Sequences where walkers are killed always have some meaning in The Walking Dead. In this episode, it did not happen frequently. Instead of action, more space is given to… tomatoes. Have you seen those perfect shiny tomatoes in this episode? I spotted at least three of them. One picked by Rick at the beginning, one that Jed takes from Maggie, and a trashed one at the end.
Tomatoes are another symbol of a peaceful, prosperous civilization. Agriculture and trade are flourishing. They are a symbol of the future. In fact, the word ‘future’ is mentioned quite frequently throughout the episode. The trashed tomato at the end means that something has changed and the future may not be so promising after all. Perhaps, this tomato is a key ‘warning sign’.
This episode focused on the theme of justice and the loss of loved ones. The problem of transitional justice is a complex one even in the real world. How to move on but not forget? What is right or wrong after a war? When horrible crimes have been committed on a large scale – usually on both sides – who should be punished and how? The killings that have been happening in the episode are an excuse to talk about those unhealed wounds, and it does get quite emotional.
We come to know that Rick’s grief is not gone. He admits that he feels that urge for revenge everyday, too. But the people he lost are what motivates him to get over it and choose the path of peace. Rick remembers all the people he lost, and not just because of Negan. He also reminds that his friendship with Daryl starts from an act of forgiveness.
It should be noted that, though Rick is championing forgiveness, he does not regret his past violence. Unlike Morgan in Fear, his path to peace does not spur out of remorse. He still justifies his past violence as ‘doing what he had to do’. Rick is presented here as a flawless protector of the greater good. His admission that he does feel that urge for revenge but gets over it through love just adds to the point.
Maggie and Daryl
Maggie and Daryl do not feel the same way. Daryl talks about all the people the different communities lost because of the Saviors – though there is no mention of the people lost by Jadis and the Saviors themselves. The two sequences where walkers are killed in this episode are also part of this journey. They take us to an old settlement where Cyndy’s family and group used to live, which makes the memory more meaningful and emotional.
The episode culminates with the intense scene when Maggie and Daryl find Oceanside’s leaders about to kill the Savior Arat. Here, the story of how their loved ones were killed by the Saviors is quite heart-breaking and reconnects with Maggie and Daryl’s own grief, especially through one detail that brings back to Glenn’s execution. After having been reminded throughout the episode about losses and grief, when we come to this scene the message is powerful and gripping.
Though the message is an emotional one, Maggie’s decision to let Cyndy’s group execute Arat is not just about revenge. This is about Maggie deciding, as a leader, how crimes should be punished. From Maggie’s perspective, this is a punishment, an execution. It’s ‘setting things right’. This is why the execution of Saviors in this episode is linked to that of Gregory. All these incidents are about reflecting on what justice means, and, ultimately, it is all about Negan.
The killing of Justin provokes the rioting of the Saviors. During the fight, the Saviors are constantly referring to the murder of Justin. However, the Saviors are not rebelling out of a feeling of revenge or injustice, but for insecurity. They mock Alexandria’s leadership and ask for guns. Therefore, the point is that they are questioning being ruled by Alexandria, because it is failing at proving security for them. More specifically, what is in question here is Rick’s role as protector, as we see again later in the episode when Carol is threatened. Though Carol is in charge of the Sanctuary, it is Rick who is acting as a guarantor for them. Moreover, these protests also serve to portray the Saviors as prone to violence, though some more than others. While some of them seem to be ‘good’ and support Rick and Maggie, others are ready to turn against them.
Another consequence of the killings is that they provoke doubts, suspicion and increase fractures among our group. Daryl and Anne resent being suspected. Anne feels alienated and betrayed by Rick and his promises of bringing all together. She is feels that she is considered an ‘Other’, an enemy, thus she decides to behave as one. The fractures caused by doubt bring Daryl, Maggie and Anne to turn away from Rick, in different ways, and to choose violent paths.