The following article contains spoilers.
The Walking Dead just got a lot bigger, and a lot more dangerous.
Just as the opening notes to The Walking Dead theme song play for “Knots Untie,” Jesus, the beanie-wearing nomad who stole Rick and Daryl’s truck last week, smirks to Rick’s group. “Your world is about to get a whole lot bigger.” He’s not wrong.
For years, The Walking Dead has never had any semblance of a functioning society, much less one that can trade or play politics with other settlements, until Alexandria. Unlike Westeros in that other gritty prestige drama, zombie-plagued southern America is constantly in flux. Woodbury and the prison rose and fell as failed experiments, and Terminus was nothing anyone in their right mind would wish for. The lessons learned in those bad places made Alexandria, and by extension Rick’s group, fortified, isolated, and secure. Fighting Terminus and the Governor have forged Rick’s group into superheroes, but are they really prepared for Negan?
Negan has been a looming presence since several of his Saviors were made quick work out of by Daryl a few weeks ago, but they were just a scant dozen. Negan’s army is bigger than anticipated, and they’ve been shaking down Hilltop, Jesus’ home, for half its food and supplies. Soon Hilltop will have nothing left, and it’s only perfect timing Rick and his finely tuned group arrived.
It’s like The Walking Dead went on an Akira Kurosawa binge and wanted to pay homage, but Rick’s group have always had altruism buried underneath their tough and skeptical exterior. Reframing the celebrated filmmaker’s Japanese medieval classic Seven Samurai into post-apocalyptic Georgia is a nice reference for film buffs, but for exclusively The Walking Dead faithful, it’s just another neat extension of their characters.
But have the past six seasons inflated these samurais’ egos? Not since Terminus have they dealt with dangerous living people, and Rick (actually Maggie, who did most of the negotiations as a test to step up, but she was Rick’s voice) entered the deal without balking. Rick killing a returning Hilltop resident followed by a nonchalant “What?” encapsulates his collective group’s psyche: We’re capable, we’re fearless, and we’re cocksure.
Perhaps that is not how anyone should approach Negan. Comic book fans know how dangerous Negan is, but the show is trying desperately to undersell him and it bodes ill for all. It’s made worse with how much “Knots Untie” is remarked with themes of family — “building something,” Glenn explains to Abraham, who spends the episode juggling his emotions between Rosalita and Sasha. Rick and Michonne have come to terms with their relationship; Maggie is pregnant; and Abraham is thinking of starting something of his own. There is just so much to lose, but while for TV viewers it just raises the stakes, for comic book readers or familiars it’s an oncoming disaster.
Before the end of the episode, Michonne remarks, “It’s going to be a fight.” She’s wrong. It’s going to be a war.