This review contains spoilers.
6.11 Knots Untie
Everyone loves a good binge-watch. I burned through the first season of Game Of Thrones in two days or so, and I made similar short work of the first season of Hannibal. It’s satisfying. There’s no need to sweat through a cliffhanger, you just keep right on going and find out what happens. You can keep doing that as long as you want, skipping appointments, blowing off work, and locking yourself away from family and friends until you find out just what happens to (main character) and his run-in with (antagonist or antagonists). Episodic TV doesn’t have that option; you’re stuck watching 52 minutes at a time until next week, and if you’re stuck with a feeling of dread, then you stay dreadful for awhile.
One of the good points of the beginning half of this season of The Walking Dead was the way it moved from episode to episode in pretty steady rising action. Events lead to events, plateau, more rising action, climax, vacation. It worked very well. From week to week, there was typically some tension lingering, something to mull over; there was plenty of action and killing, but it was never over until it was definitively over.
This week’s episode, Knots Untie, feels like a return to the rising tension of the first half of the season. Jesus, last seen escaping from Dr. Denise and coitus-interruptusing Rick and Michonne, wants to bring his new friends home to meet the family. In this case, the family is another survivor community hiding behind sheet metal walls in a place called Hilltop, a reclaimed living history museum called Barrington House that features all the amenities of a mansion of the time, including a sawmill, a blacksmith’s shop, and lots of old farming implements. As Gregory (a deliciously smarmy Xander Berkeley) explains, it’s a place that existed for hundreds of years before the modern world, why wouldn’t it survive the end of the modern world?
Of course, since this is The Walking Dead, nothing can be easy. Even with Jesus giving Rick and the gang the lay of the land at Hilltop, there are always complications, namely that Gregory is played by Xander Berkeley, so he has to be a real jerk. He’s suitably repellant, because we have to feel like Jesus is someone trustworthy, despite looking like a crazy drifter with very light fingers. His untrustworthiness helps make Jesus more trustworthy, and his sliminess immediately puts us on the wrong foot with these people so that it feels much more threatening when the outbreak of violence happens.
However, the outbreak of violence isn’t contained to just a single stabbing and some broken arms, it’s more than that, because there’s a clear threat on the horizon returning to Rick’s field of vision: Negan. Writers Matthew Negrete and Channing Powell lean heavily on foreshadowing this week to build tension for next week and the big promised assault on Negan and the Saviors for the Hilltoppers. Abraham is working over his future, trying to decide if he wants to settle down. Rick and Michonne are a new couple, and we know what happens to women Rick’s interested in. And Glenn and Maggie, well… Glenn should already have been dead at least twice this season and being pregnant doesn’t keep you safe on The Walking Dead.
By itself, Knots Untie is a decent episode of television, but as something designed to whet the appetite and create some serious tension, it’s even more effective. Negan may not even kill anyone in Rick’s group next week, but I’ll be surprised if we don’t see several deaths before the end of this incredibly long bifurcated season. Negan and the Saviors are the toughest threat Rick’s bunch have faced since the fall of civilization; even Daryl admitted not too long ago that they were tougher than they look, and Rick is leading his people right into their home base.
Someone’s going to die, be it Abraham, Glenn, Maggie, Michonne, or some combination of those two. The foreshadowing is too obvious, the push to develop the characters is too hard. Unfortunately, it’s going to be at least a week before we find out who dies next, if anyone actually does.