Photo: AMC

We begin and end with Rick and the Garbage People (I’m sorry, the “Scavengers,” though I still think my name is better). Most of “Time For After” takes place in and around the Sanctuary, following Eugene’s efforts to deal with the zombie horde, and Daryl and the others’ big play to force the issue. But Rick’s experiences bookend the hour; and considering how the episode ends, that’s not a bad structural choice. The episode drags a bit in places and has some of the usual odd, forced character beats, but it also has a basic story to tell whose contours become clear by the conclusion. Rick had a plan; that plan isn’t working. We get to see things start to shift before he does, and the final shot of him realizing just how much trouble he’s in works, ending the hour on a strong note.

Strong, that is, if you don’t spend too much time thinking about how dumb Rick’s plan actually was, and how much it relied on his apparent faith in his own belief to single-handedly will the Scavengers into submission. That he’s actually able to do this is sort of hilarious; that he assumed he would be able to, and that he didn’t have any clear contingency plan if he failed (apart from, I dunno, dying and letting the others avenge him?), is bad storytelling. So much of this season has rested on Rick’s abilities as a tactician, and while it makes sense for his plans to go south at some point, they need to at least look like they have a good chance of succeeding. Leading a herd of walkers to surround the Sanctuary is a smart play. Wandering into a group of enemies without any secret weapon on the sole assumption that your own personal mojo can get the job done is borderline suicidal, in a way that once again underlines how bad Rick is at all of this.

I spent too much of “Time For After” thinking about logistics. That puts me on tricky ground, because it’s always possible I missed some explanation as for why something is happening the way it’s happening. But so much of this season has been about building tension out of specific scenarios that play out over multiple episodes; about plans we’re not privy to, and seeing how those plans come together; that it becomes possible not to ask certain questions. The show can do some things well (at its best, it’s great at tone, it can generate unexpectedly beautiful moments and horrific gore in the same hour, and a few of the actors are terrific), but the writers have never been particularly good at putting together big storylines. The War On Negan isn’t the absolute worst it’s ever been, but it’s not great, and that shows even in otherwise not-terrible entries like this.

Most of the dramatic energy of the hour rests on the idea that a herd of Walkers have the people of the Sanctuary trapped. But I’m not convinced the show has done a good job of selling that. There’s a great overhead shot of Eugene’s faux-drone flying over a mass of dead folks, and the reminder of scale is helpful. But I honestly don’t know what side of the building we’re looking at. When Daryl manages to drive his truck into the building, it’s difficult to figure out just where everything is. The shots we’ve seen of the Sanctuary create a feel of a place—one of those industrial hulks that’ve attracted so many budget genre movies over the years—but little clear sense of its geography.

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Given how much the War depends on us believing that the herd really does have the Saviors trapped, that’s not great. Worse, there’s little sense of the Saviors trying to make any escape plans. They are struck with an increasingly angry workforce, dwindling supplies, and a clear sense that they are fucked if they don’t find a solution soon. And yet all we see are people sitting in rooms moping. Eugene’s the only one who even tries to come up with a plan. For a scenario like this to work, we need to believe the characters have tried every obvious solution. That Negan—brutal, determined, psychotic Negan—would be content to hang out by himself glowering makes no sense with what we’ve seen. Once again, the main villain of the series is vacillating between “nightmarishly prepared” and “utterly inept.”

Which is frustrating because there are good ideas here. The stuff with the Scavengers is laughable, but Eugene’s struggles with his conscience are surprisingly interesting; they have clear stakes and immediate consequences, even if the writers’ refusal to commit to a hard decision undermine the end result. For this to have worked as well as it should have, he really needed to either commit to helping Gabriel or give Dwight up by the end. Because he does neither, his angst is more theoretical than anything else. Sure, he comes up with a plan by the end, and if anyone thwarts Rick’s grand vision, it’ll probably be him, but the bet hedging with Dwight makes no sense, especially after everything else. It would’ve been great to see Eugene finally take a step back from Negan and the rest, but if he’s going the path of darkness, he needs to go all the way.

There was also the Daryl stuff, which had both Rosita and Michonne ultimately backing down from the big plan because of… reasons? Both actresses handle the material well, but Michonne’s speech about how they need to have faith that things will keep on working is bizarre, especially given, well, the entire history of the show up to this point. That Daryl’s faux kamikaze run with the truck might have ruined Rick’s plans is a fine twist, but like so much else in this episode, systematic problems with the series rob it of much of its potential power. But hey, at least stuff happened this week, right?

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Stray observations

  • Okay, why weren’t there Saviors on the roof shooting at the herd? Zombies are not difficult targets. I know there were some snipers from the other side hanging around, but when Eugene goes up for his experiment, no one takes a shot at him. There’s no sense of anyone doing anything in the compound but waiting for death. That could be intended as a comment on the ultimate hollowness of Negan’s abilities, but it plays mostly just like sloppy writing.
  • “What cranks my shaft is being safe.” —Eugene. There’s a lot of Eugene talk in this episode. Even I got sick of it after a while.
  • Gabriel is apparently dying of infections he got while wearing zombie innards. I think this is the first time the show has acknowledged that lathering yourself in dead person guts is not healthy, so bravo. (There’s also an unsubtle but nice shot of him bathed in heavenly light as he tries to get Eugene to do the right thing.)
  • How in the hell does that iPod still have a charge.
  • After capitulating to Rick because he beat up some people, Jadis tries negotiating. She wants to sculpt him in the nude. He refuses, and while I get that posing naked in a garbage dump for strangers isn’t everybody’s idea of a good time, I’m a little disappointed.

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