We have hit the penultimate episode for this season, and it was taut, well-crafted, and every little piece of action made sense in the bigger picture, from a character perspective. Oh, wait, no, no it didn’t. I’m not saying that it wasn’t a tense episode, or that it didn’t provide some very nice moments (seriously, that opening really felt effective to me). But nothing about what happens in this episode makes sense for the characters. Well, almost nothing. Only one person is really moving in a direction consistent with where the story has driven them, and the rest of it felt largely like cards being laid out to make sure that things are as messy as possible for when Negan arrives. Note to The Walking Dead, if Negan is as bad as you’ve been building him up to be, things are going to be plenty messy without you complicating people further.
Now, I get that there is a need to set up bridging episodes to get things into place for something bigger. And clearly the belief is that keeping everyone within the walls of Alexandria makes them a much less likely victim of whatever the Saviors will do, but there is just so much happening in the episode where the characters seem to lose their senses. Of course, we also get the wonderful (?) moment at the end of the episode, with the gun shot and the blood splatter and the question of “is he or isn’t he?” with regards to Daryl Dixon. It was a moment that was meant to be shocking, but thanks to some things done earlier in the series, and this season in particular, some of that shock was muted. First off, we already had an entire “is he or isn’t he” storyline revolving around Glenn Rhee, and this situation will probably resolve itself in a similar, albeit quicker, way, and for one specific reason; a main character, one who has been with the show since the first season, isn’t going to be killed off in an anti-climactic way. The dumpster scene would have been an incredibly lame way for Glenn to die, and Daryl dying at the hands of Dwight, or at least in the fashion presented, would also be stupid. This doesn’t mean that Daryl is safe from the wrath of Negan, but the odds certainly seemed to go up.
With all of that said, let’s step back, and go East, young man.
Before the list proper, let me say that Carol leaving Alexandria actually makes sense. She’s clearly been going through a lot ever since the death of Sam, and, while the show hasn’t specifically explained that she feels responsible, her actions seem to indicate in that direction. That death brought her to a new level, and the fight with Morgan helped her realize where she was going wrong for how she wanted to live her life, and Rick’s raid on the Saviors clearly was the final straw. She has reached a point where she doesn’t WANT to kill unless she’s left with no other options (and her encounter with Hiro’s group shows that even then, she isn’t so sure), and she’s concluded that staying with Rick in Alexandria takes that option away. So, rather than betray her new convictions, the easier choice was to leave and not be a possible drag on the rest of the survivors. That said, she’s the only one who gets such a pass.
5. Rosita and Abraham
Near the start of the episode, we see Daryl hop onto his bike and hightail it out of town. It can initially be assumed that he might be trying to chase down Carol, especially since they had that moment just a couple episodes back after her kidnapping experience, where Daryl asks if she’s okay. Well, manning the gate at that time are Rosita and Abraham, who do a quick cursory asking Daryl what he’s up to, but they don’t really do anything to stop him, or even find out where he’s actually headed. This is certainly not a time for people to be leaving town, and, at this point, nobody really knows that Carol is gone, so Daryl taking off should have been stopped at all costs. After all, they are just a short time removed from the raid against the Saviors compound, and they have to know that revenge is coming. To make matters worse, Rosita even joins up with Glenn and Michonne, because there’s no way that taking away three of Alexandria’s most-experienced fighters will go badly.
4. Glenn and Michonne
So Daryl’s taken off. Clearly, the experienced tracker, the one who is probably the best suited to handle things all by himself should he need to, has to have a crew chasing after him. Admittedly, nothing about Daryl’s departure was in the correct mindset, and maybe there’s a belief that people like Glenn and Michonne, who have been with him through a lot, will be the ones with the highest likelihood of bringing him back. So off they go, with Rosita in tow. Again, let’s just ignore that everyone in Alexandria seems to know that an attack is coming, and they have no idea when, let’s just keep taking the best fighters and putting them on the road. So where do Glenn and Michonne really fall down? How about, after Daryl tells them he can’t go back to town, and Rosita joins up with him, they don’t hustle back to their vehicle. Instead, they seem to meander, maybe toying with the idea of trying to still lure back two people who clearly don’t want to be around others right now, and then they stop in the middle of the woods to talk it out. This causes them to drop their guards, and, because they’re so intent on talking, they very quickly get surrounded and ambushed. Thanks for making sure those dominoes are ready to fall.
