Warning: Major spoilers for those who have not seen the 6B premiere
The last time there was an episode of The Walking Dead where virtually all characters were included was the season 5 finale. And, there’s a good reason why you don’t see episodes like that too often — they are extremely difficult to write. You have to keep the action moving along, but at the same time, you have to do it without making it feel like the scenes are patched together like a poorly-made quilt. However, the writers of The Walking Dead managed to pull it off quite nicely in last season’s finale, making it one of the highest-rated episodes of the series thus far. Well, folks, they did it again in tonight’s 6B premiere, and not only that, they did so in the regular 1-hour timeframe, as opposed to the 90-minute season 5 finale. What you ended up with was a hell of a dense hour, non-stop action, and resolution of the entire horde threat in just 60 tiny minutes.
AN EXPLOSIVE INTRO TO NEGAN’S SAVIORS
As the episode opens, we are actually right where we left off in episode 8, as Daryl (Norman Reedus), Sasha (Sonequa Martin-Green), and Abraham (Michael Cudlitz) are staring down the road with Negan’s Saviors blockading it. What transpires next in the scene is the precursor to what type of awesomeness we should expect as the episode continues to unfold. As I said, the episode isn’t formulated like the previous ones, as it spends an equal amount of time amongst several different events that are occurring simultaneously — both in Alexandria and outside of it — with the showdown with the Saviors being only one of them.
This being said, what happens next is actually what I had predicted would happen after the airing of the mid-season finale. For those unfamiliar with the comics, Negan ends up in Rick’s (Andrew Lincoln) backyard after several of his men are gunned down while demanding weapons and supplies from the folks in Alexandria. Well, as soon as those bikers showed up, I knew this was going to be the scene, but then I also remembered that rocket launcher that Abe snagged. I thought how cool it would be for Abraham to break his new weapon in by blowing all those Savior assholes to kingdown come. Well, as it turns out, that’s exactly what happened.
Even though the arc was somewhat predictable, it still was a super-cool scene to watch, and props to the writers for, once again, doing something so ambitious. Of course, the downside to this is it will now put Negan on Alexandria’s ass, which will likely culminate with the rumored Lucille scene later this season. Bottom line: you don’t kill Negan’s men, and if you do, you will reap the consequences, which may include a barb-wire bat to the side of the head.
THE COMIC-BOOK “NO WAY OUT” IS SERVED UP ON THE SMALL SCREEN — WITH ALL IT’S GORE, HORROR AND GRUESOMENESS
The production team for the show has always said that the comics shouldn’t be viewed as a “script,” and there have been many times that the series have deviated from the source material. However, there are a handful of iconic moments that are so well-written, so monumental that you shouldn’t touch and be damned if you do. And, one of these famous scenes is that of Rick, Michonne and the Andersons emerging hand-in-hand and covered with walker goo as they attempt to make their way through the mega-horde in Alexandria.
This is where the mid-season finale left us, and with Sam (Major Dodson) crying out for his Mom, it doesn’t take a genius to figure out that it’s probably not going to end well. You may know squat about the comics, but you still know it’s going to be bad. And, it does. In fact, it’s horrific. After Father Gabriel (Seth Gilliam) offers to take Baby Judith to the church, the group continues to make their way through the herd, but when Sam comes face-to-face with a child walker, he completely freezes. Of course, he had already drawn attention to himself earlier and now draws even more attention as he screams to his mother that he can’t do it.It doesn’t take long for the inevitable to happen, and Sam is attacked as Jessie (Alexandra Breckenridge) looks on in horror.
But, hold on to the rails, folks, because it gets worse — much, much worse. Completely paralyzed from the shock of seeing her son devoured, Jessie just freezes but at the same time, is still clinging to Carl’s (Chandler Riggs) hand. A walker latches onto Jessie’s shoulder — she doesn’t react. She only stares. Suddenly she is swarmed, yet continues to tightly grasp onto Carl’s hand. Carl’s desperation grows as he tries to free himself and looks to his Dad for help. Having no other choice with the walkers creeping on Carl, Rick hacks off Jessie’s hand with his axe. If Sam’s shocking demise didn’t give you a coronary, I’m willing to bet this one did.
With his entire family gone in a flash right before his eyes, this is way too much for Ron to bear. The show has dropped plenty of hints that Ron has been targeting Carl (hell, the mid-season finale made that perfectly clear!) and would love nothing more than to put a bullet in his brain. Well, in this moment of death and chaos, he finally gets his wish, but the price is pretty steep. Ron picks Jessie’s gun off the ground and aims it at Rick. As Ron goes to shoot Rick, Michonne (Danai Gurira) drives her katana through his chest, killing him. At first, we are lead to believe that the worse is over, with the entire Anderson family dead, but at least Rick, Michonne and Carl are alive and unharmed. Or, so we think. But, then Rick turns and sees Carl standing with blood spewing from his eye with his son softly crying, “Dad.” He then collapses to the ground. Oh. My. God.
