In this week’s episode of The Walking Dead, Still Gotta Mean Something, we were treated to a few concurrent storylines as Rick and Morgan went looking for blood, Carol set out on the trail of that moron Henry, and Jadis had a heart-to-heart with Negan. It aired on April 1, 2018, and unfortunately wasn’t a joke.
After the catastrophe that was last week’s episode of The Walking Dead, it was almost inconceivable that the latest installment could be worse. I mean, sure, this show is profoundly terrible. But the level of sheer idiocy on display last week was a record-high, and it would have taken an absurd degree of commitment to top it. I’m severely displeased to report that this week’s installment, Still Gotta Mean Something, barely even tried. I’d even go so far as to say it was a relatively inoffensive episode of television, which is such a surprise for this show these days that I can scarcely believe I’m writing it down.
But here we are. Still Gotta Mean Something was actually alright – a little bit of mystery here, a lot of violence there, and what’s this? Character development? In The Walking Dead? Y’all are too kind. Next thing we know we might actually get to see Henry be viciously dismembered, but I’m not exactly holding my breath.
Yes, Henry’s still around. A part of me genuinely thought he might die this week, but no such luck. Carol wandered off looking for him and eventually found him, which wasn’t the ideal outcome, but it did – temporarily, at least – allow Carol to wriggle free of her tiresome fatalist shtick and see the bright side of a zombie apocalypse. She even had a nice conversation with Ezekiel, though of course any conversation with him is undermined by his insistence on speaking like a 16th Century playwright, and that continues to annoy me so much that I want to leap through the TV screen and strangle him with his own stinking dreads.
Elsewhere, Rick the Prick – an increasingly-appropriate nickname for him – and Morgan set out on the trail of those pesky escaped Saviours. This task was complicated by Morgan’s wavering mental health, and to get that nuanced wrinkle across, the show has him repeatedly see visions of dead people who repeat the phrase, “You know what it is,” even though he evidently doesn’t. Look, writers of The Walking Dead, we get it. Morgan’s nuts. We don’t need to do these nonsensical hallucinatory scenes to get that point across. After all, he’s a willing part of this show – he must be ******* mental.
I kid. Besides, this storyline actually began to lead in a direction that I rather liked, and based on how it was juxtaposed with another, tonally-opposed subplot involving Negan and Jadis (more on that shortly), I honestly feel as though it’s intentional development rather than shoddy writing. I know that seems unlikely but stick with me on this. See, Rick and Morgan found the escaped Saviours. Or should I say the Saviours found them, knocking them unconscious and holding them hostage while they debated how to proceed. Rick tried to sweet-talk them by offering them a place at Hilltop if they let him go. “A man’s word,” he told them, “that’s still gotta mean something.”
Turns out Rick’s word means absolutely nothing. The Saviours let him and Morgan go when they were beset by a walker herd, and the two “heroes” promptly butchered everyone. It must be said, Morgan owned in this scene. Lennie James is too good for this show, which is likely why he’s going to be arriving in a better one come April 15. But I digress. The reason I like this – besides that scuzzy long-haired Saviour getting his well-deserved grisly comeuppance – is that it continues the long-running characterization of Rick as this show’s villain, not its hero. He’s a remorseless murderer and someone who, as we discovered on Sunday, isn’t even true to his own morals anymore.
Let’s put on our shiny critical hats and contrast this with Negan’s scenes this week. He was captured by Jadis a while ago, and in Still Gotta Mean Something, he got to finally sit down and have a proper chat. We learned about Lucille – not the bat, but the woman – and saw his apparent disgust at how Simon had butchered Jadis’s people contrary to his orders. You’ll recall that a few weeks ago Negan had a less obnoxious, more relatable reaction to Carl’s death than even Rick did, and the theme continued this week of him being a more complex character than almost anybody else on this show. He’s still a psychopathic bludgeoning killer with a creepy fascination with dicks – his own and other people’s – but he’s also a man of principle. He keeps his word. After talking Jadis around, he tries to persuade her to join the Saviours, and when he can’t he leaves her be, very aware of the fact that even by the fluid moral boundaries of this gnawed landscape, she had been wronged.
This is mature, thoughtful storytelling, and I wish The Walking Dead had more of it. I also wish that the early days of Negan’s tenure hadn’t developed him as such a senseless monster because after all the things he’s done through the last couple of seasons, trying to reconcile him with the citizens of Hilltop – especially Maggie and Rosita – is going to be an incredibly tough sell. And that is something that I do believe happens in the books.
You have to wonder, then, who’d replace him as the series’ main villain. Maybe whoever it is that keeps circling around in that helicopter? Who knows? Certainly not me, but then again I’m still in a state of relative shock that we got an episode which was actually serviceable, and that had the good sense to introduce a juicy mystery to bring us back next episode – namely, the mystery passenger that Negan picked up on his return to the Sanctuary. Laura? Gregory? I guess we’ll see.
It wasn’t all good, obviously. Daryl has become perhaps the stupidest character in the entire show, which is an incredible achievement akin to being the stupidest person among the current White House staff, there were some shot choices and continuity wrinkles that I thought were either unnecessary or outright bad, the dialogue is occasionally so clunky that it makes me want to be sick in my lap, and Henry’s still alive. But by The Walking Dead’s usual standards, Still Gotta Mean Something was refreshingly acceptable. I won’t say I’m looking forward to next week, as I still refuse to give this show that level of trust, but at the very least I don’t fear for my brain cells if I tune in. That’s an improvement.
Jonathon is the Co-Founder of Ready Steady Cut and has been Senior Editor and Chief Critic of the outlet since 2017.