Airdate: February 14, 2016
Directed by: Greg Nicotero
Showrunner: Scott M. Gimple
Written by: Seth Hoffman (episode); Robert Kirkman, Charlie Adlard, Tony Moore (graphic novels); Frank Darabont (creator)
After a serious downturn in episode quality over the latter half of Part A of this season, I was beginning to lose faith in Messrs. Gimple, Nicotero, and co. And then they give me tonight’s episode. From an opening that absolutely blew me away, through a second act that just ramped things up, and ending with a third act that put nearly everyone we know and love to watch in grave peril, this episode had it all. Having just finished watching the episode twice, I can’t say for certain whether this is due primarily to what I just saw, or if the poor showing of the last several episodes is having an undue effect on my opinion, but this felt like one of the best episodes I’ve seen of TWD ever. Time and further viewings may adjust this initial impression, but I suspect it won’t fall far short of that assessment. Click through for my full review.
<<Spoiler Alert: The following review will discuss plot points of The Walking Dead S06E09, “No Way Out” – read more at your own risk.>>
What an opening! “Nibble on that,” Abraham quips as he walks away from the obliterated gang of Negan’s men. For those that have read the comics (and even those that haven’t, but have been following casting and other news), the arrival of Negan has been long-anticipated. It’s still being anticipated, but to finally have some contact with this major antagonist was a clear sign of the direction Gimple and co. intend to take Season 6B. The thing that got me, and director Greg Nicotero did this to me several times tonight, is that the directing was so solid and misdirection so subtle that I missed things a less deft hand would have left out on the table for me to see. The example here is Daryl being sent to the back of the tanker with a solitary gang member. Normal me would look at that and think, “Oh yeah, Daryl’s going to take that guy out and fix things.” And I did think that for about two seconds – that is until I was totally distracted by Abraham’s best line of the night: “Who’s Negan?”
This was a bit of fan-service (“Who’s Deanna” anyone?), but it served to put me right back in front of the tanker with Abraham and Sasha, and to momentarily forget about Daryl. When he takes their sidearms, the group leader tells a reluctant Abraham that when forced to eat shit, you shouldn’t nibble. You should “Bite, chew, swallow.” He tells him this again when he asks them for the rest of their things, before sending his man with Daryl around back. Then, just as the gang leader is about to shoot them, BOOM! Daryl and the rocket-propelled grenade launcher cleverly teased back in Episode 606 “Always Accountable” come to the rescue. Totally blew me away – not to mention Negan’s men. As they brush themselves off and head back to the tanker, Abraham gets his second of three excellent lines (a response to the gang leader’s advice not to nibble when forced to eat shit): “Nibble on that.”
Back in Alexandria, we see Rick, Carl, Judith, Gabriel, Michonne and the Anderson family (mother Jesse, useless son Sam, and angsty Ron) making there way to the lake, where Gabriel leaves with Judith, and Jesse stupidly fails to order Sam to go with them. Predictably, Sam costs the group big time a little later, as he freezes, begins to whimper, and gets his head chewed on. This scene is set up wonderfully, as Carol’s prediction from last season (“they’ll eat you while you’re still alive”) starts playing through his mind, and he just gives up. Good on young actor Major Dodson for putting in a solid and emotional ending. Jesse won’t let go of her son’s hand, and is then taken herself, while Rick looks on in horror. She has Carl in a death grip, and Rick is forced to chop her arm off, as images of her in happier times flash through his mind.
As Carl is released and falls back, he drops his gun – and Ron is more than happy to pick it up. He aims it at Rick, and growls, “You…you…” before a shiny katana blade suddenly explodes from his chest. As he falls he squeezes the trigger, and Carl turns to Rick: “Dad?” he says, blood streaming from the hole where his right eye used to be, before collapsing to the ground. Rick picks him up and runs, Michonne in the lead with sword flashing left and right.
Back in Morgan’s brownstone, he and Carol are coming to while the others – Tara, Rosita, and Eugene – contemplate their options. Tara wants to go after Denise and the Wolf right away, but Rosita stops her. Carol scouts the building to see if Morgan has any more secrets, and when he follows her, she tells him “I should have killed you.” “You can’t” he replies, and walks away.
Outside, the Wolf is talking Denise through the compound, telling her how they’re going to get over the wall. He seems a bit soft on Denise, and while it’s true that he needs a doctor to save his own life (gangrene and all), it isn’t exactly what his nihilistic nature has led me to expect from him. As they make their break for the wall, Denise is grabbed by a walker, and after a very brief hesitation, he actually comes back for her, saving her and getting bitten in the process. She takes charge, telling him to take her to the infirmary, where she’ll save his life. They go.
They get to a building across the road from the infirmary, and as they make a run for it, he runs screen for Denise, blocking and tackling walkers. Shots ring out – Carol’s seen them and shoots the Wolf twice in the chest. She yells at Denise to run, and then the Wolf does something very interesting – he tackles one last walker that is about to get Denise, and he too tells her to run. Redemption at the last moment, anyone? Perhaps a commentary on Morgan’s persuasiveness.
