“I’m not right. There is no right. There’s just the wrong that doesn’t pull you down.”
Just one more ep to go of this season, and for the second week in a row the denizens of The Walking Dead are acting pretty stupidly, with yet more inadvisable expeditions beyond Alexandria’s comforting walls on the eve of war. As some consolation, at least their motives this week made more sense than last week’s. Daryl was motivated by guilt and hotheaded rage, Carol by her conscience, and the rest because they cared about the idiots who’d already gone out there.
Still, there is no drama without jeopardy and conflict, so it was probably dramatically necessary for the guys to put themselves in harm’s way just to progress the story. And Carol at least had a concrete motivation for leaving, as detailed in her farewell note last week. To echo Maggie after their kidnap ordeal at the hands of the Saviors – “I can’t any more”.
While there’s a lot going on in this second half of the season, it’s Carol’s character arc that draws me most. Having overcome a history as a downtrodden, beaten spouse to become a fearless warrior for her new family, now she’s experiencing pangs even about that. Unlike Rick, she’s gaining some awareness that, to survive this new world, you have to be the bad guys. And it’s not something she wants to do.
Trouble is, in an almost blackly comic way, it seems it’s something she can’t avoid. While this wasn’t one of the show’s outright riffs on Westerns, it wasn’t hard to recognise Carol as the world-weary gunslinger who just wants to hang up her guns and make peace, but keeps getting dragged back to killing. Think John Wayne in The Shootist, or Clint Eastwood in Unforgiven. Channing Powell’s clever script teased us with this from the first, with a cold open of ominous images soundtracked by Melissa McBride’s all too recognisable voice and some tension-building gunshots.
Well, I say “tension-building”, but I have to say I wasn’t too worried about Carol – she can take care of herself. Her soul, though – that’s another matter. When we finally saw it, her confrontation with a random group of Savior scouts was a brilliant standoff. At first, I assumed her abject sobbing was one of her usual feints to get her enemies to underestimate her. But it soon became clear that it was for real. Unfortunately for her sniggering assailants, they didn’t realise she wasn’t begging for her life – she was begging for theirs. I mean, come on, this is Carol, she was never in any real danger. Though I do still wonder how she managed to conceal a machine gun in her sleeve…
Director Michael Satrazemis even came up with the perfect car for her to drive in her would-be escape. Let’s face it, a 20 year old VW Golf is exactly what you’d expect from a none-too-wealthy suburban mom. Only this one had been adapted to the new world – it was covered in metal spikes so no one could get too near it. The perfect automotive metaphor for Carol – or perhaps I’m overthinking this.
Still, it was her story that loomed large over an episode that, as last week, she wasn’t actually in all that much. Instead we got a fascinating moral debate between the two who went out to find her – Rick and Morgan, embodying the show’s conflicting philosophies of how far we need to go to survive the end of civilisation. Given that it’s clear Morgan’s “no killing” viewpoint is in large part responsible for Carol’s current angst, that was cogent and a debate worth having.
I have to say though, for me, Morgan’s attempts to prick the now near-feral Rick’s conscience smacked somewhat of desperation. He hasn’t seen the horrors Rick’s been through – it’s fine for him to maintain a lofty moral position. But he did have a point – what’s surviving worth, if we’re no better than the ravenous undead?
These were some fine scenes between Andrew Lincoln and Lennie James (two Brits, let’s remember), that made good cases for both arguments. Though it did occur to me, that, in Morgan’s lengthy narrative of how his sparing that Wolf also spared Denise who then was available to help Carl – if he hadn’t held the Wolf prisoner in the first place, Denise would likely never have ventured outside her infirmary. Morgan may have a point, but it’s all too easy to play “what if?”, as I know from experience.
But he did have an absolutely relevant point that Rick was needed back in Alexandria – and that one person, even if she’s “family” isn’t worth risking the whole community for. For a wonder, Rick saw the point. Unlike, unfortunately, the party that went haring off after the inconsolable Daryl – and I’m pretty sure that isn’t going to end well.
Daryl’s motive was pretty clear – Denise had died at the hands of a man he could have killed but didn’t, and was even shot by Daryl’s own crossbow. And it wasn’t entirely a surprise that Rosita, far from talking sense into him, chose to join him in his quest for revenge – after all, she was there when Denise was killed. Glenn and Michonne weren’t.
Unfortunately for them, it looks like that lack of motivation is what led them to the complacency that got them captured. And may, for all we know, have gotten Daryl killed (though I’m pretty sure Dwight’s whispered, “you’ll be all right” guarantees that fan favourite isn’t on his way out yet).
Others may be, though. No spoiler from the comics here, as the show frequently takes established storylines in new directions, but in my experience when a show focuses so much on a character having a passionate shag (on basic cable, no less!), and his girlfriend goes into labour while he’s in mortal danger, that’s usually a death warrant. Could the astoundingly unkillable Glenn’s luck finally have run out?
Gore of the week
Not a massively gory episode, focused as it was on the machinations and philosophical debates of those still living. However, unlike season two’s dreary ‘Hershel’s farm’ stuff, there were a couple of Walkers present to enliven the proceedings with some gut-chomping. The first was one of Carol’s unfortunate victims, chowing down on one of his former compadres:
But this week’s prize has to go the one by the railroad tracks, who’d made a right old meal of one of one of the felled Saviors (who I have to say looked kind of cute):
So, only one more ep to go this season, and we still haven’t met the new Big Bad. I’m expecting Negan to show up next week for the Big Finale – after all, you wouldn’t announce casting Jeffrey Dean Morgan if we’re not going to see him for the better part of a year. But the pieces are all in place, and the jeopardy established – I think next week’s going to be a game-changer.