How do you start a review for an episode like this one? OMFG? A thousand exclamation points?
This was one of the best episodes they've ever done, if not the best. It was also quite possibly the most disturbing, and considering what show we're watching, that's saying a lot. Since I've been doing this television critic thing for fun (there is no profit), I've acquired some distance, and it's rare when an episode of anything blows me away to the point where I'm saying things out loud to the screen, like "Oh, no. Oh, no" and "Omigod," and "Wow". This one did.
The last few minutes of the fall finale showed Rick, Michonne, Carl and baby Judith, Father Gabriel, Jessie and her two sons, covered with gore and walking hand in hand through the walkers. Sam had some sort of mental break because he started saying "Mom" during the last moment. When we returned to that moment, I was a bit surprised that the walkers didn't immediately fall on Sam, and that Sam kept quiet. When Rick decided to go for the vehicles and Sam courageously said he could do it and that he wanted to stay with his mother instead of going with Father Gabriel, I thought maybe the reality of walking through the monsters had flipped a mental switch for the poor kid and that he'd be okay. But no.
It was like dominoes falling. Sam lost it and started making noise and he was taken. Jessie couldn't help reacting, and she was taken. Ron completely lost his mind and shot Carl, and Michonne killed him with her sword. The entire family gone in the space of a minute. It was so shocking that I really believed for a moment that Carl was dead, too. (Since I haven't read the graphic novels, I didn't know that Carl was going to lose an eye. Sometimes not knowing this stuff is a good thing.)
Losing Jessie and her sons was so upsetting that it was a surprise how uplifting this episode turned out to be. Morgan was right about the Wolf guy: people can change. The Wolf could have gone over the wall, but he came back and got bitten to save Denise, and then he died while trying to save her again. We still don't know what the brainwashing actually is or what the Wolves think they're doing when they massacre people, but they're reachable, aren't they?
So are the Alexandrians. The last act of this episode was amazing as Rick, overwhelmed by rage and loss, ran out with a hatchet to fight the walkers, and everyone followed him out to fight beside him. It started with Michonne and the rest of Rick's group, but then the Alexandrians stepped up, too, Spencer, Heath and Aaron, and so on. And Eugene (Eugene!) ran out with a machete. And Father Gabriel, who finally realized that God helps those who help themselves, picked up a weapon and joined them.
The entire community coming together like that, and the powerful montage that went with it, got to me, big time. Just like the unexpected loss of Jessie and her sons got to me. I couldn't stop thinking about it when I went to bed last night. I know a lot of fans weren't crazy about Jessie, but I kind of liked her. Even though I seriously ship Rick and Michonne. (The way Michonne kept backing Rick during this episode was lovely.)
Glenn, you've got to stop nearly dying
Meanwhile, Glenn was still trying to get through to Enid. That scene in the church where he told her the names of the dead he honored (nice little reminder of Dale) and got her to say her own was such a typical Glenn thing to do, helping others during an extreme emergency. When Enid was climbing the scaffold to get Maggie and Glenn was yelling for the walkers to go to him as a distraction, I honestly thought that Maggie was going to have to watch Glenn sacrifice himself for her. Abraham and Sasha on the wall coming to his rescue was awesome.
So was the opening scene that set the tone for this episode (that tone being "super outrageous"). What could they do? Surrender and lead Negan's motorcycle gang to Alexandria? Mister Mouthy "Bite, chew, swallow, repeat" was going to kill Abraham and Sasha, because apparently that's what Negan's people do when they encounter a new group: they kill at least one of them. Daryl taking out that entire motorcycle gang with a rocket launcher made me cheer. Gotta love a rocket launcher.
Morgan versus Carol
Morgan was still trying to connect to Carol, to get her to understand his viewpoint by mentioning her daughter Sophia. (The two of them do have that in common, the loss of their only child.) I'm reasonably sure that Morgan is not going to convert Carol. It's interesting that in a way, both of them killed the Wolf. Carol killed him outright, thinking she was saving Denise, and Morgan was the one to take out the Wolf as a walker. "Sorry."
Was Sam's death, as well as Jessie's and Ron's, ultimately Carol's fault? Did her lurid threats during the cookie discussion push Sam over the edge? I know Carol was trying to save her own people when she scared Sam so badly, and at the time I found it amusing in a dark sort of way. It's not amusing now. Morgan's no-kill policy has been somewhat infuriating but you know, Morgan turned out to be right about Wolf guy, didn't he? Morgan's viewpoint versus Carol's is a fascinating philosophical conundrum that has been floating throughout the entire sixth season.
Notes from Talking Dead
This week's guests were Carrie Underwood, Greg Nicotero (executive producer and the director of this episode), and Benedict Samuel (Wolf guy, who turned out to be Australian). The bloody axe that Rick used to detach Carl from Jessie was on the coffee table. I gotta say, the "In Memoriam" sequence was brutal. It ended with: "Jessie, you almost made it. Sam, you never had a chance. Ron, say hi to your dad." Laugh out loud, in spite of myself.
The most interesting part of the episode was Greg Nicotero explaining how they did so much cool stuff: the biker explosion, the lake of fire. A lot of it was practical effects, not CGI. The fire was real, and there were 1,200 makeups. It must have been a bear to shoot.
Bits and pieces:
-- I honestly didn't think Rick was going to entrust baby Judith to the squirrelly Father Gabriel. Funny how trusting Gabriel turned out to be the right decision this time.
-- Sign on door in Alexandria: "Come In, We're Open."
-- Sign in the church: "Faith without works is dead. James 2.26."
-- That little moment when Carl grabbed Ron's hand made me go aww. So did Sam noticing a walker that used to be a little boy like him.
-- Bible Glock. :)
-- The walkers marching into the lake of fire was a spectacular visual.
-- I love Abraham's new clothes. He looks wonderful in dress blues.
-- I've said it before but it bears repeating: Michonne moves me. Like the scene near the end where she was simply standing there holding baby Judith. The way she silently backed up everything Rick did in this episode. Even the way she took the bloody sheet off him when he was so focused on Carl that he didn't notice. Danai Gurira is amazing.
-- Gold acting stars for everyone, but special mention for Merritt Wever (Denise) because her fear throughout was palpable. It was great to see Denise finally come into her own as the community's doctor in the end. Honorable mention for Austin Abrams (Ron) and Major Dodson (Sam).
Negan's guy: "If you have to eat shit, best not to nibble. Bite, chew, swallow, repeat. Goes quicker."
Abraham: "Nibble on that."
Enid: "Who are those people to you?"
Glenn: "My parents. A man named Dale. Maggie's father Hershel. A woman named Andrea, a man named Tyreese. Who are they to you?"
Enid: "My parents."
Glenn: "Then they're still here, 'cause you're still here."
Father Gabriel: "God will save Alexandria because God has given us the courage to save ourselves." Gabriel has been with the group and in this series for quite awhile. This was the first time I liked him.
I'm dying to know what you guys thought about this episode. Did you love it as much as I did? Five out of four rocket launchers,
Billie Doux loves good television, especially science fiction, and spends way too much time writing about it.
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