Monday, February 15, 2016

The Walking Dead Season 6, Episode 9: No Way Out

The Walking Dead's back after taking a three month sabbatical.

This week's episode was one the better ones so far in Season 6, mainly because something actually happened. After a strong start at the beginning of the season, the writers immediately began padding the storyline as they killed time waiting for this episode to arrive. 

Why else would the writers feel the need to give us an entire episode in which Abraham and Sasha hide in an office, or a special extended ninety minute flashback showing us how Morgan got his sweet bo staff skills?

I've said many times before that I hate this new trend of splitting TV seasons in half. When a season's divided like this, all the momentum built up in the first half flies right out the window. The storyline is also completely forgotten by the audience by the time the second half starts up again. It's purely a business tactic that's ill-advised and is ruining TV, in my opinion.

Nowhere is that more true than here. If The Walking Dead writers absolutely had to split their storyline in twain, then No Way Out should have been the mid-season finale instead of the opener. This episode was the culmination of all the first half's storylines, so think of how much more impact it would have had if it had aired then. Seeing it after a three month break diminishes most of its considerable impact.

Now, about the actual episode itself. Wow, The Walking Dead. You finally did it. You crossed a line I never thought you'd cross. You actually killed a child onscreen.

The show's killed children several times before, or course. There was the whole Search For Sophia storyline way back in Season 2, and the horrific Lizzie incident in Season 5. But their actual deaths were handled offscreen. This is the first time we've actually seen a kid die before our eyes, in graphic detail. 

It was definitely a bold move, one I'm sure made Soccer Moms across the nation reach for their remotes. Whether the show went too far, I'll leave to the viewer to decide.

Ever since Scott Gimple became the showrunner, the series has been moving closer and closer to the comic book. No Way Out was the most comic-accurate episode to date. The scene in which Rick and his group try to make their way through the walker herd, the various deaths along the way, and the permanent maiming of a major character were all pulled pretty much verbatim from the pages of the comic.

HUGE, GIGANTIC SPOILERS AHEAD! DO NOT READ UNTIL YOU'VE SEEN THE EPISODE! YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED!

The Plot:
On their way back to Alexandria (in their new fuel truck), Daryl, Abraham and Sasha meet a group of thugs on motorcycles blocking the road. No one actually says so, but they're obviously members of the Saviors, a name fans of the comic will instantly recognize. The leader says everything they own now belongs to Negan, and takes their guns. He says they're going to take the Saviors back to their base so they can confiscate the rest of their supplies. 

One of the Saviors escorts Daryl to the back of the truck to search it (which seems like something the thug could have done himself, but whatever). When Abraham sasses the Leader, he points his gun at him. Before he can pull the trigger, Daryl, who secretly stabbed the thug in the head behind the truck, shoots a rocket launcher at the group, completely obliterating them. Huzzah!

Back in Alexandria, Rick and his group have covered themselves with blood-soaked ponchos so they can stroll undetected through the vast herd of walkers and make their way to the armory. Among the group are Carl, Baby Judith, Michonne, Father Gabriel, Jessie and her sons Sam and Ron. For some reason Rick changes his mind and says they need to make their way to the quarry to draw the walkers away from town or something. Twitchy, unstable Father Gabriel offers to take Baby Judith back to his church for safe keeping. Against all logic and reason, Rick says, "Why that sounds just fine."

Meanwhile Tara wants to go out into the herd and help Dr. Cloyd, who's been kidnapped by the Wolf. Rosita says they need to stay put and watch Carol and Morgan. Glenn and Enid enter Alexandria's church, which is apparently different from Father Gabriel's. Confusing! They argue about not running or surviving or something, in an effort to pad out the run time. 

The Wolf and Dr. Cloyd hide in a stairwell. He seems to have taken an unhealthy, creeptastic liking to her, telling her that he's now a changed man. He watches the herd and says when there's an opening, they'll make a break for the wall. 

