Last week, “The Walking Dead” scaled back on the action and horror to focus on how Rick and his band of survivors would navigate the more common obstacles of a post-apocalyptic world. Even though there are still zombies, the struggle of everyday life is starting to outweigh the macabre. It’s a refreshing direction for the show to take, especially if we’re going to get more unrelenting brutality than ever before by the end of the season.
That philosophy extends to “Knots Untied”, which focuses almost exclusively on the logistics of obtaining crops, medicine, and other supplies essential for survivors. Sure, there’s a tense scene where the Alexandria party saves a doctor from Jesus’ camp, Hilltop, and Rick ends up stabbing one of their turncoats through the neck. But both sequences are brief, with most of the episode spent introducing us to Gregory (Xander Berkeley), the scummy yet somewhat practical leader of Jesus’ colony. Under his supervision, Hilltop becomes a sort of middle ground between Alexandria and somewhere like Woodbury. Gregory’s unquestionably a slime-ball, but he’s not completely evil, and he seems somewhat fair and pragmatic, if a coward, misogynist and just an asshole in general.
But even as he condescendingly hits on Maggie, she still negotiates with him — a testament to the fact that’s not a complete fool, nor is she. As the show puts it “You need things. We need things.” In the case of Hilltop, that means protection from The Saviors, who they’ve been forced to give half of all of their supplies to. And that’s to say nothing of the prisoners they’ve been taking. By the end, the most badass members of Rick’s crew are off to end their reign. Easy, right?
Actually, not at all. Even someone who hasn’t read the comics know that. For the better part of this season, The Saviors have been foreshadowed with a dread not broadcast on any of the show’s previous villains. It’s not the Alexandrians doing the worrying necessarily, but the show’s narrative framing — the ominous music, the fear expressed by Hilltop, the post-credits scene of “Start to Finish — has worked overtime to herald them as the biggest of the bads.
And yet Rick and his gang remain overly confident right before the credits roll. It’s a neat trick on the part of writers Matthew Negrete and Channing Powell, their projection of cockiness onto the Alexandrians adding even more unease to what lies ahead. If it ends up being as grisly as Andrew Lincoln and other cast members have promised, viewers might actually long for the show’s quieter moments of the past few weeks.