There you go, gang. That’s how you make an effective episode of THE WALKING DEAD. Well… kind of. ‘The Same Boat’, the thirteenth episode of the season, was pretty enthralling stuff, falling just short of everything the show needs to become, but still taking a big jump in the right direction.
‘The Same Boat’ was, in effect, a bottle episode. It focused for the vast majority on a single location on about five characters. Is anyone surprised that worked so well? Of course they’re not. The episode picked up right where the previous instalment left off — Maggie and Carol captured and their captors negotiating with Rick about a trade. This little preamble led Negan’s thugs to take Maggie and Carol to a safe house, locking them in a room that looked like a set from Saw.
Once in the safe house, our guys made it known that Maggie is pregnant, seemingly eliciting a little sympathy from one of their captors while the others tended to a wounded group member — a man that was shot in the arm by Carol just prior to being captured. Carol had a big part to play this week, we’ve seen her recently struggle with the person she has become, the lives she’s taken, how far she has come from that meek woman we met when the show began. This plot was brought to the forefront this week, making us think that perhaps the end would be nigh for her, it wasn’t of course; while TWD has improved it still lacks balls. Anyway, playing with the audience a little, Carol, in order to gain some advantage over her captors, decides to play-act, pretending she is old helpless Carol, hyperventilating, and grabbing some prayer beads off a walker, clinging to them as if she so desperately needed them. It was pretty clever, giving Negan’s guys a false sense of security.
Maggie meanwhile had a more straightforward experience as a prisoner. Her pregnancy revealed she pontificated with the one of the women about why she made such a seemingly ludicrous choice. Normally these conversations rub me the wrong way, they just flat out don’t work, but this was handled pretty well and at least filled some time before Carol could get them out of there. All of this was happening while a trade was being negotiated with rick via radio. A lot of stalling took place on behalf of Negan’s people, waiting for their back up to arrive. Eventually the trade was agreed upon, giving Carol the signal to throw away her disguise and get shit done.
Some rookie mistakes were made; leaving Carol alone was probably not the smartest thing to do. She pretty quickly freed herself with the crucifix, scampering through the grisly corridors to release Maggie as well. This section of the episode is when the fruits of the previous 30 minutes labour come into fruition — the tension palpable, the atmosphere on note, our two ladies taking out their captors in increasingly vicious fashion. With the hard work done, they then lured the back-up squad into the facility, burning them alive in the process. It was brutal stuff, and even though we weren’t given casualties that mattered to us, this really was a very good episode. There was genuine fear in the air, not because of what might happen to Maggie or Carol, but because of the grisly environment, the sinister music and the fact that there was pay off via the vicious spree that saved Maggie and Carol’s lives.
Would the episode have been even better if say Maggie had died and Carol killed everyone herself with revenge in her eyes? Yes, of course, yes. Or even visa versa; think of how much it all would have meant with such horror permeating the air. They came so close to enacting everything I’ve been asking, only to fall just short, it’s a shame but this was still a cut above what TWD has come to be. And what is the common factor here? What links the recently improved episodes together? What have all the best episodes of TWD had in common with this one? Focus, a limited number of characters, and confined environments in which to work. THE WALKING DEAD could be this good every week. It just chooses not to be. It’s a crime shame. However, like I said, I can’t complain if this episode becomes the new norm. So more of this please, chuck in a few high profile deaths and lose another 50 percent of characters in a forest somewhere, and we will really be in business.
Additional thought: The “we are all Negan” thing is interesting, suggesting that an attack on Negan is an attack on all. Maybe some real fascism will be seen on the show soon — A man that is truly worshiped unlike Rick or the governor (sounds dangerous). Looking forward to seeing how it plays out.