Love is in the air on The Walking Dead.
In the most obvious sense, Rick and Michonne hook up at the end of this episode, before the real world (in the form of the guy Rick took back to Alexandria as a captive, though Rick probably wouldn't describe it that way) intrudes.
It's a pretty intriguing moment in the overall arc of the show, even if the show hasn't built up to it, precisely. Sex may as well not exist on The Walking Dead, so rarely does it occur, so for the series to give in to a full-on kissing scene — and then a shot of Rick and Michonne snoozing in bed in the aftermath — is kind of surprising.
Even Glenn and Maggie, who are married and apparently very much in love, rarely indulge in anything other than a chaste kiss. On one level, this makes sense — it's the zombie apocalypse. There's no time for love, Rick Grimes. On another, the complete lack of romance or anything like it is part of why The Walking Dead often feels so damn grim. (Grimness is, of course, the show's specialty, but it all too often overindulges.)
So let's hope this hookup isn't the only time Cupid's arrow strikes the show's characters in the second half of season six. Valentine's Day might have arrived late on The Walking Dead, but it still arrived. And if nothing else, "The Next World" offers up plenty of potential couples-to-be. Here are five of them.
1) Rick and Michonne
What's most surprising about this pairing is the way "The Next World" makes it feel more or less inevitable, even though the episode really only lays the groundwork for it.
There are, of course, Rick/Michonne shippers out there (a.k.a. people who are heavily invested in these two particular fictional characters hooking up), but the show itself hadn't given viewers tons of forthright suggestion that they're into each other until the start of "The Next World," when Michonne steps out of the bathroom in Rick's house, freshly showered.
It turns out to be a bit of a misdirect — she's just there helping out while Carl recovers from his recent gunshot wound, and enough time has passed that Carl is back on his feet again — but it's enough to plant the idea in your head that Rick and Michonne might make a pretty good couple, an idea the show follows through on in the last five minutes of the episode.
And, honestly, I'm in favor of it. Romance is not really something The Walking Dead has done well — outside of a little Carol/Daryl pining here and there. Realistically, there wouldn't be a lot of romance in the zombie apocalypse, but now that everybody's starting to settle down just a bit, well, it makes a certain amount of sense.
Plus, it leads to that great moment when Rick and Michonne, in bed together, both wake up in a split second and pull their respective weapons on the person waking them up. If these two ever have kids, they'd better hope those kids never have nightmares and need to be comforted in the middle of the night. (Clearly, I'm getting ahead of myself.)
2) Carl and Enid
Somewhat bizarrely, the show is still trying to sell this teen romance as one worth keeping an eye on.
Sure, it's downshifted from the days when the two were in a full-fledged love triangle with the now-dead Ron. But they still spend a lot of time onscreen together — and on TV, that often means, "We think these two might start kissing."
Carl and Enid have never had all that much chemistry, and I'm not sure a story of first teenage love is a natural fit for The Walking Dead. But the show keeps coming back to it, so somebody somewhere clearly thinks it's worth our time.
Ultimately, the storyline's latest chapter is a little bit cheesy. Carl, slowly recovering from his injuries, starts heading out into the wilderness with Enid to do what teenagers do in the zombie apocalypse: taunt zombies but ultimately stumble away from them. However, it turns out that what he's really doing is luring the zombie of Deanna (who died back in the midseason finale) around, the better so that her son can dispatch of her.
Why does he do this? Well, as he tells Michonne, it's so that someone who loves Deanna can administer the final blow. He would do it for Michonne! Aw. That's sweet ... I guess?
3) Daryl and his new friend
One of the more fun elements of this episode — suffused with love as it is — is the way that Daryl's encounter with his new "friend" (a seeming drifter named Paul that he and Rick encounter while on a supply run) almost gets played as a sort of meet-cute.
First, the two of them tensely question each other. Later, they start fighting. Eventually, Daryl is chasing the guy through an open pasture, while Rick races along behind them in a truck. (The truck ends up at the bottom of a lake.) To cap it all off, Rick and Daryl truss up the unconscious Paul (his friends call him Jesus!) and make him sit in the back seat with Daryl on the way back to Alexandria.
The scene — which features Daryl constantly shrugging off the unconscious man when he slides over to lean his head on Daryl's shoulder — is actually kind of funny and, again, takes a page out of the romantic comedy playbook. Comics readers will have suspicions about where this story is going, so introducing it with some light laughs might be the best way to go.
4) Maggie and Glenn
Glenn actually sits out this episode, but the show hasn't forgotten about its long-running power couple.
One of the stories from the comics I was always a bit sad to see go unadapted by the show was when Glenn and Maggie, unable to have kids of their own, essentially adopted the young Sophia. (In the comics, Carol died but Sophia lived; obviously, the opposite happened on TV.) It was fun to see the couple adjust to being parents in the post-zombie world, and it cemented their bond as something more than the transitory thing it easily could have been.
Now, The Walking Dead hasn't exactly started adapting this story, but Maggie and Glenn's interactions with Enid have started to take on a parental vibe. Particularly in this episode, Maggie's attempts to tell Enid that she can always turn to Maggie feel like a mom reaching out to her teenage daughter. And that's to say nothing of Glenn imparting all of his sage wisdom to Enid throughout the past few episodes. Good news, Enid! You have some solid apocalyptic adoptive parents.
5) Denise and Tara
Denise's request for some Orange Crush from a vending machine is the "Aw!"-worthy moment of romance that kicks off this whole darn escapade of love. When Daryl and Rick couldn't get a can back to her to give to Tara in time, I have to admit I was a little disappointed.
Again, sprinkling so much rom-com-ery in the midst of the usual zombie adventures feels a little tonally dissonant at times. But at this point, The Walking Dead may as well try something a little less doom-and-gloom-y, especially if it's planning to stay in Alexandria for a while (as it seems like it might be doing).
This more romantic approach goes along perfectly with how emptied of the dead the show's world is starting to feel, and how the characters are starting to look forward to building a new world atop the ruins of the old one.
But if I know The Walking Dead at all, the series is doing all of this because it wants to do something even more heart-wrenching. After all, the more connections these characters establish with each other — romantic and otherwise — the more they'll have to lose the next time something really bad starts going down.
And on The Walking Dead, it's pretty much inevitable that something really bad is coming.
What do you think? Tell me in comments. I'll be by at noon Eastern to chat about the show and any other culture-related topics.
And while you're there, answer my question: Which fictional couple that isn't together do you hope gets together someday? In other words, who do you "ship"?
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