Remember in the season four finale, when Rick and the group were imprisoned in Terminus, and Rick rallied his troops by promising they were the force to be reckoned with? ”They’re screwing with the wrong people,” Rick announced emphatically, the lack of profanity undercutting his point a bit. After “Not Tomorrow Yet,” it’s clear Negan and the Saviors are or will shortly be thinking the exact same thing: Rick’s screwing with the wrong people.
If you feel uncomfortable with the idea of Rick’s group suddenly being the antagonists in this analogy, well, I can assure you that this is completely intentional. The Walking Dead has always been a bit of a morality play, trying to figure out the balance between living and survival, how much humanity one can afford to keep when civilization crashes (and others have given up their humanity), and the constant battle what is right and what is necessary. “Not Tomorrow Yet” was one of the most interesting examinations of these questions in recent memory. But it was also unbelievably tense, thanks to the group’s assault on the Saviors’ compound.
The first half of the episode is the prelude to that assault, of which very little is used actually planning (the sense that Rick and the others are rushing into things and making some less-than-wise assumptions about the Saviors’ HQ and capabilities adds greatly to the tension). There’s also a town meeting where Rick tells the town about the deal with Hilltop, where they get badly needed food in exchange for taking out the Saviors. However, Rick’s assertion that it’s a group decision is kind of weird, given that he and Maggie have already made the deal and brought the food back.
Still, Rick makes the very compelling argument that the Saviors will one day find Alexandria, just like the Wolves did, just like Jesus did. Alexandria will undoubtedly have to fight them to survive then. This fight is inevitable, Rick argues, and if they do it now, Alexandria gets badly needed food and crops. And if they perform a sneak attack, they have the greatest chance of success while minimizing the risks to the group.
No one is that excited to go out and kill these people, but no one argues against it… except for Morgan. He asks if they can beat the Saviors, and Rick’s (over)confidence is total. Then Morgan suggests they tell the Saviors that, in hopes that they can get them to stand down without massacring them—or getting in a fight where they lose some of their group, too. Rick puts it to a vote, but no one wants to take a chance on things working out peacefully.
Rick is almost certainly correct.here. And from what we, as fans of The Walking Dead have likely picked up about Negan, we know that Morgan’s plan had absolutely no chance of working. But as is so often the case, Rick being correct doesn’t mean his decision to kill a group of people that at the moment means him no harm is right, either. But “No Tomorrow Yet” isn’t close to being done showing the consequences of Rick’s “wise” plan.
The episode adds more depth to this central conflict through Carol and Glenn, both of whom receive a great deal of focus this week. Let’s start with Glenn, whose storyline is more overt. Glenn understands the need for the preemptive attack, but he’s already looking sick at the prospect. And the reason is one that I hadn’t quite realized: Glenn has never killed anyone before. (Still living, natch). He and Heath, who will be paired with him for most of the episode, point out how lucky they’ve been that they’ve never needed to kill another living person, and the fact that these personal records will end tonight doesn’t even need to be said.
Meanwhile, Carol seems to be in a weird place. She begins the episode “shopping” in the pantry and collecting acorns to the peppiest music TWD has ever offered (although the lyrics are somewhat less so). She bakes beet and acorn cookies for the Alexandrians in her faux-mom routine, and even gets her flirt on with Tobin, in that they give each other a bit of shit. Carol even takes a moment to stand enigmatically by rascally murdered child Sam Anderson, about which more in “Assorted Musings.”
That’s just the beginning. When Morgan confronts her, asking why she didn’t tell Rick about him saving the Wolf and endangering the rest, Carol says she’s not going to tell. This is a confusing turn from Carol nearly murdering Morgan in the midseason finale and premiere; she seems actually irritated that Morgan even brought it up. Then there’s the fact that she even sleeps with Tobin the night before the assault. It’s another romantic pairing out of the blue, although this one is less jarring because who’s given a crap about anything Tobin’s been up to for the last dozen episodes.