This here, folks, is comic-book perfection. The entire scene is pretty much translated verbatim to the small screen, giving us perhaps the most disturbing and gruesome sequence in the series to date. The only difference is Carl isn’t shot by Ron in the comics, but instead by Douglas Monroe as he is going down and being devoured by walkers. It’s one of the most memorable scenes in the source material, and changing anything else I think would have been a huge disservice to the comic-book readers. What’s more, WHY would you change it? It is horrifying. It is shocking. It is everything that The Walking Dead is supposed to be. And, I bet it’ll give the vast majority of the viewers nightmares for a good long while. Bottom line — it just worked. Kudos and plaudits to the entire writing team on this one.
RICK EMERGES AS THE TRUE LEADER OF ALEXANDRIA
The good news is while, yes, Carl has been shot, he’s still alive, and even better news is that Dr. Cloyd (Merritt Wever) manages to shake that lone Wolf, thanks primarily to Carol and her good shot (YES! Carol finally got to kill the guy. Sorry, Morgan!). What’s more, when Rick comes running to the infirmary with Carl, begging Denise to save his life, she doesn’t freak out and cower like she did when the Wolves attacked in “JSS.” Of course, her being able to save Heath’s friend, Scott, I’m sure boosted her confidence, but even so, I have a feeling we’ll be seeing a whole new Dr. Cloyd going into the 2nd half of the season.
With Carl now in the care of Dr. Cloyd, Rick needs to decide what to do next. This is a pivotal moment and one that could change his — and the rest of the Alexandrians’ — lives forever. What he needs to do is finally step up and be a true leader, which isn’t something he’s been doing very well lately. Beating Pete Anderson up in the middle of the town square — not cool. Telling everyone he’s right, they’re wrong and belittling their leader, Deanna — not cool. A true leader inspires and motivates, and to do so takes actions, not just empty words. Alexandria is falling apart, and people are looking to Rick for answers, for what to do. What Rick ultimately decides demonstrates that Deanna was right in the end — that Rick is the one who can, and should, lead Alexandria.
Very calmly and quietly, Rick picks up his axe once again and heads to the street to take out as many walkers as he can. Remember, I said that everyone is watching and looking to Rick. So, inspired by his courage and strength, Aaron, Heath, Spencer and Michonne join him. Later, Carol, Rosita, Eugene, Morgan, Tara, Tobin and even Father Gabriel join in as well. I can even begin to describe what a fantastic scene this is. Alexandria was divided and had been for some time. Rick’s actions brought them together, as a community, as a team.
God is saving Alexandria because he’s given us the courage to save it ourselves — Father Gabriel
But, the “team” isn’t quite complete, now is it? Let us not forget about Daryl, Abraham, and Sasha! Fortunately for everyone, the trio shows up in the nick of time, because things were starting to get a little bit hairy, especially for Glenn (Steven Yeun), who has yet another near-death experience. But, thanks for Abraham and Sasha, Glenn is saved once again (Really? How many of this guy’s nine lives has he burned through!). However, the one person who thinks quickly and ends up saving Alexandria is Daryl. With Abe’s handy rocket launcher in hand and taking a card from Carol’s playbook giving homage to her famous scene at Terminus, he blows up the fuel that they had emptied into the pond. What looked like a community-destroying crisis at the beginning of the hour had been neutralized by its end. What does this mean going forward? It means that the characters are done packing up and fleeing to the next checkpoint, as they’ve done so many times in the past. Alexandria is now home.
All in all, another fantastic episode and pretty much on par with the season 6 premiere “First Time Again,” which most critics gave a stellar rating, myself included. It’s a tense, anguish-filled episode filled with huge surprises, heroic moments, and the biggest walker body count in the series so far. “No Way Out” is exactly the mid-season finale we’d hoped for, the episode that seemingly ends one story arc and begins to hint at another. And, just what is the next step — it’s the Hilltop Colony, the Saviors, and Negan. And, how successful it will be is anyone’s guess, but for one hour when the series returns on Valentine’s Day, it is a thunderous success. To anyone who may have considered bailing on the show, I have only one suggestion: Don’t. The Walking Dead may stumble at times, but no show recovers better, time and time again.
This is a story people will tell — Eugene Porter
Yes, you are right, Eugene. This is an episode people will be talking about for a good long while.
The Walking Dead airs on Sundays at 9/8c on AMC.
Critic Grade — A+
Geeky computer and math nerd by day and TV fanatic by night. My beats are The Walking Dead, The Strain, Person of Interest, Z Nation, and anything that most people would call freaky. Editor-In-Chief and Lead Writer of TVGeekTalk.com