I’m not sure how I feel about this week’s episode. On the one hand, it was a perfectly adequate way to build up tension and act as a segue to next week’s supersized finale. On the other, everything leading up to each character’s actions in East could have easily been avoided, had they made the right decision, and this motif becomes more frustrating with each episode.

Instead, what we got was yet another series of stupid decisions, because all the alphas of our group just had to be caught outside Alexandria for Negan to make his grand entrance in the finale. Add to this the Carol-centric fake-out (that zombie lady, who also happens to be Melissa McBride’s body double, was a dead ringer for Carol) and subsequent cliffhanger and the Daryl-centric not-so-cliffhanger and you have an uneven, at times nonensical episode on your hands.

Which is not to say I didn’t enjoy it. Granted, I have pretty low standards when it comes to TWD: anything short of an hour of static would be a perfectly adequate episode in my book. But after a mostly strong second half of season 6 and with so much hype in anticipation of the season finale, I guess I wanted the show to try a little harder. Chalk it up to lazy writing or restrictive pacing, it left me with a sense that the writers did as much as they could with what they were given, but were dealt a bad hand to begin with.

It is what it is, however, and it did give us plenty to talk about.

Carol

Let’s start with the (…artistic, I guess, is what they were going for?) scene with Carol and the group of Saviors. For the third week in a row, I still have to wonder: how many of them are there? Is there an infinite number of Negan followers in the area surrounding Alexandria? And if so, how come none of them knew about Alexandria in the 2-3 years since the apocalypse? Because if there’s one thing that’s made abundantly clear, it’s that if another group has anything of value, Negan’s guys will claim it sooner or later. Our Alexandrians were much like the people of Hilltop before Rick & Co. arrived at the scene: just substitute cows and crops for guns and ammo, and you have a bunch of zombie-fearing people with zero fighting skills, which pretty much makes them perfect Negan fodder. So how come no one bothered them before?

Anyway, back to Carol: as if last week’s goodbye-letter scene wasn’t dragged out enough, we get to revisit it this week, this time with a glimpse into Carol and Tobin’s lives. She sews up her sleeve, packs her backpack, spaces out while Tobin talks to her and poof, she’s gone, and we’re teased with close-up shots of blood on the asphalt before we get to see what really happened.

What happens is yet another instance of Carol facing a group of saviors. Much like her reaction from two weeks ago, it’s hard to know where the real emotion ends and the act begins, as she clutches her rosary and first hyperventilates, then starts to cry when her fate at the hands of the saviors seems all but inevitable.

But wait. Surely Carol wouldn’t go down this way, captured and/or killed by some random Negan followers, would she? Of course not. In a clever juxtaposition of shots – her long sleeve on the right, her rosary-clutching hand on the left – we are not only given a hint as to what’s about to happen, but also an illustration of Carol’s inner turmoil. If there was any doubt about the sincerity of her tears when she was captured by Paula & co, there really isn’t any left now. She really, really doesn’t want to do this. She tells Negan’s people it doesn’t have to be this way. Obviously she knows it does. When they leave her no choice, she takes them all out – most of them by way of her sewn-in-sleeve weapon, one of them with the aid of her porcupine car.

And this is where my problem with this entire thing lies: I don’t dislike Carol’s Terminator facade cracking. If anything, I like the fact that she’s not a one-dimensional killing machine. But her humanity was never really in doubt to begin with. Despite a level of detachment required in order to “do what’s necessary”, no member of our group is without feeling. Taking lives costs them, some more so than others. Carol’s affection for her people was never in question; what she’s had to do, she’s done for them. And now, for whatever reason, she doesn’t want to do that any more. She doesn’t want to end a life in order to defend or protect a loved one.

Yet she has no problem defending her own life, killing as many people as necessary in order to survive. Unlike Morgan, Carol’s new philosophy allows her to pick and choose who and when to kill, and that’s what bugs me. I said as much last week, and in East things are taken even further than my (and everyone else’s) predictions: not only will she fight back, taking a life if she has to, but she will do so in the exact same manner she always has: by putting her skills of deception to good use (and her sewing skills as well, making this particular slaughter as premeditated as Rick’s attack on Negan’s compound a few weeks ago).

What also annoys me is how selfish her new-found attitude has made her. Whenever she killed in the past, whether it was Karen and David or look-at-the-flowers Lizzie, her motives were more-or-less altruistic. She did it to save her people, whether she was trying to protect Judith and Tyreese or everyone at the prison, as well as herself.

