So the main action of “The Next World” saw Rick and Daryl drive around the countryside looking for salvage and generally acting like a cute couple. When’s the last time these two have spent a lot of time together onscreen? It was great seeing them bicker over the radio and gently discuss their respective personal evolutions in recent months. Rick recognizes that Daryl has become less cold-blooded, despite his still-tough exterior, and acknowledges that he’s evolving in the same direction. Usually these leadership debates play out in much darker circumstances, through shouted speeches or grunting monologues, but this episode spared us the usual dramatics. Light humor on The Walking Dead! Who even thought such a thing was still possible?
Things went from quietly funny to majorly madcap when Rick and Daryl ran into a hirsute Jared Leto-lookalike named Paul, or Jesus, if you prefer. Played by the English actor Tom Payne, he’s a slippery sort with all kinds of skills—martial arts, deception, unprecedented athletic ability—who, for once, wasn’t being introduced as the latest adversary for the gang to overcome. The audience immediately recognized that Jesus was up to no good, hoping to steal a truck full of supplies that Rick and Daryl discovered in a garage, but he also wasn’t evil—just another scavenger playing the same game. Throughout the episode, Rick and Daryl tangled with Jesus, trading possession of the truck in a bunch of expertly choreographed action sequences before losing it altogether, a trite lesson learned about working together. We’ll see more of Jesus, of course, since he gets brought back to Alexandria, but that was about as winning an introduction a character can get on this show.
The episode’s B-plots were much less interesting, though they did some necessary unpacking of the trauma suffered in recent weeks. They both involved random pairs walking in the woods—Carl and Enid in the middle of their very slow-moving flirtation, and Spencer and Michonne meandering through the forest looking for ... well, something. The setup for each plot was a little vague, and the payoff was something we’ve seen before—an encounter, for both pairs, with poor zombified Deanna. Carl seemed to think he needed to confront her as some way of saying goodbye; Spencer’s motivations were even more nebulous (it almost seemed like he was in the woods for something else, then used the encounter with his mother as an excuse to placate the suspicious Michonne). There needed to be some acknowledgement of recent losses, but this was too muddled and boring to have any emotional impact.
Before I hand off to you, Lenika, how about those final minutes! At the beginning of the episode, there was a surprising suggestion of familiarity between Rick and Michonne, as she bantered with him and Carl while wearing a bathrobe, and I wondered if the time-jump was going to be drastic enough to include a new romantic connection. Yes, but not quite—while crashing on the couch together at the end of the episode, Rick and Michonne finally sealed the deal on a potential romance that hasn’t exactly been bubbling away in the background, but has always felt possible. Am I crazy for saying so? They’ve always had chemistry on the battlefield, and they understand each other better than most. Is this something that will drive fans into wild rapture, or incensed protest? More importantly, did you think this moment worked?