SPOILER WARNING: The following article contains major spoilers for tonight’s episode of AMC’s “The Walking Dead,” “Go Getters.”
Over the years, “The Walking Dead”‘s go-to aesthetic has been dark and disturbing. So much that, when there’s a relatively peaceful episode, it stands out — if it’s done right, that is. “The Well” was a good example of this, focusing on two of the show’s most interesting characters, Carol and Morgan, and how they each coped with the calmer atmosphere of The Kingdom.
Like “The Well” (and “The Cell” shortly after it), tonight’s episode, “Go Getters,” hones in on a non-Alexandria locale, Hilltop Community. And thankfully, it gives most of its denizens an easy go of it after last week’s exhausting Negan bullying session in “Service.” Not only is Maggie in better physical shape than when we last saw her; her baby has also survived. This allows her to spend time bonding with Sasha over the deaths of their romantic partners. Although that’s not exactly a happy subplot in itself, it at least centers around emotionally honest conversation and healing.
They also get to join Jesus for an action sequence that could easily go south, but doesn’t. To send a message, The Saviors send a driverless car into Hilltop’s fortress, welded shut and blasting classical music to attract nearby walkers. Unlike many of the combat scenes on “The Walking Dead,” this particular takedown of all the Walkers is actually kind of fun. As Jesus and Sasha lobotomize them all with their knives, Maggie puts her farm experience to good use by crushing the vehicle under some heavy-duty tractor wheels. Between the monster-truck rally tactics and the blaring classical music, it’s as whimsical as the show is likely to get. Like Carol’s time in The Kingdom, it feels like somewhat of a respite.
The same cautiously relieving tone extends to Carl and Enid as well. When she leaves and he (seemingly) heads after her in a car to rescue her, they’re given the chance to just be kids for a little while. Before it’s revealed that Carl’s actually heading to The Saviors’ compound with the goal of killing Negan, they take it easy on the road, share a kiss, and even find time to roller skate. The sight of them gliding down concrete, surrounded by greenery and not really thinking about anything else, is touching in how carefree it is. Like the tractor sequence, there’s a sense of fun to it not usually seen on “The Walking Dead.” Their vacation may be short-lived, but that doesn’t take away from how refreshing it feels in the show’s greater universe.
Still, this is a post-apocalyptic zombie drama, and there needs to be at least a little bit of conflict. Most of it comes courtesy of Simon (Steven Ogg), Negan’s henchman who pops by Hilltop with his men to — surprise, surprise — take half of their belongings. The tension of his scenes with Gregory feels slightly stale, not because of the performers, but because it’s almost the exact same relationship we saw between Rick and Negan last week: the oppressor and the oppressed.
Then again maybe that’s the point — that these are lesser versions of two of the show’s more major players. Gregory’s a lot slimier than Rick, and Simon’s more of a stooge than a truly imposing villain, so maybe the show’s trying to convey how widespread the power imbalance has become. And to be fair, both Ogg and Xander Berkeley make the most of playing to characters trying to size each other up, with the added plot bonus of whether or not Gregory will sell out Maggie and Sasha secretly staying at Hilltop.
Simon’s intrusion of Hilltop also doesn’t last even half as long as Negan’s visit to Alexandria, which already makes “Go Getters” a brisker and more compelling episode. As the title suggests, it’s about people taking initiative in the name of their community: Carl and Jesus sneaking into The Saviors’ truck, Maggie saving Hilltop despite her weakened state, and even Simon seizing upon Gregory’s offer of Scotch. “The Walking Dead” doesn’t always have to have a baseball bat-induced death to be interesting. Sometimes, it’s just as satisfying to watch its characters getting ahead.