This show being what it is, Rick’s re-masculation couldn’t happen without some heavy-handed visual cue to help the more slow-witted viewers piece it all together. Weeks after he was humiliated by having to tote Negan’s bat-schwanz around Alexandria, Rick has recovered his fighting spirit. Daryl is free; Carl is safe; Michonne, Rick’s lady, is back from scouting the Sanctuary and spoiling for rebellion. He’s ready to lead again. But it can’t happen until Daryl, his top lieutenant, symbolically reattaches his man-club by handing Rick the shiny silver pistol he took from one of the Saviors during his escape attempt. Remember, these same writers once had Rick utter the line “We are the walking dead” because they were afraid their dimwit audience couldn’t figure out that irony unless it was made explicit. Be grateful they didn’t have Andy Lincoln expose himself on camera in order to prove that Rick is once again large and in charge.
Help me out, though: Why did Rick recover his fighting spirit, exactly? What was the catalyzing moment? If I’m not mistaken, he and Aaron were on their very first scavenging run as servants of the Saviors. The murders of Glenn and Abraham that traumatized Rick and broke his spirit seem to have happened just a few weeks earlier in the show’s timeline. You don’t switch from “do the tyrant’s bidding” to “kill the tyrant” in three weeks. Nothing terribly traumatic happened last night to trigger that sort of reversal either. Yeah, Spencer died, but he was a treacherous dirtbag. Olivia died too, but who cares? I didn’t even remember her name until I read a write-up of last night’s episode somewhere this morning. Negan had a fair point when he told Rick that he’d been surprisingly merciful towards the Alexandrians, all things considered. Carl tried to assassinate him and was left unharmed; Rosita fired point-blank at his face, damaged Lucille, and got off easy with a cut to the face. (Right, they killed Olivia in reprisal, but again: Minor character.) Even Eugene, who’s been weak comic relief on the show literally for years, was merely taken prisoner instead of killed. The Alexandrians have surely killed more Saviors than vice versa at this point. So why did Rick suddenly have his this can’t go on awakening?
The best explanation I can come up with is that Negan telling Rick that Carl had showed up at the Sanctuary to kill him set something off in Rick. The two people closest to him, Carl and Michonne, had stood up to Negan; he’d been less of a man than his girlfriend and his own teenaged son. The problem with that read, though, is that there’s no moment of awareness to suggest that that’s what happened. Rick doesn’t seem particularly moved when he hears what Carl did. They exchange a look but the show quickly moves on. His newfound desire to fight seems to be a cumulative thing — the Saviors abused Aaron and they gutted Spencer like a fish and they killed Olivia and Carl stood up to Negan. But again, cumulative irritation at tyranny doesn’t happen overnight among would-be collaborators. Frankly, Rick’s seemingly sudden awakening feels more like the writers trying to quickly write themselves out of a corner they’d painted themselves into over the last several weeks of boring, nothing-happened episodes. Every hour of this half-season should have devoted some time to Rick chafing at the Saviors’ demands, letting his unhappiness build organically. Instead we went from him and Aaron discussing the imperative to do anything to survive while they were loading the truck for the Saviors last night to Rick suddenly plotting against Negan. Maybe if the show hadn’t spent an entire hour on Tara, this transformation would have had more time to occur gradually and convincingly. As it is, they seem to have decided to flip a switch in Rick because it was the mid-season finale and the time had come to set up the big rebellion narrative next year.
But here I am, scolding the writers for being too heavy-handed with the re-masculation symbolism, and then scolding them for not being heavy-handed enough in explaining Rick’s awakening. Some people can’t be pleased, I tell you.
Two other random points. One: Now cleanly shaved and with his leather jacket open to reveal a white tee underneath, Negan looks more like Fonzie than ever. How the writers resist putting a jukebox in his apartment and having him punch it to turn it on, I don’t know. Two: As much as I enjoy the occasional “shark zombie” set pieces involving walkers in bodies of water, wouldn’t prolonged immersion of an already putrefied body produce pretty quick disintegration? Shoulda been nothing more than a lake of floating heads, really.