“Bonds” lives up to its title by furthering some key relationships and developing new ones, as Negan gets in Alpha’s good books.
This recap of The Walking Dead Season 10, Episode 6, “Bonds”, contains spoilers. You can check out our thoughts on the previous episode by clicking these words.
“Bonds” was all about old, new, and neglected relationships; its background noise the fizzing of the fuse attached to whatever explosive calamity will turn those relationships into a mess of cartwheeling body parts. That’s how all relationships in this show must end. Anyone who has read the comics — no spoilers, if you haven’t — can probably recognize the shape of what’s coming; an outline for now, with flesh to be added later. It mirrors Negan’s (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) brief journey in The Walking Dead Season 10, Episode 6 from a dangerous outsider to a trusted Whisperer deserving of his own skinsuit — just as long as it’s big enough to hold his “humongous balls”.
Negan ingratiating himself with the Whisperers is a source of great pleasure in “Bonds”, mostly because he spends a large amount of time childishly winding up Beta (Ryan Hurst): “Cool your **** there, Jolly Green Giant,” is one of the first things he says to him. It’s petulant and juvenile, sure, but so is Negan, and since the Whisperers have thus far been treated exclusively with complete seriousness, it’s nice to have someone wander among them with a smile on his face. When at one point Beta kneels before Alpha (Samantha Morton), Negan openly laughs at the silliness of it.
Beta immediately takes a disliking to Negan. He’s “too loud, too weak” to be a Whisperer, and he believes he’s a threat. Alpha, though, presses him about whom he’s a threat to — Alpha or Beta? Is her right-hand-man worried about the good of the group, or his leadership position within that group? Is it finally time for the beta to become the alpha? The decision is made to test Negan. If he’s worthy, Alpha will hear him; if he isn’t, he’ll be killed.
Negan, despite being physically outmatched by Beta, carries out the initiation rituals in a kind of quasi training montage set to upbeat music; it plays for laughs a bit, with Negan only able to flay walker skin half as well and carry one corpse at once rather than Beta’s two. But he’s undeterred. Even once they have killed and cooked a pig and Beta refuses to allow him to eat, Negan doesn’t rise to the provocation. He instead sits with a fellow Whisperer, who shares his own grub. Beta’s losing his influence; both Negan and, more importantly, Alpha see it.
Beta’s last resort in The Walking Dead Season 10, Episode 6 is to sic the horde on Negan. He thinks that has done it, and so does Alpha, until Negan re-emerges covered in blood, as smug as ever. He pledges himself to Alpha — “Hi, I’m Negan” — and kneels before her. She shushes him. He’s one of them.
This is the A-plot of “Bonds”. In the B-plot, Carol (Melissa McBride) and Daryl (Norman Reedus) go out on a little expedition, ostensibly to look for Negan. But it quickly becomes a reconnaissance mission, as they spy small herds of walkers, some containing Whisperers, and track their comings and goings. Carol believes that their point of convergence is the location of the horde; if they can prove that and report it to the council, they can strike pre-emptively. But doing that will require crossing the border, which Daryl is reluctant to do. Carol, though, is keen on the idea. She’s being fussy about her backpack, and when he gets a moment, Daryl snoops around in it. She asks if he found what he was looking for, which he didn’t — the gun isn’t there, and she claims not to have brought it, despite the camera in the opening sequence making a point of lingering on it for a suggestive amount of time. He gives her the benefit of the doubt and agrees to cross the border with her.
It’s always enjoyable listening to Daryl and Carol interact. Their relationship is an unusual one, awkwardly straddling parental and romantic lines; Carol has mothered him the same way she has mothered many characters in the show’s history, not just her own children, but they also love each other in a way that isn’t entirely platonic, despite nothing physical ever happening between them. In The Walking Dead Season 10, Episode 5, she presses Daryl about his relationship with Connie (Lauren Ridloff), reminding him how rare it is to meet anyone at all in the apocalypse, much less someone decent like her. He can’t hide away with his dog forever.
But Carol, after all the trauma she has suffered, is no longer trustworthy, even with the man she trusts the most. In a tense sequence, after crossing the border they attract the attention of walkers, and Daryl is forced to snap one’s neck and cover himself in its guts as the group passes him by. A Whisperer remains behind whispering, which I suppose is their way, before eventually departing. It’s a cool sequence, given an extra frisson of tension by the fact that they’re trying not to kill any walkers and leave behind evidence of their presence. But once Daryl meets back up with Carol, she has a hostage, his hands zip-tied. The ties weren’t in her bag. She obviously planned it.
This betrayal isn’t dealt with in “Bonds”, but there are various threads to untangle at Hilltop and Alexandria. At the former, Eugene (Josh McDermitt) has used the Russian satellite debris to soup up the radio equipment; at the latter, a stomach bug outbreak has Dante (Juan Javier Cardenas) rushed off his feet, the infirmary packed, and Rosita (Christian Serratos) out of action. With his significant other bedbound, Siddiq (Avi Nash) is on childcare duties, notably uncomfortable about ceding medical responsibility to Dante and still badly suffering from his PTSD-induced flashbacks and visions.
I still hate the way Eugene speaks, and I wouldn’t be upset if he was to be completely reimagined without warning, just so I didn’t have to put up with it anymore. But he’s at his most likable whenever his robotic verbosity gives way to some actual glimmers of human vulnerability. This happens a few times in “Bonds”. First, Rosita contacts him, partially delirious, but still missing his odd ways. How he handles that and his subsequent upset when she fails to radio him again as promised — Siddiq had taken her to the infirmary — was genuinely quite touching, and he enjoys an extended conversation with a random woman on the radio that keeps him occupied all through the night. They share some things in common and are both thrilled to talk to someone new. But the dangers of oversharing keep their conversation limited. The woman thinks it might be best if they leave things there, but Eugene talks her into continuing the conversations regularly — she tentatively agrees, provided they keep it to themselves.
The cynic in me can’t help but assume this will end badly for all involved, but you never know. But it’s nice to see The Walking Dead leaving some subplots to simmer while it maneuvers the right pieces into place for a brewing midseason tragedy. Something fun to look forward to — who’s going to bite it first?
Jonathon is the Co-Founder of Ready Steady Cut and has been Senior Editor and Chief Critic of the outlet since 2017.