Granted, I’m not the world’s most objective TV viewer. I don’t have to be; no one pays me to write well-balanced reviews in which I’ll praise shows I consider mediocre just because the general consensus is that they rule, or call out my favorite shows for the occasional blunder (which I invariably do).
Actually, no one pays me at all, which means I can gush over The Walking Dead as much as I want.
Which is exactly what I’ll do here. Because as much as I considered some of the season 6 episodes to be lackluster, this week’s mid-season premiere delivered in spades.
The episode will probably go down in TWD history as one of its most successful to date, and that’s because it had everything we could possibly want or even dare to expect. After an entire half-season of build up, of having to wait a couple of weeks to catch up with each group of characters, or the infamous Glenngate, No Way Out was both the culmination and resolution we had all been waiting for. It could have been a season finale; instead, it was the mid-season kick-off, which made it all the more exciting.
For one thing, we finally got to see all our favorite characters in one place; last time they were all together was back in October. For another, we not only got an explosive start to the episode (literally), but an even more explosive, and in a much larger scale, end. We got action, lots of walkers, some more emotional moments, and an actual glimmer of hope in the midst of all the grisly violence, death and despair. We basically got what we’d been waiting for ever since we were first introduced to the mega-herd in the beginning of the season.
The episode was damn near perfect for three more reasons.
First, because even though some of the writers’ choices may have appeared misguided or just plain annoying at the time, Sunday’s episode proved once again that there’s always a method to their madness. How satisfactory would it have been to see Rick’s initial plan to lure the walkers away from Alexandria come to fruition? Sure, the danger and chaos would have been averted, but it was a very ambitious plan to begin with, and walkers don’t generally oblige and play along. Would Rick have been recognized as the leader Deanna knew he was? Probably not, but then again, we’ll never know. By making their situation appear hopeless and impossible the show not only gave its characters (fan faves and nameless Alexandrians alike) the chance to have their hero moment, but it also brought them together. It restored Rick’s humanity and shook both Carol and Morgan’s convictions. Having almost lost and then reclaimed Alexandria, its people are now all the more aware of what is at stake; not only that, they now have enough confidence and courage to fight back.
Second, because since our characters did away with the lesser threat of the Wolves, and after having teased us about Negan and his followers for a while, the show has finally established who the upcoming main villain will be this season. In its five-and-a-half-season run, whatever the imminent threat is each time seems to alternate between a group of evil people and a horde of walkers. Whenever the two coincide, we are rewarded with intense, spectacular episodes. With Negan’s guys obviously out to get revenge on their crispy comrades, and Alexandria still unprotected, the possibilities are endless. Even with the threat of walkers temporarily quelled, Negan will be the most despicable character we’ve encountered on this show (at least according to the comic readers), and that – to me – is always much more exciting than a bunch of zombies.
Third, the requisite death scenes we’ve come to expect of TWD were shocking without having fans up in arms about the loss of a favorite character, and that’s no easy feat with so many beloved characters already gone. It’s especially hard when the death scene involves killing off a child, but again, they pulled it off beautifully.
A word on the demise of Sam (which led to the entire Anderson family getting wiped out within seconds of each other): I wouldn’t say I rejoiced watching a poor child getting his face torn off by walkers, but I won’t be mourning Sam, either (although Major Dodson seems like such a cool kid!). Bottom line is, he wasn’t cut out for this world, and his fate was pretty much sealed the minute he opened his mouth in the mid-season finale back in November. Not only did the poor kid bring this upon himself, but he also got his mother and brother killed as well. Is he to blame? Well, not really. Sam seemed to be doing relatively fine at first – as fine as you can be when you’re covered in walker guts and walking among them for the first time in your life – but became increasingly freaked out as night fell. It wasn’t the horror around him that made poor Sam freeze up; it was Carol’s voice in his head, warning him about the monsters coming to eat him. Well, not warning, threatening. And eat him they did, right before his mother’s eyes. Was Jessie a tragic figure in this scene? Absolutely. Not only did she witness her own son being bitten by the walkers, she also met her own end in much the same manner. But wasn’t she to blame as well? If only she hadn’t coddled him during the time he was secluded in his home, refusing to leave the comfort of upstairs; if only she had put her foot down and sent him away with father Gabriel, maybe none of this would have happened. Both Carol’s horrible methods of “education” and Jessie’s spineless parenting led to the events of No Way Out.
Similarly, Ron wasn’t the only one to blame for his own death – or for Carl’s injury. Just like Rick failed to see the angsty teenager’s ulterior motives for revenge when he volunteered to teach him how to shoot, Carl’s recent attitude shift transformed him from a trigger-happy kid to a level-headed, compassionate adolescent who not only forgave Ron’s attempt on his life, but also didn’t tattle. Maybe if he’d shared his concerns he’d still have his eye today. But, unlike Sam’s demise, Ron’s death was neither devastating nor could it be blamed on anyone else: he got what he deserved, and everyone’s better off without the vengeful brat. (By the way, where was the vigilante attitude when his own father repeatedly beat the crap out of his mom? I’m actually more sorry about the David Grohl-lookalike Wolf’s death than I am Ron’s).
By the end of the episode, I guess I felt pretty much like Rick did. I was on the edge of my seat throughout No Way Out, but with Rick’s heartfelt speech to his unconscious son, all the tension dissipated. The Ricktatorship seems to be turning over a new leaf, the Alexandrians have grown a pair, and everyone’s excited to rebuild and invest in their future together.
And I’m so freaking excited for the rest of Season 6.