Episode 6.11 (written by Matt Negrete and Channing Powell) saw The Walking Dead universe expand as Rick’s group (and viewers) were introduced to The Hilltop Colony and its inhabitants. The episode set the stage for the inevitable showdown with Negan that has been brewing since the beginning of season 6. And if “Knots Untie” was any indication of what’s to come, the upcoming battle will be bloody and, for at least some of our survivors – fatal.
After a few moments spent with Abraham and his love triangle (more on that later), the episode picks up where 6.10 left off, with the new character of Jesus (having just interrupted Rick and Michonne’s intimate morning after) in the Grimes home. When Carl puts a gun to Jesus’ head and demands to know what he is doing in the house, Jesus’ casual comment about waiting for Carl’s “parents” seemed natural. Carl didn’t seem all that surprised by the remark, and his conversation with his dad a little while later confirmed that he’s happy to know Rick and Michonne have come together.
As other group members gather at the house, Jesus explains that he’s part of a community that looks to trade with other surviving communities. In order to prove his offer is in good faith, Jesus wants to show Rick’s people Hilltop, just as Aaron did with The Safe Zone not so long ago.
Rick and some of his core group (though it was odd that Carol, who is such a good judge of character, was notably absent) make the long trek to Hilltop, saving some of that colony’s residents along the way. When they arrive at the community, they’re initially greeted by spear wielding strangers who want Rick’s people to disarm. But Jesus lets them in with their weapons, explaining Hilltop has run out of ammunition, which gives the two groups a starting point for trade.
Inside Hilltop’s gate, Jesus shows the others the community, including a large historical house, FEMA trailers, crops and animals, and even a doctor’s office (complete with, as luck would have it – an ultrasound machine). It’s interesting that many of these communities have survived, begging the question as to why, so far, we haven’t heard more about any military bases that are still operating. Jesus takes the group inside the house to meet Gregory, a sleazy bastard that we’re obviously supposed to hate, (I know within 30 seconds I did). He initially dismisses the group – including Rick in mid-sentence – telling them to clean up. Rick then enlists Maggie’s help to strike a deal, pointing out to her that the leadership qualities Deanna saw in her were real.
Gregory doesn’t take Maggie seriously, calling her first by the wrong name and then “honey,” only to then say her group could work for supplies and suggesting Maggie provide something else entirely. Maggie doesn’t lose her cool, however, and states her case for the benefits of trade between the two groups. I like that Maggie is becoming a leader. She’s been a strong character from her introduction in Season 2, but she hasn’t been developed in this particular area the way Carol and Michonne have, so it was good to see those leadership skills emerge in this episode.
The trade talks get interrupted when some Hilltop residents return from a trip to Negan’s compound, explaining Negan killed two of their own and still holds one more, Craig. Ethan, Craig’s brother, has to send a message to Gregory from Negan (AKA kill him), but when he plunges a knife into Gregory’s gut, Rick quickly steps in. A fight ensues between the two groups, culminating in Rick killing Ethan, and the now familiar scene of Rick covered in a dead man’s blood while community residents stare in horror. It seems the show may also be trying out the use of more dark comedy (especially after last week’s episode), judging from Rick’s inappropriate “What?” to the shocked Hilltop people.
After the fight, Jesus briefs Rick’s group on Negan and the so called “Saviors.” We learn that Negan’s representatives came to The Hilltop colony, murdered a 16 year old boy and ever since have been taking half of everything from the community in exchange for halting the attacks on it. And that’s where Rick and the Alexandrians will come in. It’s interesting that Daryl is the one to come up with the plan to kill Negan in exchange for supplies, though Rick with his “Confrontation is never something we’ve had trouble with” was right there with him.
Maggie goes in for a second round with Gregory (who survived the attack), quoting her dad and using the leverage her group has with fighting in order to demand half of Hilltop’s supplies. Gregory, knowing the colony will eventually be totally depleted by Negan, finally agrees. So Rick’s group loads up the motor home with supplies before asking one of its members to come along to provide information about Negan’s compound. Before the group leaves, Maggie and Glenn get treated (courtesy of the doctor Glenn saved) to an ultrasound of their unborn baby. Back on the road, they pass the picture around, a symbol of hope and rebuilding for everyone. Of course we all know too well about what happens when people hope on this show, but it was a nice moment nonetheless. Now, Rick just needs the rest of The Safe Zone residents to get on board with a plan to carry out an unprovoked attack on anther community.
Mention must be made of the sub plot of this episode, which came in the form of Abraham’s reluctance to commit to one of the women in his life and juxtaposed it with Glenn and Maggie’s deep commitment and hope for the future. Abraham has feelings for both Rosita and Sasha (although Sasha tried to take herself out of the equation), but doesn’t see the point of a relationship, given the landscape they live in. We see his introspection and struggle interspersed throughout the episode, until the ultrasound picture seems to solidify his resolve to build something with someone. I’ve said before Michael Cudlitz is more than a capable actor, but he could use better storylines than this. Of course, it’s entirely possible that Abraham’s self-discovery could be in preparation for his brutal death in a future episode, because we know The Walking Dead loves to showcase minor characters right before it kills them off. On the flip side, Sasha or Rosita might be killed instead, and since the character of Rosita never has anything to do, it would probably be worth her death to finally see some backstory on her.
The stage can also be getting set for Glenn or Maggie’s death. We’ve already been down that road with Glenn, so it might be easier this time around (who am I kidding – no it wouldn’t). Maggie is becoming such a strong character, so it would be a shame if the writers decided to extinguish her potential. Right now, it’s all just speculation. The only thing we know for sure is somebody won’t make it through the end of the season.
The purpose of this exposition-heavy episode was clearly to set future events in motion, so it served its purpose. Things are about to start moving faster, leading to a season finale where we meet Negan. However, there are five more episodes before we get from here to there, so it will be interesting to see what happens next. Apparently this storyline is the closest one yet to the comics. There are all kinds of predictions regarding whether certain key points in the graphic novels with play out on screen. But quite frankly, I don’t want to know anything. It’s not so much about the spoilers, it’s just that I see the comics and the TV series as separate entities. I actually enjoy watching the show unencumbered by knowledge of anything that preceded it (since I don’t read the comics).
It looks like the next episode will begin plans for the raid on Negan’s compound. I hope Carol and Morgan get to weigh in on upcoming decisions, because we haven’t seen much at all from either one of them. Whatever happens, this massive attack is sure to have dire consequences. For Rick and his people, there’s no turning back now.