This time she not only refuses to kill any more people to defend her group, but she also puts them in danger by pulling the disappearing act. Rick is perfectly clear about his reasons for going outside to look for her: she’s family. She must have known they would go after her, just like she probably knew they would have changed her mind had she given them a heads up instead of leaving a letter to Tobin. By leaving, she knowingly puts them at risk… and goes through with it anyway.

And for all the drama and upset, what does she accomplish? Mere hours after she leaves Alexandria, she’s already done the thing she no longer wants to do – kill people – however much they deserved it, and put her own people in danger. Between the killing machine Carol and the God-fearing selfish Carol, I just wish they’d find some middle ground.

[Also, why is her boyfriend the only one who doesn’t jump at the opportunity to go looking for her? He doesn’t even offer to go, if only to keep up appearances. Not cool, Tobin. Especially since you took your sweet time alerting Rick to Carol’s disappearance].

Rick

The Rick & Morgan scenes were the best part of the episode for me, and not least because I enjoy both Lincoln’s and James’ performances. The clash between their philosophies is always interesting, but two things stood out the most for me: one, the readiness with which Rick agreed to return home and Morgan accepted Rick’s offer of the gun. (Could this be indicative of the fact that, as much as Morgan’s code has rubbed off on Carol, Rick & Co’s pragmatism has similarly affected Morgan?)

Two, the revelation – at last – of Morgan’s secret about the Wolf. With everyone’s apparent inability to follow orders, I’m pretty amazed they all held out as long as they did at Carol’s request, but at least there was some payoff in having Morgan be the one to tell Rick. Had he found out sooner (and from someone else), chances are his reaction wouldn’t have been as mild. More importantly, it gave Morgan the opportunity to illustrate a very important point about the causality of the whole ‘circle of life’.

On the flip side, the whole east/west thing annoyed me for several reasons.

For one thing, we hardly ever know which direction anyone is going on this show, partly because it’s easy to get disoriented in a wooded area full of deserted towns and no discernible landmarks, and also (mainly) because in the 6 seasons since Rick first went to Atlanta, filming has basically taken place in the same few blocks, making everything look and feel the same. So Carol could have headed north, east, west or south and none of us would have been the wiser, unless we knew which way Daryl et al went, and how far everything is from A-town. If Carol went east, and Negan’s compound was west, where was the strip mall with the apothecary relative to those two points? Why would Rick or Morgan assume that just because the compound they hit was west, there were no other Negan strongholds elsewhere, even in the opposite direction? After all, if there’s an infinite supply of Negan soldiers attacking our people, the logical thing to assume would be that there were more than one base camps.

The second reason is the over-the-top symbolism of the entire storyline. We get it. Eastman taught Morgan the Eastern philosophy of aikido and ‘all life is precious’ and it sort of, kind of, maybe rubbed off on Carol; Negan’s barracks is located West, and Rick represents the quintessential, gunslingin’, kill-em-all Western school of thought that lies contrary to Morgan’s own. Don’t hit us over the head with it, TWD. You’re at your best when you’re a bit more subtle.

Daryl

Again, what’s with all the stupid decisions? You’d think they’ve learned by now that splitting up is not a good idea, but no… We have Carol going off on her own, Daryl out to exact revenge, and Rick seemingly complacent about the Alexandrians’ readiness to defend their town against an attack, all of them roaming the surrounding woods along with the best fighters of the group.

And yes, this is a perfectly acceptable plot device to explain why they’re all caught outside the wall, but it still doesn’t justify the stupidity of the decision in the first place. Daryl has nothing to gain by tracking down Dwight at this point. As it was pointed out to him, this won’t bring Denise back, and is just as much of an unnecessary risk as Carol’s escape in the night. But at least his motives are believable, if not entirely on par with how his character has evolved over the seasons.

Which brings me to my main problem with this storyline: after underusing Daryl for the better part of the season, the writers decided to have him revert back to his previous persona – that of the stubborn (more so than usual), closed-off loner who abandons rational thought in favor of carrying out his revenge – and possibly atoning for his earlier sin (sidenote: only in TWD would sparing someone’s life would be considered a sin). To top it off, Daryl’s apparent regression is a bit selective: he displays all of the recklessness but none of the skills we know he possesses: not only can he not drive a stick (seriously, this still bugs me from last week), but he has allowed Dwight and his savior buddies to sneak up on him twice now.

