I am of two minds about ‘The Same Boat’. It is another Walking Dead episode that makes Carol its most important character, which is always a good thing at this point for the show. Sadly, we also have to deal with an incompetent group of captors with mostly cartoonish personalities. It is admirable to see an episode written by a woman (Angela King) and featuring only women in all the dominant roles, but it would have helped if it was more interesting.
To its credit, for all the times The Walking Dead appears to be doing something ambitious, only to actually be just another version of the same basic idea, ‘The Same Boat’ does actually aspire to be more. Picking up where last week’s episode left off, Carol and Maggie were captured by a group of the Saviors not sleeping and getting their necks slashed by Rick and the gang in the satellite hideout. We even get enough reason to see how these people managed to get the drop on Carol. This is where the ambition comes in, as it is an episode serving as an outward expression of Carol’s development.
In the previous week’s episode I was happy to acknowledge how great Melissa McBride has consistently been in playing up the various qualities given to her by the writers over the years. It matters more this week, as she (and Maggie) is directly involved with the story taking place. We get another chance to see Carol ‘fake’ an identity to lure her captors into believing falsities about their hostage, while she gathers whatever info she can. We also find her dealing with the regrets she is suddenly having about all the death she has been involved with in her attempts to deal with things from a pragmatic perspective.
Maggie gets to work with some character beats as well, but nothing all that significant. For Carol though, this is good stuff and ideally it would have played a whole lot better if the Saviors were interesting. Instead, we have one decent character (Alicia Witt’s Paula) and three others who function at various levels of silly. One woman’s defining trait is being a smoker who hates religion. The youngest woman in the group is unpleasant all the time. And then you have the dude that Carol wounded. He is given just enough time to start yelling at Carol, before being taken down by both Paula and Maggie – men suck this week.
The other issue is a lack of much of a threat. It is great to worry to some degree in a show that used to be able to pride itself on not taking many prisoners when it comes to its cast, but these days that seems like less of an issue. While I would not completely put it past the writers, I was still never convinced this would be the last episode for Maggie or Carol. As a result, the first half of this episode just kind of sat there, as I waited for these two to make their eventual escape. Paula’s coffee monologue was fine, but nothing that helped things move along all that much.
This likely comes from how little I’ve cared about the Saviors as a force to be reckoned with. Clearly the idea is to show them as intimidating, but not a match for Rick and the gang, until we finally meet Negan, but at the same time, this show needs to do more with these people. As it stands, they are just a bunch of annoying jerks that seem to be the image of danger, but can’t save themselves in an actual fight.
The Walking Dead does get some points for once again addressing the idea that Rick and his people are playing in the same pool as the villains and could likely be considered as such, were we to have some different perspectives, but I’ll just have to hope we get more of a push for making that aspect ring true in these final three episodes of the season, or next fall.
Weak threat aside, ‘The Same Boat’ does leave us with a lot of good material for Carol, even if we knew where things were headed. Ideally this doesn’t mean Carol’s newfound sense of regret indicates the lowering of the odds of her survival. Even if it does though, having a character that has gone through a clear arc, with very few discrepancies (as opposed to Rick) would be something to behold. For now though, we can just hope she makes more of her beet cookies and feels better about the people she shot in the head and burnt to a crisp this week.