Tuesday, March 8, 2016

The Walking Dead Season 6, Episode 12: Not Tomorrow Yet

This week on The Walking Dead, Rick's hubris ends up biting him in the ass, as the gang gets one step closer to meeting disaster in the form of Negan.

After the breakneck pace of last week's episode, I figured this one was going to be a slow, measured, "Calm Before The Storm" filler. It definitely started out that way, but the second half really ramped up the action. The raid on Negan's compound was so taut and tense I could barely stand to watch it, for fear of what was going to happen to the various characters. Honestly, watching this show's making me exhausted. I need to find something less stressful to watch, like reruns of Mayberry RFD.

Overall this was an excellent episode, except for one major gaffe Maggie's lame-brained insistence on participating in the mission, even though she's pregnant. Her weak explanation that she felt responsible for making a deal with the Hilltop and getting them into this situation was weak at best. I get that the producers feel the need to place her in danger, but it was cheap and lazy writing.

The Walking Dead has always been about survival, and how far is too far when it comes to ensuring one's existence. This week Rick and his team may have gone too far to protect themselves and their loved ones. Can they come back from this mistake?

In the past the group has attacked only after someone else has cast the first stone. This week Rick makes a preemptive strike, hitting the Saviors hard before they have a chance to raid Alexandria.

Was Rick's attack justified? It's an interesting question. Is it better to wait until you're attacked before defending yourself, or take out your potential enemy before they even know you exist? Defense or offense?

Whatever the answer, there's no denying that Rick has basically become the Governor. His motives aren't the same, as he's acting out of survival instead of greed. But in this episode he's every bit as ruthless as the Governor ever was, if not more.

I get why the writers went this route, but I think it may have been a mistake. Having our heroes kill people in their sleep— even evil, messed up people— makes it kind of hard to root for them. When Team Rick is surrounded at the end of the episode, it kind of feels like they got what they deserved.


The Plot:
Carol, who we haven't seen in a couple of weeks, looks through the slim pickings in Alexandria's food pantry. She ends up foraging outside the walls, and bakes acorn and beet cookies, which are apparently a thing. She passes out the cookies to her fellow Alexandrians, including Tobin. Despite the fact that most viewers probably forgot he existed, Carol seems quite interested in him.

Rick and the others return from the Hilltop with food and supplies. He calls a meeting at the church and tells them the food comes with a price— they have to eliminate the Saviors to protect the Hilltop and themselves as well. Rick says there's no other choice, as it's only a matter of time before the Saviors find them and take everything they have. He asks if anyone objects. Of course Morgan pipes up and says it's wrong to just slaughter people, and they need to talk with them and give them a choice. Aaron says he won't let another group like the Wolves attack again. Rick says it's settled, and they'll strike at the Saviors and kill them all.

That night Carol can't sleep, and opens up a journal. She's been keeping track of how many actual humans she's killed. She writes the number "18" and circles it. Given that this is Carol, that number seems low. 

Maggie and Glenn discuss the mission. Incredibly, she insists on going, since her deal with Gregory and the Hilltop got them into this mess. Even more incredibly, Glenn agrees to let her come. Abraham decides the night before a big mission is the perfect time to leave Rosita. When she asks why, he says, "When I first met you, I thought you were the last woman on Earth. You're not." That's cold.

Andy the Hilltopian sketches out the Saviors headquarters for Rick. He, Glenn, Michonne and Daryl plan their attack. Rick says they'll attack at night, when most of them are asleep. Andy says there's only one entrance, and it's heavily guarded. Rick says they'll open the doors because they're going to give the Saviors what they want— Gregory's head. Yikes!

The next day Rick and his army set out in several vehicles. They stop a mile or so from the Saviors base. Glenn and Heath (remember him?) search the woods for walkers that resemble Gregory. They find one and kill it. They discuss the fact that neither of them has ever had to kill a live human before.

Jesus and Andy then show Rick a selection of three severed walker heads they think will pass for Gregory. Rick chooses one, but Jesus says its nose isn't right. Rick picks up the head and punches it repeatedly in the nose until it matches. Comedy ahoy!

Carol scolds Rick for bringing the pregnant Maggie on the mission. She says she's staying behind with Maggie to protect her. Rick says he needs her on the mission, but she insists on staying with Maggie, who "should never have been allowed to come." I have to agree with Carol on this one.

