A quick review of tonight's The Walking Dead coming up just as soon as our food situation changes from scary to hunky dunky…
After all the mayhem of the last few episodes, The Walking Dead goes for something much simpler with “The Next World,” giving us a low-stakes road trip adventure for Rick and Daryl that seemed mainly designed to introduce Tom Payne as “Jesus,” and a quiet reflection on the loss of Deanna back on the outskirts of Alexandria.
We've jumped ahead a bit in time, long enough for the town's walls to be rebuilt, for Carl to be back on his feet, and for Judith to get bigger. This one seemed reflective of some of the episodes from the latter half of season 4, quieter and more contemplative. The key difference is that all our surviving heroes are safe and secure together at this stage of the story, and it's notable that there's never really a sense of danger at any point when zombies turn up. They're a nuisance, as is Jesus's theft of the supply truck, but it's rare for TWD to not even bother faking suspense when walkers are around. That tonal decision was reflective of the place where the characters are at physically and emotionally right now. Life is good. Rick has once again found his happy place – and this smiling, country music-enjoying version of the character is a welcome change from the self-righteous, bad plan-making ball of angst he's been for a good while now – and while the Deanna subplot wasn't fun and games, it was about offering Spencer some emotional closure, and about further cementing the family bond between Carl and Michonne.
Speaking of which, the level of casual intimacy between Michonne and Rick in the opening sequence left me wondering if they had already become a couple since last we saw them, but the final scene makes clear that this is the night they move from friends to something more. It's the one part of the hour where the time jump works against things, since for us, it's barely been any time at all since Rick was deranged with lust for Jessie. But life is short, and shorter still in the post-apocalypse, and the show has certainly put in the time establishing the closeness between these two, so it doesn't come entirely out of left field. And the image of them blissfully post-coital, her katana resting against one end table, his revolver sitting on the other, was a nice illustration of how romance on The Walking Dead differs from other shows.
I'm not particularly sold on Jesus as an interesting character yet. Maybe it's the scruffy handsomeness plus trenchcoat that reminds me of Gambit from X-Men, or maybe it's the way he seems instantly good at everything, from fighting to sleight of hand, but even if he's an exact recreation of the character from the comics (who appeared after I stopped reading), he feels designed by committee to seem cool, like Poochie. As Rick and Daryl observes, he's clearly not someone who's been on his own, but nor does his demeanor suggest he's either a Wolf or one of Negan's people. We'll see what it is he has to tell a naked Rick and Michonne, but it feels like we might have at least one faction too many floating around out there at the moment.
Was this the most thrilling Walking Dead ever, or even of recent vintage? No. But after the show reached for a whole lot of things unsuccessfully of late, an hour that aimed low and hit the target felt like a very smart idea.
Before we go to the comments, it's time once again to explain how this blog's No Spoiler rule applies to this show:
1. No talking about anything else you know about upcoming episodes from other sources – and, yes, that includes anything Gimple and Kirkman have said in interviews.
2. No talking about anything that's happened in the comic that hasn't happened in the TV show yet. (Or anything that's been revealed, like character backstory and motivation.) As with Game of Thrones, the goal is to treat The Walking Dead TV show as exactly that, and not as an excuse for endless comparisons with the comics. If you want to talk about the comics, feel free to start up a discussion thread on our message boards.
What did everybody else think?
Alan Sepinwall may be reached at email@example.com