Airdate: October 18, 2015
Directed by: Jennifer Chambers Lynch
Showrunner: Scott M. Gimple
Written by: Seth Hoffman (episode); Robert Kirkman, Charlie Adlard, Tony Moore (graphic novels); Frank Darabont (creator)
Best episode ever? If not, I’d have to firmly place this in my top two or three, right up there with last season’s premiere and follow-up. After last week’s relatively slow start (albeit with the sudden tension of the mysterious air horn at the very end), I was wondering how long it would take Gimple and co. to ramp things up in this sixth season. Wonder no more: things just got a lot hotter in Alexandria. Click through for my full review.
<<Spoiler Alert: The following review will discuss at length plot points of The Walking Dead S06E02, “JSS” – read more at your own risk.>>
The episode began, once again, on a slow note. Rather than immediately jumping us into what caused the horn heard last week, we have a flashback to Enid’s journey to Alexandria. We see her parents get eaten, and she’s left alone, fending for herself, eating a stray tortoise raw at one point in order to survive. First in the dirt, then in the dust on a car window she uses for shelter, then with tortoise bones, she writes out “JSS”. Finally, we see her approach the walls and gate of Alexandria, attracted by the sound of laughter and activity. She almost walks away, but stops. Turning back to the gate, she moves her finger across the back of her hand: “JSS”. Young Katelyn Nacon does an outstanding job in this scene, acting entirely alone without foils, showing her own brand of quiet desperation and resolve.
We catch back up to current time again, and see some of the regular day-to-day in Alexandria while Rick, Glen, Daryl, Michonne et al. are out moving the walker horde. Eugene and Tara head to the infirmary for aspirin, and we meet Dr. Denise Cloyd [Merrit Wever] a psychologist who failed out of med school due to anxiety attacks, but who, as she puts it, is “all they have now.” Eugene expresses doubts as to her credentials, and she quickly calls him out, questioning his own credentials – “Yes, I’ve heard about that” she tells him. Poor Eugene.
Meanwhile, Carol is in full-on Suzie homemaker mode, as she banters with some of the local women in the pantry. They rave over her cola canned ham recipe, and comment on her choice of celery soup. She does a bit of moralizing, telling one of the ladies that she’d be better off if she quit smoking – after all, there are enough other things in the world trying to kill them. This, of course, becomes somewhat prophetic in short order. But first, teenage angst.
Ron, Jessie’s eldest, is still pretty angry about his father’s death, and he refuses to let his mom give him a haircut. She tries to reason with him, asking him to raise his left arm above his head – something that he apparently can’t do due to something Pete did to him when he was younger. “Your father was dangerous,” she says, but he retorts, “Rick’s dangerous.” Something’s going to have to give with him at some point.
More angsty stuff happens as we see Carl walking Judith around in a stroller, as he espies Enid comforting Ron by the pond. She sees Carl, but he doesn’t seem to notice how uncomfortable she is giving Ron a hug – he just sees the hug. In another Carl moment, Father Gabriel approaches him, apologizing for going to Deanna to complain about the group. “I was talking about me,” he admits, and he asks Carl to help him. At first Carl appears to dismiss him, but then tells him to come by later – they’ll start with the machete.
Back in the house, Judith is upstairs and Carol watches her on the monitor as she prepares one of her dishes. She looks out the window to see Mrs. Niedermeyer – the smoker – taking a cigarette break. Carol shakes her head, and then all hell breaks loose. A man comes out of nowhere, slashing Mrs. N in the stomach with a machete (note the double foreshadowing here? Not only is it a machete, the weapon Carl was just talking about, but it’s Mrs. N, whom Carol had just reminded about all the things trying to kill them), knocking her to the ground and then slicing through her skull. Sounds of panic come from everywhere – they’re under attack, and most of the fighters are out of the compound, looking after the walker horde.
We get several intense fight sequences. We cut to the outside area that is still being fenced in, where Maggie and Deanna are talking about growing a new crop, when their lookout gets hit square-on by a Molotov cocktail, falling in flames to the ground. Inside, Jessie is telling Sam (her youngest) to hide in the bolthole while she looks for Ron, when they hear intruders below – they both hide, she holding her gun nervously in front of her. Carol tells Carl to stay in the house and protect Judith, and he gets Enid to hole up with him as well. Outside, Alexandrians are being brought down by a variety of choppy-smashy weapons: machetes, knives, axes, bats. They’re like deer in the headlights, hardly able to defend themselves.
