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It is a shame that the Oscars left this week’s episode of “The Walking Dead” on the DVR back burner. To echo a phrase veteran fans of the series too often recite, this is the episode the show needed. Jesus himself boldly asserts that our survivors’ “world is about to get a whole lot bigger,” and his promise rings true. The majority of the main cast make an exodus to Jesus’s “Hilltop” in order to trade for desperately needed food. What they find is the opportunity to explore yet another community driven by conflicting ethics. “Knots Untie” propels the typically meandering, loose narrative of the “The Walking Dead” into sharp focus as the characters prepare for an all-out offensive on Negan and his Saviors.
The stars of this episode are Crazy Rick (as always) and, surprisingly, Maggie. Rick, never one to voluntarily back down in a confrontation and always one to point his revolver first and ask questions later, goes unchallenged. Fatigued from constantly being the show’s tragic hero and being forced to shed whatever remains of his humanity, however, Rick passes the baton of leadership and scapegoat-ery to Maggie. She refreshingly comes onto her own as a stronger, more active character than any woman we have seen on this show, blending prior mentor’s Deanne’s practicality with Rick’s assertiveness. In two fascinating verbal and gender-charged duels with Gregory, Hilltop’s ostensible mayor and bona-fide Southern gentleman, Maggie defies his womanizing condescension and instead adopts an aggressive diplomacy. She is the one who demands.
The episode goes to great lengths to foreshadow the potential deaths of certain survivors, namely Glenn and Abraham. This is particularly true when the show suddenly invests an odd amount of screentime and emotional development into typically passive characters (i.e. Tyrese and Noah) in order to make their loss all the more tragic. For Glenn, the episode often dwells on his anxiety over placing Maggie and his future child into danger. The camera constantly hovers over Maggie’s stomach, a doting Glenn near her side.
Abraham’s history of violence and uncontrollable anger is revisited through altercations with other survivors, in which he struggles to preserve his own humanity and display mercy. The show suggests that his newfound love for Sasha, even in the midst of his sexual relationship with Rosita, has motivated him to embrace tranquility instead of chaos (one of the show’s favorite dichotomies). As a result of past trauma, in which violence both saved and ruined his life, Abraham has always been the brash, animalistic, and hyper-aggressive presence. In witnessing Sasha rediscover peace, Abraham has placed any remaining hope of a better life in their relationship. Though this arc seems like it could and should be beautiful, it is instead executed gracelessly in a love-triangle with repeated intercuts to the same exact scene in which Abraham realizes his affections for Sasha.
“Knots Untie” drastically moves the narrative forward to facing Negan while reminding viewers why they should care about certain characters: They may very well die soon. Negan still remains but a name spoken with dread, but his reputation of ruthlessness increases the stakes to the point where not even Glenn’s plot armor could save him. Fingers crossed that the writers decide to diverge from the comic books this time around.
—Staff writer Richard Nguyen can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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