3. Rick and Morgan
Let’s hear if for the final pairing! Again, imminent attack, and, at this point, Carol, Daryl, Glenn, Michonne, and Rosita have all left the safety of Alexandria’s walls. This is even explained to Rick. For experienced, competent fighters who helped the group make their way to Alexandria, we’re left with strong combatants in Abraham and Sasha, Maggie (who is pregnant), Carl (who has one eye), Eugene (who thinks “dibs” is more important than his continued survival), and Gabriel (who betrayed Rick time and time again). Sure, there are other unknowns inside the walls, but Rick and Morgan really shouldn’t be heading out of town at this juncture, especially with everyone who’s already left. Besides, they’re chasing after Carol, who has already proven that she can not only survive in the world on her own, but she can then come back and save everyone. But hey, let’s go out and try to bring her back. The only thing that seemed to come out of their adventure is that Rick was eventually forced to see Morgan’s perspective, but that was a conversation that should have happened within the security of Alexandria’s walls.
After Carol’s departure, there’s a very good chance that everything that happened could be boiled down to Rick’s perspective. After all, during their post-coital apple, Michonne points out that an attack is coming, but Rick seems to believe that they’ve not only figured out how to survive in this new world, but that they will be able to overcome anything that happens. He firmly believes that they will simply take what they want/need, and that there isn’t a concern. You can see this perspective spread to Michonne, who otherwise might have convinced Glenn to not go chasing after Daryl, and Rick’s ideas definitely helped push him to chasing after Carol with Morgan. The final straw, and one that may end up costing Rick another ally, albeit a tenuous one, was Rick’s insistence on shooting first at the survivor they found near the farmhouse. Yes, the man had a spear from the Hilltop. Yes, he took off running, and left them to deal with some walkers by themselves. However, he had full reason to do so, and that reason was rewarded by Rick taking a potshot in his direction. Rick has firmly believed that the world will be molded to whatever he needs, and he even seems to think that he will break Morgan’s pacifist stance down. Hubris is definitely no stranger of the Grimes family, but it’s rearing its ugly head at what could be the worst possible time.
Oh, Daryl. Clearly torn up over the death of Denise, a death he feels responsible for because he actually saved Dwight’s life earlier, the biker of the apocalypse takes off to do, um, not entirely sure what. He seems to be attempting to hunt Dwight down, to balance the ledger, but he knows that Dwight has a large group, and he’s going to be alone and heavily outnumbered. Clearly not thinking clearly, but the huge lapse in judgement, and refusal to step back from the ledge don’t make for a very smart character choice. To make matter worse, after Daryl and Rosita broke off on their own, and Glenn and Michonne get captured, Daryl is able to successfully track Dwight’s group, and finds his captive comrades. However, Glenn is very clearly trying to send Daryl signals, indicating that he and Michonne should be left behind, and Daryl should get reinforcements. This is not the time, nor the place. Unfortunately for everyone involved, Daryl is hell bent on his mission to get revenge for Denise’s death, and it directly leads to the climactic gunshot. But hey, we very clearly got to hear Dwight telling someone that they’d be fine, so we’re all good, right guys?
That does it for this week’s episode. Only one more to go, and it’s going to run half-again as long as normal. Even with that, there have been interviews with cast referring to it as the most “cliffhangeriest episode in TV history”, which doesn’t really fill me with a ton of confidence. That just feels like a way for the showrunners to possibly have their cake, and then change it to muffins when they see what social media thinks.