The Walking Dead S06E11 “Knots Untie” REVIEW

The Walking Dead S06E11 “Knots Untie” REVIEW

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stars 4

Airing in the UK on: FOX, Mondays, 9pm
Writers: Matt Negrete, Channing Powell
Director: Michael Satrazemis

Essential Plot Points:

  • Abe and Sasha are coming off patrol. Abe is being charming and southern and… Sasha’s having none of it. She tells him she’s transferred off his detail and while it’s a very affectionate no to his advances, it’s also a definitive one. One that haunts Abe hours later, in bed with Rosita.
  • Maggie’s working the land, setting up trellises for tomato plants. They have land, seeds and nothing more. Glenn assures his wife stuff will grow. Then they see a commotion nearby. Jesus has escaped…
  • Jesus looks at a painting in Rick and Michonne’s house. When Carl pulls a gun on him, he explains why he’s there and what follows is an increasingly brilliant, “Whoops where are my Walker-stained trousers?” farce as very nearly every major character tears into Rick’s house and finds two things:
    1) Rick and Michonne post-sex
    2) Jesus waiting for them to get their acts together.

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  • Jesus briefs them while eating one of Carol’s cookies, about where he comes from. When Rick asks how many settlements there are he smiles and tells him his world is about to get a lot bigger.
  • The next morning, a trading party rolls out. Carl and Rick have a very sweet moment when Rick tries to explain about Michonne and his son makes it clear he’s cool with it. Carl opts to stay behind, saying he thinks his injury wouldn’t make a good impression. Rick maybe should pay more attention to that than he does.
  • On the drive out Abe good-naturedly calls Glenn on the naivety of having a baby in the post apocalypse world they live in and Rick and Michonne can’t quite stop holding hands. The oddly peaceful journey is interrupted by the site of a recent car crash. Jesus recognises it as one of “his”.
  • The Alexandrians check the area and track the survivors to a nearby building. There they save four people, although Abe, still off his game, nearly kills one by accident.
  • One of the people they save isn’t just a doctor but an obstetrician. Indebted to Glenn and Maggie he asks them to stop by when they get home for a check-up.
  • Freddie, the man Abe almost killed, is near hysterical. He also seems resentful that Abe didn’t kill him, as he wants to be reunited with his wife.
  • The RV gets stuck in the mud but they’re basically at the Hilltop. Jesus takes them home, to a massive sprawling mansion surrounded by a high fence, FEMA prefab shelters and surprisingly successful farmland. After a tense face-off with the guards, he gets them inside, still armed, for a meeting with Gregory.
  • Gregory is not a nice man.
  • At all.
  • A preening, arrogant, sexist pig who’s obsessed with keeping “his” home clean, he agrees to speak to them. Rick, perhaps sensing just how likely he is to stab this man a LOT, sensibly tells Maggie to negotiate.
  • What follows is a wonderful, snippy back and forth that ends with Maggie cutting through Gregory’s nonsense and Gregory refusing to admit it. The talks are stalemated with Gregory demanding the Alexandrians work for their supplies and Maggie advocating a simple trade.
  • Then, a scouting party returns. Well, most of one. Gregory and the others go out to meet them and are horrified to discover that Negan killed some, kept one and told the others to send a message to Gregory.
  • That message is. “I am now stabbing you in the chest.”

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  • A brutal – needlessly brutal, in fact – fight ensues. Rick kills Gregory’s would-be murderer, Abe is almost killed until Daryl breaks a guy’s arm and the situation is only diffused by Jesus pointing out that it needed to be done.
  • Later, Gregory is stable and Jesus briefs the Alexandrians. He tells them Negan showed up as soon as the wall went up around Hilltop. He demanded half of everything they grew, and, after he murdered a 16-year-old refugee, they agreed. Daryl is amazed and points out how easily they took out some of Negan’s men.
  • Together, the Alexandrians make their pitch; they’ll kill Negan and end his gang’s reign of terror in return for supplies. Jesus agrees to take it to Gregory. Gregory agrees to talk about it.
  • With Maggie.
  • What follows is another gloriously snippy verbal fistfight that finishes with Gregory pointing out the Alexandrians are doing exactly what he demanded; working for food. Maggie scores the knockout though by retorting that in return they want half of everything grown at Hilltop.
  • Up front.
  • Gregory acquiesces. And Maggie asks for one more thing…
  • Later, Jesus points out they got a better deal than even Negan did as the RV is loaded up. Rick and Michonne discuss the coming battle and vow to get through it. On the ride home, Maggie and Glenn pass around the other part of the deal: an ultrasound image of their baby.

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Review:

After the body count, action and horror of the last couple of episodes, this one focuses entirely on trade negotiations and exposition. It’s a gutsy change of pace for the show but as the episode goes on it becomes clear it’s also a necessary one.

A lot of little character touches are used to put things in motion this week. Daryl and Doc’s endearingly grumpy sort-of friendship moves along and we get hints about Denise’s backstory. Abe is clearly torn between Sasha and Rosita and dangerously off his game as a result. Glenn and Maggie are transitioning from being full time scavengers and scouts to Maggie being in a leadership role as her pregnancy develops. Rick and Michonne are together, publicly, and everyone is cool with that.

These are all small touches but they’re all orbiting what we know is coming. Or rather, who. For a man we haven’t seen yet Negan casts a very long shadow and this episode we get to see the consequences of his actions through the lens of the Hilltop community.

That’s where the bulk of the action takes place and where the series’ focus shifts two different ways. First off, this is a Maggie episode. Lauren Cohan steps up to the plate in fine style as we see Maggie become the spiritual successor to Deanna. Her combination of Hershel’s compassionate practicality, Deanna’s idealism and her own brutal pragmatism make her a formidable opponent and the two verbal fights she has with Gregory are the sparkiest the show’s ever been. This is where The Walking Dead excels, using character to propel plot and shift focus as the show continues to evolve.