Apparently Alexandria is much bigger than I thought, because Rick's group started moving among the herd in late afternoon and are still wandering around after dark (?). They all hold hands as they stroll among the walkers, like a gory conga line. What happens next may be the best and most brutal scene in Walking Dead history. 

Sam The Idiot can't take it after a while, and starts blubbering for his mom. Rick and the others try to shut him up, but the walkers take notice. Several of them grab Sam and start chomping on his head!

Jessie sees him being eaten and starts shrieking, which attracts the attention of more walkers. Soon they start gnoshing on her as well. Unfortunately Jessie's holding on tight to Carl's hand, and he can't get away from her. Rick springs into action and chops off Jessie's hand to free Carl. Rick inadvertently drops his gun, and Ron picks it up. He points it right at Rick, eager to take revenge on the psycho who's completely destroyed him family.

Rick stands frozen, waiting for certain doom. Suddenly Michonne stabs Ron through the chest with her sword. He reflexively pulls the trigger before dying. Carl slowly turns around and we see he's been shot in the eye. He managed to say, "Dad?" before falling to the ground. Holy crap! Rick picks up Carl, and he and Michonne run through the herd.

The Wolf sees an opening, and he and the Doc run for the wall. They almost make it, but there's a huge walker blocking the ladder. The Wolf's bitten on the forearm. Dr. Cloyd tells him to get her to the infirmary and she'll save him. Suddenly he's shot in the head by Carol, who's standing on a balcony. I think Carol had the right idea.

Dr. Cloyd makes it to the infirmary alone. Aaron, Heath and Aiden are inside (remember them?). Rick & Michonne burst in with the unconscious Carl. Cloyd steels herself and starts treating Carl the best she can.

Filled with rage, fear or both, Rick exits the infirmary and starts attacking walkers in an epic, one man battle. Michonne joins him. Their bravery energizes everyone, even the cowering original Alexandrians. Soon the entire cast joins the melee. Glenn and Enid spot Maggie on the crumbling lookout tower. Glenn distracts the walkers so Enid can rescue Maggie. Unfortunately Glenn becomes surrounded by walkers.

Just when it looks like Glenn's going to die for a second time this season, gunfire suddenly erupts! Abraham and Sasha mow down the walkers with their automatic weapons, somehow managing to miss Glenn. Daryl dumps some of the gas from the fuel truck into Alexandria's pond and lights it. The fire attracts many of the walkers, who shamble into the flames and are burned to a crisp.

Rick and the cast continue chopping, blending and pureeing the herd until amazingly, they're all dead. Well, deader. You know what I mean.

Dr. Cloyd apparently stabilizes Carl. Rick sits by his bedside, telling him they'll rebuild Alexandria like Deanna wanted. Amazingly, Carl weakly squeezes his hand.

Thoughts:
• The cold open was one of the tensest I've seen in quite a while. I was practically on the edge of my seat, wondering how the hell Daryl and the others would get out of this one. Daryl's rocket launcher solution took me totally by surprise. I have a bad feeling he's going to regret fragging Negan's men though. And soon.

• I've not had a lot of experience with rocket launchers, so I don't know much about their damage radius. It seems like Sasha and Abraham were very close to the Saviors when they blew up real good, and should have been injured as well. 

Yes, they do get knocked on their asses, and we see Sasha stick her finger in her ear as if it's ringing, but it seems like there should have been some more collateral damage to the two of them.

• It didn't occur to me last year, but what a lucky break that Abraham just happened to find a marine uniform that fit him perfectly, almost like it was tailored to his form. Luckeee!

• In the mid-season finale, Rick and his group don gore-smeared ponchos to disguise themselves from the walkers, and head through the herd for the armory. Good plan.

Then suddenly in this episode, Rick calls an audible and decides they'll head for the quarry instead, to try and lure the walkers away or some crap. This is pure and obvious plot trickery here. If they'd gone to the armory like they were supposed to, they'd have avoided the entire sh*t show that's about to go down, and half the supporting cast would still be alive.

