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“The Next World” opens with the riffs of Boston’s “More Than a Feeling” playing over Rick, Michonne, and a now one-eyed Carl doing household chores. Making a new supply run, the group’s new priorities consist of recovering more toothpaste, restocking their supply of Spearmint Mentos, and finding cans of Orange Crush, marking a temporal and tonal departure from the last episode’s barbaric havoc and a return to the show’s typical rhythm of soulful character building. It is a procedural “day in the life” episode that mostly takes place outside a mending Alexandria, comprised of self-contained, intimate parables about the importance of family and conscience in a ravaged world.
An altercation with a new male character called “Jesus” evolves into a clash between Daryl’s cautious isolationism and Rick’s newfound compassion—an about-face for both characters since Alexandria’s fall. Living up to his name, Jesus defies most of Rick and Daryl’s attempts to keep him captive through what can only be superhuman agility and Mr. Fantastic’s flexibility. A bearded Tom Payne plays Jesus with a playful air of duplicity: an amiable, innocent face masking the deadly skills of a martial artist and an uncanny omnipresence. Jesus’ persistence in antagonizing our survivors forces them to decide between leaving him behind or integrating him into Alexandria. While Daryl unwillingly concedes to Rick’s mercy, there is no question that there exists a deep warmth and kindness underneath Daryl’s cold exterior. Daryl’s sense of charity, evident in his countless altruistic actions to preserve the group, may be challenged by what he deems to be Jesus’ true nature. His foreign presence will be our survivors’ impetus to explore beyond their safe borders and will likely lead them into the hands of the much-anticipated Negan.
With the help of Michonne and Carl, Spencer ventures into the woods to find and bury his mother, Deanna, granting him spiritual revitalization and emotional closure after the loss of his entire family. Michonne teaches Spencer that family in this new world is bound not by blood but by the loyalty and sympathy they hold for each other—a beautiful thought and message, albeit hamfisted into three schmaltzy lines. Michonne and Rick’s out-of-left-field yet adorable romance, however, remains somewhat questionable in light of the fact that Rick was forced to amputate his previous girlfriend’s hand and witness her dismemberment-by-zombie in the last episode.
“The Next World” is a quaint episode steeped in more sentimentality and figurative group hugs than “Full House.” With the reaffirmation of the characters’ convictions to persevere, the stage has been set for new threats to enter and threaten their little moment of peace.
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