The men and women attacking Alexandria all share three things in common (four, if you count their extremely bad oral hygiene): they are all dressed in rags; they haven’t got a single gun between them; and they all have a prominent “W” carved into their foreheads. Yes, indeed – the wolves are no longer near; they’ve arrived.
As Carol sneaks out of the house, she sees another neighbor lady go down, and runs to kill the man attacking her. The woman is gutted, her intestines leaking out, and Carol tries to hush her so as not to draw more wolves toward them. She can’t, and she does exactly what Rick did last week – she puts her knife into the victim’s brain, quietening her. It’s pragmatic, a necessity brought on by the situation.
Outside, Deanna’s son is in the watchtower, but he can’t hit the broadside of a barn, until he sees a semi-trailer approaching the gates at speed. He unloads several shots into the cab, hitting the driver and forcing the truck to miss his target. As the semi hits the church building and comes to a stop, the body of the driver shifts against the air-horn – this is where the noise is coming from that we heard at the end of last week’s episode.
Back inside, Jessie thinks she hears the intruders leave, so she heads downstairs, telling Sam to wait inside the closet. She’s surprised by a female wolf downstairs who gets the drop on her, knocking away her gun and putting Jessie on the ground. As the wolf picks up the gun, Jessie recovers, grabs her hair shears, and goes to absolute town on the wolf. Mamma bear’s instincts have kicked into high gear. As Kevin Smith said tonight on Talking Dead, we may have a nascent Carol in the making here.
Somewhere in here we also head back to the infirmary for bit. A patient – one of the local Alexandrians named Holly – is rushed in injured by Rosita and co., and Dr. Denise is tasked with saving her. After a brief interlude of more mayhem in the compound, we come back to see that she’s basically given up. Holly’s femoral artery appears to have been hit, and she’s bleeding out. Tara yells at her a bit, Denise gets sweaty and anxious, and finally Eugene comes in with a truly epic line: “You don’t want to be a coward.” He’s lived that life, and he’s telling her how painful it is. While she doesn’t ultimately save Holly (which felt right, given her lack of experience), it was good to see that she’s going to be a doer in this world.
In the yard, Ron is trying to sneak past the wolves, but one takes a bead on him and tries to run him down. Just as it looks as though he’s done for, a shot rings out – it’s Carl. He tries to get Ron to come inside, but he refuses, going his own way. Again, angst’ll get you killed if you’re not careful, angry Ron!
Outside the gate, Deanna’s son has gotten free of the smashed up church, but is too afraid to try to stop the air-horn: the driver that he shot has turned, and he can’t bring himself to do the necessary thing. Cue Morgan, who has run back to the compound, and quickly dispatches the walker and turns off the horn. He asks Spencer to help clear the compound, but he’s still too frightened. Never one to push anyone into a fight, Morgan tells him to stay put, and heads inside himself. He’s almost immediately confronted by an ax-wielding maniac.
Did you like Carol in her gut-encrusted poncho in Episode 501 last year? Well, in the spirit of Halloween, she takes on another persona tonight, dressing in the hoodie and face scarf of the wolf she’s just dispatched. She uses her disguise to get close before making her kills. Her first is the axe-wielder. He’s giving Morgan a good fight, but she drops him like a 250 pound bag of potatoes. Morgan takes aim at her with his stick, but she reveals her identity – both to him, and to the audience. Kick-Ass Carol is back!
She’s intent on getting to the armory before the wolves, and puts chains on Morgan to make it appear that she’s taken him prisoner. “Good catch, Roach,” another wolf says to her as he passes by. As they’re just arriving at the armory, they hear another attack – it’s Father Gabriel, being taken down by an enormous wolf. Morgan wants to help, but Carol has little interest. Morgan drops the chains and heads over anyhow, surprising the wolf as he’s about to kill Gabriel, knocking him hard to the ground.
