Spoilers for this week's The Walking Dead past this point.
It's great to see Rick Grimes (Andrew Lincoln) finally get a win.
After piling on the misery during the second half The Walking Dead's sixth season and first half of the seventh as Grimes and his crew descended into a Saviors-induced hell where everything was wrong, Season 7's second half is finding them digging their way out. Rick's deal with the taciturn junkyard scavengers in "New Best Friends" is the most significant progress the Alexandrians have made in anything besides gathering canned goods since they met Negan (Jeffrey Dean Morgan)
Not coincidentally, this is the most straight-up fun episode since the second episode of Season 6B, which introduced Jesus (Tom Payne) and featured an almost slapstick fight between him and Rick and Daryl (Norman Reedus). Between the junkyarders' inexplicably stunted vocabulary and goth-punk wardrobe, the cheesy greenscreen that showed the junkyard stretching out all the way to the horizon and Rick's mano-a-mano cage match with a homemade melee weapon of a walker, this episode was absurd in all the right ways.
The action took place in two locations, the still-unnamed junkyard and the Kingdom, so let's break it down by location.
Rick and his crew are surrounded by the junkyard gang (Andrew Lincoln calls them "Kraftwerk," after the robotic Teutonic electro band, so that's what we'll call them for now, too). Someone asks "Are you collective, or does one lead?"
That's Rick, so ol' Grimey starts negotiating with Kraftwerk's leader (Pollyanna McIntosh), a severe woman with equally severe bangs. He wants to see their prisoner Father Gabriel (Seth Gilliam), so they bring him out. He's stripped to his tank top, which is butt-ass naked for a priest. Rick's happy to see him, though, since he doesn't believe that Gabriel defected.
She tells Rick that Kraftwerk wants the rest of the food Alexandria scavenged from the houseboat. Rick counteroffers that that stuff doesn't belong to them, it belongs to the Saviors, since the Saviors own them. If Kraftwerk kills them, the Saviors will come looking for answers, and that'll be a bad scene. But if Kraftwerk joins Alexandria in the fight, they can have whatever they want. "No," she says, and a fight breaks out. During the scuffle, Gabriel ends up holding a knife to Tamiel's (Sabrina Gennarino) throat.
The leader allows Gabriel to plead his case for joining if he lets Tamiel go, saying "Your words now," and Gabriel says that they can have whatever they want of the Saviors' vast amount of stuff if they help. They can even get something for them now to show that they're serious. She's interested, so she instructs Tamiel and Breon (Thomas Francis Murphy) to "show Rick up up up."
We don't have enough of a sample size to know exactly what these folks' grammar rules are, but economy of words is prized above all else. They strip sentences down to their essential information. Conjunctions seem to be unpopular. The rules might just be if there's a weirder way to say something, go with that. And gestures take the place of words much of the time. It's weird that their language skills collectively declined so much since the apocalypse that they're talking like cavemen just a few years later, but we've seen societies of cannibals and renaissance faire actors, so why not whatever these guys are? Let's just go with it. It's fun.
Soon they're up up up at the top of a huge hill of trash, surveying the dump kingdom. "All of us here since the change. We take, we don't bother," the leader explains. "Things are changing again, so maybe we change. Maybe. Need to know you're real with this. That you're worth it." Then she pushes Rick down the mountain into a pit.
Rick wakes up a truly horrifying walker. It has a helmet covered in spikes, with even more spikes sticking out of its rotten body. It's like the world's most bloodthirsty porcupine. Greg Nicotero and Gino Crognale, the makeup artist who plays this walker, are sick puppies. It's exactly as Lincoln described: a mash-up of Mad Max, Hellraiser and Evil Dead. It's the Thunderdome — one man and one zombie enter, one Rick leaves.
During the fight, Rick impales his hand on one of the spikes, so hopefully somebody can hook him up with a tetanus shot. Rick pulls the trash walls down, pinning the walker, and then he decapitates it with some sharp debris.
He climbs back up, and the leader tells him what she wants: "Guns. A lot. A lot. And then we fight your fight." They make a deal — Kraftwerk gets a third of what's taken from the Saviors, half of the food from the boat and all the guns.
Rick realizes that these folks are ruthless scavengers — they were waiting for someone else to get the stuff from the boat and then steal it from them — which they did. "We take, we don't bother," she says again.
"You had that thing down there waiting for someone to prove themselves?" he asks.
