The Walking Dead: Season 6, Episode 2 – JSS

“How do you just live, when that’s the world?”

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(SPOILER WARNING!)

After last week’s lesson about how ill-prepared they were to deal with the dead, this week’s Walking Dead saw the pampered Alexandrians get slapped in the face by the real world again – only this time by the living. I wasn’t entirely surprised to find that the blaring truck horn distracting the Walker herd at the end of last week was caused by the Wolves – I’d been expecting them to turn up. But I’d thought the show might have given the Alexandrians a little breathing room between dealing with hundreds of Walkers and the marauding living. Not a bit of it – The Walking Dead isn’t a show to give its characters a break.

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It’s almost as if these first two eps have been designed as an object lesson to them of how astoundingly lucky they’ve been so far, and how much they’re going to need Rick and the gang to survive. Whether that’s a good thing is a question the show’s beginning to address – how much do they want to become like the hardened, ruthless people they’ve taken in from outside?

That quandary was represented here by Morgan, here taking centre stage along with Carol to pull the Alexandrians’ asses out of the fire. It was a character-heavy episode, introducing a few new ones – notably Dr Denise Cloyd, who in one episode was given more of a personality than she’s had in many issues of the comic. But however many people were involved, the episode belonged to Melissa McBride and Lennie James, who were excellent in embodying the question of whether surviving means you have to lose all humanity.

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Central to that was Morgan’s refusal to kill, turning down a proffered gun and telling Carol that she doesn’t always have to kill their opponents – “because you don’t like it”. He’s right about that, but Carol sees it as something that has to be done, to protect the people she cares about. As I mentioned last week, Morgan has yet to be put in that position; his wife and son were dead long before he began his trek to find Rick. His success at convincing five of the Wolves to leave by force of argument (and a big stick) was impressive, but strategically naïve – I imagine Carol’s viewpoint would be that if you don’t kill them, they’ll be back.

And I assume they will – I can’t imagine they’ll be written off this early into the season. We still don’t know much about them; their numbers for a start, or why they’re doing what they do. The one unfortunate consequence of Carol’s insistence on killing every one of them inside the walls was that none were left to be interrogated. That one that Morgan had successfully knocked out and tied up could have been useful.

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The few things they did say to our heroes were cryptic at best. Morgan’s captive muttered something about how “people don’t belong here any more”, while one of the two he met by the fireside remarked of their lifestyle that “we didn’t choose”. Their attacks were frenzied and ferocious (kudos to some kinetic direction from Jennifer Lynch) as they savagely cut down their victims, hacking away at them long after they were dead. We know they like to use Walkers as weapons, but why hack off their limbs to leave them as wriggling torsos? Pure sadism, or is there some purpose behind it?

All those unanswered questions makes me fairly sure they’ll be back, but after this time I should think the Alexandrians will be better prepared – not least since the Wolves may have cut down the weakest ones. Some, however, were already prepared to defend themselves. Jessie’s ferocious scissor attack on the one threatening her sons was both satisfyingly gory and an obvious release of all her built up anger about her dead husband, his ‘executioner’, and her stubborn teenage son.

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Ron, for his part, could barely even manage to run away from his attacker; but finding out that his saviour was the son of the hated Rick, who also seemed to have shacked up with his girlfriend, did not go down well. If there’s going to be real trouble between Rick’s group and the Alexandrians, I expect him to be right at the heart of it. Because, let’s face it, there are few people as unthinking as an angry teenage boy.

Thankfully Carl isn’t like that so much these days, and it was good to see him get some screen time after his seconds-long appearance last week. Chandler Riggs has believable, rather sweet chemistry with Katelyn Nacon, who plays Enid – I suspect Ron is right in his assumption that she’ll be off with Carl before long.

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That is, if she’s still actually in Alexandria. Nacon impressed very much in the long prologue showing how Enid came to be there, wandering alone after the gory death of her parents and surviving by eating raw tortoise (easy to catch, I suppose), all the while repeatedly scratching out the letters “JSS”. It wasn’t until Carl found what could be her farewell note that we learned what they stood for – “just survive somehow”. If ever there was a motto for this show, that should be it.

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Seth Hoffman’s script didn’t neglect such character beats even though it was primarily an action piece. In fact the action helped build on the characters, with Eugene’s self-confessed cowardice obviously preying heavily on him, while Deanna is clearly still in shock from the death of her husband, reduced to little more than a figurehead for the community she’s supposed to be leading. And Aaron may be pretty hands on in fighting off the Wolves, but as he discovered (and I wonder if he’ll tell anyone else this) it was his fault they were there in the first place. Ross Marquand’s expression at the moment he found the discarded backpack said everything about the character’s feelings without needing to speak a word.

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Gore of the week

A fair bit, and given the premise, it was the living rather than the dead both meting it out and receiving it. Most of the gore was inflicted by the Wolves on the hapless Alexandrians; their sheer ferocity is hard to capture in stills, but here are a few:

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Carol, by contrast, doesn’t take such joy in killing (as Morgan correctly surmised), just getting on with it as quickly and efficiently as possible. That said, the moment when she cradled that dying victim just before doing the necessary head-knifing was effective if not especially gory:

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This was a far more fast-moving ep than last week’s season premiere – after all, however impressive a giant herd of Walkers is, they don’t move very fast. We still don’t know what’s going on with Rick’s ‘Operation Get Them Somewhere Else’ having been derailed by the Wolves and their truck horn. And we don’t know if Morgan actually killed that Wolf in the supply house, coming round to Carol’s viewpoint at the last.

These first two eps of the season are much more serialised than usual at this point, with unresolved cliffhangers that leave you eager for next week – a good tactic for retaining your impressive ratings. I expect we’ll catch up with Rick and co next week, and there’ll be plenty of fallout from both plots. Let’s hope the shell-shocked Alexandrians can recover quickly – periods of peace in this show tend to be short-lived…

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