If I had been told that this week’s episode would be a bottle episode, focusing almost solely on King Ezekiel and his story, I would have expected a rather dire hour of television. I would have argued that concentrating on one of the show’s most irritating characters was maddening in a really “The Walking Dead” sort of a way; nothing but a sign that the writers really do not understand the audience and the elements we enjoy the most about this show. So it is with much surprise that I say that this week’s offering was by far the strongest episode of this season. It did not exactly break new ground but it was tense, engrossing and, most importantly, I knew exactly what these characters were trying to achieve, and I knew the cost of the failure. I also knew where Ezekiel, Carol and Rick and Daryl were in relation to each other. These are such small details, and so easily conveyed, it is quite ridiculous to think they were almost completely missing from the first few episodes of this season.
Last week, I emphatically complained about King Ezekiel and how irritating he has grown. The episode opened with another of his monologues, but by the closing scenes, I had warmed to this odd-ball character again. In fact, the opening scene helped to (sadly) contrast his hope and expectation with the brutal reality of this war. While it was inevitable at least some of his men would fall, it was still harrowing when the scene cut to the dismembered bodies of his comrades.
He is a character who works so hard to impress his optimism, so much so it is quite exhausting to watch most of the time. But this episode reminded us it is the tool his uses to change his own reality, to will himself to be what this world needs him to be. He’s trying to convince himself as much as everyone else, but the mask he wears certainly isn’t impenetrable.
The saviour who finds Ezekiel after he emerges from the tangle of bloodied bodies, is cartoonish but thoroughly detestable, so that much worked. Jerry, I salute you for disposing of him in such a satisfyingly disgusting way. In fact, I kind of loved Jerry by the time the credits rolled. And I am glad he didn’t survive just long enough to save Ezekiel.
I am a broken record but it was a joy to watch Carol back to her best. She is the ultimate chess player and she never shines brighter than when the odds are stacked against her. Her scenes were intercut with Ezekiel’s in such a way that tension really grew throughout this episode. I was confident she could bargain her way out of the predicament, but she was outnumbered all the way. By the time she had gotten the upper hand, Ezekiel and Jerry did not look as though they were long for this world. I was genuinely invested in every scene.
While Rick and Daryl were little more than cameos in this episode, this scene proved there was a victory found in all the madness. And who doesn’t love a car chase in a Zombie show?
I can’t close without mentioning Shiva. While I enjoyed this episode, I did have some complaints – Shiva gave in very quickly once she was surrounded, for all of her ferocity she was quelled far too easily by that band of walkers. And it was excruciating to watch both her death and Ezekiel’s response. It was as though Shiva was Ezekiel’s talisman, and without it, he is just an ordinary man. As eye-roll inducing as I found Ezekiel up until this episode, it was genuinely sad to see him stripped of that armour, and with that, his crown.