Season 6, Episode 10, ‘The Next World’
That noise you heard Sunday night was the sound of “Walking Dead” nation rejoicing — or the romantically obsessed quadrant, at least. For that was when “Richonne” moved from fan fiction sites and Tumblrs into the actual world of the show, as Rick and Michonne’s friendly joshing about hard days and dental health finally escalated into considerably more. (Cough called it cough… )
Whether you swoon or sneer or couldn’t care less one way or the other, ‘shipping is a fundamental aspect of contemporary TV fandom, the classic will-they-or-won’t-they fascination now intensified both by online advocacy and the elevated emotional investment modern TV serials inspire and demand. With the possible exception of Carol and Daryl — which has always seemed pretty platonic, pleasing rhyme scheme aside — Rick and Michonne has been the most desperately desired coupling in the “Walking Dead” universe.
For one thing, as the archetypal hero of “The Walking Dead,” Rick’s romantic prospects have always been central to the show. So far this base has been covered first by his wife Lori, who shacked up with his best friend and was also one of the series’s most loathed characters, and then by Jessie, the courting of whom involved killing her husband (#baggage). For another, not only does Michonne not come with an awkward (and narratively tedious) love triangle, she’s arguably the most purely appealing “Walking Dead” character — a loyal, reliable comrade and warrior with both the coolest signature weapon and a slightly wounded quality, making her all the more relatable. She can slice and dice with the best of them but, unlike nearly everyone else on the show — Rick, specifically — she never loses sight of the big existential picture. She gets both what is required in any situation as well as the emotional toll of her actions.
Her involvement with Rick recasts him as a leader comfortable in a coalition of equals, signaling that his current pivot away from the tyrannical impulses the show rolls out whenever it wants to complicate things might actually stick this time. For Michonne, the relationship with Rick as well as Carl and Judith, last seen rolling over on a baby monitor, to Michonne’s delight, brings the stability and sense of home she’s long craved, perhaps the thing she wants “for my whole life,” as she put it to Spencer.
So even for the cynical among us, it’s a notable union. The fact that the whole thing was topped off with one of the series’s most memorable shots — the two of them naked, weapons drawn on a mysterious visitor — was just frosting. Of course, the fact that the show has raised the emotional stakes for these battle-tested warriors and consolidated leadership of Alexandria within their capable hands probably means that pretty profound challenges lie ahead. (The Negan threat remains a shadow over the season.) Here’s hoping things work out better for Michonne than for Rick’s previous love interests.
The new lovers’ pairing was the culmination of a relatively quiet episode that, set a few weeks after last Sunday’s installment, finally stepped back from the frenetic action of, well, the entire season so far. (Until Sunday, we’d only moved forward a few days from the Great Zombie Drive of the Season 6 premiere.) It was one of the periodic reset installments, as the characters rebuild or search for supplies as the show prepares for the next big clash by reminding us what everyone is fighting for.
The answer: One another, per usual. But Sunday’s generally leisurely hour was more enjoyable than other ‘values episodes,’ mainly because it largely avoided the show’s tendency toward didactic explication. Sure, there was Michonne and Spencer talking meaningfully about Home and Family when they weren’t putting down Zombie Deanna. (How about that walker act from Tovah Feldshuh? The woman’s range knows no bounds, mortal or otherwise.)
But there was also Enid and Carl sharing authentically prickly adolescent company in the woods. There was the unforced rapport of Rick and Daryl, using chicken-fried pop songs and unconscious interlopers to mess with each other during an ill-fated supply run. (Get it together, guys, or get used to punching new holes in your belts.)
In some ways this was almost a throwback episode, not to previous periods of this series but to an earlier era of television. Not just the will-they-or-won’t-they aspect, but also the easygoing emphasis on just spending time in the company of people we enjoy.
We even met a wacky new neighbor. The other main point of the episode was to introduce Paul “Jesus” Rovia, a key character from the comics named Paul Monroe — it’s unclear if the name has been changed for the series or if he was being cagey. (Google away if you like, though you might stumble across comics spoilers.)
Played by Tom Payne (“Luck”), Jesus arrived in the guise of terrified walker prey but was quickly revealed to be a crafty survivor, as he picked Rick’s pocket, distracted him and Daryl and then made off with their supply-laden truck. Robert Kirkman, the “Walking Dead” creator, has said that as the story goes on, the main group’s adversaries will be increasingly formidable, as they’d need to be in order to last this long in a post-apocalyptic zombiescape. Jesus’s gifts would seem to include prodigious reserves of guile and resourcefulness along with elite hand-to-hand combat skills, though it remains to be seen whether or how he will bring those to bear in aide of the main group.
He spent much of Sunday night unconscious, thanks to a tussle in a field that helped no one — parking brakes, people — and the rest of it acting like the world’s worst roommate. He stole their food, borrowed their truck without asking, tagged along when he wasn’t wanted and finally, in barging in on Rick and Michonne, displayed zero respect for the concept of personal space.
“Rick, wake up. We should talk.”
No, man. You should knock…
A Few Thoughts While We Try to Get Over the Hat Thing
• Cliffs Notes Recap: People need people, and don’t sleep on sorghum.
• Sorry, armchair architects. It looks like they’re going with the wall supports on the outside again.
• So that dangling walker by the gate: A mascot? Community greeter? Ghoulish lawn ornament? A scarecrow for Eugene’s future sorghum patch? We just gonna leave that guy out there?
• Carl played it off in the moment but he was clearly stung by Enid’s plan to end their special kid times together in the woods. “You don’t want to be out here, you said it,” he sniped later, during his clumsy hissy fit over undead Deanna. It’s not you, Rooster, it’s the hat.
• Episode playlist: “More Than a Feeling” by Boston; “Action Packed” by Ronnie Lee Dawson; “If My Heart Was a Car” by the Old 97’s. Not sure if there’s any symbolism to be found therein but there you go.
• So will domestic bliss dull Rick or Michonne’s edge? What does Jesus so desperately need to get off his chest? Any predictions what Judith’s first word will be? What’s your favorite underrated grain? Please weigh in on this or anything else in the comments.