*SPOILERS AHEAD … AND COWARDLY MEN WITH KNIVES … AND COWS*
It was a case of worlds getting a whole lot bigger in “Knots Untie”.
While on the surface a warm and fuzzy wonderful thing to have happen to anyone, in an apocalyptic world where brute survival rules and with it the need to make yourself as small a target as possible, it can come off as a terrifying thing, exposure to a whole lotta hurt you don’t really need or want.
To give Rick (Andrew Lincoln) and Maggie (Lauren Cohen), the new leader post-Deanne (Tovah Feldshuh) their due, they chose to unfurl themselves from the crouching, protective fetal position to embrace Jesus’ (Tom Payne) offer – yep the same guy who led Rick and Daryl (Normal Reedus) on a Benny Hill-case last week and dropped in on a post-coital Richonne – to go see his home of Hilltop, one of many communities out there trading with each other and getting their post worst-of-the-apocalypse kumbayah-ness on.
But as with all appealing scenarios, and the idea of getting food – things are a little dire at Alexandria, something that could’ve been eliminated if Rick and Daryl had simply taken the truck straight back! – and some extra friendly human contact is always an appealing prospect, there is a sting in the tail.
Not so much the leader of Hilltop, Gregory (Xander Berkeley) who though a misogynistic prick of epic proportions is ultimately a peace-loving man who simply wants to live in a mansion with paintings he once coveted – his pass at Maggie during a leadership tete-a-tete was pretty tacky but let’s face it, not life threatening and ably handled by Alexandria’s new leader – but Negan who’s demanding tributes, and pretty hefty ones at that, from all the surrounding communities.
It’s not, as you can imagine, coming from a sociopathic, brutalist dictator the most even, mutually-beneficial of deals – in return for handing over half their food and well everything to Negan, Hilltop won’t be wiped from the face of the earth; OK then where do we sign such a sweet deal? – but it’s better than death and so Hilltop goes along with it, albeit reluctantly.
Rick and the others, having received an oddly lopsided welcome from Hilltop – apart from Jesus, who thankfully has a lot of influence among the rurally-inclined folks of the fortified township which is way more rustic than Alexandria’s suburban sprawl – people are either suspicious or downright hostile – aren’t going to lay die and so easily, and after saving Gregory from dying at the hands of one of his own people (under orders from Negan), announce they’ll finish him off and then some in return for, you guessed it, 50% of their food and medical supplies.
Seriusly Hilltop, you gotta get yourself a better negotiator than Mr Sleazy Prick aka Grgeory! On the other hand, the good people of Alexandria, who Maggie quickly realises as she surveys the un-tested warriors of Hilltop (thin in skills and number) really only have their fightability to offer in any trade, are doing very nicely out of it so don’t change a thing now y’hear?
The reality is that Negan is going to have to be dealt with at some time, but as anyone whose even passingly familiar with the comics knows, Negan is a whole other level of hellishness and Rick and the gang are in for a way bigger fight than with any of their foes previously.
What was pleasing about “Knots Untie” was that it gave the good and the bad, the yin and the yang of things opening up and getting a whole lot bigger.
The script by Matt Negrete and Channing Powell, ably directed by Michael Satrazemis, did a nice job of balancing hope with realpolitik reality, making it clear that Rick’s vision of the next world actually does have legs and could work.
There’s a tendency in apocalyptic shows to immediately paint any new development in the most ominous of colours, the better to wring drama from, but The Walking Dead stays its hand, telling us that Jesus and Hilltop can be trusted, that a new healthy functioning society can emerge from the undead ashes of the world but that as with anything that humanity tried it hand will come with a whole heaps of flaws and less than ideal attachments.
The more things change, the more they stay the same right? This kind of mature, balanced writing has long been a hallmark of The Walking Dead, which likes it’s big, epic, shocking moments for sure but also understands that life is complicated, messy and packed with nuance and that a show that’s essentially about the human condition under duress should still reflect that.
And “Knots Untie” did that in spades, giving us hope and reality in one big helping. Quite whether everything will come up roses is another matter entirely – Negan’s less than glowing rep as a decent human being would suggest not, at least not straight away – but at least there’s some hope that the world may be close to starting to right itself on a permanent basis.
On a more personal level, Abraham (Michael Cudlitz) and Sasha (Sonequa Martin-Green) kept dancing around the idea of the two of them being a them.
Sensibly, Sasha doesn’t look too keen on the idea; it’s not that she isn’t attracted to Abraham, it’s simply that you suspect she knows a whole world of hurt awaits her with the emotionally-volatile man, not mention the messy fallout that would result from breaking up with Rosita (Christian Serratos).
So she steps back from patrolling with Abraham is one of the most awks conversations ever on The Walking Dead – hello frenetic avoidance of the truth, thy name is Abraham and Sasha trying to appear like it’s not a big deal – leaving Abraham to spend much of the episode, when he wasn’t helping to bang some sense into heads at Hilltop, pining after Sasha and caught in a great big potentially-messy emotional dilemma.
Glenn (Steve Yeun) and Maggie also get a chance to be normal parents when, on the way to Hilltop, they save four members of the community from certain zombiedom including – Ta dah! – an obstetrician who turns out to be a thoroughly decent guy with a whole lot of gratitude and a working ultrasound machine.
They even got a pic of their child in utero, a lovely moment in “Knots Untie” which confirmed that sometimes worlds expanding, and there’s most certainly and happily is, much to Abraham’s consternation, who can’t understand why you’d bring a child into the apocalypse (Glenn’s gentle response that the birth is about building something is beautifully and hopefully articulated), can be a good and uncomplicated thing … for a little while at least.
*But can the qualified good times really last? With a contractual showdown with Negan looming in “Not Tomorrow Yet” or soonafter, I wouldn’t put money on it …