Warning: Contains spoilers for The Walking Dead season seven.
Rick’s plan to gather forces against Negan hit some stumbling blocks in Rock In The Road, but the fight is finally starting to gather pace in one of the best episodes of the season so far.
If there was one major problem with last week’s Rock In The Road, it was the jarring narrative jumps which felt like two separate episodes sandwiched together. New Best Friends however represents a much-needed cohesive rev on the show’s engine– combining new characters, memorable set-pieces and scenes which could have significant ramifications to come.
While we were left hanging on Rick’s unsettling smile, it was Ezekiel’s uneasy dealings with the Saviors which took the spotlight first. With violent stick whacking outbursts escalating between Negan’s men and Ezekiel’s closest advisors, we’re seeing gradual cracks in authority over what should be done to tackle their bullying threat.
This leads Richard to ally with Daryl, who’s harbouring angst towards The Kingdom for turning down Rick’s request for back-up. While the pair seemed like a rag-tag duo in waiting, things turn violent when Richard outlines his plan to use Carol’s hideaway as a diversion to get the jump on the Saviors – which doesn’t exactly go down well with the ol’ crossbow-wielder.
Some fisticuffs later, Daryl is eventually reunited with Carol for the first time since their capture back in season six. It was perfectly executed too, delivering the doorway gut-punch as you suddenly realise how long they’ve been disconnected from each other. Not to mention his omission of Glenn and Abraham’s passing to prevent disrupting her blissful sanctuary, which could have nasty, heartbreaking repercussions in the distant future.
Rick’s plight however heralded the arrival of new stone-faced character, Jaydas (Jadas?). The cold, tight-lipped mysterious leader is the antithesis of Negan’s darkly comic, meandering babblings – with her group’s awkward English providing a creepy, aboriginal feel to their trashy residence.
Their raw nature carried over to Rick’s trial of battling an armoured zombie Gladiator-style in an enclosed garbage pit. The tense and memorable sequence ranks with some of The Walking Dead’s best zombie showdowns, with gruesome hand impalement and a truly terrifying monster to match. Special nod for Rick’s gleeful emergence from the fight too – a man who smiles through bleeding arms and legs.
As the group managed to secure their first alliance, the natural drive of the show feels back on its wheels. Lots of season seven has felt amiss due to meandering expansion and characters who wandered adrift, but New Best Friends possessed the cohesive, tightly-wound narrative charge which the show has been recently lacking.
While we’re keeping our excitement relatively muted in case this is rare one-off (seriously, all the precautions), New Best Friends was a fresh jolt of interesting new faces and clashes which almost made us forget about Negan altogether. His presence is still the hovering black cloud, but with a little time dedicated to new dynamics and old relationships – the show’s colour between the black and white is starting to surface once more.
The Walking Dead continues on AMC Sundays, and on Fox in the UK Mondays at 9pm.
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