Published on February 18th, 2016 | by Bean0
The Walking Dead Season 6 Episode 10 Review
WARNING! BIG OL’ SPOILERS!!!
Oh dear lordy. It is a testament to the depth and breadth of Robert Kirkman’s vision for The Walking Dead that this show can still surprise after all these years. For too long, our optimism has been soundly trounced by the unremitting doom and misery of the zombie apocalypse. This is not to say that there have not shades of grey, nuances in the narrative and glimpses of possibility. But so often, on the path to these moments, the costs, the burdens and the tragedy far outweighed the gains.
Given the dreadfully tense fashion the first half of season 6 ended in – with our gore-smeared heroes crocodiling through an enormous horde of walkers, with a worryingly timorous Sam in tow – I was expecting more of the same (death, destruction, darkness). I was not left wanting, but was also gratified to watch a burgeoning hopefulness begin to grow in the hearts of these characters.
I was perhaps even more vocal than normal during this evening’s viewing of the mid-season premiere. Howling everything from “Shitplanshitplanshitplaaaan” and “sack-up douchebag” to “Oh Glenn, no!” over the course of the 43 minute airtime, my commentary was as frenetic as the action. This is always a good sign. At no point was there a chance to start over-analysing narrative or character decisions, too caught up was I in the white-water-rapids of the storytelling. And still the show managed to incorporate many moments of quiet reflection, preparation and grace in an episode that seemed relentless at the time. That’s well-played tension for ya…
The cold open brings the nearly forgotten element of Daryl, Sasha and Abraham back to the fore. The sequence balances out the elements of the taut classic stand-off with the antsy energy of people who have bigger fish to fry very beautifully, and gives the momentary antagonist plenty of scenery-nibbling opportunity. I was gladdened by the brevity of this roadblock, and Sasha’s aside of “I am talking to the man” followed by Daryl’s swift resolution with an RPG was a neat tidy up, as well it should be. Negan! Pffft. Perhaps there’ll be follow-up, but I’d be just as happy to see the back of that ridiculous bad-guy name.
The first act of “No Way Out” sees us back in Alexandria, with each of our sub-groups caught up in a push for tactical ground. While Rick and co. head for the quarry and their vehicles, they leave Gabriel to take Judith safely to the church, in the second worrisome red-herring of the episode. The padre seems unusually resolute and sound of mind, and is the first indication that characters might be undergoing some positive growth, which gives the more secondary cast a much needed shot in the arm.
The towers are the target of the escaping ‘W’-man and his hostage Denise as well as Enid and Glenn, who hope to save Maggie from an encroaching group of walkers. Merritt Weaver’s Denise give us a fantastic portrayal of a woman still owning her destiny/identity/agency while simultaneously going into shock; more of her from now on, please. Enid re-discovers her humanity with Glenn’s guidance and allows herself to care about the fate her fellow survivors and accept this vulnerability as a source of strength. The see-sawing between these two duos is interesting; Glenn and Enid is the traditional mentoring dynamic, but the ‘W’-man manages to give the creepiest pep-talk since Foxcatcher, while sealing his own fate by absorbing some of Denise’s empathy and the kindness she has shown him.
And so to the carnage. I’ll go ahead and say it. The Andersons – Jessie, Sam and Ron – were doomed from way back. The show has been sign-posting Sam’s instability and fragility for many weeks, and in the heart-hardening environment of the end of days, it was hard to cut him much slack. Again, here I must interject that my Zombie Apocalypse Values (ZAVs) – be useful, get it done, move on – allow little room for the weak or broken. This is borne out by the fates awaiting this whole family. As Sam’s mum, Jessie – herself a survivor of domestic abuse and much trauma – couldn’t figure out how to help her damaged son(s) and they all died as a result. This may sound harsh and unforgiving, but ultimately their dysfunction was their downfall.
The little walker boy that sets Sam off is one of those horrifying fragments of sorrow The Walking Dead has always excelled at; taking note of the unforgiving nature of mortality and giving you a glimpse of it’s cruelty in amongst the amorphous horde of death. As it all went pear-shaped for the Anderson’s I couldn’t help feeling somewhat relieved – again, my zompocalypse heart is cold and dead like a walker – but I always found Rick and Jessie’s romance a little difficult to entertain, though not for lack of convincing performances. It just seemed like a construction, and from Rick’s perspective, it turned out to be just that. His heartbreaking reaction and the flashes of their brief happy glances spoke volumes. It was never more than a dream, and never will be.
The decision to snatch this partially-imagined moment of tragedy immediately away from Rick by placing the very real threat of losing his only son, might have been a simple ante-upping tactic in the hands of lesser creators and actors. Much saves this scene from being just the sum of it’s parts. The combination of exhilarating editing, brutally raw performances, the emotional build-up of tension and the fact it’s Caaaaaaaarlllll (!) rendered me a gibbering wreck as the scene cuts on Michonne hacking berserker-style through a swathe of walkers in a bid for sanctuary.
The level of intensity from each performance was breathtaking. With Andrew Lincoln, Chandler Riggs and Dunai Gurira at the reins it resonates as it should. Carl represents the most vital adult relationship in Rick’s life, the receptacle of nearly all his remaining humanity, and is Michonne’s connection to hope; a future worth fighting for, for them both.
And this is only the episode’s half-way point. There were so many opportunities to twist the knife of loss and cull beloved or background characters in “No Way Out”; Carl, Rick, Glenn, Abraham and Sasha. Any and all of the fighters in the big push could have easily have been fodder, but the show chose to level everybody up – Eugene, Father Gabriel, Spencer, even the lady from the shop grabbed a machete and came out swinging! Everybody got a chance to prove their mettle, and none were found wanting. The balletic nature of the direction during the battle’s climax is riveting, and Rick’s roar of savage fury at it’s close was primal. Thus Alexandria is reborn out of the embers of it’s own self-indulgence and fear.
Perhaps the thing that most threw me during the episode was the wavering in Carol’s judgement, an often complex and compelling quality in one of The Walking Dead’s best and brightest characters. Always the one to make the rough call and follow through, Carol has earned the right over many impossible situations to the dogma she now both clings to and fears. Her defining ability to do what must be done now verges on a too-ruthless conviction, and she knows it.
Two things hint at not only Carol calling her judgement into question, but that the storytellers are too. Her assassination of the ‘W’-Man is the right call, but as her confusion at his last-minute bravery attests, the situation was not as clear-cut as she read it. And most chillingly, the awful truths Carol told Sam weeks ago in an effort to toughen him up are the very inner monologue that pushes him over the precipice of his waning sanity and gets his family killed. It seems both Morgan and Carol need to find a middle way between their polarised positions.
Yet we end with hope. Rick’s tender bedside rallying of his unconscious son is a moving tribute to the man he once was, has always tried to be and, maybe, can be again. A great leader, a loving father and a hero. A man with a future.
Review by Nina Clark
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