This season of The Walking Dead veered away from its usual formula that’s kept the series afloat: It usually starts off with some big action before settling into a slower pace for the foreseeable future. Yes, there have been lulls this time around, but Negan’s kills, the fresh energy of King Ezekiel, and the breaking of Daryl have offered more interesting dynamics. (Though, I still think Abraham deserved more of a to-do.)
Now, whether it’s Maggie and Sasha’s newfound badassery or Jesus’ parkour theatrics, I found the return trip to the Hilltop colony to be one of the more enjoyable episodes.
Maggie was noticeably absent when Negan came to visit Alexandria, but she awakes at Hilltop in the care of Dr. Carson, who’s been monitoring her pregnancy. Being pregnant during an apocalypse isn’t the easiest experience, but Maggie learns she had a placental abruption, which means the placenta has separated itself from the uterus — which is not a good thing. The baby is fine, but the good doctor advises Maggie to stay at Hilltop for the duration of her pregnancy and take it easy, especially for the next few days.
Sasha is waiting just outside the door and takes Maggie to look over Glenn and Abraham’s graves: They were buried near patches of sunflowers with loose rocks as interim headstones. Sasha hands over Glenn’s pocket watch, which was given to him by Hershel, and jokes that all Abraham had in his pocket was (appropriately) a cigar. Maggie lays the watch over Glenn’s grave and tells Sasha what the doctor prescribed, though she’s still thinking about what she wants to do.
Jesus stops by to bring flowers. Maggie noticed he left her blue flowers next to her hospital bed which he says are supposed to inspire strength and calming. The green flowers he brought for the dead are meant to nurture a release.
Hilltop’s leader, Gregory, disrupts this peaceful moment as he rants that Maggie and her people promised to rid his community of its Negan problem but made it worse instead. Adding to his neuroses are the graves, since Hilltop burns their dead. Gregory has a problem remembering names — something we’re reminded of often — and tells Maggie and Sasha to go back home and tell Rich (he means Rick) all Hilltop has done for them. Jesus argues against it, noting Maggie’s pregnancy, but Gregory is worried about maintaining plausible deniability: If the Saviors discover they’re canoodling with the Alexandrians, they’ll have an even bigger problem. He resolves to at least let them stay the night because, as he claims, “I’m a good guy” — which, you might recall, is something Negan typically says before doing something heinous.
At Alexandria, Carl is playing darts while Rick tries to talk him into accompanying them on a scavenging mission for the Saviors. Asserting what little dominance he still has left, Carl stays behind with Michonne. Rick hands her a radio, telling her to head north if she changes her mind. He then goes to kiss her on the cheek, but Michonne grabs his face for a lengthy lip-lock. Last episode they were at odds and their relationship seemed to be falling apart, but Michonne had promised to try and accept this new reality.
NEXT: Surprise attack!
With Rick out the door, Carl asks why she didn’t join his dad. She explains she has to figure some things out, namely if and how they can make this Negan arrangement work. Carl still doesn’t think they can. Neither does Michonne, but she admits she doesn’t really know, so she must try. As she goes to leave, Carl glances out the window and sees Enid trying to escape with her backpack through the wall. She’s headed to see Maggie despite Carl’s insistence not to, and she quips she has better aim. Carl vows not to save her anymore, and she brings up the time he locked her in the armory when she wanted to escort Maggie to Hilltop for treatment.
At the Hilltop, Jesus promises Sasha to try and change Gregory’s mind. She wonders why he isn’t leading the group, and suggests he may have to step up to the plate and become a more active member of the community. He merely insists he’s not a leader. In the event Gregory doesn’t yield, Sasha offers to buy Maggie’s place at Hilltop by going out and scavenging for the community’s share of Negan’s price, though Jesus hopes it won’t come to that.
