As promised, this season of The Walking Dead has taken things to a a new level. The second episode, “JSS“, was not only one of the best episodes of the series, but arguably one of the best hours of television in history. That was the closest I’ve come to having a panic attack since starting my new meds. This episode, which ran nearly in ‘real-time’ (or at least, in the time it took to bake a celery and paprika casserole) was vicious and relentless in its brutality.
If you haven’t watched it yet (who are you?) Click Here for a spoiler-filled recap of all the action.
The opening scenes of the episode threw a spotlight on a character briefly introduced in season 5, mysterious teenager, Enid. We were given a quick glimpse into how Enid lost her parents and found herself alone in this nightmare of a world. These moments explain her comfort level in the forest and constant need to ‘escape’ over the walls of Alexandria. Enid was alone for quite some time; long enough to adapt. She learned to hide in plain sight and maneuver undetected in a world of undead monsters. Constantly reminding herself of, what I can only assume was a family mantra, “just survive somehow”, Enid learned to make her way in the wilderness. While our previous survivors took the time to cook their snakes and their dogs, Enid snaps into a tortoise raw, the way an animal would. In fact, though exhausted, she is so comfortable in her own skin and knows her strength in the wild, that she hesitated approaching the gates of Alexandria, entering reluctantly.
I thought this was a beautiful reflection on how people become who they are. Every season, we witness a character pushed to their breaking point; some rise above and others crash and burn. We’ve seen the conflict of those who believe that there is no ‘coming back’ from the brink, while others still believe in forgiveness and redemption. It’s all in the choices that we make.
It’s interesting to see what isolation paired with survival has done to certain characters. What happens when you are alone for any great length of time, hiding from zombies, trying not to starve, listening to the voices in your own head over and over? Do you go crazy like the Governor? Do you become hard like Carol? Do you become desperate like Gabriel? Do you become feral like Enid and the Wolves? Or, like Morgan, do you go crazy and find your way back to zen? Rick spent some time alone in the prison and emerged as Shane. It’s a throwback to what Joe told Daryl in season 4 about indoor cats and outdoor cats. And, like Enid told Carl in regards to the Wolves, “They’re just people.” She knows full well that anyone can be pushed to the point of no return.
Speaking of Morgan, I have a bone to pick with him. At the end of this episode, Aaron finds his pack full of Alexandria photos with one of the dead Wolves. He is immediately, visibly racked with guilt. Aaron is going to carry this burden unnecessarily. Daryl asked Rick in the premiere episode whether Morgan had told him about the 2 guys he’d met, “…with the W’s on their heads.” So, upon meeting and rescuing Daryl and Aaron from a Wolves’ trap, he told them how he’d been attacked at his camp. The thing is, Morgan, Mr. “All life is precious”, didn’t kill those Wolves. He locked them in an abandoned car. It’s those 2 Wolves who took out “Red Poncho” guy that Aaron and Daryl were tracking. Those 2 Wolves are the ones who they show finding and rummaging through Aaron’s pack at the end of that episode. Had Morgan killed them when he had the chance, they would never have had a map to Alexandria. Those same 2 Wolves each have run-ins with Morgan during the attack. One of them escaping, but not before grabbing a gun off of a victim lying in the street. So, now Morgan has let him go, again, this time armed. Yet people are going to continue to give Gabriel a hard time? Morgan just jacked this place up! [Side note: In season 6 previews, we see a shot of Daryl restrained with a pistol being waved in his face. If he gets killed by the same member of the Wolves that Morgan let slip twice, I am going to be pretty mad.]
It was interesting to watch the transformation of Denise. Being the only other person in town (now that Pete is gone) with any semblance of medical experience, she stepped into the role of town physician without being asked. This shows Denise is willing to put herself out there, to risk, to learn, to take initiative. But, when the scope of it all lands at her feet (in the form of a mortally wounded Holly) the reality sinks in. It takes some cheerleading from Tara and Eugene, but Denise steps up trying to conquer her fears. In the end, Holly dies (so much for your comic story line) and Denise is left to process what has happened.
