Over the years, we’ve seen Carol kick plenty of ass. She’s shot countless people. Sometimes she’s shot them non-lethally, just so they could experience the horror of then being eaten alive by zombies. She’s set people on fire while they slept. But we’ve never seen Carol take out an entire band of enemies like she did last night…
…with the magic of cinema.
Oh, man, was “Checkpoint” a lot of fun. If you’re a fan of The Walking Dead as a gritty, “realistic” look at the zombie apocalypse, your mileage might vary. But as one who has experienced countless seasons of miserable, blood-soaked episodes that thought they were doing something serious but were in fact only dimwitted bummers, I’m very happy to see the crazy train that brought in the lunacy of the Whisperers continue to go off those rails.
Because that train has brought in another new group of survivors that are charmingly ridiculous. Last night we met the Highwaymen, who, before the episode starts, jumped Jerry, took his sword, and sent him with a note telling Ezekiel that they’ll be blocking the roads so people can’t go to the big fair unless the Kingdom pays them in food and supplies, which the Kingdom is already running low on. (Remember that weird red, spray-painted symbol a previous episode lingered on? It’s on the letter Jerry brings back with him.)
Because the fair is so important, the King and Queen enlist their finest warriors to tear these knuckleknobs apart. But when they arrive at the Highwaymen’s encampment, Carol has a very unexpected, downright shocking idea: Maybe talk to them first? Even Ezekiel is confused by this, but Carol reminds him not only did these guys not kill Jerry when they had the chance, but their letter said they would only prevent potential fair-goers from taking the roads, not murder them. Also, most significantly, they bothered to send a note – a note, Carol points out, was “grammatically correct.” I never thought I’d hear the term “grammatically correct” on The Walking Dead, but I’m so glad I did.
The Highwaymen are, to put it simply, The Walking Dead’s country-western band. Their leader, Ozzy, not only wears a cowboy hat but looks like he’s going to a Halloween costume party dressed as Hank Williams, Jr. The Highwaymen even have their own twangy country music theme! And, unlike every other band of people our main characters have encountered over the years, these guys seem barely dangerous. Like, if the zombie apocalypse was a high school, Carol and Daryl and the rest are seniors, while the Highwaymen failed fifth grade and are taking it over again.
Not the Highwaymen’s leader Ozzy, but an incredible facsimile.
For example: When the King and Queen enter the Highwaymen HQ to tell them their deal has been declined, Ozzy and all his rowdy friends get to posturing threateningly – for about five seconds, until pretty much all the Kingdom’s people sneak up behind them and put knives to their collective throats, having successfully snuck up on all these goofballs. Instead of slaughtering them, Ezekiel offers them a new deal, in which the Kingdom pays them nothing and the Highwaymen protect the roads to make sure everyone reaches the fair safely, and in return they’ll be allowed to enter the Kingdom and the trade fair.
Ozzy can’t quite connect these dots, forcing Ezekiel to point out they’re surrounded by all the stuff they’ve stolen over the years because they can’t do anything with it, and that’s because they haven’t had anywhere to trade them. Even then, Ozzy tries to act tough, even though virtually all his men can be killed instantly. This is when Carol steps in and seals the deal by asking the Highwaymen, “When’s the last time any of you saw a movie?”
Folks, just reading that sentence does not do it justice.
Carol says it in a pitch-perfect grandmother tone, like these hooligans are her 7-year-old grandchildren and now that the parents have dropped them off and driven away, she smiles and looks at them conspiratorially, as if they’re all about to get away with something naughty, and asks, “How would you boys like some ice cream for dinner?” No one has ever said anything more condescending than this line in the entire series, and the Highwaymen are on board instantly, all because Carol, merciless Carol, angel of death Carol, can still pull off ultra-lovable, loving grandma at the drop of the hat. I’ve had many problems with this show over the years – many problems – but actor Melissa McBride has never stopped killing it, even if Carol has returned to looking to find a non-lethal way to vanquish her foes.
The other main storyline – that of Daryl, Connie, Henry and Lydia trying to evade capture by the Whisperers – seems like standard TWD drama, but it also manages to have some fun by the end. Daryl doesn’t want to lead the bad guys back to Hilltop, but Connie knows a place she and her fellow New Kids once used as a hideout. It’s an apartment building that not only has supplies, but the stairs are already barricaded, allowing it to serve as a “chokepoint,” as Connie writes on her pad – if they stay on the top floor, only the Whisperers will be able to climb up to come get them, separating the living from the dead. Smart stuff!
WWE professional wrestler the Undertaker weari– oops, I’m sorry, that’s Beta (Ryan Hurst).
It takes almost the full episode for the Whisperers to stage their attack, and despite Lydia kissing Henry, sending his already limited brain into paroxysms of horniness, it’s pretty dull stuff. The bulk of the fight itself is pretty ho-hum, even though a Whisperer does manage to stab Henry pretty good with a spear. And then Beta arrives. The show doesn’t even pretend that Alpha’s giant, black trenchcoat-wearing, stringy-haired second-in-command won’t be fighting our lovable, leather jacket-clad, stringy-haired badass Daryl. While Connie and Henry fight off various Whisperers (Daryl has locked Lydia in a supply closet, not entirely for her protection, although she breaks out and helps Henry after he’s been stabbed), Beta instinctually knows where his fellow badass awaits, and heads there, where Daryl has been waiting for him.
I assumed there would be a good fight between the two, but I did not expect something so exquisitely ridiculous. They move to dual-wielding knives almost immediately, and after a few rounds of that, just start professional wrestling. Or, rather, the giant Beta starts wrestling Daryl, and Daryl does his best not to get thrown around like a ragdoll, to mixed results. The Whisperer literally body slams Daryl at one point; when Daryl manages to stab his giant foe in the shoulder with a switchblade Beta isn’t affected even the tiniest degree; and since the top floor was apparently under construction when the apocalypse arrived, Beta is able to not only throw Daryl through a hunk of drywall, the villain then gets to burst through said drywall like the damned Kool-Aid Man. You know, if the Kool-Aid Man was wearing a corpse’s face over the front of his pitcher. And when Daryl managed to shove Beta down an elevator shaft, after falling several stories, he eventually gets up and is somehow still fine.
I have to assume Beta does something truly heinous in the comics, because right now he’s not scary, he’s just hilarious. Between the long hair, the trenchcoat, and the invincibility and the fact he’s doing a non-stop Christian-Bale-as-Batman voice, he’s such a clichéd amalgamation of what a 12-year-old boy thought was super-cool back in 1994 that it warms my heart. He’s probably managed to find a small group of Whisperers to secretly play Dungeons & Dragons (2nd Edition) with him when they aren’t all forced to hang out with zombies.
I would like to assume that the makers of The Walking Dead intentionally made this episode so fun, perhaps as a few pleasant chuckles before things break bad, as all Walking Dead things must. But I also like the idea that they have no idea how goofy this all is because then we’re likely going to get more Highwaymen, more pro wrestling, and best of all, more entertainment. The show has improved in many ways this season (although that’s not to say it’s perfect, by any means) and this is absolutely one of them, so I hope it sticks. Because movie night should always be fun.
Connie (Lauren Ridloff) and Daryl (Norman Reedus). “Cheers!”