Carol heads to the armory, taking out two wolves in quick succession with head shots, then taking out a third and wounding a fourth before her gun runs out. She rushes inside, grabbing a gun and firing it into the gut of the fourth wolf. She finds Olivia hiding in a closet, and gives her a gun, teaching her the basics of how to point and shoot. This could, I suspect, come back to haunt us next week – by the end of the episode, no one’s gone to tell Olivia that things have calmed down, and she’s sitting there with a nervous trigger finger.
Carol takes several handguns and some ammo, and runs back outside. She heads for where Morgan and Gabriel are. They’ve subdued the prisoner, and he’s come to, ranting. “You’re not supposed to be here, the ambush” and then a shot rings out. Carol has no time for his delusions, and Morgan just grimaces as another violent death is dealt out right in front of him. Carol offers guns to both men, but Morgan gives his to Gabriel as Carol heads out to clean up the rest of the wolves.
Things begin to turn in favor of the Alexandrians. Morgan ends up facing five near the exit. As he did with the ax-wielder, he calmly asks them to leave. They begin to attack him in ones and twos as he continues to try to reason with them. “My people have guns” swish whack snap “they could be drawing a bead on you right now” thwack crash thud “it’s only a matter of time.” He knocks them all down except for their leader – one of the men Morgan dealt with at his campfire last season – but he recognizes that the tide has turned. He calls the others, and they take off, their proverbial tails between their legs. The leader does stop to grab a handgun from a dead Alexandrian, but they all head out through the gate. Morgan follows and shuts it behind them.
A few moments later, Morgan heads into one of the buildings. He’s tense – he senses something (could it be the Force?) – and the camera pulls back to show us a wolf with a hand scythe waiting around the corner. He attacks, but Morgan parries and sends the scythe flying. It’s the other wolf he dealt with before, and they recognize each other. “You can’t do it, can you?” the wolf taunts; “You should have” he warns. They brawl, the jo stick getting knocked aside, and the larger man using his weight to throw Morgan into the wall. Morgan gets pounded on a bit before he can get leverage, stabbing at the wolf. He finally gets on top, but the bloodied attacker continues to mock his apparent inability – or unwillingness – to kill. Morgan steels his jaw, looks down at the man who is still trying to get up to fight, and says, “I’m sorry.” He hits him hard with the staff, and twists. So it’s really a case of unwillingness, then.
The primary fulcrum of this episode was the two worldviews as expressed by Carol and Morgan: do you kill everyone who’s an enemy, or do you treat life as precious in all its forms? Personally, I side with Carol here, although it was very clear that her position was being portrayed as less than sympathetic. After all, why kill the wolf that Morgan has tied up? He might be a valuable source of information. But at the same time, it’s important to note that two of the wolves, including the apparent leader (at least of this pack) were ones that Morgan spared at an earlier altercation. If he’d killed them then, would the rest of them have turned up here?
The answer is probably yes, which we find out when Aaron is out in the yard. He does himself credit, taking out a couple of wolves, but then he notices something on the ground: the old knapsack he left behind in the car with Daryl last season, when they were caught in a trap set by the wolves. Inside are dozens of pictures of everything Alexandria has to offer – a sure way of attracting the unwanted attentions of the wolves.
This was an amazing episode. This is Lynch’s second time at the helm (she also directed last season’s excellent Episode 514, “Spend” the episode wherein Noah dies), and she shows a really deft touch both with the slower paced material (Enid’s character building, Carol’s homemaking) and with the fast. There was an awful lot of blood and gore tonight, and almost all of it due to human on human violence. The last two major enemy groups we’ve had – the Terminus/Hunters group, and the Governor in all his iterations – always gave the sense of being forces you could negotiate with, almost urbane in their approach (well, until the Hunters revealed their true nature). This group, however, seems to revel in anarchy and pure chaos. There was no plan to their attack, and the few times they spoke, they made almost no sense, the one that Morgan took down almost seeming to rant. This is not an enemy they’ll be able to talk to.
The wolves, however, may be the least of their problems heading into next week. When last we saw Rick et al. back on the road, the walker horde had turned off the path and were heading straight toward Alexandria. I suspect we may have to remove the “Safe Zone” part of the moniker pretty soon.
Welcome back, Carol!
Steve’s Grade: A+
An absolutely gobsmack of an episode with high tension, incredible action, jo stick wielding Morgan, and Kick-Ass Carol. What more could you want? Walkers? Rick? Tune in next week, I suspect…