It was nice to see Carl be the bigger person, agreeing to work with Gabriel. At least someone there still has some sense.
Deanna, on the other hand, proved herself to be a true politician. It became quickly evident that her late husband, Reg, did all the work while she held court as the ‘face’. When the true horrors of what lay beyond their precious walls reared its ugly head, Deanna froze like a deer in headlights. No longer a strong mouthpiece, and completely inept at taking control of the situation, Maggie had to swoop in and start barking orders. Deanna’s son, Spencer attempted to help from his sniper post. But as soon as he realized he couldn’t hit the broad side of a barn, Spencer panicked and chose to stay outside the wall until the fighting was over. He and his mother cowered just off site until the dust settled. However, both Maggie and Morgan saw the pair for the weak members of the pack that they truly are. Rosita’s take was interesting, though.
Spencer asked Rosita how she is able to live, how does she survive knowing that bloodshed is day to day in the world now. She cited Abraham and her group as reason enough. She told him that you need to have something to “die for”. Given that Holly is now gone, this leaves Abraham’s fate up in the air. Will he or won’t he meet the same fate as his comic book counterpart? If Rosita lost him, would she still have something to live and die for?
Jessie impressed me for the first time since her introduction. The battered-woman-breaks-free meets mama-bear Tarantino throwback in the kitchen was beautiful. No one is going to hurt her or her kids; at least that’s the rage she conveyed. Her son Ron, however, needs to go. There’s no room for teen angst in the apocalypse. Jessie needs to handle her eldest son. Her youngest, Sam, has a much better shot of survival (for a while) thanks to Carol.
There are so many things that I love about Carol and of Melissa McBride’s portrayal of her. She has more layers than we can count. Carol can stand face to face with the adults and never show her true self. But, any moments spent with a child are the most honest Carol ever is. Those are the times when she is cold and blunt, and most importantly truthful. She doesn’t sugar coat things or try to protect and shield the minors. Carol saves them by teaching them to save themselves. Sadly, in this world, that doesn’t always work.
Morgan sees Carol. He tried to call her out on it last week. But, Morgan sees her. He knows that she doesn’t want to kill. He knows, as he said, she doesn’t like doing it. But that doesn’t stop her. Carol is a killing machine, doing what needs to be done and making the hard choices. Morgan insists that she doesn’t need to kill the Wolves, but Carol argues to the contrary. Carol is always fighting, every move she makes to this day, laden with the guilt of losing her daughter. Add to that the loss of all the children from the prison/Woodbury. She still feels the pain of taking the lives of Karen and David. Yet, even in her killing sprees, Carol has enough sense to throw in one final head shot (be they bladed or bullets) to prevent anyone from coming back. The Wolves, on the other hand, were doing to Alexandria exactly what they had previously done to Noah’s neighborhood; killing indiscriminately, leaving people to turn as they looted, removing the limbs off those soon-to-be walkers that they will use in their traps, and capturing some of the living for future nefarious plots. In their own words, “freeing” the living. Carol still shows mercy in her killing.
At the start of the episode, Carol sees Sam waiting on her porch, playing with his letter A stamper. At the end, when Carol finally sat down to rest after the invasion (contemplating having one of the cigarettes she’d earlier chastised her neighbor about), Carol notices Sam had stamped the letter A onto the handrail of the porch. The moment she spotted the A, Carol’s demeanor changed. She was overcome with emotions. Remember when she attacked Terminus and had Mary cornered at gun point? Mary told Carol about how that place had been peaceful until it was over run (that would be the Wolves). They were held captive, beaten, raped, abused, murdered, and led to cannibalism. Eventually, Mary’s son Gareth would lead an uprising to defeat the Wolves and take back Terminus. In the process, though, they became the very thing they were fighting against. In that moment, reminded of the A train car and Terminus, Carol recognized that. How can you hold on to your humanity? How can you come back from the things that you have done? Are their any real choices left in this world, or is it all kill-or-be-killed?
Can Carol believe that Morgan may be on to something? Or will Morgan’s compassion prove to be a weakness?
Regardless….can we just go ahead and give Melissa McBride all of the awards now?