NOTE: Full spoilers for this episode of “The Walking Dead” are present in this review
The Walking Dead is really starting to achieve a seasonal high point now, as it continues to build the mystery of Negan and The Saviors. More than being billed as just one man (even though fans of the Walking Dead comics would know that he’s ultimately one man), “Negan” is an idea that seems to be carried throughout the entirety of the Saviors’ gang, having a sort of ‘Ra’s Al Ghul’ angle on the show, where the real Negan has his followers all claim to be him, so no one actually knows who is truly running the gang.
This is clever, but even more clever is another character-focused episode in, “The Same Boat”, which is another Season Six standout. Much like how, “Here’s Not Here” entirely placed the spotlight on Morgan earlier this season, to excellent effect, it felt like Carol took center stage in this latest episode, though Maggie was also along for proceedings. The entire episode more or less revolves around the perspective of Carol and Maggie, Carol especially, after they’re captured and held hostage by some of the Saviors, following the cliffhanger conclusion of last week’s episode.
Early on, we see Carol appear to fake a disposition of being weak and helpless, no doubt to have her captors let their guard down. Carol’s a great character when it comes to looking outwardly weak, but being deceptively vicious and resourceful, and that made for a great hook for this episode. There’s a fantastic sense of buildup and tension, which plays well with viewers’ expectations, as the kidnappers routinely belittle and mock Carol, though the viewers obviously know that Carol is not to be trifled with, and no doubt has some violent plan of escape up her sleeve.
This is also foreshadowed by Carol snatching up a rosary, and appearing to pray with it, though later using it to escape. The way that the show plays with the ambiguity of whether or not Carol was lying when she talks about her supposed faith in God is very smart and effective. This actually leads into perhaps the biggest surprise of the episode too; Carol isn’t actually lying about some of her weakness and torment. Lately, her actions and increasingly violent outlook has haunted her, and chipped away at her hardened outer exterior, which begins to start unfolding in this episode.
As much as the Carol material is generally superb though, one small sticking point in this otherwise fantastic episode of The Walking Dead is that this change in Carol’s attitude and personality does kind of come out of nowhere. Just a few episodes ago, Carol was egging on Morgan to execute Wolves, and was scaring Sam into submission by bluntly telling him that his weakness will court an unbearable death at the hands of Walkers. It’s possible to read between the lines, and see how Alexandria would have reminded Carol of her better self, with the actual death of Sam by Walkers no doubt also haunting Carol in some capacity, though the show failed to really illustrate this in a satisfactory way. Suddenly, Carol is just second-guessing being a killer, most notably in a situation where it especially doesn’t make sense for her to start feeling this way, and that doesn’t ultimately ring true.
Still, given how well written and presented the rest of the episode is, it’s difficult to dwell on this small flaw for long. The interactions between Carol, Maggie and their captors is all fantastic stuff, especially with a cool theme of femininity and motherhood encompassing most of the episode. Things like Maggie’s pregnancy and the womens’ former occupations come up in the psychological battle between the heroes and villains, and the lone male goon being mistreated and ultimately clocked and left to die, also created an interesting dynamic of a female-centric episode that you don’t see often on The Walking Dead. It was great stuff, and it continued to have Carol’s and Maggie’s great characters shining.
The brutal and violent method of Maggie and Carol’s ultimate escape makes for a similarly satisfying climax, and also tied well into the female empowerment theme of the episode, as the two women didn’t ultimately need Rick and the others to bail them out, which is cool. In fact, it was all the more interesting to have Maggie actually be the violent one, at one point letting the zombified male goon chow down on one of the bad ladies before she bashes the woman’s brains in with the butt of a handgun, while at another point willfully shutting two reinforcement thugs in a sealed room, before tossing a cigarette on gasoline and letting them burn to death with Carol. Again, seeing Carol be the one that’s the more horrified of the two clashes with these characters’ portrayal from earlier in the season, or even the past couple of seasons, but Carol still got some good licks in, ultimately shooting one of the henchwomen point blank in the head when she slices Maggie’s stomach and threatens the health of her fetus, and later impaling the ringleader through the stomach on a spike, before watching her get eaten by Walkers, face-first.
Like I said, it was awesome to see the two women get themselves out of trouble, and ultimately meet Rick and co. at the entrance after convincing the now-dead villains to trade for one of their guys. Now with nothing to lose, the captured man claims that he’s Negan, leading to Rick immediately shooting him in the head without questions, and that’s where the episode ends, as everyone presumably starts hoofing it back to Alexandria and/or The Hilltop. Obviously, that guy is not Negan, as you would no doubt know if you’ve been keeping up with the press for The Walking Dead, let alone if you’ve read most of the Walking Dead comics to date, but the characters don’t know that (save for Maggie and Carol, I guess, who heard their captors call the guy by his real name), and that should make for an interesting episode next week, as The Saviors no doubt prepare a counter-attack.
It finally feels like the Walking Dead crew stopped slacking, and is finally getting the show back to top-notch narrative form. “The Same Boat” was a really awesome episode, especially with how it developed Carol, and continued to improve her character by giving her some self-examination and self-doubt. Sure, that change might have come too suddenly, but it’s a reminder that Rick’s crew needs to stop and ask questions every so often, or else they’ll stop being likable and worth rooting for. Seeing as their greatest enemy yet is just around the corner, it’s a good time to take stock of their psychologies and moral compasses, even if the show merely lands on them being the lesser evil in contrast to The Saviors.
The Walking Dead delivered a superb episode with a great Carol/Maggie dynamic this week, which explored interesting new territory for Carol's character, while also continuing to build the mystery of Negan.