Photo: AMC

“Some Guy” begins with a flashback and another one of King Ezekiel’s speeches. On paper, that’s not a promising way to begin the hour. The show has fallen into a nasty habit of trying to generate drama and import out of juggling timelines, a trick that only really works if it’s clever and doesn’t happen very often. When overused, the constant jumping around becomes a chore to follow and an increasingly obvious ploy to distract from a lack of actual narrative. The sight of the King and his people once again preparing for war, and the King once again telling everyone that everything was going to turn out okay in the end, seemed like yet another way to kill time before the monsters showed up.

Yet it works. This whole episode works—it’s easily the best of the season so far, and the first time it’s been possible to see the war on Negan as a viable and thrilling event, and not just an excuse for machine guns and rhetoric. The script stays focused largely on Ezekiel and Carol and the aftermath of the slaughter that ended last week’s episode, and that focus creates a story with clear stakes and predictable but legitimate character development. It’s not that the King’s arc from inspired to crushed by reality is a new one for the show, or that it’s handled with any particular nuance here—but it’s still an effective spine to build the hour around, giving events weight and making sure individual successes and setbacks all have an impact.

Which is why that cold open works. Part of it is just the slight touch of specificity—watching Ezekiel fix his hair, or a little boy giving his mother a sprig of flower to stick under her elbow pad. Part of it is just that the speech the King gives actually seems better written than his early inspirational moments. And part of it is because we know last episode ended with the King and his people getting gunned down in a field by the Saviors’ new weapon. We know that there are going to be consequences for all this optimism, and when the flashback jumps to the present to show a field of dead bodies, it’s an obvious juxtaposition that actually gains power from its very obviousness. Those two scenes set off against one another works as a brutal but efficient summary for the show’s signature move, demonstrating once again how hope leads into despair.

That intensity of purpose runs through everything here, and there’s gratifying effort to create crises which are immediate, clear, and suspenseful. Ezekiel is given little time to mourn his people, since they all start rising as hungry zombies—a cause-and-effect style payoff that speaks more clearly to the horror of the situation than a hundred monologues might have. Watching Ezekiel trying to scramble away with a wounded leg from a group of his former friends was surprisingly intense; the series’ willingness to off major characters has been long established, and there’s something so immediately and recognizably awful about the situation that it’s impossible to look away.

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Ezekiel gets rescued by one of his own (a trick the episode plays three times, which works to further rub salt in the man’s wounds), who then gets shot by a random glasses-wearing Savior who holds him hostage for about half the episode, ranting at him about how much of a failure he is. The character is little more than a voice for Ezekiel’s worst fears about himself, and his blatant and uninteresting villainy keeps their scenes together from working as well as they might have. Still, given that the episode climaxes with Ezekiel in utter despair, it makes sense to force him to wallow in his self-loathing for while. Plus, Glasses’ exit from the show is one of the best moments in the hour, as Jerry makes a sudden, violent return. Jerry is the best, by the way.

That’s another point worth mentioning. While the Saviors don’t really distinguish themselves here, all the episode’s major characters are entertaining to watch. Jerry gets some fantastic lines in (“I’m gonna borrow this for a sec”), and while Ezekiel is stuck in despair mode throughout, his pain never becomes tedious. Even Rick and Daryl’s extended cameo (they happen to show up just in time to chase down the truck carrying the .50 caliber machine guns away) works well, a brisk action set piece that doesn’t overstay its welcome.

Most of the rest of the action centers around Carol, giving her the chance to demonstrate still more of the level-headed badassery that makes the character so indelible. It’s telling that putting her in a fight against maybe a dozen or so armed men feels less like an exercise in tension than it does a relief from the horrors of the rest of the hour. That Carol is able to think her way through the attack, and that her choice to save Ezekiel and Jerry doesn’t actually result in the guns getting away, helps leaven the episode’s despair. The show generally works best when it can hit this sort of balance—pure desolation has its place from time to time, but it’s good to have a mix of wins and losses to keep either from getting stale.

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Really, the only misstep here is the choice to include a second flashback, presumably to give some texture to Ezekiel’s collapse near the end. It’s not a bad scene, it just feels unnecessary, a lull in the action before getting back to what really matters. But the big finale, with Shiva returning at the last minute to save Ezekiel, only to be ripped apart for her troubles, provides a fitting capstone to his woes. There’s nothing subtle about the symbolism here, and as I said, it’s not exactly a new idea for The Walking Dead to show yet another inspiring figure laid low by reality. (At this point, hope for the future is as much a sign of trouble to come as Chekov’s gun.) But there’s emotion there, and it’s just a relief to see that the show is still capable of offering entries like this one: well-paced, exciting, and an actual pleasure to watch.

Stray observations

  • Carol shoots a group of Saviors while hiding up in the ceiling. It’s great.
  • “Your Majesty.” “You don’t need to call me that.” “Dude, yes I do.”
  • “Thank you, Your Majesty.” “For what?” “For being such a cool dude.”
  • “I ain’t no king. I ain’t nothing. I’m just some guy.” —Ezekiel

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