“Service” approaches war and other forms of carnage, which appear more and more to be the true subject of The Walking Dead, from a new direction, focusing on the stockpiling of weapons. Its two parallel themes, exploring who controls those weapons and the shifting allegiances within Alexandria, may explain the extra length of this episode, which actually feels less repetitive than many hour-long episodes from the show’s past seasons that have pounded home the same point one or two times too many.
Negan (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) saunters through the gates a graceless winner, still marinating in douchebag brio, bullying and terrorizing his opponents, in part by issuing constant threats of violence—though thankfully his only victim this time around is a walker. Ever the sexual predator, he slavers after Maggie, and he spews casually entitled hate speech like his homophobic aside to Rick: “In case you haven’t caught on, I just slipped my dick down your throat and you thanked me for it.” All the more reason to root for Rick’s diverse group to win their inevitable war with the Saviors—especially if they have the sense to entrust that inclusive, humanist, and surprisingly chill black guy (I mean Ezekiel, of course) with the day-to-day governing.
The Alexandrians had been knitting together as a community after Rick’s (Andrew Lincoln) group and the original residents banded together to win their big season-six battle, but Negan’s fascist domination has shaken many people’s faith in Rick’s leadership. In “Service,” some chafe when Rick brings them together in the chapel and urges them to give up all their guns to the Saviors, while Spencer (Austin Nichols) has become openly defiant, taunting Rick so bitterly and publicly that Rick has to shut him down. The barrage of contempt he unleashes on Spencer, accusing him of hoarding food and booze because he’s “small” and “weak,” no doubt stokes the already hot fire of Spencer’s resentment, laying the groundwork for a potentially violent confrontation between them.
No divide, however, is more serious than the one between Rick and Michonne (Danai Gurira), one of his most trusted and gifted lieutenants and his only love interest to date who feels like a truly worthy match. The episode opens with Michonne—so badass that she even wakes up with a scowl—sneaking out of bed so Rick won’t see her lifting a rifle out of hiding in the fireplace. He responds in kind, spying on her as she removes the gun but saying nothing about what he saw for a while. She agrees only reluctantly when he first asks her to ensure Olivia’s (Ann Mahoney) safety by following Negan’s rules, handing over her rifle and her deer to the Saviors with surly defiance. There’s more hope for the two of them after he opens up to her in the privacy of their bedroom, confiding that he’s always known that Judith isn’t his biological daughter. She seems to truly feel him then, but it remains to be seen whether she’s been won over to his belief that the best way to survive is to obey Negan, even when Negan and his minions aren’t there to see what they’re doing. Then again, seeing as how Rick’s lady loves generally wind up undead, developing a little distance from Rick might not be a bad thing for Michonne.
At least Rick has a staunch ally in Gabriel (Seth Gilliam). Not only does Gabriel step up when Negan tries to draft Maggie into his harem, digging a fake grave to convince him that she’s dead, he also tells Rick: “I feel like I know this is going to work out…I have faith in us. I have faith in you.” Negan’s focus on Maggie is a reminder that we haven’t seen her since the season opener, which left her set on revenge. Hopefully we’ll head to the Hilltop soon to see what’s up with her and Sasha, and to learn more about that community.
What we know about the Alexandrians’ grit and survival skills give even the grimmest scenes in “Service” an undertone of hope, like when one of the Saviors taunts Enid (Katelyn Nacon) in part by calling her a “little girl,” clearly unaware of who he’s dealing with. The final scene, in which Rosita asks Eugene to make her a bullet for the gun she’s hidden from almost everyone, may be a hopeful sign as well. Then again, maybe not, since the one person who knows about the gun is Spencer. Might he wind up aiming that bullet at Rick’s head? Given The Walking Dead‘s penchant for magnifying the worst in human nature, I wouldn’t be surprised.
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