In the infirmary, Denise sees Rick and Michonne running in their direction. Seeing Rick carrying Carl, Heath asks, “Has he been shot?” Denise – who we know has a lack of confidence and a huge fear of failure – takes a deep breath, then says, “No.” She goes into action mode – a first for her – ordering Heath, Aaron and Spencer around to get things ready for Carl’s imminent arrival. When they get inside, Rick puts him on a gurney, and Denise gets right to work trying to save Carl’s life. Rick, lost in a haze, unhitches his hand ax, and goes back outside, taking on the horde solo. As soon as Denise finishes suturing Carl’s eye, Michonne kisses him on the forehead, and she along with Spencer, Heath, and Aaron go running outside to help Rick.
As they move through the horde, Alexandrians watch from their windows, and after some soul-searching, they come outside to help. The group grows, Rick’s people and Alexandrians joining together. Carol sees them, and her group goes out. Eugene tells them he’s coming too, and when Rosita tells him he doesn’t have to, he replies that he sure as hell does, that “nobody gets to clock out today. And besides, this is a story people are gonna talk about.”
As they move, they slowly get forced back to the wall on one side of Alexandria. Further over near the gate, Glenn and Enid, having found a gun and jury-rigged a rope to get Maggie down the other side of the wall, have gone to save Maggie. Her platform is being rocked, and Glenn runs off to one side, firing his gun and pulling as many walkers away as he can while Enid shimmies up to help Maggie. He’s swarmed, and Maggie tries to get them to come back, but they’re focused on him and won’t turn away. Here, Nicotero gives us his second big “Gotcha” moment. The misdirection here is that we’ve forgotten about the rest of the group – Abraham, Sasha, and Daryl, who have been making their way back this whole time. Glenn goes down, Maggie yells, screaming his name, and suddenly automatic gunfire rings out and the horde begins to fall. It’s Abraham and Sasha firing over the wall as they stand atop the tanker. Abraham gets another good line, as he asks Glenn “Can you get the gate? ‘ppreciate it, pal” before giving a satisfied chuckle as he mows more walkers down.
Glenn and Maggie rescued (and reunited – Happy Valentine’s Day!), Daryl tells Glenn that he has a better plan than trying to lead the horde away. They take the tanker over to the central lake, dump a bunch of gasoline into it, and ignite it (rather unnecessarily dramatically – but still a pretty cool effect) with the grenade launcher he used earlier. The walkers immediately turn toward the loud noise and flames, and start walking into the lake, burning and going down. Rick’s group, now with their backs against the wall, begin to advance against the walkers once more. There’s an excellent montage that shows us flashes of each person as he or she moves forward, swinging their weapons, grimaces of pain and fury on their faces. The montage speeds up until one face blurs into the next, mimicking for us perfectly the way in which the original group and the remaining Alexandrians are finally becoming a cohesive whole. The montage ends with an exhausted Rick swinging, and then stumbling backwards into darkness.
Fade to daylight, and we see almost everyone, drained, sitting or standing around outside the infirmary. We follow Abraham inside, seeing Darryl getting stitched up (he was stabbed by the gang member he took down earlier in the day), and Maggie stretching her injured foot. We go into a quiet darkened room, where Rick sits holding an unconscious Carl’s hand. “I was wrong,” he begins, telling Carl about what he saw, that the mettle that was under the surface of the Alexandrians finally showed itself, that they can learn to be a group together. “I want to show you the New World,” he tells his son. “Please.” The camera travels down to where he holds Carl’s limp hand. Carl’s fingers flex, gripping his father’s hand. Smash cut to black.
Wow. What an excellent episode. Like I mentioned in my opening, I’ve already watched the episode twice tonight, and I’ll likely watch it again in the coming days. It completely removed the bad taste in my mouth the last several episodes had left.
Nicotero has directed some of the best episodes. He’s also been, at times, a little heavy-handed with the symbolism and auteur stylings. Here, however, he’s at his best. The episode had me on the edge of my seat throughout, and I’m looking forward with great anticipation to what the rest of the season will bring. Losing Jesse and her family felt right – they’d been dragging down things with Sam’s wheedling, Ron’s angsty hatred, and Jesse – well, I did like her, but you just know that becoming a love interest to Rick is a death sentence waiting to be carried out.
The Wolf was an interesting sideline, and his apparent change does seem to give some credence to Morgan’s perspective – but that doesn’t mean that Carol is about to forgive Morgan, or trust him, anytime soon.
Denise showed that she can rise to the occasion, as did both Father Gabriel and Eugene for the first time. There’s no room in this world for people like Sam who want to opt out, and we got to see in a practical sense exactly what these choices mean, both to the one choosing to not fight, and to those around them.
The most interesting tidbit tonight is, by far, the introduction by name of Negan’s group. While Carl recuperates and Rick tries to rebuild Alexandria, they’re fully aware now that there is another Big Bad waiting in the wings. While they won’t necessarily know what happened to the group Daryl took out, I suspect that the duo who took Daryl’s bike and other effects will inevitably get picked up by Negan’s people, and will tell them everything they know. We’re going to be seeing more of Negan and his people in the very near future.
Overall, great start to the second half of the season. Here’s hoping things continue on apace for the next seven weeks.
Steve’s Grade: A+
An outstanding beginning to the second half of the season. Starts and ends with literal bangs, with tons of action and character development throughout. Real threats to beloved characters, and a life-changing injury to Carl which will make both he and Rick reevaluate everything they know – high stakes throughout.