With the origin of Morgan: Peace Warrior safely behind us, The Walking Dead returns to Alexandria, where the blood hasn’t quite dried, the corpses haven’t turned, and the residents suddenly discover that life in the zombie apocalypse is actually not that easy. And then Rick Grimes arrives to make everything worse.

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To be fair, The Walking Dead this season has basically been one long RICK GRIMES WAS RIGHT public-service announcement for the Alexandrians, and Rick should be commended for not screaming “I told you so!” when he returns to Alexandria. Of course, the main reason he wasn’t screaming that is because he was busy screaming “Open the gate!” instead, having escaped the Winnebago and basically run all the way back to town, several hundred zombies on his heels.

The Alexandrians have never seen a full horde of zombies before, and they certainly haven’t seen one right outside their walls. Given that they were invaded by murderous psychopaths earlier that day, they’ve suddenly been confronted with a very harsh reality—and most, if not all of them, are having a very hard time dealing with it. To the Alexandrians, this is truly the end of the world. To Rick and the gang, it’s Tuesday.

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So while Rick is mainly worried about Glenn, Michonne, Abraham, Daryl, and everyone else who went on his Zombie Fun Run—since they should have been back shortly, and yet when night falls there’s still been no word from any of them—the Alexandrians have to decide whether to fight or give up. One woman immediately chooses the latter, committing suicide by cutting her wrists instead of politely blowing her brains out, meaning the Alexandrians discover a new self-made zombie in their midst, which obviously does little to improve the mood.

Jessie seems to take the new world order pretty well, all things considered (of course, thanks to her abusive dickbag husband, her pre-Rick Alexandria life was no picnic either). She drags the corpse of the woman she killed in self-defense out of her kitchen, tries to cheer up her traumatized son Sam with some cookies, gives a few “guys, this is how it is now” speeches to the other Alexandrians, and ends the night making out with Rick after he utters some romantic banter about not wanting to bury some corpses for some reason.

There’s Nurse Denise, who is faced with the same situation she faced two weeks ago: another patient who is dying and she doesn’t know how to help him. After a pep talk from Tara, Denise does a bit of medical reading, figures out what to do, does it, the patient stabilizes, and then Denise gives Tara a big kiss—and it’s definitely more than a simple “thanks for giving me the confidence to help somebody” kiss.

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There’s Spencer, Deanna’s kid, who actually makes a great speech at the commissary, after the depressed residents see no need to ration food when they’re gonna get killed by something soon anyways. Spencer actually sums up the problems with this mentality eloquently and efficiently—that as soon as one person starts thinking only of themselves, everyone does, and the rationing system/Alexandria/civilization falls apart. He manages to stop the looting, but then secretly steals a bunch of things for himself and gets incredibly drunk. I get it.

And then there’s Deanna herself. First of all, let me congratulate The Walking Dead for finding yet another actor whose ability to convey powerful, complex thoughts and emotions without a single word of dialogue; Tovah Feldshuh just kills it, whether she’s unable to process how her worldview has been destroyed, or her fierce desire to survive and kick the ass of all-comers. I mean, LOOK AT HER UP THERE.

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Second, Deanna does basically go through those mental stages exactly: When she surveys the slaughter the Wolves committed and the horde of zombies Rick has brought to their door, she basically goes catatonic. Eventually she snaps out of it by taking a town map and planning some kind of weird half-farm, half-university utopia on the grounds, a clear sign that she’s trying to return to the idyllic Alexandria she lived in yesterday. The drunken Spencer quickly disabuses her of that notion, blaming her for the deaths of everyone because she didn’t prepare them for hordes of zombies and/or psychopaths. This is a bit harsh, but it appears Spencer is a bad drunk.

So Deanna snaps back into a mild catatonia, which is broken rather harshly when a Wolf who managed to die while hidden somewhere bursts out of nowhere as a zombie and attacks her in the middle of the street. Suddenly forced to fight for her life, Deanna realizes she very much wants to live, picks up a broken bottle and stabs the hell out of the walker. Of course, she is terrible at fighting zombies, and stabs it repeatedly in the chest, which makes it fortuitous that Rick pops up out of nowhere to save her.

