A welcome subversion of usual tropes, plus an exciting action sequence, makes for a stand-out episode.
This Week On “The Walking Dead”
This week, Daryl and friends square off with the Whisperers while the Kingdom has an adventure that seems dire at first but ultimately works out for the best. If that sounds a lot like the structure of “Bounty” from a few weeks ago, you’d be correct, but that episode was rock solid and this one follows suit. This formula hasn’t worn out its welcome yet.
A Shred of Humanity
I’ll be honest – this episode got me good. When Jerry and Dianne reported a new group of brigands threatening the Kingdom, I assumed it was just another pack of psychos that our heroes could deal with to buy some time, before the Whisperer conflict came to a head at the fair. But then Carol notes that the self-proclaimed Highwaymen haven’t threatened the Kingdom with death, just inconvenience, and maybe they can be reasoned with.
Ezekiel is exhausted by the whole thing (he just wants to put on a nice fair!), but agrees with his queen’s plan. The Highwaymen initially scoff at the Kingdom’s offer of joining the fair, which is pretty funny considering they’re just glorified stickup artists. The genuinely funny punchline is that Carol is able to sway them with the promise of the fair’s big movie screening. It’s a great gag and leads to the equally funny image of the Highwaymen riding in like the literal cavalry to rescue the Hilltop contingent from a zombie attack as Tara gives great “WTF” face.
As always, any encounter with new people on “The Walking Dead” that doesn’t end in wanton slaughter is welcome, but just how many hidden enclaves of people are still hiding out in this one area of Georgia? And if things keep going right for the Kingdom now, how wrong are things going to go at the fair?
Man Is The True Monster
If last week’s “Guardians” was about demonstrating how dangerous Alpha is, then “Chokepoint” is primarily used to establish that Alpha’s number two, Beta (Ryan Hurst), is virtually her equal. Beta’s not just a hulking brute capable of easily going toe-to-toe with Daryl (arguably the communities’ best scrapper), he’s also a solid strategist, correctly assessing the trap our heroes have laid for the Whisperers, as well as using a table as a shield to prevent Daryl’s first strike. He’s a tough new antagonist.
He’s so tough, in fact, that a seeming victory for Daryl – using a classic misdirect to push Beta down an elevator shaft — isn’t enough to finish Beta off. At the episode’s end, he’s survived his fall with no apparent serious injury, so a second round with Daryl is an inevitability.
The whole action scene with Daryl’s team vs the Whisperers is a stand-out, especially since the unfinished building provides ample hiding spots and surprise dangers, like the saw blade Beta nearly finishes Daryl with. Unlike the Savior years, here’s a conflict that isn’t just two groups of grimy extras shooting at each other from behind cover. The relative rarity of firearms, post time jump, has done wonders for the show’s human vs. human fight scenes.
The other big news is that Daryl decides that he’ll go on the run with Henry and Lydia in order to ensure that Lydia doesn’t have to return to her abusive mother. Connie is the episode’s true MVP for both securing our heroes’ spot to make their stand against Beta and helping convince Daryl that they can’t just send Lydia back. But despite these good intentions, there’s no way Alpha doesn’t take this out on the communities in some way, right? Even if Daryl goes off on his own, Alpha knows he’s associated with Hilltop and can apply pressure as she sees fit. Hope no one tells her about the fair!
- Place your bets now on what movie is showing at the fair. My money’s on the mid-90’s Sharon Stone classic “Sliver.”
- The early moment where Beta comforts a dying Whisperer while intoning that “the change is coming” does a better job of conveying the Whisperers’ near-reverence for the zombies than anything we’ve seen before. It makes the Whisperers more distinct and creepy. More stuff like this, please.
- Line of the episode: “It was a grammatically correct death threat, yo.” I will definitely pour one out when Jerry dies horribly, presumably at the fair, along with everyone else the audience has ever liked.
- Earl and Tammy finally decide to keep the Whisperer baby. Can’t look a replacement child in the mouth.
- Special shout-out to Tammy’s baby-protecting chest. Clever and practical.
- Lydia kisses Henry and Daryl immediately interrupts. No smooching while Daryl’s around!