It makes me wonder if the writers penned that mid-season finale and then took a month off, and when they came back realized they'd written themselves into a corner and had to retcon the script in order to feature maximum carnage.

• I cannot believe Rick handed over Baby Judith to Father Gabriel. In the first half of the season Rick thought so little of him he wouldn't even speak to him or acknowledge his presence. And now he's giving him his infant daughter? Cough (bullsh*t) cough.

• Once again Judith wins the award for World's Quietest Baby. Even when she's stuffed under a bloody poncho that smells like an abattoir, she never lets out a peep.

• There's some odd editing going on in this episode. It's daytime, or at least late afternoon, as Rick and his group begin carefully threading their way through the walker herd. 

We then cut away to several other characters, such as Glenn and Enid, and Dr. Cloyd and the Wolf. Note that it's still daylight in these scenes.

Then suddenly we cut back to Rick and his group, and it's now nighttime! What the hell? Did they really wander around the walker-clogged streets of Alexandria for an hour or more? I get that they probably couldn't move very fast, in order to avoid drawing attention to themselves, but still… Something's very wrong here.

 So the last remaining member of the Wolves tries to escape with Dr. Cloyd, gets bitten by a walker and then shot in the head by Carol. I guess that's the end of the whole Wolves storyline then, eh? Good riddance to it, I say. 

The show's been building up the Wolves as a huge threat since Season 5, making us think they were going to be the next Big Bad. Remember all the "Wolves Not Far" graffiti? They did manage to strike a massive blow to the complacent Alexandrians in the first half of Season 6, but after that their entire plotline just sputtered and stalled. Why bother introducing them at all if they were never going to pay off their threat?

• Dr. Cloyd had numerous chances to grab the gun from the Wolf and turn it on him, but of course she never does.

• I'll be very glad when Alanna Masterson, aka Tara, finally has her baby. Masterson's been pregnant for all of Season 6, a fact that's become extremely obvious. Tara's not supposed to be pregnant, so the show's been trying and miserably failing to hide Masterson's baby bump all season.

You'd think at this point in the 21st Century there'd be a better way for an actress to hide her pregnancy than by wearing a baggy hoodie.

• As Rick and his group try to sneak through the herd, Sam The Idiot begins freaking out and calling for his mom, attracting the attention of the walkers. I knew he'd be the one to screw up the plan, which was working perfectly up to that point.

There was some retconning weirdness going on in this sequence as well. In the final scene of the mid-season finale, the gang grasped one another's hands and began parading through the sea of walkers. Sam began chanting, "Mom. Mom. Mommy." Smash cut to black.

Now in this episode, we rewind a bit, and suddenly Sam seems like he's got his act together. He doesn't start freaking out until much, much later, after it gets dark! Apparently the writers changed their mind about this scene too, and reworked it a bit.

I've been pretty hard on Sam all season, but it's really not his fault he started panicking. He's a very young child who's been coddled and protected from the harsh reality of this world. He's even been traumatized by a scary woman who threatened to tie him to a tree and let monsters eat him! Then he's thrust into a situation that would make most adults soil themselves. No wonder he lost his mind.

The whole situation with Sam could have been easily avoided. Rick should have recognized that the kid was unstable and posed a threat and simply knocked him in the head, slung him over his shoulder and carried him through the herd. Problem solved.

• The attack on Rick's group played out almost exactly as it did in the comic, with just a couple of exceptions.

In the comic, Rick and his group, wearing bloody ponchos, walk through the zombie herd. Sam doesn't exist in the comic, so Ron is the one who starts freaking out gets eaten. Jessie starts screaming and gets attacked as well. She won't let go of Carl, so Rick chops off her hand. Meanwhile Douglas Monroe, who's the leader of Alexandria (instead of Deanna, as on the show), begins panicking and starts firing his gun wildly in all directions before being eaten. One of his rounds hits Carl, blowing off a good chunk from the side of his face.

