Sitting here immediately after finishing "Knots Untie," tonight's installment of THE WALKING DEAD, I'm not quite sure if it was good or if it only seems that way by being, in the context of this otherwise spectacularly poor season, something better than godawful. This was definitely an ep that worked better than anything we've seen so far. The rest of the season still haunts it though.
Last week, Rick and Daryl, in some of that standard arbitrary TWD plotting, were suddenly written as entirely different characters in order to allow them to take ninja Jesus back to the safe zone. This week, having again easily escaped their efforts to confine him, he tells our heroes of other human settlements. As he tells it, he's a recruiter sent out by one such group of survivors to find others with which to trade. He offers to take them to his group, show them around, set up diplomatic relations.
The shadow of the rest of the season begins to fall over the ep at this point. Rick and co. know there are at least two other groups of armed and murderous hostiles in the area, one led by someone named Negan. They never ask Jesus about this and when they prepare their diplomatic mission to accompany him home, not only does most of the major characters go along--a very bad idea--but they all pile into a single vehicle, a very bad idea that most recently caused problems only last week.
The writers may have been able to get away with this if they didn't immediately insist on calling attention to the unsoundness of it. Right away, our heroes come across a vehicle that appears to have just crashed. Jesus says it came from his group. Rick immediately suspects a possible ambush and puts Jesus in the same cuffs from which Jesus has already escaped while they check it out. There's no ambush, just some folks who need saving.
Our heroes make their way to Jesus's settlement, which turns out to be fairly substantial but out of ammo. "This is Gregory," Jesus says as he introduces their leader. "He's the one who keeps the trains running on time around here." But as Mussolinis go, Gregory is strictly a dilettante. Bursting with base douchebaggery and sporting an elevator that can't quite make it to the penthouse, he starts by propositioning the married-and-pregnant Maggie. When that doesn't work out, he pretty much loses any further interest in diplomatic relations.
This deadlock is ended by the fortuitous return of a group of couriers. They'd been dispatched by Gregory to pay a mordida to--you guessed it--Negan. Negan had decided he was shorted and had nabbed the brother of one of the couriers, saying he would only release the hostage if the courier killed Gregory. The fellow does manage to stab Gregory in a non-vital area but Rick's group intervenes and after some ass-whuppin', restores order.
Negan, it seems, has been plaguing this community since shortly after it formed. Rick decides Negan is no big threat and, seeing an opportunity, offers to take out the pesky thug in exchange for food. Gregory is made amenable to this. Rick asks one of the couriers if he'll take them to Negan's compound. The guy seems quite reluctant but then agrees and if Rick suspects the fellow may be working for Negan on the side--something he really should suspect--he shows no sign of it.
Hubris is about to get the best of our heroes and this is the part of the story over which the rest of this season and, indeed, the entire series to date, hangs most heavily. The current storyline is adapted from the comic on which the series is based. By the time it rolled around in the book, our heroes were a smart, lean, mean battle-hardened group of professional survivors--real badasses who had good reason to believe they could handle whatever was thrown at them. Their television counterparts have, since they arrived at the safe zone, spent an inordinate amount of time talking about what badasses they are but whenever it comes time to put that to the test, they're written as complete idiots whose absurdly ill-conceived plans inevitably lead to death and disaster. Ten of the twelve eps of this season were consumed by dealing with the bloody consequences of Rick's insanely cretinous decision to release that quarry full of zombies in spitting distance of home instead of simply reinforcing the quarry--something that could have been done in literally minutes--and/or destroying the creatures on the site--something that could have been accomplished by merely setting a few fires. Tonight, Daryl made it sound as if reducing Negan's tough-talking bikers to a greasy spot on the highway had been child's play, whereas the way the scene had actually played out, Daryl, Sasha and Abraham had been caught because they'd stupidly stopped for a gang of armed thugs on motorcycles while, themselves, driving a truck that could have ground said gang to powder and they only made it out of that encounter alive because the leader of the bikers made a stupid mistake. Tonight, none of the characters express any real doubt about their ability to handle whatever Negan can throw at them. This uber-confidence is an utterly arbitrary contrivance of the writers. It isn't derived from any of the characters' experience and, in fact, stands in bold contradiction to all of that experience. If they'd ever been shown as being remotely capable of handling much of anything, TWD may have been able to get away with grafting this attitude on to them. When the hubris leading to a fall is so entirely unearned, it doesn't allow for much of a story. It's just ends up being the 10,000th time a bunch of dumbasses yet again do something stupid that yet again leads to disaster.
That aside--and that's really the concern of future eps--"Knots Untie" moves well, it has an amusing, if somewhat heavy-handed, subplot about Abraham's romantic confusion (keep Rosita or go for Sasha?), and Maggie finally gets something to do besides cry over Glenn. Overall, its easily the best ep of this season. It doesn't have to do very much to earn that distinction though, and it certainly can't stand up to any of this series' best.
 Upon arriving, Rick drives their RV into a rather nasty mud-bog and gets stuck. There's no way he could miss it and it's easily avoidable but he drives right into it.
 TWD tends to slam on the brakes and throw out the drag-weights in the second half of the season. This wasn't at all a slow ep but given the record, I'm wondering if we'll even see Negan before the