The Walking Dead, Ep. 6.13: “The Same Boat” treads water

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The Walking Dead, Season 6, Episode 13: “The Same Boat”
Written by Angela Kang
Directed by Billy Gierhart
Airs Sundays at 9pm ET on AMC

Deep breaths, everyone: Negan’s dead! Rick blows his nefarious brains out at the end of “The Same Boat,” a shocking, eventful episode which proves that when it comes to delivering shocking twists and mile-a-minute thrills, no series is better than The Walk—

Just kidding.

No, “The Same Boat” is very much the episode one would expect given the following evident truths: one, Negan won’t be showing up until the season finale, two, the season finale is still three weeks away, and three, the end of last week’s episode featured Maggie and Carol getting taken hostage. Add those together and, knowing The Walking Dead‘s proven track record of derailing at the slightest sign of narrative momentum, there is only one possible outcome for “The Same Boat”: delay, delay, delay!

This could actually have turned out to be a great option, since The Walking Dead has often excelled at telling more intimate, individual-character driven stories, as opposed to the sprawling, ensemble-featuring affairs it usually traffics in. On paper, then, the notion of Maggie and Carol being taken hostage by an unhinged Alicia Witt (!) and her Savior cohorts should be a slam dunk. Why, then, is “The Same Boat” such a drag?

It’s all in the execution(s). The villainous kidnappers, with the possible exception of Witt’s Paula, are one-dimensional goons who scream “walker chum” from the moment they first open their mouths. We know none of them will survive the episode, and there’s neither satisfaction nor terror to be found in beholding their downfall. They fall prey to an obvious ruse – Carol’s “little bird” act – and the rest is a foregone conclusion. It’s not the predictability of the episode that is its greatest sin – stories don’t need to be surprising to be engaging – it’s the rote and simplistic fashion it all plays out.

The saving grace is Melissa McBride, whose murder fatigue haunts the episode and imbues it with its only truly memorable qualities. While her apparent meekness and reticence to resort to violence is on one level a feint (by episode’s end, her personal tally is well over twenty kills) and on another an earnest expression of just how weary she is of being placed in circumstances where the only possible way out amounts to “kill or be killed.” This emotional thread works because we know Carol and because McBride is able to imbue her with all of Carol’s conflicted dimensions, and the way she struggles to fight against her own reserves of empathy. (While it’s a little forced, her attempt to forge a bond with Paula based on her own history of dealing with spousal abuse is at least evidence of “The Same Boat” trying to find meaning out of a deeply contrived scenario.)

Besides Carol and her plight, there’s not much unique to keep “The Same Boat” from feeling like a strictly diversionary episode. The scenes between Maggie and her captor/interviewer leaps into a touchy-feely dimension in record time, adding an incongruous level of sentimentality after the preceding 20 minutes had worked so hard to paint these Saviors as remorseless lackeys ready to fight smartly and ruthlessly to protect what’s theirs. As with seemingly all episodes that involve Our Gang encountering a new group for the first time, there’s some boilerplate talk about how “they’re not the good guys,” as if we really need more reminding that The Walking Dead‘s universe is one that has (d)evolved beyond traditional metrics by which good and evil can be measured.

So when the bodies finally drop in the final sequence, it’s a relief – not because Maggie and Carol are free (there isn’t a moment in “The Same Boat” when their escaping intact is remotely in doubt), but because it’s efficiently staged and, even by Walking Dead standards, appreciably brutal. There are multiple headshots, walkers de-impaling themselves from spikes, cheeks ripped out (RIP Alicia Witt), blood-curdling screams, and a particularly fiendish multiple immolation, all of which takes place on – of course! – the Kill Floor. Subtle!

Still, as The Walking Dead waves its proverbial arms frantically in an attempt to distract us from just how far away Negan’s Fireworks Factory is, it’ll need to do better and more distinct than “The Same Boat” if it’s going to convince us that the scenic route is worth the time investment. After all, just because you’re holding the audience hostage, doesn’t mean we’re going to fall in love.

Other thoughts:

The Saviors seem to call walkers “grounders,” and somewhere the team from The 100 is plotting either a lawsuit or a crossover.

“Guys can’t handle pain.” It’s really too bad Alicia Witt couldn’t have gotten something more compelling to do on this show, because she has a way with spitting venom,

“Oh, you’re one of those.” Yes, let’s pretend that Christians are the wackiest people kicking around in the Walking Dead-verse.

If you thought that slash at Maggie’s belly was going to be anything more than a superficial flesh wound, Negan and I have a bridge to sell you.

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