That night Andy drives up to the Savior compound, seemingly alone. Two guards yell for him to step out of his car. He does so, carrying "Gregory's" head. He shows it to the guards, who fall for it. One goes inside to get Eddie, the Hilltop hostage. Daryl slips up behind the second guard and kills him. The first guard returns with Eddie. Michonne kills the guard and Eddie is taken to Andy's car.

Rick and his team then enter the compound and perform a highly efficient search and destroy mission. Glenn and Heath enter a room and see two Saviors sleeping away. Glenn kneels down next to one, pulls his knife, hesitates for a moment and then drives it into the man's head. He's visibly affected by having to kill a living person for the first time. Heath is about to kill the other Savior, but Glenn does it for him, to save him the anguish. Glenn sees that the Savior had a display of Polaroids on his wall, of various people with their heads bashed in, possibly by a barb wire-wrapped baseball bat.

Sasha and Abraham are searching the corridors, when a Savior exits a room and sees them. Sasha stabs him, but he sounds an alarm before he dies. Outside, Tara and Jesus tell Eddie to return to the Hilltop. Inside, an intense gun battle breaks out between Team Rick and the Saviors. Glenn and Heath are being pursued as they find the armory and lock themselves in. They arm themselves with machine guns and fire at the door. When they open it, they see the entire corridor is filled with dead bodies, which makes their earlier squeamishness about not killing kind of moot.

As the sun rises, Team Rick regroups outside. They've seemingly wiped out the Saviors with one blow. Michonne says she wonders which one was Negan. Suddenly a Savior on a motorcycle rides out of the compound. Daryl recognizes the bike as his, knocks the man off it and begins beating him.

Rick's about to shoot the lone surviving Savior, when he hears a woman's voice over his radio, telling them all to drop their guns and surrender. When Rick asks why they'd want to do that, she says, "Because we have a Carol and a Maggie. I'm thinking that's something you want to chat about." Uh-oh!

• Carol's back! And it's about time too. I was starting to wonder if she was still on the show. 

• Carol makes do with what she has and bakes acorn and beet cookies. That… that can't be good, can it?

Hopefully she knows what she's doing and soaked the acorns in water for several hours to get rid of the tannic acid that makes them bitter and inedible to humans.

• It looks like Carol and Tobin, who I honestly forgot was even a character, are now a thing. I guess that means the whole Carol and Daryl dalliance is officially over.

I feel a great disturbance in the Force, as if millions of fan fiction writers cried out in terror, and were suddenly silenced.

• Carol leaves an acorn and beet cookie on Sam's grave. Given what happened to him a few episodes ago, I'm wondering if there was really enough left to bury?

• In the church, Rick tells the Alexandrians they have to kill the Saviors in order to survive. It's a rousing speech, filled with Old Testament-style righteousness and eye-for-an-eye retribution. During his sermon, er, I mean speech, he actually stands in the pulpit, literally outlined by an illuminated stained glass window!

Subtlety, thy name is The Walking Dead!

• Hey, Heath actually gets some screen time in this episode! Then right at the end, he and Tara ride off on a two week supply run. Son of a

Heath is a major character in the comic, but has been criminally underused on the show. I suppose you could argue that since he's a supply runner, it's a given he's not going to be around much. Fair point. But I still wonder why they went to the trouble of introducing him if they had no intention of using him.

Maybe he'll have more to do after the bloodbath that we all know is coming.

• Speaking of Heath and the Alexandria supply runners— they routinely go on the road for weeks at a time, searching for food and medicine. Isn't it amazing that in all the time they've been doing so, and in all the miles they covered, they never once spotted the Hilltop, or ran afoul of the Saviors?

Just another example of that crazy Virginia geography!

• Ever since the Alexandria Safe Zone was introduced, I figured it was a large outdoor set built on a studio backlot somewhere. Nope! It's a real place!

The Alexandria scenes are filmed in an actual, inhabited subdivision in Senoa, Georgia (where the bulk of the show's been filmed since Season 3). You can see it here on Google Maps. The series somehow convinced the residents to let them film there, a decision I'm sure they immediately regretted.

The residents aren't allowed to leave their homes, stand in their yards or even look out their windows during filming, to prevent them from ruining a take. Their streets and yards are filled with hundreds of cast and crew members and tons of equipment. There are frequent night shoots, which involve bright lights and lots of noise well into the wee hours of the morning. Residents even have to enter and leave through a security checkpoint! Imagine having to put up with all that seven or eight months out of the year.

And if that wasn't enough, the production built an actual fifty foot tall rusty-looking wall around the entire community. Hear that? It's the sound of property values plummeting!

