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Maybe it’s a sign of a shifting philosophy, maybe it’s setting us up for something even darker down the road, but “Knots Untie” is the second episode in a row where everything works out pretty much okay. There are deaths, but no one we care about, and the one character (Abraham) who has any sort of an epiphany seems to be coming to the decision to embrace life even in the face of near certain death. (So, odds aren’t great for him sticking around much longer. But he’s still alive now!) The Alexandrians meet a new group of survivors who turn out to be not entirely horrible, and Jesus continues to make a good impression. You don’t have to look too closely to see a new story building itself, and there’s something satisfying about watching plot elements build off one another to make something bigger than themselves.

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Case in point: We knew Negan and his group (the “Saviors,” apparently) were going to be a problem eventually, but we didn’t know how they’d be a problem. Meanwhile, we’ve been told several times that Alexandria is suffering a food shortage. With 54 people in town, the shortage is going to turn into a famine very quickly, and the supply runs Rick and Daryl keep making, while useful, are only a temporary solution at best. So there’s pressure on the group to find a food source that can keep them going long enough to start growing their own crops.

These two circumstances aren’t directly related, but the food shortage is important because it puts pressure on Rick and the others, and that pressure makes their decision process clearer. It also reminds those of us watching at home that food is a valuable resource in the post-apocalypse. All of which leads, without being too obvious, back to Negan. Jesus’s people on the Hilltop are paying Negan off with food. So long as they keep giving him half of what they grow, the Saviors won’t kill everyone. But Negan’s demanding more, to the point of kidnapping messengers and using them as weapons against the others. It’s not a sustainable situation.

Which is where Rick and Michonne and the rest come in. The Alexandrians need food, and they’ve had practice dealing with bullies and psychopaths, so Maggie makes the offer to Gregory, the group’s leader: half your food, and we’ll take care of Negan and his Saviors. Instead of Negan showing up at Alexandria’s gate one morning, our heroes have decided to seek him out, confident—a little too confident—that they can easily resolve the situation.

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This is neatly done, and shows how far the show has come in terms of building to its confrontations. Admittedly the actual confrontation, which has long been a Walking Dead weak spot, could still stuck, but at least all the pieces are in place and everyone’s making decisions that aren’t that hard to understand. Even their overconfidence makes sense; Daryl did manage to blow up half a dozen of the Saviors the last time they met. This is going to be a disaster, if not now than by the end of the season at least. This a story, and stories where characters say, “Yeah, we totally have this under control,” and then they do, don’t tend to be all that interesting. But at least no one’s behaving stupidly so far—or if they’re being stupid, their stupidity makes sense.

There’s also time for some character building. Jesus continues to be a stand up dude, and Rick tells Carl about the Michonne situation; Carl, thank god, is not a jerk about it. The kid even volunteers to stay behind for once. Now if he could just get a damn haircut, everything would be great.

The only person at Hilltop outside of Jesus who we really spend any time with is Gregory, who is the pitch perfect ideal of a Xander Berkeley role: kind of a dick, but smart enough so you can’t completely dismiss him. It helps make the negotiations more than just a simple “we’ll help you” or “you have to die” binary. Generally, if someone’s a jerk on The Walking Dead, he winds up dead, whereas Gregory isn’t someone they can just leave for the zombies. His scenes also help to give Maggie something more to do. She’s been struggling at the edges for a while, but all that time spent with Deanna has made her the face of the Alexandrians in a way that Rick just can’t be.

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Then there’s Abraham, who starts off the episode wondering why anyone would want to get pregnant in this lousy life, and ends by maybe getting his mind changed after some dude nearly chokes him to death. His conversations with Sasha and Glenn are as blunt as ever, but it’s sweet to see him making yet another step away from the abyss. After his Eugene quest ended, Abraham became another of the show’s many important-but-they-sort-of-blend-together characters, and while his arc here doesn’t really change that, it serves as a decent throughline for the hour. “Knots Untie” lacks the goofy charm of last week’s entry, and it’s one visceral set-piece is comparatively muted, but it does its job, and does it well.

Stray observations

  • Abraham thinking about Sasha while in bed with Rosita: does he have a crush on Sasha, or is he just thinking about what she said about pregnancy? Or both?
  • I keep forgetting Maggie’s pregnant.
  • Dr. Denise gives Daryl some food for the road. He’s kind of a dick about it, but the whole scene is cute as hell.
  • “When you were pouring the Bisquick, were you trying to make pancakes?” -Abraham (Glenn’s reaction to this is terrific.)
  • “We’ve handled people like Negan.” “How?” “They’re dead.”
  • Negan killed a sixteen year-old boy to prove to the Hilltop folks that he wasn’t kidding around. He sounds like a very nice man.
  • Maggie includes an ultrasound as part of her deal with Gregory, and at the end of the episode, everyone is passing around a photo of her and Glenn’s unborn baby. Everyone is so happy and optimistic, what could possibly go wrong?

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