And when the assault team parks and begins preparing for the assault, Carol spies Maggie, who comes along because she feels she has to, having made the deal. Carol, spying the mom-to-be, puts out her cigarette and tells Rick that Maggie stays with the car and Carol is staying with Maggie. Rick is (weirdly) baffled by Carol’s sudden overprotectiveness, and I think Carol might be too. She appears to be softening from the terrifyingly merciless killer in mom sweaters that she’s been since arriving in Alexandria, and she’s not sure why either.
Oh, and speaking of the assault! Here’s the plan: Have Andy, the Hilltopper who’s been to the Saviors compound and has drawn Rick a not-particularly-complete map of the place, bring the Saviors’ Gregory’s head, as they demanded last episode. This will allow everyone to get close without raising suspicion as well as distracting the guards. The head will be a zombie’s head that looks enough like Gregory’s to fool them in the dark, which leads to a very telling moment: having found a pretty darn facsimile of Gregory’s severed head (they grabbed a few to choose from!) Andy voices his concern that the nose is all wrong. Where Andy sees a problem, Rick sees a solution—by punching the severed zombie heading the nose until it’s crushed. “He fought back,” Rick explains matter-of-factly.
Andy can only stare at him, what he’s done, and how Rick never even gave a second’s thought to how screwed up this whole thing is. “[The Saviors] are scary,” Andy says, “but those pricks got nuthin’ on you.”
Let’s take a moment to acknowledge this: A man with the most intimate knowledge of the Saviors, a group that terrorizes and murders people indiscriminately, a group that as we’ll shortly find out includes a member who keeps a Polaroid collage of people whose heads he’s caved in… he thinks Rick and his group are scarier. Rick may take this information as a comfort, that he and his team are badder than the mysterious foe they’re planning to take down. But when Andy says it, he’s anything but comforted.
The good news is that Rick’s plan goes far, far better than anyone could have (or should have) expected. They kill the guards and wander through the compound with shockingly methodical precision, killing everyone with knives as to not alarm the others. This leads into yet powerful moment, where Glenn and Heath enter a room where two Saviors lie sleeping. While Rick and some of the others have already had no problem killing off their unaware foes, Glenn can barely bring himself to murder someone that vulnerable, even if he is a monster. He manages to do it, but has to stop himself from crying afterward.
Glenn is crying because of what he’s done, what he and the others are doing right now. It may be the smart move, and it’s something that Rick, Carol, Daryl and Michonne will likely do and not lose any sleep over that night. But Glenn, the heart and soul of the survivors, has crossed a line that he can’t uncross. It’s heartbreaking, and it casts an even darker shadow over the group’s attack—regardless of how smart it may have seemed, could any plan where Glen literally weeps at what he has done have been the right thing to do? The only silver lining here is that Glenn manages to prevent Heath from crossing the line as well, as he kills the other Savior when Health is wrestling with his own conscience.
So Rick and the other manage to kill a lot of people before one Savior inadvertently stumbles upon Abraham in a hallway and things go to hell. Abraham very quickly stabs the guy, but he still manages to pull the buildings fire alarm before his body lets him know he’s dead, at which point all hell breaks loose. Seriously, at this point, everything devolves into gunfire for what seems like an extraordinarily long amount of time. There are two things of note: 1) Rick and the others really do seem much, much better at killing people than the Saviors, as they pretty much clean out the building without losing a single man; 2) poor Glenn and Heath are forced to kill a lot more people as they’re chased into the armory (found it!) by Saviors, and open fire in retaliation.
By the next morning, the group is outside the building, congratulating themselves on a brutal murder spree well done when a guy riding a motorcycle bursts inexplicably from inside the building. He’s quickly shot down, but before Rick goes to put a bullet in his brain, the Savior’s walkie-talkie crackles to life. “Put the gun down,” a woman says. When Rick hesitates, she adds, “We have a Carol and a Maggie here.” And suddenly, the plan has fallen apart, seemingly right after it succeeded.
