This week’s The Walking Dead continues to prepare for the inevitable Negan clash. As far as build-up episodes go, this one works relatively well. It doesn’t focus on just one character, as many filler episodes have. “New Best Friends” actually tries to show action for a bit of everyone. As we slog on towards the big, final showdown, the group figures out how to prepare in their own ways.
The strongest part of the episode is how the protagonists return to their roots. Rick uses his survival skills, and strong leadership, to win over new allies. Daryl isn’t afraid to tangle with rivals in order to keep his kin safe. Carol’s fear for the group is well-balanced by her cool handling of Ezekiel’s men. Even Morgan’s dislike of death comes off as understandable, when compared to Daryl protecting Carol. It may feel like the show is rehashing old material, but it’s actually playing to its strengths. These characters are interesting for specific reasons, and “New Best Friends” brings those reasons back.
I’m gonna come out and say it – I don’t like this new group of survivors. Maybe these garbage-dwellers are from the comics, and will prove to be important later on. But as a television viewer, I don’t want yet ANOTHER group to care about. These new survivors also don’t have much going for them, as far as intrigue. They’re creepy and talk different, sure, but all they really provide is more cannon fodder for the protagonists.
King Ezekiel is also beginning to become a bit stagnant. He’s an interesting idea, but doesn’t do much aside from talk fancy. Ezekiel has the same moral code as Morgan, which is an interesting perspective to have, but pairing them up shows they’re not that different. At this point, Richard does more than Ezekiel or his pet tiger. Richard is keeping things interesting, with his drive to kill Negan outweighing his regard for Carol or Daryl. The Walking Dead has introduced two cool concepts for characters – Ezekiel and Negan – but once they’re introduced, they become stagnant. Catch one episode of Ezekiel, and you’ve basically seen them all.
This episode is a nice start to real, boiling action, but it still functions as build-up. There’s only so interesting you can make a prologue to a cooler fight, and “New Best Friends” does an okay job. At the very least, The Walking Dead isn’t spending whole episodes on one story at a time. It’s balancing out various storylines, meaning that all the action is moving forward at the same rate. There’s room to improve with characterization, but this is a pleasant push towards the action we fans are craving.