The mid-season premiere of The Walking Dead was touted as being the “best episode yet”, and while I’m not sure it was the best of all-time, it was certainly the best in a very long time. “No Way Out” delivered on its promise of explosive action in some clever, though improbable ways. This episode was a reminder of how good the show has always been and its potential to continually suspend our disbelief and completely engage the viewers.
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When the episode began, I have to admit, I truly believed we were seeing the end of Abraham. Given the changes to his television story line versus his comic book story line, my money is on his season 6 demise. The Savior who was taunting them was a mere tease of the sadistic charisma that will arrive with Negan. I found myself actually giddy, though I was worried about Abe. But I, like most everyone else, had forgotten about the rocket launcher, beyond complaining at the end of episode 8 that they hadn’t immediately used it. So, when Daryl took care of the Saviors, it was a genuine fist-pump-in-the-air moment at my house. Many fans on Twitter seemed to feel that this successfully held off the impending arrival of Negan, given that there were no survivors to rat out Mr. Dixon. But, oh, how quickly they forget. Two survivors did get away back in episode 6, and they did so on Daryl’s bike and with his crossbow. When Negan discovers his crew has been decimated, these two knuckleheads will survive their punishment by being able to provide intel on Daryl and friends. And now, we count down the weeks until Daryl is introduced to Lucille.
I enjoyed that Rick finally relented and chose to have faith in Gabriel. He’s been trying to repent for his sins for weeks and he was the perfect candidate to protect Judith. And I absolutely loved his speech to Tobin about God giving them the strength. I know it’s not in the bible, but the ancient idea passed from the Greeks that the gods ‘will help those who help themselves’ is something I firmly believe. As they reminded us in this episode with James 2:26 “Faith without works is dead”. Action definitely speaks louder than words. Not only did Gabriel take action, but he inspired others hiding in the church to do so as well. Enid and Eugene were also inspired to quit running and hiding, respectively.
For a moment, Sam attempted to have the aforementioned strength. Whether he truly felt that he could be brave, like his mom asked, and make it to the quarry, or whether he was pretending to be brave, like his mom actually asked, matters not. As the day progressed, the writers of TWD gave us a nightmarish sequence of visuals–gnashing teeth, torn flesh–set to the voice over of Carol’s infamous threat to Sam. It made my breath catch in my throat. I cannot imagine what that did psychologically to a child in those circumstances. Remember, this is the kid who would lock himself in his room listening to a song about flowers (“look at the flowers”) and drawing pictures of how Carol said she would let him die. Her words scarred him. This kid has been sheltered for so long, he cannot tell if the “monsters” are living humans or the undead. Sam’s solitary scream for his mom was haunting, and as a mother, I get how Jesse became paralyzed by the situation. I’ve read some reviews calling the deaths of Sam and his family “pointless” or “gratuitous” but I disagree. For so long now, we have learned to fear the living more than the dead. With Nicotero’s accurate depiction of the rate of decay, the walkers are squishy and easier to dispatch. The graphic deaths of the Anderson family are a throwback to earlier seasons where innocence was continually stripped from the world. Cast members died for no good reason. It wasn’t for the “OMG factor” so much as it was the reality factor. People can and will die.
Michonne didn’t think twice about killing Ron to protect the Grimes family, did she? I mean, she could have knocked him out or chopped off his shooting hand, but no, she ran him through and fed him to the walkers. I am happy that the writers chose to include the loss of Carl’s eye. Given that the show has already rid us of Deanna and Reg, I wasn’t sure if they would go through with it. Kudos. But, I’ll get back to the Grimes in a few minutes.
Let me quickly say that Morgan telling Carol that she “can’t” kill him was like triple-dog-daring her to do so. Attempting a plea to her maternal side was a wrong move. Morgan losing his wife and son is a far cry from Carol losing her husband and daughter, as dictated by a) their lives prior to the ZA and b) the ways in which they died. One of these two will be dead before the season ends. Sigh.
