After one of the slowest, saddest chapters in the history of The Walking Dead, this week's episode – "The Lost and the Plunderers" – attempts something of a back-to-basics reset by going granular. We set aside the sprawling, escalating Savior War for an hour to focus on one character at a time, in one scene at a time. Michonne, Negan, Enid, Simon, Jadis, and Rick each get a little five- to 10-minute showcase, broken up by white intertitles set against black-out frames. And while their paths do intersect, the big idea here is to emphasize how these friends and enemies (and frenemies) can't see past their own blinkered perspectives on How Things Ought To Be.
Frankly, the gimmicky structure doesn't quite work. There's so much overlap from segment to segment that even though each begins with an all-caps title card – "MICHONNE," "NEGAN," etc – the way the hour plays out isn't that different from any other Walking Dead. The big exception is the "ENID" chapter, which finds the teen captured at Oceanside alongside Aaron, trying to persuade the community's young-but-wise leader Cyndie not just to let them go, but also to join Rick's cause.
The Oceanside sequence feels most like a standalone interlude, because it doesn't involve any of the characters or locations that recur in the other sections. The contentious debate between Enid, Aaron and Cyndie does touch on the main themes of this episode, though. Like everybody else involved in this war – willingly or not – these characters have been weighing what sets the dark (Negan) and the light (Rick, relatively speaking) apart, and pondering whether there'll be any human beings or civilization left when they're done fighting. If it all burns down, who's responsible?
And oddly enough, it's the villain more than the hero who's pondering this question the deepest. In the opening chapter, Michonne rattles her man when she tells him that before Carl died, he left letters for all of his loved ones – and Negan. Already nettled by his son's dying call for peace, Sheriff Grimes defensively argues that the war has progressed too far for it to end in anything but total surrender. And in the episode's final scene, he says the same via walkie-talkie to his sworn enemy, while informing him of the boy's death.
Negan's reaction to all this is surprisingly sympathetic. He mutters, "Goddamnit," and tells Rick, "I wanted him to be part of things … That kid was the future." As cruel and crusty as he can be, Negan has always been a man of vision, who understands that they only way his fiefdom will thrive is if it's well-populated. He doesn't want folks to die, he wants them to work.
This week that puts him at odds with one of his most loyal lieutenants. The best two segments of "The Lost and the Plunderers" – by far – are "NEGAN" and "SIMON," the first of which sees the two Saviors disagreeing strongly about how to deal with the disloyalty of Jadis and the Scavengers. Simon wants to wipe "the garbage rats" out. He also suggests that maybe it's time for them to "scrape their plates into the trash" with the Alexandrian Allies too; now might be the time to restart their vicious protection racket "further out," with some new colonies. "These people can't learn the lesson no matter how many times we teach it," he grumbles.
Negan orders his right-hand man to stick to the usual Savior plan: Execute one Scavenger as punishment, confiscate their resources, and demand their renewed fealty. ("Killing everybody to solve the problem, that is the easy way," he insists. "What we do, saving people, it is hard.") But when the mustachioed strongman arrives at Jadis's junkyard, he gets irritated by her placid, elusive responses to his demands ... and slaughters her tribe anyway.
Both Jadis and Michonne are poorly served by this week's Walking Dead. The latter gets some badass moments in the chapter named after her, stabbing zombies through the head and literally ripping one walker's face off. But her piece of the episode is mostly about Rick, aside from her pushing back against his all-consuming grief and rage.
As for Jadis, she finally shows some emotion after the Savior-induced act of genocide; when Rick and Michonne come to visit her later, she drops her shtick altogether and delivers a moving, tearful monologue in a normal voice. We find out that she came to see the garbage dump as a blank canvas on which she could reinvent herself, as an artist and a person. Then she grinds a bunch of zombies into goo and, for some reason, eats applesauce. Ok?
The peek behind the Jadis curtain is welcome, but a bit out of the blue, given how little time we've spent with the Scavengers since they were introduced in Season Seven. What's most disappointing about what happens to her team, however, is that the mass destruction takes some potentially useful players off the board. Rick and Negan both believed they needed Jadis and her crew, and it might've been exciting to see them both make their case to her. Alas, that opportunity's been squandered.
But then, that's pretty much the way this episode goes from start to finish. It has a few interesting ideas – including the way it's put together – but none are developed all that well. Coming as it does right after last week's dreary midseason premiere, that's sort of a problem. There's not a lot of sense right now that The Walking Dead has a long-term plan. What it has instead are a bunch of characters that the show's writers knows have value ... even if they don't entirely know what they should do with them.
Previously: The Long Goodbye
Tom Payne takes on the latest 'Walking Dead' fan theories. Watch here.