A visit to the Hilltop turns violent as the survivors find a new mission
Continuing the trend of last week’s episode, “Knots Untie” is a nearly walker-less affair. Instead, it continues to set up the season’s endgame while introducing a few new players from Jesus’ side of the world. Oh, and it doesn’t shy away from keeping up the romance that played such a role in “The Next World.”
Yes, while the couple of the moment may be Richonne, there’s the matter of a possible romance between Abraham and Sasha to address. Though, for the moment, this seems to be a somewhat one-sided crush as he finds out he’s losing his patrol buddy, Sasha. Eugene will be replacing her as she starts a new position, and the decision seems in some part made to keep Abraham’s flirtations at bay.
He and Rosita are still a thing, after all, as proven by their time in bed together — and her gift to him, a necklace fashioned with some of the brake light from the field truck. He’s still with her, but Abraham doesn’t quite seem with her in the moment. His mind strays to thoughts of Sasha, as much as he tries to live in the here and now.
Rick and Michonne, however, are squarely focused on each other, even after only having spent one night together. But Jesus appearing by their bed has not only stirred the new couple but almost everyone in town (except for Carol).
Carl, Daryl, Glenn, and others all have guns aimed at the man as he sits in Rick, Michonne, and Carl’s house, where he unfortunately ruins the surprise of the new pair to Carl.
But he comes bearing more than a surprise for Rick’s son. He comes, having escaped his ramshackle cage, to open the survivors to a whole new world of possibilities. He believes them to be good enough people, having decided to take him in rather than leaving him out in the open after their fight. While he’s impressed by their arsenal he knows their rations of food are low, and he says his settlement could be open to trading with them as they already do with other groups. His people have livestock and crops, and Jesus is willing to even show them the place.
But Maggie keys in on the important point — Jesus says they’re already trading with other groups. That means there must be several pockets of civilization attempting to rebuild, to which Jesus replies that their whole world is about to get a whole lot bigger.
It’s a signal the series is willing to expand, even if we have been shown various other mini-societies along the way of Rick and his group’s adventure. But the hope is that the groups these survivors may be exposed to can live peacefully alongside them, and perhaps not end up being cannibals or itchy trigger fingers just waiting for a fight. Maybe they can all work together, learn to trust each other, and make this next world one worth living in.
So a group heads out with Jesus (Carl, giving his dad the okay to keep things going with Michonne, offers to stay behind with Judith), but almost immediately their journey goes awry. The crew, traveling by RV, drives up to a fresh car crash, walkers still pinned beneath or to the fender of the overturned car. The group smells a trap, thinking Jesus has set them up for failure, which is a reasonable assumption to make after so many seasons of double crosses, random roadside ambushes, and other calamities. Daryl tracks prints over from the wreck to a locked-up building, at which Jesus pleads with them to go looking for his friends (he recognized the car as one of his group’s).
NEXT: Meet Gregory — just don’t expect him to remember your name
It’s no trick, he swears, but the group still leaves him outside with Maggie while the rest head in to check. Walkers can be heard, but a few still-living bodies are in the building as well. Michonne and Rick, chopping through walkers on what might technically be their first date as a couple, find stragglers, as do Daryl, Glenn, and Abraham. Though good ol’ Abe almost kills one of the non-walkers from Jesus’ clan.
Rescuing everybody, they continue on their way to Jesus’ camp, getting to know these friendly newcomers, including Harlan, a doctor who feels indebted enough to Glenn for saving him that he’ll dig up some prenatal vitamins for Maggie.
And though they all arrive to what Jesus calls the Hilltop on good terms, the group is met with another hurdle to overcome at the gate. The massive wooden wall is protected by two guards holding spears (they ran out of ammunition months ago) as Rick and his group aim all of their weapons at the wall.
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Jesus is able to broker peace, letting Rick and his team keep their guns in exchange for peace, and so eventually the Hilltop opens up to them, revealing a massive mansion and a series of trailers. The people and the trailers came from a nearby FEMA camp, and, as Jesus explains, people knew to come because the Hilltop was once a history museum that all the local schools would visit. The place was comfortable, familiar, and those who came to it hoped it would be safe, too.