Also, am I the only one who could have watched an entire episode of Denise and the Wolf? Their connection fascinated me from the moment they met in the basement. As she pointed out to him, he went back for her and that was his demise. He changed. On some level, Morgan was right, though it was Denise who reached the Wolf, not Morgan. And I think Carol, for a moment anyhow, realized that. When she opened fire on the Wolf, she did not know that he and Denise were, at that point, helping one another. In a moment of cruelty (punishment?) Carol chose to shoot him in the body and not in the head, allowing him to be eaten and eventually turn. However, as she murdered him (call it what it was, folks), she heard him cry out to Denise to keep going as he threw his wounded self in front of walkers to ensure her getaway. Oof. “How things turn,” indeed.
Okay, back to the Grimes clan. Before the wall fell, Tobin asked Rick not to give up on the Alexandrians. And, as Rick confessed at Carl’s bedside, he was wrong; they stepped up, all of them. In an inspired, and psychotically suicidal moment, every one who could muster the strength to wield a weapon made their way to the streets and fought alongside Rick. The visuals in this episode were stunning, but here’s where things got poetic for me.
Throughout season 6, TWD has paid homage to seasons past. There have been little throwbacks in every episode. When Rick was running with Carl’s wounded body, did you not think of Hershel’s farm? And, when Denise turns on the lights in the infirmary, did you notice the color palette changed from Alexandria to the warm yellows of Hershel’s farmhouse? Also, when Rick lost Lori and was so traumatized, he picked up an axe and worked his way through the prison, taking out his fear and aggression on everything in his path. We didn’t see it happen, but through the eyes of Glenn, saw that it did. In this episode, we find Rick right back in that same mindset; he has handed off his baby daughter, he has failed to save his romantic interest, his son may be mortally wounded. Rick picks up that axe and goes off on what potentially could have been another near-suicidal rampage. However, this time he notices that he is not alone. His ‘family’ doesn’t stand by in shock. They stand beside him. And as the flames burned into the night, drawing the walkers, the survivors used that as an opportunity to fight. Exactly what they didn’t do on Hershel’s farm which was overrun by far less walkers. It was a beautiful juxtaposition of who they were then and who they are now, hopeless versus hopeful. Brilliantly executed, Mr. Nicotero.
My only problem (other than Glenn not getting hit by a single stray bullet, again) was the fact that Rick’s flashes of Jesse’s face did not transition into flashes of Lori’s face. Glenn invoked the memories of Dale, Andrea, etc. but no Lori for Rick? The guilt he felt over his behavior for 8 months, shunning her and not being able to forgive her, and then violently losing her…that nearly destroyed him. He lost his damn mind and it took ages to come back from that. Here he is again, in a similar situation, surely it had to spark some of that residual sentiment for him. When he raised that axe and his visions changed, I truly hoped they would be of Lori. Instead, we got repeated images of Jesse’s face. I feel like that was a missed opportunity to bring some real emotion and even closure for Rick that would have fit in nicely with the nods to seasons 1-3. This episode served as a way to finally close the book on previous chapters, putting Atlanta, the farm and the prison behind them. This “new world” they are living in will be like watching an entirely different television series.
The coming weeks will show a newfound strength and resolve grounded in glorious hope and optimism for our survivors. Every ounce of which we know is going to meet a bloody end. And while every episode can’t be paced the way this one was, the remainder of season 6 will have me on the edge of my seat eagerly waiting the arrival of Negan. I’ve heard rumblings of complaints about the way season 6 was laid out, but I feel like it has thus far been the most nerve-wracking for me since season 2. It’s only February and my impending ulcer is already crying, “is it October yet?”
Shout out to all of my walker friends who went down in a blaze, blade or bullet of glory. You guys are the reason TWD is what it is. And I applaud the cast, writers and crew for putting together a truly entertaining hour of television.