I tend to get curious about what the casual Walking Dead fans love about the show. This is a series that is clearly putting an emphasis on characters over action, but the writing has never been its strongest suit. JSS is an episode featuring a lot of action, but it never stops feeling like a character piece. Perhaps it is the visceral nature of an episode like this, where the zombies are the least threatening element, but this is The Walking Dead firing on all cylinders in the way it captures the tension as well as the proper use of these characters.
This episode answers the cliffhanger question posed in last week’s premiere by providing us with some backstory going on in Alexandria, before getting to the point where a loud horn starts blaring. While we have to wait until next week to see how Rick’s ‘million walker march’ ends up, this episode is packed with violence and some of our favorite characters handling it. Best of all is the way we see two sides of what it means to be a character on this series.
The Walking Dead largely revolves around a simple question concerning how far you are willing to go in order to survive. Every single character has had to answer that question and it is frankly amazing that this show remains so popular, despite having little new to offer in the way of thematic material. Regardless, we get to watch Carol and Morgan show off their incredible skills and the philosophies they are currently following in an effort to make this life work.
Carol is the most bad ass pragmatist around. The second all hell breaks loose and the Wolves begin attacking Alexandria, she sheds her homemaker routine, dresses up as the enemy and gets close enough to kill any of the ones she encounters. No time for talking, it comes down to quick, cold-blooded kills, if that is what it means to protect her new home. It is not as simple for Morgan, who uses his bad ass Jedi skills to subdue his opponents and even convince them to leave, rather than face the wrath of Carol.
The intriguing part is considering what Morgan is all about. Sadly, his abilities will not be enough if he wants to live long. While he eventually gets to a point where killing really is his only option, not being the realist that Carol is will likely make him vulnerable in the future. Of course, there is also a consideration of what is mental state really is. Morgan exudes Zen calm now, but at what point will the man just snap? No time to think about that now though, because so much craziness went on in this episode.
We are introduced to Merritt Weaver’s Denise character, who is not a fully-trained doctor, but is given a mini arc to establish her as one. It is stuff like this The Walking Dead excels at. Rather than give us a whole episode focused on whether or not Denise should go through with a surgery, she is rushed into it. Giving us an episode where a character is thrust into the hardest day of their life, finds a bittersweet end (patient dies, but she would have anyway and at least Denise tried) followed by a small tag (Tara reminds her to destroy the brain) is good stuff. This show could benefit more from brief character arcs like this.
Similar things could be said about Carl and Jessie. Jessie has less of an arc and more of a release, as she goes to town on one of the Wolves, letting off some steam in the process. Meanwhile, Carl has one thing on his mind – protect the baby. Enid crosses his path as well and muddles things a bit, but Carl’s plan is still clear. Seeing him go from watchful protector over Judith to man of action to guy that takes down a Wolf is a clear enough path, even if he does stumble into finishing the guy off.
This episode is full of close calls and bad situations for a lot of our characters. Granted, Alexandria is full of people we never had a chance to meet (and never will), but this was a hellish scenario to be stuck in the middle of and the episode never felt like it compromised. There were some brutal deaths delivered by both the Wolves and Carol. The show stuck to what worked, while also strengthening or laying groundwork for the characters involved, which was appropriate and a proper step as far as eliminating weaker attempts at characterization. The Walking Dead can do plenty fine in keeping things simple sometimes, which was perfect for an episode like this.
It will be interesting to see where this is all going. The Wolves are a neat threat to an extent, though we need more than “crazy crazy hack stabs that want to rid the earth of stuff”. Hopefully Rick gets a chance to sit down with someone who claims to be in charge. For now though, while this episode does not layout what will happen next, it keeps up the momentum for the time being. With a mix of solid character work in a time of crisis, that’s pretty perfect for an episode of The Walking Dead.