He then presents her with Abraham’s silver chain he found on his body, and Sasha recalls how he was the type of guy who could make you “smile and wince at the same time.” Maggie walks into the trailer, which Jesus has made up for their stay and laid out some of his clothing. She asks why they burn their dead instead of burying them, and Jesus recalls it began as a way for them to keep on with their lives. That’s when Sasha offers an alternate, alternate hypothetical: What if they just all stay at Hilltop? “What can Gregory do?” she asks, calling him an idiot. Maggie warns he’s a coward, which makes him more dangerous.
Enid, meanwhile, is heading for them on a bike, but stops at an abandoned gas station to rest. She sees a pool of liquid on the ground, but is surprised when a walker starts hobbling over to her. A car bursts onto the scene and crashes over the walker. It’s Carl, and when he sees it’s not yet dead, he puts the car in reverse and tries again. When he rolls down his window for Enid, he says he just “felt like a drive.”
As night falls on Hilltop, the terrors bleed forth from the shadows. Sasha and Maggie awake in the middle of the night to a symphonic fanfare blasting from a parked car. (For the classical music geeks out there, the song is Sibelius’ “Finlandia,” which was a tone poem used to bolster Finland’s pride in the 1800s when the country was under Russia’s authority — an appropriate choice, seeing as the Hilltop is under Negan’s rule.) They peer out the window and see various fires have been lit and the gate has been left open. The door and windows are locked, so Maggie puts a chair on top of their table so Sasha can get onto the roof. She wants to come out and help her, but Sasha tells her to stay inside.
NEXT: Jesus has some moves
Sasha jumps into action as walkers begin pouring through the gate. Maggie climbs on the roof and calls for Jesus, though her shouts cause the walkers to spot Sasha. Jesus hops from the mansion’s balcony, slides down one of the pillars, and offers one of the most entertaining walker beatdowns since Morgan first flexed his stick work. Amid Jesus’ Matrix moves along the wall and Sasha trying to break open the car’s middle-finger lock — even for Negan, that’s pretty inventive — there’s Maggie, riding a tractor into battle and mowing down pests in her wake. Yeah, she’s pregnant, but as Jesus says, “She’s got it.” All of this plus the orchestral soundtrack make for a dynamic, though short-lived, battle.
The next day, Carl is revealing his inner Arya Stark while walking on the road with Enid, but instead of her lengthy hit list, Negan is the only one on his. He admitted he didn’t shy away when the tyrant battered Glenn and Abraham — he knew he needed to remember their deaths, “So when I had a chance to kill him, I wouldn’t have a choice.” Enid remarks how crazy that sort of thinking is, but it’s what they have to do for the ones they love…er, loved. Carl then apologizes for locking Enid in the armory, but she says she didn’t need to see their deaths.
Back at Hilltop, Jesus is arguing with Gregory over Sasha and Maggie, reminding him how they both defended the colony against the walkers. His response of “Who’s Sasha?” genuinely made me LOL, but his mispronouncing of the cook’s name was a haunting reminder that he’s so distant from what’s going on with Hilltop, either because he’s preoccupied with what’s going on with Negan or because he genuinely doesn’t care about anyone except himself. Sasha tries to reason with him, but when he’s not playing ball, she comes out and says, “Tell me how we can make this work.”
He doesn’t, though, because the sound of trucks pulling through the gate interrupts what would surely be a pointless conversation anyway. Gregory tells Jesus to get them in the closet and tells the women to not move or speak if they hope to make it out alive.
Before we get to that tense moment, Carl and Enid have a lighter one. Walking a few paces behind her, Carl stops on the side of the road when he spots a backpack and discovers it holds roller skates. They smile, laugh, Carl loses his balance, they hold hands. It’s a serene moment for the two kids, and what may be considered their actual first date.
Now, back to your regularly scheduled programming.
Gregory welcomes Simon and his group of Saviors into the mansion. No Negan, thankfully. Simon mentions “those people you used to deal with” have been “removed from the field of play” before hauling the mayor into his office to discuss a private matter. He tries to emulate Negan by admiring the painting hanging on the wall, before Gregory nervously brings up the situation from last night. He says he assumed they were reminding Hilltop who’s boss. Toying with him for a bit, Simon then says the walkers were an example of how hard the Saviors work for the Hilltop. He says they were planning on clearing out the dead for them, but were surprised and pleased to see they did it themselves.