You can practically taste the doom. Rick just picked a fight with the biggest bully in the post-apocalypse. His one chance was to launch a pre-emptive strike, one that took out all the Saviors so they wouldn’t have a chance to retaliate against Hilltop of Alexandria either. Rick failed. Sure, they killed a lot of Saviors (a lot) but there are still some more out there, including Negan himself. From the sense I get from hearing about the comics second-hand, I get the impression Negan was going to be a spiteful son-of-a-bitch before Rick massacred a portion of his troop. Now… now Rick has found the worst person in the zombie apocalypse, and Rick has made him angry.
Given that, it’s hard if not impossible, to get to the end of “Not Tomorrow Yet” and feel like the assault was the right movie. Rick and the show laid out the justification for the attack clearly and efficiently, but the costs have already piled up: Negan infuriated. Carol and Maggie captured. Glenn a killer. And Morgan… Morgan, back at Alexandria, is crying for the killing, without even knowing how badly the plan’s been screwed up.
Even before that voice came on the walkie-talkie, even when Rick thought he had won, he had already lost. Jesus knows it, even if no one else does. “So this is what the new world looks like?” he asks coldly after he saves Glenn and Heath from being shot by a dying Savior. Just two episodes ago, Rick was so hopeful about the future that he begged Carl to live, to show him a new world, better than the one they’d been forced to live in so far. Right now, this new world looks exactly like the old one—and there’s a pile of bodies to prove it.
One more chilling realization: Early in the episode, Tara tells Denise she loves her… in an awkward attempt to steer the conversation away from the upcoming premeditated murder spree, and the fact that she’s done something like it before. (Tara was telling the truth, but still, weird.) Tara must be referring to being part of the attack on the prison led by the Governor, right?
The Governor was all about killing people before they could kill him—the folks at the prison, those military guys from season 2, whoever. There’s no doubt that the Governor considered Rick’s group a potential threat that needed to be eliminated, just as Rick considers the Saviors a threat. Sure, they Governor was crazy, but he and Rick—as they do with disturbing frequency—had the same plan with the same motivation: self-preservation. Tara may not have fully understood the ramifications here, but she’s doing the exact same thing for Rick as she did for the Governor. Rick may have good intentions and a better objective sense of what constitutes a threat, but both men had the same plan, and both plans ended with a large pile of bodies.
If Morgan knew all this, he’d weep even harder.
• Carol. Why wear white when you go outside the walls to gather acorns? You just know you’re gonna get zombie blood on that shirt.
• As mentioned above, Carol also takes a moment to stand by poor Sam Anderson’s grave. While I’m surprised to even get a visual mention (his name is never spoken aloud, nor are any of the Andersons discussed) of Sam, let’s not pretend her giving a consternated look at the kid’s grave is a tacit admission of guilt. Yes, she basically traumatized him, but she wasn’t there when Sam was eaten. She has no clue—as far as the show has presented—that his death was caused by anything other than hungry zombies.
• I have no idea what Carol’s numbers were for in her notebook, or why the number 18 was so important. I’m sure I’m dumb, so feel free to educate me in the comments.
• Abraham breaks up with Rosita the night before the attack with all the sensitivity you would expect from Abe, which is to say somewhat less than none.
• So Father Gabriel is still crazy as shit, but he’s 100% on Team Rick. Good to know.
• Think that huge satellite dish on the Saviors HQ means anything? Maybe it’s just because the building is some sort of important communications relay stations, which may also be why it has back-up power, which is why Negan chose it? Hmm.
• Although I think The Walking Dead really wants us to consider the moral and physical quandary the group is in, it is worth noting that the Saviors, as far as has been shown to us, are juvenile bullies, assholes, and psychopaths. We may be wondering if Rick made the right call now, but once the Saviors get a chance to counter-attack I imagine our main regret will be that Rick didn’t finish the job last night.
• According to EW, the right-most of the three severed zombie heads considered to serve as Gregory;s head was modeled after Johnny Depp for no particular reason. Wacky.
• What is Morgan welding? I hope it’s a giant metal statue of a dove. That Negan uses to crucify people.
Contact the author at firstname.lastname@example.org.