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THE WALKING DEAD Review: “The Next World”

Beware of Spoilers! Proceed with caution, survivors. For reals, if you haven’t yet watched tonight’s episode, “The Next World,” we highly suggest you do so before proceeding. Okay? We good? Let’s go.

Well, now we know why it was Rick and Michonne who were featured so prominently on the banners promoting the second half of season six, don’t we? Seriously, talk about a power couple. I’d argue that the events of this week’s episode of The Walking Dead are an even bigger gamechanger than last week’s midseason premiere. And considering that episode featured more zombie mayhem than we’d ever seen before, and culminated with Carl getting his eye shot out, that’s no faint praise.

“The Next World” opens with a time jump, one in which Carl’s had sufficient time to recover from his injury. He’s up and walking again, and he’s been doing so long enough for Michonne to put a framed photo of Judith and the now one-eyed Carl in their new home. There’s a great bit of misdirection here, where Michonne is introduced having just taken a shower, wearing a bath robe and towel, and asking Rick to get her some toothpaste on the supply run he’s about to do with Daryl. At first it almost appears the two are cohabitating, but then, as he leaves, they slap hands like a couple of old army buddies. By episode’s end, of course, the rug is completely pulled out from under us.

As for that supply run, it gives the show an opportunity to introduce us to one of the comic book’s most prominent characters in recent years, the long-haired, bearded, and gay Jesus. Of course he may ultimately be referred to by his real name, Paul Monroe. In any case, if the show follows the comics’ lead, he should prove to be an ally in the coming struggle against Big Bad Negan. Here, as in the comics, Jesus begins by seriously pissing off our heroes, even almost stealing a supply of soda — or “pop” as Denise call it — that Alexandria’s doctor was hoping to give Tara. (Awww…) “The Next World” does a decent job of giving his character, for the time being, some ambiguity, as, after stealing Rick and Daryl’s truck, he winds up saving the latter’s life. He still has a very smug, punchable face though, and I was more than happy to see Daryl plant his fist in it. It’s a little far-fetched, however, when, after Rick ties him up, Jesus not only immediately frees himself but climbs atop their truck and rides the roof of it for several miles. But at least it gives Rick’s sudden love of loud, country western music a narrative purpose when Jesus’ presence atop the vehicle is initially unnoticed.

Meanwhile, Carl and Spencer are heading into the woods for reasons that eventually overlap. Spencer, it turns out, is looking for Deanna, who turned after her death, but whose corpse was never found in the aftermath of last week’s destruction. He finally catches up with her, and with the help of Michonne, puts his knife in her head. But his misery is really intended to highlight Carl’s devotion to Michonne. After learning that Carl too discovered Deanna walking through the woods, she asks him why he didn’t simply slay her. His response — that it should be “family… someone who loved her” and that he’d do it for Michonne — is essentially the greatest expression of love one person can have for another in this “Next World”.

It’s also the perfect lead-in to this episode’s big moment… As Michonne sits down next to Rick, each of them exhausted from their respective dramas that day, the question the show has, until now, dismissed — “Why aren’t they a couple?” — resurfaces. On the one hand, it’s nice to see platonic love exist so strongly between a man and a woman, but on the other, well, human beings have certain needs. And it’s a little unrealistic to put two hot-as-hell, physically fit, single people in close quarters and not expect there to be at least some physical desire. Still, who knows where this thing is going? A one-night stand? A friends-with-benefits situation? Me, I’m all in favor of two of my favorite characters finding comfort in each other for as long as possible. Yet, very few couples get a chance to survive in this world. (I’m doubtful Glenn and Maggie will last much longer, especially with a baby on the way.) Though it’s almost unthinkable that the show would kill off Rick or Michonne at this point. Along with Daryl, Carl, and Judith, they’re the closest thing The Walking Dead has to a club of untouchables. Is Jesus’ post-coital appearance an omen of doom? Or can the Richonne shippers savor this week’s pairing for at least a little while longer?

The Walking Dead

Undead Afterthoughts

— Danai Gurira is such an amazing actress. I love how every emotion Michonne is feeling plays out across her features during the hook-up scene. As though she’s offering commentary on the action as it plays out.

— There’s a bit of an in-joke as Rick, to Daryl’s chagrin, whoops along to the music in their truck. Executive producer Greg Nicotero once played for me a recording of Andrew Lincoln doing the exact same thing on his voice mail. Apparently it’s how the actor regularly celebrates while driving home from work after a day on set.

— “What the hell’s ‘pop’?”

— Is there any man alive more comfortable using the words “hunky dunky” than Eugene?

— The time jump before this week’s episode is a necessary buffer. The events of this season’s first half occur over the course of just a few days. And it’s difficult to imagine every one of the characters wouldn’t go insane if the action that’s soon likely to come immediately followed.

— The walker effects continue to impress. This week we get to see through the neck of a zombie as it shambles though the woods, in a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it throwaway moment.

— There’s a rare piece of self-promotion when Carl reads an issue of Invincible, Walking Dead creator Robert Kirkman’s second most popular comic book creation.

— Did anyone else think the Rick-Michonne pairing was a dream when it started to happen? It might be the first time The Walking Dead has given me that feeling about something that wasn’t related to death.

What did you think of this week’s episode? Let me know in the comments below or on Twitter (@JMaCabre).

Image Credit: AMC

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