Man. I don’t know that I’ve ever felt more ambivalent about an episode of The Walking Dead before. As the penultimate episode of season six, “East” is mostly about wasting time until next week’s finale and the arrival of Negan (finally). Thank goodness some of that time was also spent on a conversation the show has needed to have for years.
Let’s get the “bullshit” part of out of the way, shall we? Daryl storms out of Alexandria in a huff. Is he chasing after Carol, who left a “Dear Unmemorable Old Guy” letter last episode and took off? No. He doesn’t even know she’s gone. Instead, he’s decided to go hunt down Dwight and the Saviors who ambushed them and killed Denise.
Glenn, Michonne, and Rosita chase after him, and somehow manage to catch up with him, where Glenn gives him a good, thoughtful, and totally reasonable speech about “Hey, let’s go home and plan this out together because maniacs are about to attack us, and we’re needed there, and to be perfectly honest Dwight is like 99 percent certain to show up at Alexandria anyways.” Not only does Daryl completely ignore this, but Rosita decides to go with him. So Glenn and Michonne start walking back home, and then are immediately captured by Dwight and the Saviors, who completely eluded Daryl.
This makes at least the third episode in a row where “our heroes” have been captured by the Saviors, and it’s dumb. It’s dumb that literally seven characters leave Alexandria this episode when they all know an attack from the Saviors could come at any moment. This requires the characters to be imbeciles, which is not something TWD is often guilty of. It’s also boring, which TWD has avoided pretty consistently since its Governor days. Most damningly, it is lazy writing, which is worse than bad writing (e.g., Gotham) and it’s the mark of a show that needs to fill an hour of screen time before they can start the finale.
Actually, I should say “half an hour of screen time,” because TWD knows exactly what to do with the other half: Let Rick and Morgan talk as they head out to chase after Carol. Since Morgan arrived last season, he’s been the conscience of The Walking Dead, a voice that got drowned out almost entirely by Rick’s increased propensity for violence as the answer to everything. After all that Rick has done—especially his vaguely warranted, utterly brutal attack on the Saviors compound—there needed to be a reckoning. Hell, someone just needed to call Rick out on what the hell he thought he was doing.
Morgan is that someone. There were a bunch of excellent lines, as Morgan dances around the subject of Rick’s descent into mercilessness. But the key conversation for me is when Morgan brings up when Carol killed and burned those two sick people, an act of brutality committed for the good of the group. An act that Rick was so horrified by he banished her.
Morgan: “If she did it today, would you kill her [instead]?”
Rick: “Hell, I’d thank her. Or I’d have killed them myself.”
It was actually gratifying to me to see the show openly acknowledge that Rick’s humanity had eroded to Sociopath Carol’s level (even as Carol had regained a measure of hers [I would also argue that Rick is basically the Governor with fewer eccentricities, but we can save that for another day]). More gratifying still was when Morgan confesses about taking the Wolf prisoner, jailing him, him escaping, taking Denise hostage, but then when she was swarmed by zombies, saving her at the cost of his own life. “That killer saved her life, Rick,” Morgan says, “And then Denise was there to save Carl.” (After his eye was shot out, natch.)
You can argue the Wolf put Denise in danger first by taking her hostage, but Morgan’s point remains; she was in the makeshift prison, and only the combination of the Wolf grabbing her and then saving her led her to be in the infirmary right when Carl (and Rick) needed her to be.
Now, that sounds like some mystic “it all happens like it’s supposed to” bullshit, but that’s not what Morgan is arguing for. A touch earlier, in my favorite bit of dialogue of the entire season, Morgan says this about his policy of not killing people to Rick:
“I’m not right. There is no right. There’s just the wrong that doesn’t pull you down.”
