Spoiler Alert: The following discusses plot points from Sunday night's The Walking Dead Season 6 episode, "The Next World."
We pick up weeks after the "Alexandria Safe-Zone Massacre" with the world looking about as good as it gets for a post-apocalyptic reality. The walls are being rebuilt, injuries have healed, and there's been weeks of peace. No, it's not a fever dream of Carl's; rather, "The Next World" lets us see the "future" Rick desperately promised his critically injured son. And this new reality isn't about huge set pieces; rather, small moments that come out of a supply-run road trip with Rick and Daryl, and back in Alexandria, some unfinished emotional business.
Contributing Editor Tara Bennett gives her reactions to the episode, written by Corey Reed and Angela Kang and directed by Kari Skogland.
From the start of Season 6, we've had quite the run of huge set pieces, walker hordes and peak survival drama. Thus, it's one of the smartest narrative choices of the year to put all of that in the rearview mirror and let "The Next World" serve as a palate cleanser. Though the first act is nothing less than disconcerting, as we register via the easy domesticity between Michonne, Rick, Carl and Judith that everything is OK in Alexandria. No one is running for their lives or bleeding out. In fact, the strangest requests in the entire hour revolve around obtaining orange Crush soda, spearmint toothpaste and corn seeds. Those requests from the residents are so mundane they're almost comical, and they best illustrate the subtle wit that pervades the majority of the episode.
First and foremost, how great was it to see real-life bro-BFFs Andy Lincoln and Norman Reedus get to share the screen together as Rick and Daryl? It's been way too long. It's even better to see them in the relaxed mode of camaraderie that illuminates just how far these two opposites have come in the series. The outside-world supply run is a perfect contrivance to frame us seeing Rick annoy Daryl with his taste in music (Ronnie Dee's "Action Packed"), mull over the future of their supply-run goals and, most importantly, meet and square off with wily graphic novel character Paul "Jesus" Monroe (an excellent Tom Payne). Their entire escapade with the bearded trickster is what Rick gets for his jinx statement about the "law of averages" catching up with them. Instead of it making them look stupid, it created the stage for a very interesting new character and set some low-impact stakes that in the end weren't so much about life and death but about still having "that kind day" after the world has burned ... the real proof that life can go on and still be very worth living.
And that leads to the well-handled closure storyline of following Spencer and Michonne and Carl and Enid into the woods, both on separate searches, that dovetail into the same mission. Discovering that Deanna was out there, undead lurking, was a heartbreaking discovery. It allowed for some poignant moments, especially coming from Michonne. Remember the silent observer she was back in Season 3? Despite three years of terror, Michonne has come into her own and knows what's worth living for (hello, Grimes family). Even better, she's not reticent anymore about helping others find their new reasons for living. I loved her moments with Spencer, Carl on the porch, and how about that ending?
I really don't have much that I didn't enjoy this week. The standout is that I still don't know how Enid is supposed to be functioning as a character. Yes, she's accompanying Carl into the woods as his friend (and maybe something more) but she's still a cipher to me. After helping save Maggie and Glenn, why did we need another moment with Maggie pushing Enid to exist with the community again? It felt like a lot of steps backward for the character and had me not caring about her teenage ennui yet again.
"Oh S--t!" Moment
In the last few minutes of the episode, did you hear the cumulative, global roar of longtime Richonne shippers losing their minds? Hello, make-out session on the couch for the Katana Queen and the Sheriff! I'm glad it went there. It's been a long, slow path to that pair earning one another's trust and understanding, with plenty of ups and downs to make a romantic pairing feel plausible and right. And unlike those shoehorned moments with Rick and Jessie, this moment fit the tone of the episode and the new situation in Alexandria. That mint roll hand grab is perhaps the sweetest moment the show has ever presented, and instead of being cloying, I think it worked beautifully. And then it was just as perfectly thrown askew with Jesus appearing like an unwanted toddler in their sweaty boudoir. Perfect.
"The Next World" got me by focusing on the characters in ways I've never seen the show attempt before. The lighter tone was much appreciated and very much worked after the chaos of the prior nine hours. The structure created a plausible time jump that lets us get past what could have been some tedious narratives, and it's certainly moved the story along emotionally, which is why I invest in the show. What Jesus will bring to the mix, and how the power couple of Rick and Michonne will lead Alexandria into the future, are stories I'm excited to see.
What did you think of “The Next World"? Was it too light and frothy for your horror need? Let us know in the comments!