So that's pretty darned close to how it happened here on the show. Kudos to director Greg Nicotero (who also supervises the makeup on the show). Even though as a reader of the comic I knew what was going to happen, I was still biting my nails watching it all unfold.

SPOILER ALERT! LAST CHANCE TO TURN BACK UNTIL YOU'VE SEEN THE EPISODE! YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED!
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• As Ron dies he fires his gun, accidentally hitting Carl in the face. Although Carl's injury is gruesome, it looks much less severe here than it was in the comic 

In the comic a good hunk of the side of his head was blown off, including his ear. He also suffered memory loss for quite a while before eventually recovering.

I can understand why they throttled back his wound for the show. The comic book injury was so over the top it seemed impossible to survive, especially given the relatively primitive medical conditions in Alexandria, and the fact that Dr. Cloyd is a psychiatrist, not an M.D.


Plus if they went all in with the comic book injury, they'd have to green screen part of Carl's face every time he appeared from now on. And we all know AMC doesn't like to spend any more money than they have to.


I'm betting they'll just put an eye patch on TV Carl and call it a day. Or, as he eventually started doing in the comic, he'll grow his hair long and comb it in front of his wound like a post apocalyptic Veronica Lake.


One problem I can see with the change— in the comic you can see how the bullet went cleanly through the side of Carl's head. On the show it appears the bullet enters his eye socket. How could that happen without blowing the back of his head off? Is the bullet still lodged somewhere in his head?


UPDATE: I've been informed that Greg Nicotero explained this on The Talking Dead (which I'm not able to watch). He says the bullet hit Carl's eye socket and shattered it, destroying his eye, then ricocheted away and never entered his head. So there you go.

• Apparently Alexandria has two churches. Father Gabriel volunteers to take Baby Judith back to his church. We then see Glenn and Enid hiding out in an actual, modern looking church. Later we see Father Gabriel in a different, makeshift church, one that appears to be inside a garage. 

Why isn't he in the real church? Did he feel he wasn't deserving of an actual one or something? I'm sure this was probably addressed at some point in the first half of the season, but I probably forgot about it during the months-long gap. Plus any time there's a Father Gabriel storyline, I tend to doze off.

By the way, I'm stunned that he made it through this episode alive.

UPDATE: I've also been informed that the church Glenn and Enid are in is outside the walls of Alexandria. I guess I didn't pick up on that during the episode. If true, it wasn't shot or explained very well.

• Wow, Heath finally showed up this week. I thought the show had forgotten all about him. After his introduction, Heath became a major character in the comic, so it's downright criminal the way the series has all but ignored him. It makes me wonder why they went to the trouble to include him in the first place if they had no plans to actually use him.

Supposedly actor Corey Hawkins, who plays Heath, has been cast as the lead in some sort of 24 reboot. Uh-oh. That doesn't bode well for his character on The Walking Dead, unless they do some fancy schedule juggling.

• I was going to complain that Daryl used a goddamned rocket launcher instead of a lighter or a match to ignite the gas-filled lake. But then I realized he may not have had any of those items. I think we've only seen someone smoke once or twice during the entire series.

• The walker's fascination for fire was established as far back as Season 4, in the aftermath of the Governor's attack on the prison. Back then Glenn used fire to distract a group of walkers so he could escape.

• Although I was glad to see everyone join Rick in his crazed walker attack, it seems completely unbelievable that the Alexandrians could wipe out several hundred walkers without suffering a single casualty.

Not to mention the fact that this scene just completely neutered the walker threat. If fifteen people, pumped up by the power of Believing In Themselves, can wipe out a thousand walkers, then the undead can never be a threat on the show again. 

Well done, Walking Dead writers! You just negated the entire reason for your series to exist.

• Let's hope that after Rick and company wiped out every zombie they saw, they plugged that hole in the wall while we weren't looking.

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