This is the ethos I’ve been looking for, and desperate for, ever since the prison was overrun and Rick started descending into darkness again. In the world of TWD, we have abundantly seen that making the “right” choices, the humane choices can often come back to bite you horribly (sometimes literally). But we’ve seen people make the wrong choice too—the Governor, the Termites, and now the Saviors. If Rick can’t be better than them, why are we even watching him? Why are tuning into a show about an asshole in a world of assholes, all of them trying to murder everyone else before they get murdered?
I was beginning to get worried that the show had no idea Rick’s growing inhumanity was, in fact, a problem; certainly only Morgan seemed to be taken aback when he popped by Alexandria in the season 5 finale and saw a blood-covered Rick execute a man (for killing Deanna’s husband in a drunken stupor, if I recall), or when Rick announced they were going to murder a compound full of people who might one day want to murder them. But for Morgan—and the show—to finally have a chance to address those concerns with Rick, one on one, it gives me hope that Rick and the show can regain some sort of moral equilibrium. It’s certainly what Morgan hopes, as he tells Rick to get back to Alexandria and sets off to find Carol by herself.
Unfortunately, the arrival of Negan—the so-long-touted-its-beginning-to-get-obnoxious villain—next week is probably not the best time for Rick to rejoin the side of the angels. Whether he does or he doesn’t, though, it’s going to be hard to be that sympathetic for Rick when the Saviors arrive en masse next week. That “next week on” preview of Rick asking the Saviors if they can make a deal is especially galling. Sorry, Rick, you just murdered dozens of their group, possibly friends, family and lovers, in a sneak attack. Even if they were actual saints beforehand, I sincerely doubt they’re that interested in negotiating with you now. Hell, the next-week-on preview knows what’s up: “THE PRICE WILL BE PAID.”
But rather than leave you will too positive an impression of an episode that was deeply flawed, let me finish with two late developments that were also galling: 1) Maggie, having had about two moments of happiness with Glenn, started screaming and seemingly having a miscarriage and 2) Daryl and Rosita, coming across the captured Glenn and Michonne, only to also get immediately captured by Dwight and the Saviors. (Apparently Daryl can’t drive stick and he can’t track for shit anymore, because I assume “noticing when large groups of people are standing right nearby” should fall somewhere under “tracking skills.”) Then Dwight shoots him in the shoulder, just so the camera can be covered in blood.
I don’t know, guys. I’m starting to have a bad feeling about this season overall, and I don’t think it has anything to do with Negan.
• There’s a long scene where Carol meets some Saviors, they accost her, and she pulls her terrified panic attack routine and then shoots them down with a gun hidden in her sleeve. It really wasn’t working for me until after the gunfire, when Carol dropped her act of terror, but then put on a look of anguish at having to kill more people instead.
• I admit I did chuckle when Carol cried to Jiro and the Saviors “Please don’t hurt me!” and Jiro asked, “Why do people always assume the worst?”
• All that said, it is super-weird for Carol to say “I gotta leave because I can’t kill people!” and then for her to immediately meet some people and kill them. It sucks, because I think Carol’s arc has been fascinating this half of the season, but this sticks out like a sore, undead thumb.
• Rick’s hubris in the beginning is astounding. There he is, laying in bed with Michonne, talking non-stop about how badly he’s going to kick the Saviors’ asses. Remember this moment, dipshit. (Dear TV writers: You probably do not want your audience to be thinking “Remember this moment, dipshit” about your protagonist.”)
• I’m not sure I’ve ever seen a TV show get closer to showing a butt without actually showing a butt than Maggie and Glenn’s shower scene.
• How many times has Dwight been able to sneak up on Daryl? Once in the first half of the season, once in last week’s episode, and at the end of last night’s episode. Sigh. Just like Spidey’s Spider-Sense inexplicably fails him right when the plot needs it to, Daryl’s general badassedness just disappears whenever the show requires him to walk by a dozen Saviors without seeing them.
• Maggie’s new haircut looks good. Well done, Enid.
• Problems aside, The Walking Dead can start episodes with as many Johnny Cash solo songs as it cares to.