Be warned! This review will cover aspects of the episode. Spoilers will lurk like groaning walkers..
The season premiere was all about finally introducing us to Negan, the swaggering, sociopathic leader of the Saviours, brought to life by Jeffrey Dean Morgan, a man who knows who to inject charm into the grungiest of roles. It was an hour (well, 46 minutes minus the many, many ad breaks) of unrelenting tension that was more interested in beating down our expectations than being truly worthy as watchable TV. And now, with episode four, we get an even longer episode that is almost entirely that same danger all over again, with a couple of notable exceptions we'll get to. Service sees Negan and his gang arriving at Alexandria like the world's worst charity door-steppers, demanding their haul of half the community's supplies, or whatever the man himself deems is their share. And like the premiere or a large swathe of last week’s episode, it's yet another set of scenes where Negan threatens people, swears a bit, threatens some more people and mentions Lucille the bat. Seriously, if you were playing a drinking game a taking a swig every time he talks up that giant phallic symbol, you'd be dead about 20 minutes in, and you might feel better for it. Points for having a beaten down Rick hold it, and for letting him have just the slightest twitch of rebellion near the end, but that's about it. We're just left wishing the show had some other notes to play in this scenario: it's like listening to a favourite band play the piano with a hammer. Certainly, it's providing build up for when Rick and co. finally figure out a way to fight back (uniting Hilltop and other communities including Ezekiel's kingdom — remember them? – into a force, probably), but for now we're firmly stuck in neutral and when you're just repeating story beats again and again, it becomes ever more frustrating. It helps in some tiny way... well, it helped us... to think that JDM's growl as Negan occasionally sounds like a vaguely gruffer take on this. You know it makes sense.
One thing this episode does have over the premiere is that it at least occasionally cuts away to other things, even if it is mostly in service of the main story. There's Michonne's trip out to practice with a rifle (her aim still needs work, but she's got her sword at least). Her finding the dead deer should have some symbolic point, but we've been so battered down by the show at this point that all it draws is a tired "of course" from us. Elsewhere, we have Rosita and Spencer sent out to collect Daryl's bike for Dwight (and potentially for Daryl to reclaim it triumphantly at some point down the road, assuming he's only playing along as broken by Negan). Largely the scene serves so that the show can find more ways to inventively kill walkers – in this case, some of the Saviours who died during an encounter with our lot last season – and for Rosita to continue quietly fermenting her own plan for resistance. She's managed to conceal a gun from the Saviours and at the end demands Eugene make her a bullet, but you do wonder whether it'll be anything more than symbolic.
So, what did work this week? It was the smaller moments – Rick's confrontation with Spencer about leadership, loss and circumstance and his opening up to Michonne about quite why he's so haunted and willing to go along with Negan's demands if it keeps the peace. Name-checking Jon Bernthal's Shane for the first time in what feels like forever, he pours out his heart about "his" daughter. “I know Judith isn’t mine. I know it," he admits. "I love her, she’s my daughter, but she isn’t mine. I had to accept that. I did so I could keep her alive." That one speech is better than a load of overly repetitive minutes reminding us just how bad of an ass Negan is. We get it, Walking Dead. He's terrible. Now try moving the story forward in some way. Any way. Or just leave the viewpoint on Carol and King Ezekiel discussing pomegranates (not a euphemism).
What was the deal with the burning pile that Michonne spies near the end?
That was Negan's lot burning the Alexandria residents' matresses; a massive v-sign to our heroes that they can take anything they want and do whatever they like. Because we needed another demonstration of that after long scenes of the Saviours stealing.
How did Rick figure out Judith's parentage?
While he hasn't said anything before, it's likely he's known all along, given the timeline for Lori revealing her pregnancy and what he knew about her relationship with Shane. But holding the information for this reveal gave it that added emotional punch, even if most of us suspected right along with the characters.
What was with Enid and the balloons?
Enid and Glenn used the balloons to communicate to the Alexandrians (particularly Maggie) that they were alive after being trapped outside the walls. Enid would want to hold on to them in his memory and probably because they'll be useful as a signal in future.
Were Rick and Daryl communicating somehow?
There were lots of long glances between the pair this week, and a lingering shot of a morse code chart on the wall where Rick is staying. So it's possible they were somehow sending messages back and forth, such as Daryl assuring Rick he hadn't completely given in.
Read this season's previews reviews below...
The Walking Dead airs Sundays at 9pm on AMC in the States and Mondays at 9pm on Fox.