The Walking Dead isn’t exactly television’s most subtle drama – but the show does have its moments. At the end of tonight’s episode – “Go Getters” – Enid arrives at the Hilltop Colony, and kneels in front of the freshly dug graves for Glenn and Abraham, near which she places a stick with three green balloons. Last week, she endured the creepy sexual advances of one of the Saviors to hold onto those orbs, for reasons that at the time went unexplained. And now, without over-stressing the point, this series lets a festive splash of color speak for itself. There’s no long reminder of how our heroine and that ex-pizza deliveryman once used green balloons to distract walkers out beyond the walls of the Alexandria Safe Zone, or how her friend once saved her life by reconnecting her with her family motto: “Just Survive Somehow.” There’s just a single whimsical image, representing one woman’s will to endure.
Enid has been an underdeveloped character for much of the past two seasons, and this week makes up for lost time – namely by sending her out on an adventure with Carl and using their slow-burning teen romance as a way of quietly expressing a key point. Tonight’s episode is credited to veteran TWD writer Channing Powell and director Darnell Martin (the latter of whom has never worked on the show before but is known for her sensitive, vibrant showbiz melodramas I Like It Like That and Cadillac Records). Over the course of several short, sweet scenes strewn throughout the hour, we follow the two characters on a trip from the ASZ to the Hilltop, during which they kill zombies, bond over how much they hate Negan, nuzzle against each other, and, in one unexpectedly lyrical montage, roller-skate down a debris-strewn highway. These kids share a resolve to make plans, show courage, and, yes, fall in love. They’’e in marked contrast to Rick, who’s so numb and lifeless right now that Michonne has to remind him to give her a proper goodbye kiss before he goes out scavenging.
In retrospect, maybe creator Robert Kirkman and showrunner Scott M. Gimple made a mistake by ending last season and opening this one with episodes all about the brutal subjugation of the former sheriff/leader, and then dedicating an extra-long chapter last week to more of the same. It’d be easy to get the impression that this series has become all about existential despair and hopelessness, at a time where those two things are hardly in short supply in the real world. But that’s not really a fair assessment of what’s been happening on the screen this year. There were glimmers of brightness last week, as well as in the introduction of Ezekiel and the Kingdom in “The Well.” And this latest chapter suggests that the future of humankind may rest comfortably with the women: Michonne, Enid, Maggie, and Sasha.
The bulk of “Go Getters” takes place at Hilltop, where the latter has taken the pregnant Maggie to be examined by Dr. Carson. He diagnoses her as suffering from a placental separation, and advises her to stay put until she gives birth. That touches off a crisis of leadership, as the colony’s weaselly boss Gregory – still miffed that the Alexandrians failed to wipe out the Saviors as promised – demands that the ladies leave, over Jesus‘ objections. Gregory is a weakling. They could all easily just ignore his orders. But as Maggie notes, he’s also a coward, and “They’re more dangerous.”
There are two extended Hilltop set pieces. In one, the community wakes in the middle of the night to find their gates open, music blaring, bonfires raging, and walkers streaming in. This is intended as a warning/retaliation from the Saviors, in response to the Alexandrians’ scorched-earth raid on the outpost previously in charge of dealing with Gregory’s people. But the danger gets squelched pretty easily, with Jesus doing his best kung-fu moves against the zombies while Maggie climbs into a tractor and runs over everything troublesome. (She later admits that she once did this to her no-good boyfriend’s car when she was a teenager: “It was a Camaro. And then it wasn’t.”)
The other major scene is a familiar one from these past few weeks: The Saviors roll up and start pushing folks around. In this case, one of Negan’s top lieutenants, Simon (played by Steven Ogg) announces himself as the Hilltop’s new liaison, and does whatever he can to humiliate Gregory, from forcing him to kneel to carting away the old drunk’s best case of Scotch. (As Gregory clings to one half-finished bottle, Simon holds out the case and says, “You want to slide that one back in? Sorry, I shouldn’t ask. You want to slide that one back in. Period.’) But the difference between this big grovel and the others we’ve seen lately is that it’s being covertly observed, and with mounting disgust.
The episode ends with Carl meeting Jesus in the back of one of the Saviors’ trucks, where they’ve both stowed away to go find Negan – and where the man with the messianic name promptly starts pouring out all that good hooch. Yet what ultimately makes “Go Getters” so affecting is that its sense of perspective comes largely from the female characters. These ascending matriarchs have every intention of mourning their dead and then getting back to living, no matter what all the weapon-slinging tough guys in their lives have to say about it. They’re not just going to survive. They aim to thrive.
Previously: Unwelcome Guests