After the strongest episode of the season in last week’s “The Big Scary U,” The Walking Dead follows it up with a clunker, “The King, The Widow, and Rick,” which felt more like an hour-long “previously on” segment than an episode. It’s not terribly surprising, I suppose: Last year’s Thanksgiving episode, “Swear,” was the worst of the seventh season and arguably the worst episode of the entire run (it’s the episode where Heath finally re-appeared only to disappear again), so there’s a precedent here.
It’s bad episodes like “Swear,” and this one that do make those of us who write about The Walking Dead question the series’ ability to continue. Last year’s “Swear” came in the midst of a precipitous decline in viewership, and this year, “The King, The Widow, and Rick” follows the lowest rated episode in six years. But, again, that hardly tells the full story, because The Walking Dead is still the highest rated cable show on television by far, besting even Monday Night Football. Among scripted programming, once DVR viewership is accounted for, The Walking Dead is seen by over 13 million viewers, which is triple the next highest rated script program, American Horror Story. It’s going to take a lot more than the occasional misfire to derail The Walking Dead.
That is to say, The Walking Dead has a long, long, long way to fall before it’s future is ever put in doubt, and for the most part, weak episodes of the series still manage to produce some entertainment value. That isn’t exactly the case for “The King, The Widow,” and Rick,” however. This week’s episode felt like filler, a way to check in with the various camps without advancing the storyline very much, in case Thanksgiving viewers decide to skip out this week.
They wouldn’t have missed much.
Rick continues his journey this week to The Junkyard’s camp. We are no closer to understanding where the hell that helicopter came from, but Rick does drop an ultimatum on Jadis: “You’re either with us, or against us.” He tells Jadis that either she joins the Alexandrians in their efforts to defeat Negan, or the Alexandrians will destroy the Junkyard. We also finally figure out why Rick has been taking all of those Polaroid photos. It isn’t to taunt Negan, as we had suspected, but to prove to Jadis that Rick has Negan under control.
No matter: Jadis doesn’t like ultimatums nor does she trust Rick and, for good reason, since she sold Rick out to Negan at the end of last season and shot him (“You grazed me,” Rick says. “If you’d shot me, I’d still be mad.”) Rick is in full-on charm mode, but Jadis declines to help Rick (for now), fearing that he is trying to trick her. Instead, she locks Rick up in a large storage container, perhaps giving Andrew Lincoln some much needed time off.
But why do I get the feeling this is what Rick wanted all along?
Elsewhere, in The Kingdom, Carol tries to see a depressed King Ezekiel, but he turns her away. Carol then takes a walk, interacts with a kid who wants to join the war effort, and returns to Ezekiel. She tries to give him a pep talk, but he isn’t having it. He talks at length, again, about “faking it ’til you make it,” but ultimately decides that his heart isn’t in it anymore. King Ezekiel is broken.
Meanwhile, we checked in on Alexandria for the first time since the season premiere. It’s also the first extended screentime this season for Rosita and Michonne. Unfortunately, they spend almost their entire subplot killing two Saviors who were planning to lure the zombies away from The Sanctuary. They did so with the help of Tara and Daryl, and the foursome united to take the All-Out War into their own hands. “We’re gonna end this thing, right now,” Daryl says, as he drives his big rig closer to The Sanctuary. We are given no indication of how he plans to “end this,” but my guess is that he has a plan to blow open the doors to The Sanctuary and let the zombies in, either with explosives or with the truck he is driving.
Also, Carl connects with Siddiq again. Carl defies his father and invites Siddiq back to the camp, because it’s something his mother, Lori, would do (Psssst. Hey Carl! No, she wouldn’t!). Carl and Siddiq almost nearly die while killing zombies they didn’t need to kill. Siddiq apparently believes that by killing the zombies, he releases the souls of the inhabitants. That seems like a pretty good reason not to invite him back to Alexandra, but I don’t know Carl’s life.
Finally, there is some slight forward progress on The Hilltop. Jesus and Maggie are still locking horns over whether to kill the Savior hostages or imprison them until the war is over. Maggie eventually decides to imprison them but tells Jesus that she has no intention of sparing their lives. They are leverage, should Negan kidnap Alexandrians, The Hilltop needs the Saviors to exchange for their own people. However, Maggie tells Jesus that she has every intention of killing them once the war is over. In fact, she also throws Gregory in with the Saviors because she can’t trust him, either. I can’t believe we’ve had six episodes and Gregory is still alive.
So, to recap: In the Kingdom, we’re exactly where we left off last week; in Alexandria, Daryl and Michonne have a plan to “end it” but we don’t know what that plan is; and in The Hilltop, Maggie has decided to let the hostages live, but only until the end of the war. Meanwhile, we have no new information about The Sanctuary, other than Negan and his people are still surrounded by zombies.
— Aaron and Enid are planning a car trip together. It feels like code for, “These two characters are going to disappear from the show just long enough for viewers to forget about them, then we’ll reintroduce them just in time to save someone’s life, Deus Ex Machina-style.”
— I don’t know that the exact count was, but the word “win” and variations of it were used more time in this episode than in a Donald Trump campaign speech. Is Rick tired of winning yet?
— Rosita used a rocket launcher at a little more than point-blank range on a human being, and if you are wondering what that looks like, it looks like a magic show when the magician drops a smoke bomb and suddenly vanishes, only instead of smoke, it’s a big ball of flames.
— Why does anyone allow Jared to continue to live? Kill him, if only to make an example. What purpose does he serve except to remind us of how much we hate him every week?
— No idea what happened to Morgan, but Lennie James is currently filming a British drama series that he wrote and created called “Save Me,” so he actually may not return to The Walking Dead again until the back half of the season, if not later.
— No word on Gabriel’s fate this week, either, but we have some theories.