In previous reviews for season 7 of The Walking Dead, I’ve made it clear that Ezekiel and The Kingdom were missed. Given how grim and depressing the first half of the season was, I really wanted to have that fresh addition of weirdness back in the mix. “New Best Friends” feels like the show is doubling down on the sort of absurdity that an ongoing series about life in the zombie apocalypse could use. Not only do we deal with The Kingdom, but the show is now presenting us with an all-new and completely weird group that fits right in.
Honestly, if this level of weird is too much, then go back to the dull days of sitting around on Hershel’s farm or hanging out with Beth in the hospital. One could even sit back and enjoy the horrible cruelty inflicted by an overgrown child bully with a bat. Rick having to contend with a group of scavengers who seem to be the only ones in possession of a working VHS player that only plays The Warriors and The Road Warrior on loop is where it’s really at
For good reason, there was plenty of speculation that came from seeing Rick grin at the sight of a new, large group of possible enemies in last week’s episode. “New Best Friends” provides all the answers anyone would want as far as why that was the case. Being in search of allies means Rick will see nothing but potential in anyone who is not one of the Saviors. This new group is armed, oddly dressed and speak in maddening riddles, but they also prove to be willing to make a deal. It just means submitting to their tests and accepting their strange ways. But how strange are they?
In a world where the dead come back to life and humanity is in a much different position than it once was, this sort of po-face punk rock group is exactly the kind of group that one should expect to see. Finding salvation in a junk yard and forming a society makes about as much sense as seeing a guy who can’t fill out his own leather jacket lead a group of jerks so easily. It’s also similar to seeing a theater performer use his acting as a means to command a group so peacefully, while he rests on his throne with a pet tiger at his side. The point being – we are in strange territory that the show seems to be embracing more and more.
Not hurting is the strength of the various character scenes featured throughout this week’s episode. Listening to the Scavenger leader Jadis (Pollyanna McIntosh) speak with Rick has what seems to be an intended amount of humor to go along with insight into how groups can get by. Just as interesting is Rick’s talk with Gabriel, following the gladiator match Rick was forced into. For a show that wants us to always be #TeamRick, it helps to see someone like Gabriel, who believably trusts in Rick and has evolved to a point where going against him would be madness in his eyes.
Oh yeah, so I mentioned a gladiator match. This episode was light on action, but similar to last week’s “Rock in the Road,” there was one big moment of the episode focused squarely on walker action. Rick is forced to fight a walker wearing a spike helmet. While the too-close-for-comfort shooting style can probably be justified by director Jeffrey F. January as wanting us to be in Rick’s shoes, this was still a good off-the-wall moment. It’s the kind of thing that fits for this group and feels like nothing we’ve seen before.
Moving past the scavengers and Walking Dead boss battles, there was also a lot of focus on Daryl this week. That’s good for a variety of reasons, even if it results in Daryl completely blowing off his sanctuary and never even trying to speak with Ezekiel about joining the cause. The major benefit is having Daryl speak wisely with Morgan, but most importantly his reunion with Carol.
I am one that often finds myself at odds with the writing of The Walking Dead, as the characters rarely have other shades to play and the themes and ideas never really alter. So when it comes to characters like Morgan and Carol, as well as Daryl when the show has something for him to do besides smolder in the background, I’m generally happy to relish the fact that the show now has its chance to service the characters that have grown the most organically. All of this is to say that seeing Daryl and Carol reunite was quite affecting. I couldn’t say how long these two have been apart offhand, but their plutonic love is something the show gets.
As far as what they discussed; well it basically amounted to Daryl coming to understand why Carol has been in her funk and his decision to leave her be. So once again, Carol has no clue about the devastation Negan has caused to her family. This can be frustrating, as we all know Carol has to find out what’s going on with the Saviors eventually, but the effectiveness of this pairing made it all feel natural.
The same can be said for Daryl’s interaction with Morgan (which of course occurred while Daryl calmly sat next to Shiva the tiger). Fortunately these two won’t end up in a slap fight, like Morgan and Carol did last season, but hearing these two explain their differences in a reserved manner shows how you can highlight what certain characters stand for in a dramatic fashion that doesn’t come across in an overly done way (okay, so the Tiger did a lot of symbolic work here, but the scenes was still well-written).
What’s great about an episode like this is seeing the silliness from all sides. There is no way you watch the Scavenger portions of this episode and not have a bit of a smile on your face. Still, the show wants you to laugh with these people and go along with it, which I believe it to have been successful at doing. In the same episode, you also have a grown man petting a tiger, while discussing what it means to respect someone’s beliefs. You can shoot a scene like that however you want, but it is still absurd. And yet, The Walking Dead has it all under control right now. Hopefully that holds, as we are going to have to bring Negan back into this and he’s probably not going to be nice about it. The good thing is that we are not being blindsided by a bat to get to him. Instead, the show now wants us to enjoy the ride.
- Zombie Kill of the Week: Who are we kidding? Rick had to fight a walker straight out of Silent Hill this week, so that gets the win.
- That spikey zombie’s name was Winslow, of course.
- Anyone watching this season of Baskets might find as much humor in thinking Jadis took her name from The Chronicles of Narnia, just like how the crew that Baskets took up with took their names from The Matrix.
- I chose to talk more about the Scavengers than anything, so I didn’t get into Richard’s plans and the meeting with the saviors. Basically: Richard’s convoluted plan could have been disastrous, but the show was smart enough to know Daryl is too smart to go in blind on something like that. Also, the Saviors now have Morgan’s stick and he’s not going to stay peaceful over that, I’m sure of it.
- We all caught the giant Smokey and the Bandit reference, right?
- Rick better get a tetanus shot.
- Rosita is done being nice.
- “Don’t call her lady” – Ezekiel and his crew stop by Carol’s place to bring her some cobbler.
- “Guns soon.” “Soon, or else” – The Scavengers really are Rick’s new best friends.
- Thanks for reading and feel free to hear what myself and a few other fans of the show have to say about the series on the The Walking Dead TV Podcast.