Here's a shot of the subdivision that plays Alexandria. The thick shadow is the wall the production crew built around the community. Note that there's a "Morgan Street" running through the middle! Haw!

• Suddenly in this episode, the characters become obsessed with the number of live humans they've killed. Even though no one's ever seemed bothered by this before, it becomes a hot topic this week.

Apparently Carol's so affected she keeps a journal listing the various humans she's been forced to kill, which adds up to eighteen. So who are all theese people on her list? 

At the top of the page is an "R." So who does that stand for? Most fans believe it's Ryan, the father of Lizzie and Mica. He was bitten by a walker and died, and Carol stabbed him in the head before he could reanimate. Technically she didn't actually "kill" him, so he probably shouldn't be on the list. But I can't think of anyone else the R could be.

The next letters are "K" and "D," and those two are easy. That's Karen and David, the two people Carol secretly killed back in the prison. They were both infected with some sort of deadly flu virus or something, and she took them out before they could spread the disease to the rest of the cast.

"L" is obviously Lizzie, the psychopathic little girl Carol killed in back in the Season 4 episode The Grove. You remember, "Look at the pretty flowers, Lizzie."

The next entry is "Terminus Courtyard." That's another easy one. In the Season 5 episode No Sanctuary, Carol almost singlehandedly rescued the entire cast from the Terminus cannibals.

"Candle Woman" is Mary, who was the chief cook in Terminus. Carol shot her in the leg and let the walkers chomp on her.

Next is "W7." I'm guessing the W means "Wolves." Earlier this season in JSS, the Wolves made a surprise attack on the unprepared residents of Alexandria. Once again Carol became a one woman army, killing, well, I guess seven of the invaders.

Oddly enough, Carol seems to have left a couple names off her list. During the Wolf attack, an Alexandrian named Erin is mortally wounded. Carol kills her attacker, then cradles Erin in her arms. She slips a knife into her brain to end her suffering. I guess maybe she's not counting mercy kills?

Then just a few episodes ago in No Way Out, the Captive Wolf kidnaps Dr. Cloyd. Carol dispassionately shoots him in the head before he can cause any more trouble. That one definitely seems like a big omission on her part.

I'm thinking her list should number at least twenty human kills.

• In a similar vein, Glenn has trouble with the idea of taking out the Saviors in their sleep, because he's never killed a live human before. I find that hard to believe, considering he's been on the show for six seasons, but I'll take his word for it.

• Looks like Alanna Masterson, who plays Tara, is still pregnant in real life. Once again the show's clumsy attempts at hiding her "condition" are nothing short of hilarious.

Jesus, the effects people can effortlessly create a horde of a thousand rotting walkers, but they can't erase a pregnant woman's belly?

• After Abraham walks out on Rosita, we see Eugene's been standing in the doorway, witnessing the whole exchange. I wonder if this is a nod to the fact that in the comic, Eugene and Rosita end up together? Yeah, really. They even get married.

By the way, Abraham's dialogue to Rosita was taken almost word for word from the comic.

• Andy and Jesus perform makeovers on three severed walker heads, to try and make them resemble Gregory, the leader of the Hilltop. They then line up the heads and present them to Rick for his approval.

According to showrunner and makeup supervisor Greg Nicotero, the head on the far right is Johnny Depp's! Well, sort of. Nicotero says he didn't have time to sculpt a head from scratch, so he took a bust of Johnny Depp that was lying around his studio and altered it a bit.

I don't think it looks all that much like him, but whatever. I guess if you squint it kind of looks like Depp as Whitey Bulger from Black Mass.

The biggest question is: How the heck are all those head sitting upright like that?

• I knew that wasn't the Saviors headquarters. It was way too small and way too easy to infiltrate.

In the comic Negan's main compound is an abandoned factory surrounded by hundreds of zombies. This one was a just a satellite outpost— literally.

• I had to laugh when Father Gabriel, Ass-Kicking Priest, quoted scripture before killing one of the Saviors. In fact he came dangerously close to finally making me like him in this episode. Whadya wanna bet that means he'll get killed in the next couple of weeks?

• One of the Saviors that Glenn kills is a sicko who keeps gruesome photos of people with their heads bashed in.

I'm betting the producers included this grisly little detail so we wouldn't feel quite so bad about Glenn killing the guy in his sleep. It's also some pretty obvious foreshadowing, as stoving in heads with a bat is Negan's calling card.

• At the end of the episode we see Morgan back in Alexandria, welding a cage together. So what the heck's he building? A proper jail cell for captive Saviors?

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