This episode is not for the weak-hearted. Matter of fact, I highly regretted filling my coffee mug just one more time before settling in to watch. Twenty minutes into the episode, I paused and took a five-minute break to watch puppy videos. Otherwise my heart would’ve exploded.
Warning! Walking Dead Spoilers ahead, as well as graphic descriptions of violence.
Now, I’m not doing a complete 180* flip on my stance on the show using easy outs. There were simply too many deaths in this episode which in the end tied up a loose thread in the plot. Sure, they were somewhat spectacular deaths, but that then comes down to a simple A-B reasoning for offing the character. A, the character over complicates the plot—yet Father Gabriel, who has done nothing but get people killed, remains safe; heck, he’s mentally recovering from his sins far better than anyone left alive on the show. The B reason for these producer-targeted deaths then shifts to making them so astounding visually, fans will confuse a visceral reaction to the death with a genuine connection to the woefully two-dimensional character.
There’s no ride with these people. No thrills, lulls, love, empathy to make them matter. They’re cannon fodder tossed on the field to make the generals look like they have the numbers to win the battle. Sad thing is, they’re right. The producers gave us cannon fodder and we, the coveted item in the television ratings war, bought into their bluff. “We can change,” they promise. “It’ll be just like the comic books.”
Apparently that translates to adult language, mass slaughter of plot-hampering B-list characters, and the icky kind of tension. The tension a woman gets walking in the dark by herself and heavy boot steps follow half a breath behind her. It’s the wrong tone for where I think they want to take the show heading into the season finale. You can’t run head-first into the terror about to come. This was their toe-dip to warn us. Hopefully this unwanted tension tone shifts. I mean, the primary perpetrator was blown to about six-billion pieces. By Daryl, no less. With an assist from the time-wasting and convenient rocket launcher.
The walker footage for this episode is beautiful. If there’s one thing Nicotero does well in his episodes, you see the FX love up front and center. Good thing, too. Most of the Rick-centric scenes happened mid-herd. The few times there aren’t walkers in-frame, we’re lead to believe they somehow found a corner within the tiny community to hide where one of five thousand walkers couldn’t find them. These moments are when Rick passes Judith, his last tie to his deceased wife aside from his son, to Gabriel. The Father will shelter her in the church until Rick and the others draw the walkers away with the cars they left at the quarry. Jessie tells Sam to go with them. He refuses, stating he can make it.
You know where this is going, right? They’ve intentionally mishandled Sam’s PTSD, hauling us by the nose to the moment when his mental disorder takes the forefront, driving back rational thought and costing the boy his life. Jessie, frozen by grief, is swarmed and eaten, as well. Sorry, Rick. But, wait, why aren’t you moving, Rick? He hesitates just long enough for the walkers to almost get Carl, who can’t move because Jessie has him gripped tight in her death throes. There’s a weird fascination with cutting off hands in genre pieces. Jessie loses hers to save Carl. Father and son recover just in time for Ron to be a moron. Grief-numbed Ron rightly blames Rick for his family’s death. In the following struggle, Michonne impales Ron and Ron accidentally shoots Carl in the eye.
Well, heck. By this point we’ll assume literally everyone is on the chopping block this season. Which is exactly how we’re supposed to feel. They want us so concerned for everyone, it means they don’t have to rely on character growth to keep us on their emotional journey. The only two who knocked it out of the park growth wise this episode are Denise—kidnapped by the lone Wolf until he saves her as they attempt to escape Alexandria, taking a bite in the process—and Eugene, who finally joins the fight without reservations. Characters like Aaron and Heath are only on screen as proof of life and extra bodies in the epic fight montage at the episode’s climax
After Carl is shot, things move quickly. Denise jumps to action, having slipped the Wolf when Carol killed him, but not before Denise had promised to save his life. Michonne helps Denis stabilize Carl. Rick, without saying a word to anyone, grabs a machete and heads outside to, well, collect some heads. He becomes a zombie mowing machine. After some debate, others join him, even Michonne after ensuring Denise had things in hand.
While they fight, Glenn and Enid hatch a plan to save Maggie from the rickety guard platform. The plan is beyond dumb. Glenn will stand at ground level and shoot walkers. Enid climbs the platform. Maggie freaks out, refuses to climb down the wall with the improvised rope, and uses her last bullet. Right at the last second, Abraham and Sasha magically mount the wall and mow down the walkers, all without injuring Glenn. Daryl waits in the truck and Glenn joins him. What will they do? Daryl has a plan. This may be a first, to be honest.
Flaming zombie pond! That’s Daryl’s big plan. Honestly, it’s effective. The nearby walkers shamble into the flaming pond without reservation. When the herd shifts direction, Rick and company mow them down. Though I don’t one-hundred percent believe all the walkers would simply ignore yelling, grunting, sweating live bodies in favor of one big fireball. They win the battle, though. There’s no more casualties. Even Father Gabriel got in on the action before it ended. Okay, so three characters had some emotional growth.
The episode ends with what’s supposed to be a touching monologue with Rick at Carl’s bedside. The kid is alive, but unconscious and honestly doesn’t look too good with a third of his face bandaged. Where this scene went wrong is language choice. Rick doesn’t go into his feelings for his possibly dying son, oh no. Instead he crows over being able to unite the townsfolk for this oh-so important cause. He then goes on to talk about making the town bigger, badder. There’s the hint of emotion, but Rick never gives it a proper label, just that he hasn’t felt it since before he awoke from the coma. The scene has no punch until Rick begs Carl to let him show him the new world. Our hope for Carl is in a single moment, his fingers closing around Rick’s hand.
Obviously, we’re not done with Negan despite blowing up a chuck of his goon squad. How soon he’ll arrive at the gate is a variable no one in Alexandria can account for with any surety. They’re knocking on war’s door while licking their wounds again. Will this too-similar setup have similar endings to Woodbury and the prison? *shakes Magic 8 Ball* Most likely