Be warned! This review will cover aspects of the episode. Spoilers will lurk like groaning walkers.
Picking up immediately from the end of last week – indeed, rewinding a few minutes to see how Carol and Maggie were captured by a group of the Saviours who escaped Rick and the team's annihilation of their comrades – we're treated to a whittled down, small-scale episode that works to a magnificent degree and never feels like the creative team pinching pennies so they can be ready for a big season finale in a few weeks' time.
A big advantage for The Same Boat is having the excellent Alicia Witt playing the main antagonist of the three Saviours who snatch C-bird and Mags. Her Paula is a perfect counterpoint to Melissa McBride, and the two make for spiky verbal sparring partners. But first we have to get to the safe house where Paula, Molly (Jill Jane Clements), Michelle (Jeananne Goossen) and their injured male fellow Saviour Donnie (Rus Blackwell) will hold on to Maggie and Carol.
Our point of view switches to Maggie and Carol's feet as their jackets are flung over their heads to blind them for the walk to the safe house. But even though she's been captured, Carol is still thinking tactically, dropping a stealthy trail for Rick and the rest to follow later. The safe house is partly filled with walkers – or as Paula and the rest call them, "cold bloods" – which help as security should anyone attack the place. Bringing Carol and Maggie to an empty chamber, they duct tape their wrists and gag them, setting up what for all the world looks like a Saw re-enactment.
Carol starts to hyperventilate, looking like she's having the mother of all panic attacks. So well does McBride play this that you really do begin to wonder if Carol is crumbling under the pressure, and has finally let the horor and guilt of this destroyed world get to her again. Clutching a rosary from, of all things, a walker, she lets slip that Maggie is pregnant, which only garners derision from Paula and the others. Why would anyone want to bring a child into this terrible post-apocalypse? But this is Glenn's child, so surely it can't die?
Molly, meanwhile, is trying to enjoy a cigarette and cares little for Carol's complaints about the second hand smoke and Maggie's pregnancy. See, Molly has cancer, so she's a dead woman walking, as she reminds Carol that she will shortly be. Donnie is in real trouble, though, as the gunshot wound received when Carol shot him during their initial capture is killing the nerves in his arm. The Saviour women really do need to make a trade for Primo (Jimmy Gonzales), the guy Daryl stopped from driving away on his bike last week and who is now in Rick's custody. He's the closest thing this group has to a doctor.
Donnie, angrily and painfully getting to his feet, insists they kill the prisoners and backhands Paula when she says they're still needed for insurance. There's a scuffle, and both Carol and Maggie attack him in their limited, still-bound ways. Carol ends up with a few swift kicks in the ribs for her troubles, but Paula is able to clock Donnie with her pistol and he goes down.
'Chelle takes Maggie to another room for questioning, and Carol thanks Paula for keeping Donnie away from them. She invokes the spectre of her abusive ex-husband, but Paula swats away comparisons between the two of them. Donnie, she says, is just a warm body for her bed and she could kill him in his sleep at any time. She also mocks Carol's religion.
In the other room, 'Chelle is asking Maggie about her home base, and we learn one of 'Chelle's fingers was cut off after she was caught stealing. Maggie's being much less forthcoming and 'Chelle is hardly the world's best interrogator.
Paula hears from Rick on the walkie talkie: he still wants to trade, but she's stalling for time, knowing that more Saviours are on their way. They've clearly got a much more sophisticated set-up than our heroes. Carol asks about Negan and gets the confusing reply, "we are all Negan." Um... You're not Jeffrey Dean Morgan, so unless you're also the Borg, we're guessing you're being run along the lines of a big ol' cult. Carol asks for a cigarette, and Paula starts talking about her old life. Turns out she was a secretary and mostly hated her life. She recalls an inspirational email, one of several she used to read to try to help her through the day, and comes up with a tale that almost makes you think Abraham has wandered into the room. Losing everything, it would appear, has made Paula better – at least in her own view. It's a tour de force by Witt, and one that makes us sorry she was only planned as a single-episode character.
Paula contacts Rick and arranges a trade in a nearby field, but then also contacts her fellow Saviours. She doesn't trust that Rick isn't waiting close by to ambush them, so she's got her own plan. She wants her team ready to move. But when she leaves the room, a complete change comes over Carol, who shrugs off both her timid mood and her bonds, slicing the tape with the crucifix attached to the rosary beads. She searches through part of the complex, coming across Molly killing a zombie. She ducks away and finds Maggie similarly escaping. They go back to the main room and discover that Donnie is already dead from his wound and starting to turn. It's here they put the first part of their gross/cool plan into action, leashing him to a wall near the door.
When Molly comes back to the chamber, she's surprised by zombie Donnie (Zonnie?) who chews on her wrist before she stabs him. Then Maggie springs in and kills Molly, raining blows on her until she's well and truly gone. Paula, mad as hell and not about to take it anymore, finds them in the corridor and confronts them, but is shot and injured when a walker stumbles into Carol, causing her to fire the gun she'd been pointing at Paula. 'Chelle is also dispatched quickly after she fights Maggie and nearly slashes her, but is shot in the head by Carol. Paula's still alive, but after a tussle with Carol, she ends up impaled on a broken pipe and having her cheek chewed by one of the walkers.
Carol calls the Saviours' scout group to come in and, after a quick heart-to-heart with Maggie about her mental state after killing yet more people, she hears the other Saviours arrive. Apparently Carol is not quite finished killing people despite her worries, as she shuts the door on the men, and throws a cigarette onto the floor where she and Maggie have poured gasoline. Whoompf!
Finally, Carol and Maggie find their way past zombie Paula (who gets a knife in the forehead for her trouble) and reunite with the gang and Rick briefly asks Primo about Negan. "I'm Negan, shithead!" he claims, and Rick shoots him, clearly unaware of the "we are all Negan" rule the Saviours employ.
At last, the layers are peeled back on the Saviours, or at least a small sampling. It's fun to note that Paula in particular is a smart, if damaged, person and the complete opposite to the threatening numbskulls we met at the start of the season. It's much needed character work, and all the better for being part of a small-scale, intense episode. Plus, putting Witt up against Melissa McBride was a genius move as it brought out winning performances from both of them. And far from being just a quiet play of an episode, there's still enough to keep zombie fans happy with several gruesome moments, not the least of which is Paula's succumbing to the hordes and her eventual walker fate (with second death courtesy of Maggie, who has a little less to do, but goes full Rambo when called upon.)
Still, the episode belongs to McBride, who gives us several shades of Carol Peletier, from the faux sorrow and panic, to the steely woman we've come to know, respect and very occasionally fear. The Walking Dead, despite its love for spectacle, often brings more value with these quiet, character-filled episodes, and The Same Boat is no exception. Obviously things will ramp up from here, but this was a useful side-trip into the psyche.
In the UK, The Walking Dead airs Mondays at 9pm on Fox.
Who the hell is Negan, anyway? Read our definitive guide to the character in the comics.