And to add to the bad decision making, despite Glenn and Michonne acting as the voice of reason, Rosita totally enables Daryl. An out-control-Daryl is volatile under normal circumstances, but under the threat of an impending attack it’s twice as stupid, and simply inexcusable.

[By the way, is this the writers’ way of telling us that Rosita is in a similar place now as Sasha was last season, i.e. feeling reckless because she has “nothing to lose”? The awkward scene between Sasha and Abraham, witnessed by the freshly dumped Rosita, was hard to watch. I’d probably want to get away from A-town myself, if I were in her shoes. Add to that her obvious guilt, along with Daryl’s, about taking Denise outside the walls (and thereby triggering the events that led to her death – another lesson in causality), and at least her actions are understandable, if not completely devoid of the aforementioned stupidity.]

Even more inexcusable, however, is the way they chose to end the episode. If you’re going to tease the death of one of your most beloved characters, either do it right, or not at all. I don’t know if this is the result of the backlash after Glenn’s dumpster-dive fakeout, but the whole blood-spatter scene would have been fine had it not been for Dwight’s reassurance as it faded to black. We know that the show doesn’t have the balls to kill Daryl off as unceremoniously as an off-camera shot, and now we already know he’s (probably) going to be alright, so why bother in the first place? I’m all for keeping us guessing, and they’ve done a pretty great job so far – which is, I guess, the only redeeming factor in having so many people venture outside the walls of Alexandria at this point in time – so why end the episode with such a non-cliffhanger?

So what’s coming in the finale?

We already know Negan’s coming, so the big question is, who will die? From the looks of it, it’s anybody’s guess at this point.

For one thing, we’re not sure if Carol is still alive – she’s probably hurt, and, like Daryl, they wouldn’t kill her off screen, but she could be in hiding, or captured by the injured savior. If I had to venture a guess, I’d say Morgan will find her and defend her against the savior guy, possibly having to use his gun in order to save her in an ironic twist. Will that be a separate storyline to the other group or will the two unwilling warriors end up saving the day?

Also, where’s Carl going with that gun? A gun with a very conspicuous bat wrapped in barbed wire, mind you? They wouldn’t have given us the close-up if it wasn’t somehow significant, and it can only be construed as a bad omen. Whether it simply signifies Negan’s arrival or something worse remains to be seen. If Carl decides to brave the world one-eyed, picking the worst possible moment to do so, it would be a good reason to draw Rick back outside Alexandria, possibly along with Sasha, Abraham or whoever else is left from our main group, just to stir the pot a little bit.

And let’s not forget about Maggie, either: it was smooth sailing with her pregnancy up until this week, and it’s a long way to Hilltop; if she tries to get to the ob-gyn or sends someone to fetch the good doc, chances are they’ll be intercepted by Negan’s people, hence pulling even more of our people outside the safe zone of Alexandria. And let’s not forget about Jesus, either: I’m fully expecting him to make an appearance before the season is over.

But from the looks of it, the four that are captured by Dwight’s group are the ones in the most immediate danger. Daryl is already shot, Michonne and Glenn are tied up, Rosita is probably about to get the same treatment.

  • Will Michonne be the one to go? Rick’s love interests have never fared well on this show, and as much as their romantic cuddling and apple-eating gave us the warm fuzzies, TWD has taught us that carefree moments never really last too long on the show. Has Rick finally found happiness only to have it yanked away again?
  • Will they be faithful to the comics and kill Glenn off after all? Maybe the fact that he hadn’t taken a life in six seasons had been his saving grace all along; now that his Achilles’ heel is exposed, so to speak, his luck might have finally run out. Maybe Maggie’s haircut bears some sort of ominous symbolism? Much like the affectionate scene between Michonne and Rick, Glenn and Maggie’s shower scene could very well be a harbinger of tragedy.
  • Will TWD decide to break Daryl’s fans’ hearts and spare him in the opening scene of the finale just so they can shock everyone by killing him off before the end credits? As much as I’d hate to see people riot, it’s high time they did something with Daryl – either give him a good arc or kill him off before he becomes completely boring.

Of course, they could always turn the finale on its head and surprise us by giving Negan someone else whose head he can bash in, but if that’s the case, I’m curious to see how they’ll pull the whole thing off – return Carol and Morgan to safety, rescue Daryl & co – and still not make a mockery of the whole thing.

Either way, just five more days to go – and let’s hope the 90′ episode delivers!

 

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