A Sudden Return to Normalcy
After the adrenaline-pumping zombie horde and the siege on Alexandria, the calm “The Next World” opens with is particularly jarring. All of a sudden, things are just normal again; Carl’s walking around just being a regular ol’ teen, the walls are raised again, and everyone’s preparing to go on supply runs of differing lengths. At first, it’s hard to tell how much time has really passed, especially after seeing Judith’s advanced motor skills for a moment – and thanks to some convenient TV magic, that passage of time only turns out to be a few weeks. Apparently it’s been long enough for Rick to completely forget the horrible images of his last girlfriend being eaten in front of him (without the hand Rick chopped off, no less): to say the least, The Walking Dead‘s latest offering is kind of scattered tonally, utilizing its small time jump to astoundingly effective and confusing effect.
Super Carl and Ignored Cliffhangers
Seriously – how the hell is Carl just up and walking around again? Forget the fact Carl would’ve needed multiple surgeries and blood transfusions just to survive that ordeal: it would take him months to physically recover and be able to handle simple functions, much less be able to handle a gun effectively or navigate through the woods without stumbling. I don’t mind this sudden infusion of Super Carl, but it’s frustrating just how little The Walking Dead wants to actually be responsible for the many ridiculous cliffhangers it left off with last week – but they’re all ignored, dumped in favor for the introduction of a brand-new story with a brand new set of circumstances.
So Carl’s walking again, being all emote-y with his not-girlfriend (herself acting particularly angsty herself), and The Walking Dead cuts back and forth between him, Daryl/Rick on a supply run, and Michonne following Spencer through the woods. And this is where “The Next World” lost me a bit: with such a priority on finding the next character The Walking Dead is bringing into its fold – Jesus, the ninja/lone man Rick and Daryl spend the episode hunting and fighting – it is odd to see them juxtapose it with a throwaway story about Spencer finding his undead mother and burying her. The time jump made it quite clear The Walking Dead was all set on the whole “inspiring Rick by killing both the women he met in Alexandria” thing, which makes it odd to see her legacy come back and feel meaningful to someone, offering us one more look at Deanna we really didn’t need to have.
Introducing Jesus and the Richonne Hashtag
Regardless of how dissonant those two stories feel, “The Next World” is a pretty effective little low-key hour, albeit one that undercuts a lot of that sense of relaxation with a pretty over-the-top introduction to Jesus, the aforementioned new character. Supposedly a man whose survived on his own, Jesus’ introduction is a rare comedic story from The Walking Dead, regressing Rick and Daryl into bumbling fools who just can’t seem to shake the guy in the leather jacket with the hipster look who keeps stealing their supply truck. Any sense of serenity or peace generated with Rick and Daryl’s adventure into the area outside Alexandria is erased when Jesus starts making himself known, stealing Rick’s keys and testing his new found faith in the ‘new’ world he’s created – this kind of conflict offers TWD the rare chance to be contemplative in a meaningful way, which is undersold when Jesus starts taking over with his ninja combat, stealth, and ability to hide on top of a moving tuck skills are on full display.
And then we get the ending, where Rick and Michonne sleep together – because why not, right? Clearly AMC wanted to have something create some social media buzz, or else why have the host of The Talking Dead screaming out about the “Richonne” hashtag that’s apparently been huge on the internet (but one I’ve never seen nor cared about). It’s certainly a hashtag worthy moment in this episode, with the whole hand-holding and naked body thing, but can The Walking Dead actually justify this relationship as something other than giving Michonne the direction she’s been seeking (please do not let this be the direction she’s been seeking)? More importantly, can The Walking Dead ever offer Rick a semblance of happiness without ripping his heart right out of his chest? Neither of these questions seemingly bode well for Michonne’s character, but I’m willing to give it the benefit of the doubt, at least in the short term: it’s coming out of nowhere, which suggests this may be something The Walking Dead stumbled upon and felt inspired by… then again, this could just be hope they don’t ruin another female character as she orbits around Rick.
What’s Next for The Walking Dead?
Only time will tell – and if “The Next World” is any indication, time will be moving quickly in the second half of season six, as the show flings itself towards the already-announced introduction of Negan. How will The Walking Dead fill out a story it’s already teased the ending to is the real question here; if “The Next World” is really an indication of what’s to come, we could be seeing more of the paired-off character explorations we had in the back half of season four, arguably the show’s finest run of episodes. A Carl and Rick-focused episode isn’t the greatest way to kick that off, but there’s plenty of hope for The Walking Dead to find poignancy in the travels of Morgan, Carol, Denise, Maggie, and any number of The Walking Dead‘s non-Rick, non-teen survivors.
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