The second focus shift is just as interesting. The Alexandrians have survived long enough to settle. But they’ve also plateaued. They need help from outside sources and so Gregory, for all his preening smugness, is their best and only bet. That leads to the most subtle tragedy we’ve seen on the show yet as, after finally leaving a life of constant violence, they volunteer to go back to it to kill Negan.

Let’s be clear; this is tragic. The show’s characters are literally volunteering to commit murder for food. It’s a means to an end certainly and no one is forcing them to, but Gregory’s right. They’re working for food, just like he wanted them to. He’s won, even as he’s recovering from being stabbed.

That’s the real debate, and the real strength of this episode. The conflict isn’t between Negan and Alexandria, or the Hilltop and Alexandria. It’s between the characters’ better goals and their true natures. That’s why it’s so important that they volunteer and why Rick in particular seems positively enthusiastic about the war; this is the first time they’ve used their skills to build themselves up rather than stop others destroying them. It’s not much, and there’s going to be a terrible price to pay, but it’s more than they’ve had before. And that’s a deal anyone, especially these characters, would be happy to make.

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The Good:

  • Rick and Michonne not able to stop holding hands while driving is just adorable.
  • Lauren Cohan represent! Cohan is one of those on-screen talents who is so consistent she can sometimes be overlooked. I’m delighted to see The Walking Dead giving her stuff to do and even more delighted that it’s essentially, “being the parts of a leader that Rick is amazingly bad at”. Plus the dynamic shift surrounding Maggie is making for some great drama and, when the war with Negan kicks off, is going to be one of the engines of the show.
  • Gregory. Xander Berkeley is one of the best actors of his generation and damn if he doesn’t prove that here. Gregory’s cowardly, arrogant, ruthless and clearly the hero of his own story. He’s awful and absolutely compelling and I want to see much, much more of him because Berkeley shows us more sides to the man than any other actor could.
  • “Camels don’t eat keys.”
    “They do. It did. And it shit it out. I shit you not.” I am calling it now, Abe’s dead inside a month. The big red fire engine is off his game, unsettled and clearly unable to cope with the fact that now death isn’t imminent he’s not quite sure who he wants to be with. And that’s going to get him killed.
  • “Entropy comes from order, right?” Daryl nodding to this is, like Michonne kissing the unconscious Carl, is one of those moments I think is going to be very significant further down the line.
  • “Your world’s about to get a whole lot bigger.” So, does Hilltop trade with other colonies too? It’s played very cagily in the episode but it does seem likely.
  • “Hope it tastes better than it looks, cos it looks like shit.”
    “Shit’s still better than roadkill.” Doc and Daryl’s not-quite friendship remains a joy. Neither of them is especially good at talking to other people, neither of them is quite sure why they get on but they just kind of do. It’s sweet and grumpy and weird.
  • “Kid with a messed-up face probably wouldn’t make the best first impression anyway.” Another line I think is going to pay off further down the line. It plays like maturity here and that’s what it is but there’s also something darker. Carl’s self-confidence has taken a serious knock and that’s going to have consequences.
  • It’s seems that all those “We’re with Jesus” gags don’t any less funny with repetition.
  • “Why don’t y’all go get cleaned up? Hard to keep this place CLEAN.” One single line tells you everything you need to know about Gregory. Amazing writing and delivery.
  • “And your infirmary? Is it stocked?”
    “IS YOURS?” Maggie lets Gregory assume she’s just a good ‘ol farmgirl then pushes all the way back.
  • “Let’s speak the common tongue here huh? You don’t have shit. Now, I’m happy to help. I’m a nice guy. But we can’t just give things away for free. How’s this? Since you can’t offer much I’ll let your people work here for your share. You’d be a welcome addition to the community. Smart, beautiful woman. Getting back to that common tongue, let me tell ya I can make it worth your while.” Gregory is clearly not a nice man. At all.
  • “We’re doing fine. Are YOU?” Again, look at the difference. Gregory talks a good game. Maggie, who’s hung out with Carol for five seasons, picks every single word carefully and bullseyes each one.
  • “Hold up. So they show up, they kill a kid and you give ’em half of everything? These dicks just got a good story. The boogeyman, he ain’t shit.” Daryl’s definitely got something building this season and this casual, almost belligerent takedown of Negan’s strength proves it. It also suggests Daryl’s in for a rude awakening and the Alexandrians are going to badly underestimate Negan.
  • “Confrontation’s never been something we’ve had trouble with.” Such a Rick line. Such a brutal undertone to it.
  • “You see? I have leverage.” The sparring between Maggie and Gregory this episode is brilliant. Especially this moment where she wins, he sees it and is simultaneously angry and very impressed. Looking forward to Round Three of this fight.

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The Bad:

  • You can understand why the fight with the survivors of the delivery party needed to look brutal but it tipped into merely gratuitous. That huge SPLAT! of blood that covered Rick felt a little too much like the show going, “We know this episode was just trade negotiations, she here – have some violence to make up for it.”
  • “WHAT?!” And this was a truly rare thing. An absolute honker of a bum note. We know Rick’s people are cold-eyed killers, we know they’re very comfortable with violence. We know on some level a few of them – COUGHRickCOUGH – actually rather like it. Having him all but pound his chest like this was as needless as it was annoying.

The Random:

  • Xander Berkeley! Legitimately one of the greatest character actors of all time. It’s not a question of if you’ve seen Berkeley before but how many times. Notable supporting roles in Terminator 2, Air Force One, The West Wing, 24, Zoo, Longmire and the US version of Being Human are just some of the places he’s turned up and done great work.

Review by Alasdair Stuart

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