NEXT: Gregory shows his true colors
Simon mentions the Alexandrians, still (hopefully) unaware of their continued relationship. He says they were probably spoiled from working with a guy like Gregory for so long that they got sloppy, and claims they are “very, very dead. Extremely dead.” When Gregory wants to pass a message along to Negan to ensure the Hilltop’s continued obedience, Simon says, “For now, I’m your Negan.”
If you recall, Maggie deemed Gregory more dangerous because of cowardice, and the mayor shows his true colors when Simon asks if there’s anything else he’d like to admit. It’s barely an interrogation, but he says there is and takes him to the closet in the hall where he thinks Sasha and Maggie are hiding. Thankfully, Jesus mistakenly stashed them in the closet in his office, so all Simon finds is Gregory’s secret stash of scotch, which he takes as a gift for Negan. Before he commands his entourage to search and scrape off the Hilltop’s supplies, he gets a kneel out of Gregory and the painting hanging in his office.
Carl and Enid are watching the Hilltop from the woods. He says he can’t let them get away with this, but Enid wants him to stay. She says he’s not doing it for the ones they lost, but for himself, and it would matter to her if he left. I don’t know about Enid, but that moment marked Carl’s first kiss. They came close before hiding from that walker in a tree, but both are in a much more vulnerable and “live like there’s no tomorrow” state. Though Enid tells him not to go, she knows she can’t stop him.
Meanwhile, Sasha and Maggie burst out of the closet as the Saviors pack up their supplies by the gate. Now knowing the kind of person Gregory truly is, he’s lost all his authority over them. Jesus proclaims the women are staying or he’ll make their deal with Alexandria public knowledge. He then promises Gregory will no longer hold his position, but he won’t replace him — someone new will. “We’re all going to be one big, happy, dysfunctional family,” he says.
Seeing Gregory is carrying Glenn’s watch, plucked from his grave, Maggie lands a solid punch to his face. I’m pretty sure I shouted “Yas, queen!” when she said, “You’re going to have to start using my name. Not Marsha, not Dear, not Honey. Maggie. Maggie Rhee.” (Note: That’s Glenn’s last name.)
Later, Jesus mentions Gregory was leading Hilltop when he arrived, but he now sees a future without him. He apologizes for not speaking up sooner and promises to make it up them. When Maggie leaves to go back to the trailer, Sasha reveals how he can do just that: follow the Saviors back to the Sanctuary and relay its location to them. She wants to keep his mission from Maggie, which doesn’t sit well with either of them.
Maggie finds Enid sitting by Glenn’s grave, which she tied with green balloons — the same green balloons she pleaded with that pervy Savior to return during Negan’s visit. (She actually tied the balloons to Abraham’s grave, but Maggie doesn’t have the heart to tell her at the moment.) They hug and Maggie says she’s not okay, but will be.
At the dinner table, Enid says she heard Maggie ran over a car and walkers with a tractor. “Couldn’t sit by and watch, so I sat and did something,” she said, before recalling a time she ran over a boy’s car before the viral outbreak occurred: “It was a Camaro, and then it wasn’t.” Sasha comes in and is happily surprised to see Enid traveled by herself to Hilltop, and she doesn’t reveal she came with Carl. That’s when she asks about the balloons on Abraham’s grave, and Enid says there wasn’t anything marking their plots. Maggie says she was going to leave Glenn’s watch as his marker but decides to give it to Enid instead, saying they don’t need anything remember their loved ones by because they have each other.
As they hold hands to say grace, they become the quintessential image of the modern American family. Afterwards, as the Saviors finish loading up their trucks, Sasha becomes a physical homage to Abraham as she puffs from a cigar and sharpens her knife on the trailer’s front steps. Jesus prances onto the back of a truck as the enemy caravan rolls out. Seeing the stolen box of scotch, he takes a swig from a bottle and pours the rest out of the back when he hears, “Hey.” Carl’s hat pokes out from the back of the supplies.