Television

Published on October 20th, 2015 | by Bean

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The Walking Dead – Season 6 – Episode 2 “JSS”

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WARNING! As usual, SPOILERS!

The theme of “JSS” draws on the fundamental raison detre of The Walking Dead itself – just survive somehow. What characters are prepared to do to keep breathing, or protect their loved ones, is often brought up, as each new catastrophe inspires their will to survive whilst challenging their central values. Each character in “JSS” must make decisions that determine their fate, and more significantly, the fate of others as the ‘W’olves descend upon Alexandria.

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The cold open raises this conundrum overtly, through the prism of Enid’s origin story. A mere five minutes charts her journey from watchful daughter to grieving orphan; cold, hungry desperation sees her clothe herself with a walker’s jacket and eat a tortoise right out of the shell, all the while repeatedly writing out her mysterious mantra to herself, in grime, blood and bones, before she stumbles upon the misguided Shangri-La that is Alexandria. The momentary reluctance she seems to exhibit before choosing to enter might be a cognisance of something amiss; the incongruity of the happy BBQ noises coming from within, and the unreadiness they convey. Or perhaps I’m projecting.

“JSS” is a satisfying yang to last week’s yin in terms of brutal action. We spend several scenes re-establishing the absurd imbalance of priorities Alexandria’s inhabitants display; paprika-soup-naysaying lady has clearly never been forced to eat a tortoise, and Carol’s gorgeous take down schools the complaining Shelley in passive aggression. Excuses spill forth from these soft-bellied Alexandrians as they do for so many of the weak-willed. And our team attempt to smack some life into the ungrateful lot, but it’s too little too late.

Carol shows her true face to young Sam as he sits morosely on her stoop. “Your Dad used to hit you and then he got himself killed. It happened. Now it’s done. You live with it, or it eats you up. Go home.” Nobody gets to dwell on things or become dysfunctional anymore, there’s simply no room for it when you’re trying to survive. Maggie tries to rouse their erstwhile ‘leader’ Deanna out of her silent, mournful inaction with talk of planting crops and expanding the wall – whatever, just do something. Even those with fairly reasonable justifications (‘I’m not a doctor’) must still face their fears and try.
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Because, guess what? The ‘W’olves don’t care about the crappy extenuating circumstances. They just want to beat most people to death with an axe, dismember what’s left and collect an unlucky few for converting to their psychotic cause. As the attack kicks off, the weak are picked off with unsurprising ease. The mercilessness of the cull harks back to ‘The Crazies’ or Serenity’s Reavers. Daubed in the blood of their victims, and branded with the ‘W’ of their lunatic creed, their rampage is everything Alexandria is not ready for. If this lot haven’t got their head around how to fend off the slowly ambling undead, they were never going to to last long against a fierce offensive by nihilistic warriors.

Thankfully, The Walking Dead uses the attack as an opportunity to contemplate that central conundrum – what does it take to survive? Team Carol brooks no nonsense, indulges no outdated sense of lenience. As ever, she simply does what must be done, thinking on her feet and taking on the challenge she is faced with tactically. Disguised as a ‘W’olf, she assassinates the majority of the attackers, and defends the armoury. Having intercepted one person’s violent assailant too late to save her, she severs her spine; it is a piece of ruthless mercy.

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Team Morgan is conflicted, but won’t admit it. His first reaction after Carol swoops in and kills his opponent is “I could have stopped him”. And he seems to believe that his current course of action – talk the psychos down, bore them into submission, or incapacitate them without a killing blow – is adequate. But when he meets the ‘W’olf he let go just days earlier in the woods, he must acknowledge that the some of the blood from that man’s victims is on his hands. What else could have forced him over the edge into that final strike?
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Eugene, Spencer and Deanna all choose to place themselves far from danger. Each is aware of their own cowardice, and justifies their decisions as best they can to themselves. Deanna’s reasoning is probably the most accurate but rings with the most pitiful shame – as the town’s leader the best things she can do is not have their back. Riiiiight. Her heat-packing son has no such excuse, ruled by very obvious fear. These people will not last long.

Those who do choose to fight – Jesse, for example, goes to that place of furious self-defense that every survivor must eventually, and rages through the horror of having to knife someone to death with hair scissors – will come out the other side damaged, but they’re still there. The skill they discover may not be pretty or easy to live with, but it will likely keep them and their loved ones from a gruesome death.

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“You don’t have to kill people” Morgan says to Carol. She dismisses this as the risible shite that it is, and he tries to counter with “You don’t like it.” As Carol sits on the stoop at episode end, she must take her own advice, and not let the things she has seen and done eat her up. Of course she doesn’t like it – long may she continue not to! That distinction is all that separates our heroes from ‘W’olves. They don’t enjoy the slaughter. But when faced with knife-weilding murderers, Morgan’s turn the other cheek attitude leaves the ugly job to people like Carol, who will bear the burden for the weaker folk, and try to shake off the damage she endures by being the stronger person.

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Review by Nina Clark

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Bean

Director at Nina Clark Music / The Musical Walkabout at Nina Clark Music
Bean is the family nickname of Nina Clark, singer, songwriter and professional musician. Nina's many nerdly passions, aside from music, include Game of Thrones, The Walking Dead and all things Whedon. (re. GoT, she has NOT read the books, so please be cool - no spoilers!)
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