In the wake of last week's slow, Negan-and-Eugene-centric installment, The Walking Dead might have been better served by getting back to what worked during the first two episodes back from the winter hiatus. Season 7 has been divisive, to say the least, with almost more attention being paid to the show's ratings losses than to its storytelling choices – which, as far as the show is concerned, may actually be for the better. So it's a bit of a risk for the series to take a week where, again, the focus is turned away from the group as a whole and the larger concern of establishing a force capable of mounting an offensive against the Saviors, and is instead narrowed down to a pair of smaller plots – one concerned with Rick and Michonne and another with Rosita's growing impatience.
The promise of an episode like 'Say Yes' usually comes with a question mark. The series has been known to deliver some quality installments by departing from the season's larger narrative, and finding something interesting to say on a character level. But that usually comes as a welcome reprieve from the series' typically languid storylines, something the second half of season 7 shouldn't be suffering from, but nonetheless seems to be steering into out of force of habit.
Even with the threat of the episode being unnecessarily distanced from the promise of actual conflict between Negan and Rick's groups, there is still something appealing about the idea of Rick and Michonne wandering around in search of supplies – likely the specific kinds of supplies that Rick's new best friends demanded in exchange for their help with the Saviors. That lends a certain sense of immediacy to the hour, which is leavened nicely by Andrew Lincoln and Danai Gurira's easy chemistry, making it a compelling enough installment that the irresponsible impatience of Rosita actually helps balance it more than being yet another example of characters on The Walking Dead being selfish fools whose decisions are, more often than not, the source of all the trouble they face.
As it turns out, 'Say Yes' is more fun than the series has had in awhile. It doesn't present or try anything new in terms of structure or formula and that back-to-basics approach winds up breathing some life into the otherwise staid narrative coursing through the show's undead veins. Out on the road, Rick and Michonne are in search of weapons and something to restock Alexandria's storeroom. The hour begins with a montage, cutting between the pair's zombie-filled encounters and some encounters of a more personal kind. It's one of the few times The Walking Dead has shown sexual intimacy and the reveal of two key characters finding time for affection and pleasure amongst all that is still going on goes a long way in providing tonal variance. After the collection of dour episodes season 7 started with, seeing the show find room for a little heart makes a big difference.
As the season now only has four episodes to go, however, the build up to war has to start soon if it's going to have the intended impact. Watching Rick and Michonne together makes for a charming interlude, but if the series' producers are going to make claims about redemption and how characters must be brought low before they can… rise up again, then The Walking Dead needs to get the show on the road. That makes 'Say Yes' potentially the last look as smilin' Rick Grimes we'll see before the finale. Then again, maybe going to war against a guy like Negan just fills Rick full of joy – which wouldn’t be too bad to see either. At any rate, for all the fun the episode has in its small-scale weapons hunt and adventures in post-apocalyptic coupledom, it still finds time to remind those watching that this show doesn't normally deal in happy endings – there's death and gloom right around the corner and Rick knows it.
Rick's talk with Michonne about carrying on no matter how many more friends they lose, or even if they lose each other isn't necessary for any other reason than the show just can't help itself when a chance to once again discuss their situation presents itself. As cyclic as something like that is, it at least makes sense for the episode. For all the fun romancin' the two around to, Rick's close call with a group of walkers results in Michonne laying down her weapon (or dropping it, really). It reads like she's given up, thinking Rick's just become a zombie buffet, and possibly plans to be the next dish served, so getting the weirdest pep talk from her beau on the trip back home at least serves a purpose greater than reminding those watching what the plot is.
In all, the hour would have been a nice character-driven departure from the dreary confines of a world destroyed, but considering what's waiting on the other side, 'Say Yes' is mainly just filler. The Walking Dead is on the verge of having a real purpose for the first time in a long time. That means, pushing Rosita and Sasha into a suicide mission to assassinate Negan is a step in the right direction, as is Tara finally telling Rick about Oceanside. Any other time, a romantic zombie-clearing at the fairgrounds with Rick and Michonne would have been reason enough to cheer, but with the Saviors in dire need of a thrashing, episodes like this can wait.
The Walking Dead continues next Sunday with 'Bury Me Here' @9pm on AMC.
Photos: Gene Page/AMC