"No," she says. "His name was Winslow." Too many Urkels on their team, that's why Rick was able to beat him.
"What were you going to do with Gabriel?" he asks. She doesn't answer, just says the deal is expiring soon.
He asks her name. "Jadis." Not a name, but ok. And just like that, Kraftwerk is gone. Hopefully we'll eventually learn how they evaded the Saviors — or IF they evaded the Saviors. And also what they call themselves and what their whole deal is.
Rick limps back to his friends with his bloody fist and announces that they have a deal. Smiles and hugs all around!
Gabriel explains what happened at Alexandria — he got jumped by a member of Kraftwerk when he went to investigate a noise in the pantry. They made him pack everything up and come back with them, but he left behind the "BOAT" note hoping Rick would understand. Father Gabriel is a true believer in Rick Grimes.
"We will set things right," he says. "But things are going to get very hard before that time. We have to hold on. I will. Thank you."
Then he asks Rick the million jar question: "What made you smile? What made you so confident?"
"Someone showed me enemies can become friends," Rick answers, putting his hand on Gabe's shoulder. Awwwww! Budz!
They don't know where they're going to find the guns they need to bring back to Kraftwerk, but Rick says to Tara (Alanna Masterson), "You've been out further than any of us. At least you can tell us where not to look." She's like, "haha, yeah, sure," remembering that she promised Oceanside she'd never share those ladies' secret location. But she's gonna have to break that promise sooner or later.
As they're leaving, Rick takes a wire sculpture of a cat. Michonne asks why, and Rick says, "Because we won. And to replace the one you lost." Awwwww, #RICHONNE! Now that's what I call a callback!
The episode began with Ezekiel (Khary Payton), Morgan (Lennie James), Richard (Karl Makinen) and Benjamin (Logan Miller) making a payoff to the Saviors. If you remember all the way back to "The Well," Richard and this one particular stringy-haired Savior named Jared (Joshua Mikel) have had beef (pork?) because Richard isn't sufficiently submissive. When Richard and Jared tussle, Morgan and his staff step in, and after the fight Jared takes Richard's gun and Morgan's staff, which Morgan foolishly asks him not to take. The stick has sentimental value, since it was given to Morgan by Eastman (John Carroll Lynch), who trained him in the ways of being a peaceable warrior.
The loss of Morgan's stick shows that his nonlethal methods are failing. He can't protect what's his, and he's going to have to kill again if he wants it back. It's all very Second Amendment. Morgan's probably gonna go Straw Dogs later this season.
When they return, Daryl confronts Morgan about cooperating with the Saviors. "If Carol was here... she'd be leading us right to them," he growls. Morgan doesn't tell Daryl that Carol (Melissa McBride) pretty much is here.
He finds out soon enough, when Richard tries to recruit him into assassinating Saviors and pinning it on a solitary woman who lives in the Kingdom's sphere of influence who he thinks — due to her isolation — is pretty much dead already. The Saviors will then find her and kill her, and her death will spur Ezekiel to join the fight, Richard thinks. Daryl sees through it, and makes Richard tell him that he is, indeed, talking about Carol.
Carol, who just wants to be left alone, keeps getting visitors. First it's Ezekiel and his buddies bringing her a Hoboken squat cobbler, and then it's Daryl.
"Why'd you go?" he asks her, his voice quaking. This is the first time he's seen her since she took off from Alexandria last season.
"I had to," she says.
They go inside, and Carol further explains herself while staring wistfully into a fire. She couldn't keep losing people and killing. However, she says that if they — the Saviors — hurt any more of their people, she would kill again. Daryl sees that she's broken, though, and regressing into a childlike state, and doesn't tell her about what happened to Glenn (Steven Yeun) and Abraham (Michael Cudlitz) and Olivia (Ann Mahoney) and Spencer (Austin Nichols).
When he gets back to the Kingdom, he visits Shiva, because he relates to the caged tiger. Morgan joins him. Daryl says that they need the Kingdom if they're going to beat the Saviors. Morgan says he can't help.
"Whatever it is you're holding on to, it's already gone," Daryl tells him. "Wake the hell up."
Morgan knows that Daryl didn't tell Carol what happened, because if he did, she'd be there. He says Daryl must be holding on to something, too.
In the morning, Daryl leaves to go back to Hilltop. Morgan and Richard exchange a look. Carol better watch out.
The Walking Dead airs Sundays at 9/8c on AMC.