So often, the average Walking Dead episode is a mixed bag — a collection of scenes where half of them excite and the other half result in eyerolls. But what keeps so many still watching is the way that the show can put together a few extraordinary sequences — ones focused on character, or a tense interrogation, or even the usual zombie-killing action — that remind us why we started following the series in the first place. There are four sequences in “Go Getters” that show the potential of The Walking Dead, the things that keep us coming back, in an episode centered on how we honor, vindicate, and above all remember the dead.
The first of them features an area where the show has rarely faltered – the unexpected zombie attack. The episode’s first few scenes deliver a heap of meandering exposition, establishing that Maggie and Sasha are at the Hilltop, that Jesus and the local doctor want them to stay for the health of the baby, and that Gregory, in his low grade evilness, wants to send them on their way for reasons that vary from selfish (no resources for you, sick pregnant lady) to reasonable (if the Saviors realize we collaborated with you, we’re dead meat).
It’s a fine enough setup, one that gives a few of our heroes reason to be separated from the rest of the gang before everyone inevitably comes together. It creates a solid conflict and obstacles for the good guys to overcome, with understandable motivations for everyone. But it also feels like business as usual for The Walking Dead, with little to really warrant excitement or engagement.
Then, all of a sudden, Maggie and Sasha are awoken by the sound of classical music. They gaze out their window and see the car that’s broadcasting such symphonic beauty. It’s surrounded by flames as walkers are drawn into the camp by the sound. This auditory salvo kicks off one of the series’ most entertaining and downright fun zombie sequences. Amid the horrors of threats from without and within, this sequence leans into the idea that it’s too early in the story for our protagonists to be in any real danger, so instead it offers them a simple objective and a chance to show that they’re capable and inventive in the process.
So we see Sasha knifing walkers left and right with a ruthless efficiency. We see Jesus diving into the breach, using some implausible but undeniably entertaining kung fu kicks to take out the advancing horde. And when neither of them can get into the speaker-filled car to stop it from luring anymore of the undead into their midst, in comes Maggie, riding on a big-wheeled farm vehicle, to crush the car, monster truck style. All the while, the orchestral music plays amid the destruction, giving the sequence a unique quality among the myriad zombie-fighting scenes the show has presented in the past, allowing a bit of pure excitement and fun to seep into the show’s often self-serious tones.
At the same time that Maggie and Sasha are finding their place at the Hilltop, we see Enid leaving Alexandria to find Maggie. A devoted Carl follows her, saving, supporting, and romancing her along the way. As I’ve said about this pairing before, there’s a Dawson’s Creek quality to the teen romance angle that I have trouble connecting with. And while the young actors involved are generally serviceable, it takes a truly talented performer to regularly overcome this show’s clunky dialogue, a task neither of them are quite up to. So when we see their first kiss, with the patina of tragedy as they plot a would-be kamikaze mission against Negan, it’s a little sweet and a little sad, but not really moving.
And yet, on their way to that decision, Carl and Enid happen upon a pair of roller skates, which prompts the episode’s second superb little sequence. Like many of the show’s best scenes, it’s largely dialogue-free, but watching the pair skate down that desolate road, holding hands, smiling, seemingly enjoying themselves for the first time in years, is strangely uplifting. Over and over again, this show tries to examine the tragedy of what it’s like for children to grow up in this sort of environment, of the innocence lost or never allowed to bloom in the first place, but more often than not, it comes in the form of yet another sledgehammer-esque thematic point that loses any impact due to the loud and obvious execution.
A scene like the skating interlude, however, gives us a glimpse of that innocence in a way that makes it feel like there’s something truly lost in the fall of civilization. Carl and Enid frequently come off as just another pair of grim dopes among the dour, joyless brood who trudge through The Walking Dead, leaving them indistinguishable as kids beyond the occasional excessive consumption of pudding. But a moment like that conveys the childlike joy that is still within them, and serves as a quick reminder that in better times, they might be doing something this fun and carefree on a regular basis. The necessary brevity of such a bit of bliss makes it all the more sad when these children have to contemplate things like the deaths of family members, both real and surrogate, and concoct revenge plots in the process.
It blends into the themes of the third great sequence in “Go Getters,” when Simon and The Saviors barge into the Hilltop and lean on Gregory. There’s a sense that The Saviors are disrupting any nascent attempts to return to something approaching normalcy in this new world, whether it be in Alexandria or the Hilltop or the Kingdom. People everywhere are once again finding equilibrium, sorting out ways to form communities and go on, and as soon as they start to reach a foothold, in come these amoral brutes who show up to kick the legs out from under them.
