Rick and company get the deal of a lifetime in a trade where they get food and other resources and all they’ve gotta do is do what they do best — kill somebody.
There was a point this season where it felt like Season 6 was lost. All the excitement and thrilling momentum it’d earned in its early episodes was fading fast and it just wasn’t clicking. And the winter break finale did little to reinvigorate the back end of the first half of the season.
Since its return, The Walking Dead is not only back on track, but is as good as it’s ever been.
After escaping his restraints and taking a look around Alexandria, Jesus revealed his cards to Rick and company. He’s part of a community — Hilltop Colony — that’s fully sufficient and could become a trading partner for Alexandria. Jesus was quickly apologetic for getting off on the wrong foot with Rick and Daryl, who was less willing to let bygones be bygones, and totally fitting with Daryl’s character.
Rick didn’t want to take any chances on this mission bringing his elite team of Daryl, Glenn, Michonne, Abraham and Maggie along for the ride. Carol and Morgan’s absence this week was more notable here if Rick wanted to ensure he had his A-team backing him up, but Carl, Sasha and Rosita would be overmatched if a real threat came to Alexandria.
Rick briefly tries to address the whole hooking up with Michonne thing to Carl, but Carl is surprisingly cool with it and offering to sit this one out as a kid with one eye probably isn’t a good look for a trading partner.
This group offered a throwback feel to the
happy days of the prison where every task required Rick’s best to take care of situations.
Abraham was dealing with an unexpected emotional conflict. He’s crushing on Sasha while still shacking up with Rosita. For a moment, it felt like the writers forgot Abraham and Rosita were a thing as we’d seen little interaction between them while Abraham was paired off so often with Sasha.
En route to Hilltop, Jesus recognizes one of their vehicles crashed on the road. Like a well-oiled machine, Rick’s crew quickly finds the building Jesus’ crew fled to and kills off the walkers pursuing them. One of them is of particular interest to Glenn and Maggie as he’s a obstetrician.
Built around a historic mansion surrounded by trailers and tents where community members wash, cook and craft edged weapons, Hilltop provides a colonial visual unlike the more modernized areas Rick’s crew has previously encountered.
Recognizing negotiations and niceties aren’t his forte, Rick has Maggie handle the trade talk with Hilltop’s leader, Gregory (24’s Xander Berkeley). Gregory immediately comes off as skeevy, quickly hitting on Maggie and blowing off Alexandria’s trade potential.
Jesus assures the Grimes Gang he’ll talk with Gregory and help him understand the value of working with them. Before Jesus could work his charm, some more Hilltop members returned from meeting with trade partner Negan. There goes that name again.
Negan said the offerings weren’t enough this time and kept one of the Hilltop crew in his custody until they delivered a message — a knife to Gregory’s gut.
Quickly snapping into action, Rick goes after the assailant while Abraham battles the other heavy. Both fights are surprisingly balanced, but the Hilltop crew fights fair while Rick’s crew fights to survive.
Daryl appears to break the arm of the guy choking out Abraham while Michonne steps up to the guy with a knife to Rick’s throat. That distraction proves enough for Rick to plunge his knife into the guy’s neck.
Covered in blood and a wild look on his face, Rick asks the startled Hilltop onlookers “What? He was trying to kill me!” It was a natural response and fully in line with the Grimes Gang’s mentality of them or us. That’s worked out pretty well for them so far so no need to change now.
Laid up in a bed recovering from his wounds, Gregory is still under the mistaken assumption that he still has the upper hand with Maggie. From her time working alongside Deanna, Maggie has become shrewd at new walker world politics and offers a new trade — Rick’s crew gets half of the supplies at Hilltop in exchange for killing Negan.
While losing crops and a few livestock is a hit, Negan is much worse so Gregory makes the deal. Jesus wants in on the mission and the Hilltop guy who earlier attacked Abraham gets recruited since he knows Negan’s operation.
It’s fascinating to me how different the experience of Rick’s crew varies from other groups they encounter. The Grimes Gang are the mangy alley cats that have had to scratch and claw for everything they’ve earned while most groups quickly isolated themselves from the outside world to their continued determent as more predator type factions bully them into submission.
The slow burn reveal of Negan has also been tremendously effective and is setting him up to be a major threat on the level of The Governor. Hopefully for Rick and company, taking down Negan won’t prove nearly as costly.
This season has strongly recovered from its stalled middle portion and it doesn’t appear to be letting up one bit as the build to the confrontation with Negan continues.
Rating: 9.2 out of 10
TWD has continued to crank out strong outings since its winter break. The introduction of the next main objective should result in a strong final arc.