The Walking Dead has a way of falling into the same traps over and over again as it attempts to fill time between the opening credits and the end-of-episode "big moment." That's pretty much what happened in "Not Tomorrow Yet," an uneven and unsteady episode that took its time to deliver some thrills. But thrills they were, as Rick (Andrew Lincoln) went along with his dumb-dumb agreement with the Hilltop community to fight their war in exchange for some carrots and butter.
I don't think I was alone in not totally agreeing with Rick's plan to go mercenary and kill the Saviors for Gregory (Xander Berkeley). If you looked at most everyone's faces, you'd think they were on the way to the vet to put their dog down instead of getting a hard-earned paycheck of kale. But it wasn't necessarily because they thought they were marching to their death. For many, the idea of killing another human being seemed to weigh on them more than whether or not they'd come back alive to eat another one of Carol's (Melissa McBride) acorn-beet cookies (barf!).
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Murder has been tackled by The Walking Dead for ages now in pretty much every possible scenario. Is it ever right to kill another human when the war should be against the walkers? What lengths do you go to protect yourself in this hellish existence? Is preemptive killing justified if you think it's your only chance of survival? And the answer to these questions is almost always "sometimes," which is where it should be in order to get viewers to contemplate these dilemmas, and that's where The Walking Dead thrives.
But we've seen this question time and time again, which points back to the show exhausting its limited fuel. Watching a worried Carol thumb through her murder journal to figure out how many people she killed, and listening to Glenn (Steven Yeun) and Heath (Corey Hawkins) rap about when it's right and not right to kill someone didn't carry a lot of weight simply because it's a repetitive theme of the show. Yes, killing is bad! But sometimes it's good! That's the long and short of it, and no matter how many times The Walking Dead puts its characters in these situations, that will be the answer. And again, that was the answer this time. It's only when there are drastic swings in that question, like when Morgan (Lennie James) preached non-lethal confrontations or when Rick wanted to kill everyone who looked at him funny or when Carol killed Lizzy, that The Walking Dead feels challenging and has the incredibly entertaining task of convincing us that an extreme method is the correct answer.
It also felt more hollow without actually knowing who the Saviors are other than that one incident on the road with Daryl (Norman Reedus), Sasha (Sonequa Martin-Green) and Abraham (Michael Cudlitz). These are -- as far as we know, because it's all we've been told -- very, very, very bad guys who will, in Rick's words, come after them eventually. (That is, if they ever find Alexandria, which they haven't since the apocalypse started, so why would they now? Oh, man, I would get kicked out of Alexandria so fast.) The question on their minds shouldn't be whether or not killing them is OK; it should be whether or not this decision was the right one and whether turning into killers for hire is a direction they want to go. Only Morgan seemed to question things, and as usual, everyone told him to keep his hippie-dippy, new-agey trap shut.
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With their murder tour set, The Walking Dead killed some time with some relationship catchups. Carol planted a kiss on Tobin (Jason Douglas) because... they're around the same age and single? Like Richonne, this felt like it came out of nowhere. Tara (Alanna Masterson) told Denise (Merritt Wever) she loved her, and... that was about it. And Abraham stormed out of his room with Rosita (Christian Serratos) in a very unclassy breakup move while Rosita asked for an explanation. These three scenes were pretty much back-to-back-to-back, as if The Walking Dead needed to kill some time and thought some romance would do the trick. But ugh, what really was the point of any of these? None set up anything for later, they weren't called back at any point, and they were never spoken of again.
Let's look at Tara and Denise specifically. Both characters are being defined by their relationships instead of the more interesting personal stories they have. Tara used to fight for the Governor and at one time was on the other side of the battle line from Rick's group. Denise went from nobody to one of the most important people in the community as the only doctor. It's too late to salvage either of those stories, but imagine if Tara had killed someone from Rick's group during the Governor fight and held that secret. Wouldn't that have been an interesting avenue to explore? What if Denise ached from not being able to save her friend? Instead, they have nothing but to be together and make that who they are in this show. It's efficient in that the show can knock out two characters' worth of stuff in one scene because The Walking Dead has too many characters to give them all solid material, but it dilutes everything. Who is invested in any of these three relationships? Not me, that's for sure. This is nothing new to The Walking Dead, but here -- particularly in this sequence of relationship check-ins -- it was incredibly obvious that this ensemble is too big and there isn't enough time for all the characters. It's time to thin the herd, methinks.
But once we headed out on the road, things picked up a ton. I loved the idea of searching for a decoy Gregory head by honking horns and attracting a bunch of zombies to cut their heads off. It's convenient many of them weren't in an advanced state of decay and had gray hair too! And of course Rick reconfiguring a zombie's nose by punching it in the face was incredible. Rick may not be the bloodthirsty maniac he was earlier this season, but his evolution in a man who doesn't understand why people look at him funny when he's covered in human blood or using a walker's head as a speed bag is so great that it makes up for everything else. Rick needs to mutter a threatening "What?" in every episode.
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The assault on Negan's compound happened pretty quickly, no? After dispatching the guards, Rick and his pals strolled on in and stabbed a bunch of Saviors in their sleep. Maybe the Savior's medicine stash included a bunch of Ambien or they were sleeping off an 18-pack each, because these guys were OUT and didn't even make a sound as Rick pushed his knife into their tired brains. Eventually, one of the Saviors woke up and sounded an alarm, and from them on, "Not Tomorrow Yet" became a hail of bullets as Rick's gang battled the Saviors. Thankfully, the Saviors took weapon training at the Stormtrooper Academy for Firearms, and none of the good guys suffered so much as a scrape while every single Savior bled out of countless bullet holes. I guess Rick and his group are that good and the idea was a great one after all.
Well, almost. Just when Rick thought all the Saviors were dead, Michonne (Danai Gurira) asked which one was Negan. And then we were reminded there was no boss battle. A motorcyclist tore out of the compound (just go with it) and Rick took him down as a walkie-talkie spilled out of the guy's jacket and a voice on the other end told them to drop their weapons because they had Maggie (Lauren Cohan) and Carol captive. Zoinks. I swear to Ghost Lori that if this show touches a hair on Carol's head I will riot.
So that's how "Not Tomorrow Yet" went. Some slow buildup, some leaps of faith, some time-wasting, and then lots and lots and lots of killing followed by a white-knuckle cliff-hanger that spelled more trouble for two of our favorite characters. We still have yet to meet Negan, but when we do, he'll have pretty heavy leverage to work with.