing the woman she once was, like when she would sass young Sam Anderson while cooking at Alexandria. Here, it’s just a way of pretending something meaningful is happening when it’s really just spinning her in a quick circle, with no actual change at the end of it, heartfelt monologues to Ezekiel about the importance of friends aside.

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The scene with the herd of Walkers attacking the old dive bar was still the high point, thanks to Rick’s duplicity, but also it’s just nice when the show surprises you. Even after both of them were tied up, I knew there was a chance Rick was just buying time, and this might still end with all the Saviors dying. But after one of them shoots a walker, saving Rick’s life? That is some cold shit, right there. Morgan we expect to be nuts, and he delivers, from announcing he still wants to kill them all on through to holding our least-favorite long-haired asshole against the barricade while walkers chew him up. But Rick literally shoots men in the back of the head who just saved him, to whom he promised refuge at Hilltop. It’s a wonderful way of introducing something new—a Rick who is not only no better than the Saviors, but who might actually be worse. Unfortunately, I’m worried Morgan’s words will steer the character back toward the light. “Because my son was there,” Morgan says when asked why he saved Rick, and then Rick takes a long, groaningly symbolic look in the mirror, and sees himself becoming similar. Everybody turns—it just took the death of his son for Rick to get there. Don’t walk it back, Walking Dead.

Stray observations

  • So Negan picks up an unknown passenger on his way back to Savior home base. Do we want to lay odds on who it is?
  • Also, I hate to lose Simon, but it should be fun watching Negan orchestrate whatever wildly over-the-top and cartoonish revenge he’s planning.
  • Tara and Daryl have another role-reversal chat where he can’t seem to get on board with her realization that Dwight is obviously still on Team Rick. If Tara not turning doesn’t convince him, Daryl is being awfully dense.
  • Speaking of Daryl, I’m intrigued to see if the show will let him and Rosita kill Eugene.
  • Michonne might be the only one who had a decent monologue about feelings this week. “You’re staying.”
  • Wouldn’t it be great if Carl’s letter to his dad just said, “I always hated the hat”?

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