There are some issues inherent in time jumps. They can make it so that unresolved character storylines disappear entirely, erasing a chunk of history that needs to be there in order for characters to make sense. They can eliminate plot closure where there needs to be closure. But there’s a lot of good to come from time jumps. They can breathe a long, cool stream of fresh air into something that was feeling stale. They can revitalize characters and plotlines that were stagnant and try something new. There’s a certain audacity to using time jumps, as they’re a risk that’s taken. Trying something new can be refreshing, but it can also be bad if the new ideas aren’t particularly strong.
But you know what, it was refreshing to completely step away from the first half of the season and try something new. While some of the fallout from the misery was left unexplored, such as Rick’s romantic entanglement with Jessie, overall the change is positive, introducing some new characters and actually allowing the show to have some fun for a change. Fun. Isn’t that a bizarre word to read in an article about The Walking Dead? “The Next World” is a “fun” episode of The Walking Dead in that it allows its characters some room to be happy, some room to exist in a world that doesn’t shove misery down their throats every hour of every day. Because that’s ultimately how the world works. Extreme misery punctuated with long periods of tenuous peace.
The main story revolves around Rick and Daryl (a great duo for an episode of The Walking Dead) going on a supply run, encountering a guy named Paul Monroe (or Jesus), and having to take back their supplies from him when they’re stolen. What makes it a great storyline is how it doesn’t pretend that it’s going to kill either of the two characters; instead, the fun is in watching the two of them try to outsmart Jesus, who they just can’t seem to shake free from them. It’s also great to see a new character introduced and characterized in a way that isn’t too “comic book-y”, such as Rosita, Eugene, and Abraham, who were all VERY much tropes when they were introduced. Sure, Jesus is mysterious, but he isn’t characterized in an extreme fashion to make him stand out. The mysteries are, for the most part, left alone, which is a great way to tease out character instead of simply establishing it and not having any real room for immediate growth.
The biggest development is the relationship between Rick and Michonne, which makes sense given their chemistry in the past, and looks to be a strong development for the series going forward. I’m surprised that The Walking Dead hasn’t put a greater emphasis on looking at romance in the apocalyptic era, as it would make sense that people would cling more feverishly to one another when the stakes for survival are so high. Stories like Glenn and Maggie are nice in that they show how far people go to be together when the stakes are high, but where The Walking Dead fails is in showing WHY romance and love exists in the fashion that it does in this “next world”. It’s important to show how love changes, how people interact differently, and how people also interact the same during the end of the world, but it’s also important to show why people are acting that way. Examination of how social rituals shift is extremely important when examining how the status quo shifts. Rick and Michonne’s romance is another chance at examining this complexity, and while it hasn’t achieved this complexity yet (it really was just revealed at the end of the episode), it’s a step in the right direction and a feel-good moment for the show.
Even the side stories were an improvement over the usual. The focus was narrowed to only a few characters (Michonne, Spencer, Carl, and Enid), and it did a great job showing how people still express empathy towards one another and what that does to build community. Carl doesn’t kill Walker Deanna in order to give Spencer a moment of closure, which in turn shows Michonne how much people care about one another, even after enduring so much loss. Because people can use loss to fuel their negative visions of the world, or they can use loss to remember what life is really worth. And “The Next World” does a great job reminding us of the good that people can do when they remember that they’re all part of a singular community.
“The Next World” teases improvement in the world at large. Sure, there are always people willing to murder, and there are always bad people that cannot be redeemed, but there are people like Jesus, those that live by a code. Because the world is never without boundaries, and those that live without boundaries are always undone by that failing. As civilizations rebuild and order is slowly returned, people start to find ways to coexist, even when they’re in competition. And maybe “The Next World” is a turning point, a sighting of that light at the end of the tunnel.
But, of course, there are always those who want to undo everything, who want to shift the status quo to their benefit. And it’s just a matter of time until Rick finds one of those people again.
So what did you think of “The Next World”? Are you excited about the introduction of Jesus? Let me know in the comments!