Finally Deanna, like the rest of Alexandria, has realized she’s going to have to fight if she wants to survive.

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Which is all well and good for her, but it doesn’t necessarily make “Now” one of The Walking Dead’s better episodes. I don’t think it’s among the worst, but the writing continues still seems to be a suffering a lack of subtlety, and several scenes of the Alexandrians’ recovery are supremely on-the-nose or tone-deaf, mainly because the first half of season six is happening in a day. So that means when Jessie is comforting her son with cookies, it’s just a few short hours after he watched his mom brutally murder a maniac in their kitchen. Yeah, I don’t think we’re at the stage where cookies help yet, okay?

But the biggest issue is that this is just an episode to pass the time, a breather, something to make us wait a bit longer until we find out what happened to the others (and one other in particular). It’s not a problem, per se, but last week’s Morgan origin story was more than enough breather on its own. Sure, this was a major, traumatic disaster for the Alexandrians, and they would obviously need time to process all this. It’s just not particularly exciting to watch the people go through the same emotional journey we saw Rick and the others go through with more much complexity back in season 3.

Assorted Musings:

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• After Rick returns, Maggie goes out to find Glenn, and Aaron goes with her, because Aaron is a nice guy and because going out alone is tremendously stupid. It doesn’t impact the main story at all, and in fact there are so many zombies outside Alexandria that escape is impossible, even through the secret sewer system that Aaron knows about. However, we do learn that Maggie is indeed pregnant, which makes me think even if Glenn isn’t dead, he’s going to die in the near future. I can very much see TWD bringing him back safely, then killing him very quickly while most viewers assume he’s safe. It’s very much the sort of thing TWD would do, don’t you agree?

• The Alexandrians start writing the names of the dead on the wall as a sort of memorial. They instantly add Nicholas and Glenn to it, even though Rick tells them they still could be alive and it really hasn’t been that long; I mean, people do get held up for various reasons during zombie apocalypses a lot. I guess the Alexandrians were just so depressed that they basically assumed everyone who could be dead is?

• At any rate, when Maggie and Aaron return, Maggie erases Glenn’s name from the memorial, because she has hope! Then Aaron starts erasing Nicholas’ name because he also has hope, even though we know without a doubt that Nicholas is dead as hell. It’s one of those wonderful optimistic moments that TWD slyly but brutally undercuts.

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• Aaron also confesses to the townsfolk that he dropped his pack full of pictures when he was escaping that Wolf trap last season, which means he—by total accident—revealed Alexandria to the Wolves. It’s a noble, unnecessary thing for Aaron to do, and since this is TWD I assume it will be getting him killed in short order.

• I assume someone’s going to yell that Deanna’s a moron for not knowing that you can only destroy zombies by damaging the brain, even if she’s somehow never needed to destroy one before. However, she was already traumatized, in shock at suddenly being attacked, and then attacked in a completely unthinking frenzy. Even if she knew about the head—and I’m betting she did—she wasn’t thinking, she was just fighting. I get it.

• To be fair to Jessie, those cookies were enormous and looked delicious. If there actually are cookies that help you emotionally process seeing your mom murder someone in your kitchen earlier that day, I think these cookies would be strong contenders.

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• If you’re wondering what Deanna wrote on her wacky Alexandria map, it’s a line from Ovid: “Dolor hic tibi proderit olim.” Someday this pain will be useful to you. Finally, my five years of college Latin has paid off!

• Please give a round of applause to the Sewer Zombies, which not only were delightfully gross but were uniquely difficult to kill in that they were so soggy Maggie kept pushing her hands through them instead of pushing them away. Best zombies in quite some time.

• Was something under the stairs? I think something was under the stairs.


Contact the author at rob@io9.com.