There’s someone else the group has to meet, though, to fully ingratiate themselves to the community — Gregory (Xander Berkeley). And he throws Rick for a loop, cutting Grimes off mid-sentence in favor of telling the group to shower off and keep his home clean. They can talk later, but Rick thinks it a better idea that Maggie negotiate with him to prevent Rick’s anger from breaking the surface.
But Gregory is not much better with Natalie… Excuse me, Maggie. Repeatedly calling her by the wrong name, Gregory cuts down her attempts to establish trade, but he knows their food situation is a challenging one. He believes he has the upper hand, and so he decides to ask Maggie for the work of her people in exchange for supplies.
She balks at the idea, especially as he attempts to flirt with her. And so the group comes away empty handed at first, Jesus pleading with them to give him a few days to talk some sense into Gregory. They agree, but an unexpected arrival throws the entire deal off course.
A few of the Hilltop members return from delivering supplies to a man named Negan, who believes the shipment was light. He killed a few of their people and held one hostage as retribution. And he gave one of the Hilltoppers a mission — kill Gregory.
One man attempts to do so by stabbing him in the gut, but Rick immediately springs into action, fighting the man to the ground and setting off a daisy chain of chaos. Fistfights and choking matches break out, Abraham pinned and Rick with a knife to his throat. Thanks to a little distraction work from Michonne, Rick escapes by stabbing the man in the neck and unleashing an unseemly amount of blood (onto himself, no less). The blood-splattered Rick stands up and looks around in confusion at the camp members’ befuddled looks, and even though a woman punches him in the face, the fighting eventually settles down.
NEXT: A new mission awaits the survivors
Jesus is able to once again bring calm to the calamity, ensuring no other deaths. Gregory is stabilized while Abraham has more than a minor realization. In what he believed could be his dying breaths, Abe heard a woman’s voice, and as he sits up following his near-death, he’s filled with a renewed life. A life in which he leaves the necklace Rosita made for him behind.
Following the unexpected showdown, the group receives a bit of intel from Jesus, learning just how they might be able to work with the Hilltop and even Gregory. This Negan fellow and his group, the Survivors, came to the Hilltop and demanded half of what they produce. In return? They don’t kill everyone where they stand. Gregory made the deal, the mystery of just how big the Survivors were and the Hilltoppers’ lack of fighting acumen made the proposition of battling back an unrealistic one.
This news gives them all an idea. They may not have supplies to trade, but they sure can do one thing, as evidenced by Rick’s temporary blood beard — fight. Abraham and Daryl feel particularly boisterous about having laid waste to a pack of Negan’s men back in the midseason premiere.
So Maggie returns to Gregory and offers a new trade. They’ll take care of Negan and his people by doing what Rick’s Alexandria crowd does best: killing. And they’ll take half of what The Hilltop people have right now as payment. It’s more than even Negan got up front, Jesus later tells them, and despite the fact that Gregory feels he’s being robbed a bit, the prospect is to difficult to let slip by.
He agrees, and the group packs up their RV with the day’s pay, as well as a couple of new compatriots. Jesus is ready for the fight; plus, he needs his knives back. So he joins them for the time being while Rick and the others enlist another Hilltopper who makes the drops at Negan’s compound so they can learn all they can about what they’re attacking.
And though Michonne expects they’ll pay a price for this new mission themselves, the group comes away from the whole Hilltop affair generally in a good mood. Maggie asked for one more thing during her deal with Gregory, and so Harlan gave her a sonogram of her baby. She and Glenn marvel at the picture from it on the way home, and even Abraham, who previously practically scolded Glenn for considering bringing a child into this world, had to admire it. He’s been filled with a renewed spirit, as has the rest of the team, as they start this new chapter in the next world.
But, even as a non-comic book reader, it’s tough not to imagine just how much of that optimistic spirit Negan, on or off screen, might crush in the episodes to come.