Simon’s arrival is a microcosm of that. While not exactly matching the quality of the opening scene of Inglorious Basterds, there’s a similar tension in the air when The Saviors arrive, Maggie and Sasha have to be hidden away, and it quickly becomes unclear how much Simon knows and how convincing (let alone willing) Gregory will be when forced to lie to keep them safe. Steven Ogg in particular does a stellar job, channeling Negan and bringing the same type of jovial but menacing persona that lets the viewer understand why Negan would pick him as a surrogate.
The story of the sequence is told through Gregory’s sheer awkwardness and fear that bleed through his attempts at civility and dignity, and in the mystery that hangs in the air of whether Simon knows about the Hilltop’s deal with the Alexandrians. Simon clearly intimidates Gregory, creating an interesting dynamic where the man who was throwing his weight around moments ago is reduced to kneeling before an unmitigated prick. There’s even the enjoyable comeuppance that comes from Gregory’s attempt to give up his guests and inadvertently giving away his scotch collection thanks to Jesus’s bait and switch. The scene does a nice job at creating a heightened atmosphere and a genuine air of unpredictability, buoyed by Steven Ogg’s performance in long stretches where Simon is allowed to dig in.
Unfortunately, it ties into the tedious and poorly-signposted story about Jesus deciding whether to take over leadership of the Hilltoppers and with it, all the attendant headaches Gregory complains about, or whether he intends to continue being a loosely-affiliated vagabond, just trying to help without taking full responsibility for what happens.
The Walking Dead has featured any number of stories about leadership, to vastly varying degrees of success, but this one isn’t particularly engaging. There’s a lot of mileage involved in a character like Gregory, one who’s plainly bad (and disgustingly lecherous to boot) in his selfishness, but not necessarily evil (at least not on the level of Negan), and is instead mostly just interested in protecting what he has, making some hard but defensible decisions in the process. But here, he’s a one-note character, lacking in any depth beyond his generically slimy persona, obviating the possibility for different shades among the foils and antagonists in the show.
At the same time, I have a few qualms (and more than a few questions) about a character named Jesus who looks like the western conception of the religious figure and resists the call of leadership while “just trying to help people.” It’s still unclear where the show is going with this character or what it’s trying to say beyond the obvious and strangely-deployed biblical parallels. (Having a guy named Jesus in a show about people coming back from the dead is, after all, a bit too much.) It may be as simple as an angel vs. devil contrast between Jesus and Negan, but regardless, when he stands up for Maggie and Sasha and declares that things are going to change, it feels like just another perfunctory Walking Dead story about the right way to lead in the shadow of the zombie apocalypse.
The end of the episode, however, features something the show offers too little, rather than too much of – believable and endearing human interactions. For as meandering as this series can be at times, so often it feels like every interaction, every moment big or small, is directed at some big serious point or storyline, to the point that we forget the heroes and villains are supposed to be real people and not just characters. That’s why moments like the ones in the episode’s fourth great sequence, where Maggie, Sasha, and Enid sit down and break bread together, are so important. They remind us of the relatable connections between these people beyond the show’s usual clunky declarations of allegiance.
These are, after all, three individuals united by the people they’ve lost. Maggie is mourning Glen; Sasha is mourning Abraham, and Enid has never really been able to move past the deaths of her own family, let alone the fresh loss of her surrogate father. So when the three of them hold hands together and share a meal, there’s an understated sense of shared understanding among them.
When Maggie tells an amusing story about this not being the first time she ran over someone’s car with a tractor, or Sasha reveals that Enid tied her balloons to the wrong grave, there’s also an amusing sort of normalcy there. Even with the on-the-nose dialogue about remembering people, we get a sense that these are regular individuals enjoying the little things in life, making silly mistakes and reminiscing through old stories the way real people do.
That helps justifies those themes of how we remember those that we care about. There are symbols of the grief and memorializing in “Go Getters” that serve the same ends. Maggie passes on her father’s watch to Enid, a sign that there can still be new families that emerge from fallen ones. Maggie herself makes an (over the top) declaration that she is Maggie Rhee, signifying that she still carries a part of Glenn with her, in their child and in her heart. And even Sasha holds onto Abraham’s last cigar as she sharpens her knife in anticipation of her own shot at vengeance. Each of these people helps bring the memories of those they’ve lost forward by honoring them, by keeping the ways in which these individuals have been changed by them and by holding onto them, and each other.
The Walking Dead offers these symbols and sequences, but surrounds them with its usual detritus of hand-wringing over the future and brow-furrowing over what the right path forward is. Sometimes it’s hard to separate the wheat from the chaff with this series. But when we see a trio of characters clearing out the undead with verve and visual thrills, when we get a moment of childlike innocence to provide a legitimate contrast for the grisly deeds before Carl and Enid, when we can enjoy the tension of a fraught and one-sided negotiation that threatens to go sideways, and when we see our heroes as regular people, laughing and sharing in the remembrances and silly mistakes, the merits of the show shine through.