There’s no denying The Walking Dead is enjoying a resurgence this season. The Obliged was another fantastic episode, but it’s harder to ignore that feeling the series is reaching a logical end point.
This one really felt like a penultimate episode for the series since next week is Rick Grimes’ last. Just from the teasers and character call backs, it sure seems like a fitting conclusion. Maybe the biggest question is will the audience still feel invested enough to stick with the show when Rick departs. If the rapidly dwindling ratings are any indication, it might be time to call it. For now let’s look at The Obliged.
Michonne was heavily featured tonight as we see her life in Alexandria running everything in Rick’s absence. Michonne is doing a little of everything from settling gardening disputes, playing with Judith, and tending to the sick. And when she’s suffering from some sleepless nights, it’s time to go kill some walkers.
That led to an interesting scene as Michonne spots a black walker hanging from a tree. TWD has typically avoided racial conflicts, which as we see in the current landscape probably isn’t that realistic.
Now Michonne has a new problem — Negan won’t eat. He’s on a hunger strike as he wants a conversation. He chats Michonne up about his wife dying from cancer, their desire to have a child like Carl and ultimately how her death helped to not make him weak.
Humble Negan is a far more interesting character than the pompous occasional windbag when everything was going his way. Season 8 Negan never had to resort to mind games like this strike to learn Lucille’s location. Negan tried to find some common ground with his dead wife and Michonne’s dead children, but Michonne wasn’t biting. Still, Michonne’s growing unease whenever she sees a bat is telling.
There really wasn’t enough time to spend on Gabriel and Anne this week and their subplot felt very under served. Anne seemed to consider giving Gabriel the old tie ’em down and let a walker devour them trick she pulled on Negan, but had a change of heart. She knocked him out just long enough to roll out. Gabriel broke down presumably at the thought of no more sweet, sweet junker loving.
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While last week made it appear as if Maggie and Daryl were heading to kill Negan immediately, she went back to Hilltop to get supplies while Daryl returned to the camp. But now it’s payback time.
Jesus seems torn on his loyalty. He accuses Rick of making a bad call in keeping Negan alive, yet sends a warning to Rick that Maggie is headed to Alexandria. Pick a side dude!
Rick’s got enough problems as Eugene tells him the bridge is a wash. A new storm is coming to basically wipe it out. I’m wondering if the plan is to give Rick a death like Madison from Fear the Walking Dead where he gets washed away, but with no body there’s some chance he’s still alive. That would give Judith a reason to stay with everyone at least.
The only problem with Rick’s pending departure is it’s placing the burden of his focal storyline — that the Saviors can be redeemed — onto other characters. Carol basically told Rick she wasn’t interested in being the Saviors’ keeper any longer and they were going to have to fend for themselves. These conversations are really starting to feel like goodbyes for Rick. He left both Carol and Eugene with a comforting pep talk and encouragement.
Upon learning the news of Maggie’s march, Rick sets out for Alexandria, but Daryl offers him a ride. Rick quickly realizes something is up when Daryl misses the turn. They get into a tussle and fall into a conveniently placed cliff. Hard not to agree with Rick and wonder if Daryl set it up.
One huge improvement this season has been the writing and this pit conversation was a highlight of the night. Daryl called Rick out for not avenging Glenn, but saying he wouldn’t be alive if it wasn’t for him. Rick countered reminding Daryl that he spared Dwight, but Daryl dropped the Oceanside bombshell.
Rick explains that if Negan dies, he becomes a martyr and all those people will have died for nothing. Daryl says Rick doesn’t have enough faith in their crew and that he’s chasing something for Carl that isn’t meant to be. Daryl has a point. The strength of the writing is that neither guy comes off like an idiot and they both have viable points.
They don’t fully hash things out before another fracas breaks out at the camp. Jed and the Saviors have somehow figured out Oceanside killed their crew. That’s some impressive powers of deduction. Carol’s Kingdom troops get ready for a brawl and enough shots ring out to attract one of the two nearby walker hordes. This is not good news.
But for those of us who love creative walker death traps, The Obliged delivered again. Rick and Daryl trying to climb out of the pit while walkers slide down was pretty ingenious. The walkers always come off so much more dangerous when they’re a menacing obstacle capable of wrecking any great plan with their overwhelming numbers. Rick pulls Daryl up after telling his ‘brother’ to take his hand. I don’t know about y’all, but I’m going to miss the Rick and Daryl brotherhood immensely the rest of the series.
With the horde closing in, Rick spots a horse and uses it to lead the horde away from the camp. Daryl thinks now is the time to blow up the bridge, but Rick isn’t having it. Daryl seems to understand Rick’s grand purpose for the bridge, which is still escaping me.
In a nice callback to the first episode, Rick’s horse gets spooked by the walkers and he gets thrown off onto a cement block. Maybe he avoided a broken neck, but he’s impaled. As both hordes slowly converge, this definitely looks like the last stand for Rick Grimes.
The Obliged set up a strong Michonne/Negan conflict, let Rick and Daryl reaffirm their brotherhood and set the final steps in motion for Rick’s death/departure resulting in another strong episode.
Rating: 9 out of 10
Photo Credit: Jackson Lee Davis/AMC