The theme of building a new civilisation is again central in this episode. From what Rick tells us at the start of the episode, this means moving away from violence: violence is for survival, while peace is for the ‘civilised’ world. There are many signs of this new civilisation throughout the episode, from schooling to medical training, and, of course, rebuilding strategic infrastructure. But the main one is love. As Rick walks through the civilisation he has created, we see happy faces of people bonding together, hugging, and kissing. Rick watches satisfied from a distance. There are more happy couples then ever, and families are flourishing. After seeing Rick, Michonne, and Judith in the last episode, now it is the turn of Ezekiel, Carol, and Henry. We also see Maggie with her little Hershel, and Aaron talking to Daryl about babies. We have several interracial couples, and couples that bring together members of different communities – not the Saviors though.
Among the new institutions that are being set up, this episode focuses on two in particular: trade and law.
The bridge is meant as a material infrastructure that connects the communities, but it is also a symbol and a metaphor. The bridge symbolises the future as well as peaceful cooperation among communities. The construction of infrastructure for a common good requires a joint effort from all the communities. The process of construction is possible through sophisticated techniques to control and manage hordes of walkers, which again, requires cooperation and resources from all sides.
In the meantime, the Hilltop is processing the crime and punishment that took place in the last episode. We come to know that about a month has passed, but the debate is still going on and it touches upon themes such as morality, justice, rights, divergent opinions, and the possibility that who judges might make mistakes. Nonetheless, death penalty is still justified and accepted: Maggie firmly states that she has no regrets, ‘some people can’t be redeemed’.
Michonne is witnessing the process and pushing for a common law. At the end, Maggie to the institution of a common law, and mentions that she will have a council to help her making decisions. Despite the talks about setting up a system of rule of law, the decision-making process is not all that democratic yet. With the exception of some advice from Jesus, all these decisions about what constitutional form of government to adopt are taken by Maggie alone.
The greater good
Rick and Michonne’s roles as messengers of the greater good is even more prominent in this episode, especially in the light of a potential clash between the interests of the greater good and loyalties towards a community or narrow group. At the Hilltop, we get this clear through Maggie and Michonne’s dialogue. When Maggie points out that she reserves the right to do what is best for her people, Michonne answers that ultimately what is best for everyone will end up being what is best for the Hilltop, too. At the bridge, the loss of Aaron’s arm is an emotional moment, which questions Rick’s decisions and increases Daryl resentment. Are they still on the same side? Nonetheless, Rick gets a powerful absolution when Aaron tells him that -thanks to him – this is not end of the world anymore; it is the start of a new one, and he is grateful for being part of it.
The deviant community
Despite the portrayal of the ‘new world’ as an inclusive society built on reconciliation and forgiveness, there more and more signs that the Saviors are still the bad guys, the evil Others that cannot be trusted. There are a few remarks about trust, for example when Rosita is working with a Savior and is asked if she would trust her, the answer is a flat negative. We come to know that the Saviors are not just ruled by Alexandria, but they have also been disarmed, and thus are dependent on Alexandria for protection. The fight scene at the bridge demonstrates that they are brutes and prone to violence. They would pick up a fight for no reason, even against a child. The Saviors cause the crisis at the bridge that culminates with Aaron losing his arm through their negligence and carelessness. The message is clear: they cannot be trusted.
Rick’s choice to work with them is questioned. His reason to have them work at the bridge construction site is that they provide much needed unskilled labour – which again adds to their depiction not so civilised brutes. Rick’s relationship with them is like that of a father with a naughty child: provides for their needs and protection, tries to keep them on track, scolds them, and is responsible for them.
Negan is a whole different story. Of course, he is looking forward for the peace to collapse, or at least he says so. But this is not why he makes Rick shiver. Similarly to Gregory in the last episode, Negan gives voice to Rick’s dark side, his inner fears and emotions. He brushes away the rosy image of peace and love that Rick describes with just one word: Carl. This is the first time in the episode that Rick’s devastating loss is brought out in the open. We know that this whole peace mission is about honouring Carl’s last wish, but has Rick himself really made peace with his loss?