NOTE: Full spoilers for this episode of, “The Walking Dead” are present in this review
This week’s episode of The Walking Dead is all about introducing the strange new group of people that seemed to surround Rick’s party at the end of the midseason premiere last week. This encompassed most of the episode, which is why it’s a bummer that the new group of survivors is so far not that appealing, and even surprisingly annoying if I’m being honest. “New Best Friends” still had a decent subplot with Daryl to balance things out, but all in all, it was yet another sub-par Season Seven episode for The Walking Dead, even if its extended length was a more tolerable 65 minutes this time.
So, what’s the deal with this new group? Well, they’re a cult-like band of trash people that seem to live in the local dump (yes, seriously), and as far as I can tell, they don’t seem to exist in the source comics. Their peculiar-speaking leader, Jadis also doesn’t appear to exist in the source comics, making this quite an interesting new creative direction for the Walking Dead television series. It also seems like the showrunners are already shooting down fan theories that these dump folks are supposed to be The Whisperers, another group of baddies from the source comics, so it really does seem like these are all-new characters with no connections to the Walking Dead comics’ canon whatsoever.
That’s well and good, except, like I said, this new survivor group kind of sucks so far. They don’t feel like they make that much sense to start, since their numbers, hierarchy and survival methods aren’t well explained, and things like Jadis’ odd speaking style that’s meant to give this group a sense of character just never feels like it truly justifies itself. Another hook is that they allegedly wait for people to pilfer supplies, than steal the supplies from the people who pilfered them. On paper, that makes sense, but in practice, that’s kind of faulty. There’s no way that they could keep doing that without people eventually catching them. The entire existence of this group simply feels like a really contrived way to give the non-Savior survivors a fighting chance in the inevitable war to come. Likewise, this group apparently snatching Gabriel off-screen and stealing all of Alexandria’s pantry supplies (which, might I add, is more than The Saviors would take!), didn’t amount to much in the end, since Gabriel can just quickly rejoin everyone, with Rick brokering a tense gun deal to keep everyone alive and able to enlist this crew’s help when they take the fight to the Saviors.
I will say though that the loyalty test for Rick was kind of cool, if also a little ridiculous. Rick having to fight a Walker covered in spiked armour within an enclosed space and possessing no weapons was a nicely intense moment for another episode that was almost entirely dialogue-driven. Michonne had to be the one to tell Rick how to win, thanks to a conveniently-placed open pipe that let everyone see the battle, but the idea was still a nice way to add a few quick thrills to the episode.
Frankly, it was the sequences outside of this junkyard area that were noticeably better, even if we primarily only went to The Kingdom this week, with The Hilltop and Sanctuary being absent from the episode. We see yet more indication that The Kingdom’s soldiers are starting to itch for a fight with the Saviors, particularly Richard, who practically provokes a huge bloodbath in the episode’s opening exchange. Richard is so desperate to hurt The Saviors in fact that he takes Daryl out to ambush a few of them, though when Daryl finds out that the plan involves using Carol as bait, he doesn’t take too kindly to the idea.
The reunion between Carol and Daryl was easily the best part of this episode, especially as Carol continues to insist that The Kingdom leave her alone in her secluded cabin. The tearful, emotional reunion between Daryl and Carol at the cabin was a truly well-earned and heartfelt moment though, especially as Carol inquires about what’s been happening at Alexandria since she’s been away. Daryl choosing to spare Carol the knowledge that Abraham and Glenn were killed by the Saviors was also a bittersweet deception, and the hint that Carol knew Daryl was lying about everyone being okay was genuinely heart-wrenching to boot. The Walking Dead has often been disappointingly hollow in its latest season, so it’s nice that the show is still capable of a great emotional moment when it truly bothers to earn one.
What’s less great though is the continued feet-dragging of The Kingdom’s leadership. Ezekiel still constantly orders his soldiers to stand down and not fight the Saviors, even when the Saviors blatantly provoke them, and at this point, it’s just no wonder that his group is getting more aggressive and out of his control. He even goes as far as to scold Benjamin for successfully defending Morgan and Richard without bloodshed! Are you kidding me?! What’s separating Ezekiel from Gregory at this point, honestly? Yes, Ezekiel isn’t a dick like Gregory is, but he’s coming off as just as much a coward. If Ezekiel is any kind of ‘king’, can he honestly not see which way the wind is blowing? Why is he so desperate to uselessly push against the battle that he knows he can’t avoid?
“New Best Friends” sadly amounted to suffering through more of this indecision by Ezekiel, while Rick had to enlist a contrived new group that, in some respects, is even more brutal than the Saviors are! Yes, the Saviors are bullies, but at least they and Negan have a twisted sense of honour. Sure, Negan killed Abraham, Spencer, Glenn and Olivia, but he’s not wrong when he says Rick’s group hit first in all four instances. Jadis’ outfit meanwhile just seems to be aggressive for the sake of being aggressive, even by the standards of this franchise, and wants to kill everyone in Rick’s group, while taking all of their stuff unseen to boot, without even bothering to negotiate. It’s amazing, but they’re coming off as the worse party, than the Saviors! Maybe this is a ham-fisted way to set up this new group as villains in Season Eight later this year, but even then, that just blatantly smacks of Rick too obviously crawling out of one hole and immediately falling into another.
- Highly emotional Carol/Daryl reunion
- Thrilling fight with Rick against the armoured Walker
- Rick negotiating a new allied force against the Saviors
- Jadis and her new survivors are irritating and illogical
- Ezekiel is becoming as big a coward as Gregory at this point
- Gabriel's disappearance is resolved too easily