Though last week’s Morgan-centric episode was one of the best The Walking Dead has ever done, it did interrupt a ripping yarn in progress: Rick’s plan to lead a massive herd of walkers that had escaped from a nearby quarry away from Alexandria’s walls. The plan was not going well: an attack by the Wolves caused a tractor-trailer to crash into the city wall, leaving its horn blowing for several minutes, thus attracting the herd back to Alexandria; Glenn’s effort to divert a pack of them into a burning building ended with the erstwhile pizza guy in a dead end at the bottom of a zombie feeding frenzy; and Rick was trapped in a broken-down RV surrounded on all sides by walkers, looking genuinely concerned that he’d reached the end of the road.
So while it was great to get Morgan’s back story last week, it’s fair to say we were all looking forward to getting back to the main plot to see if and how Rick would escape and, frustratingly, the episode just kind of yadda yadda-ed it: after a quiet opening with Deanna taking stock of the results of the Wolf attack, Rick arrives at the gate at a full sprint. How did he get out of that surrounded RV? Don’t worry about it!
The first four episodes of this season have been jam-packed with action and plot, and it was inevitable that the show would take a breather to regroup. This week was that breather, with the focus on the Alexandrians coming to grips with the fact that they have had it way too easy in the zombie apocalypse and will need to dramatically step up their violent tendencies. Daryl, Carol, Sasha, and Abraham are all MIA this week; Michonne was glimpsed only in the opening moments, from a distance, telling Maggie about her parting with Glenn; and Morgan was seen only to greet Rick at the gate.
In their absence, we get a lot of Deanna grappling with the fact that Rick is apparently right about everything; Carl and Deanna’s son butting heads over whether to go out to look for Enid; Maggie and Aaron going on an odd, ill-considered mission through a 7-foot sewer pipe to look for Glenn; Jessie finishing off an apparent suicide-turned-walker, with a speech about adapting to this new world; and Rick and Jessie having the snog that I, for one, was not rooting for.
The Rick-meeting-Jessie plot was the most interesting thing this show has done in years. Not because Rick needed a love interest, but because he has become so battle-hardened and accustomed to solving literally every problem with violence, it was interesting to see how the show would handle putting him in a love triangle. Would he be able to manage his emotions and his frustration with the fact that Jessie was married like a civilized human being, or would he just kill her husband and take her for himself? It seemed very likely that he might choose the latter, thus sending the show’s protagonist into a Walter White-style journey from protagonist to antagonist. How would Michonne and Carol and Daryl handle the fact that their fearless leader has gone around the bend?
After setting up this potentially delicious plotline, it’s really disappointing that the show has taken the easy way out ever since: first it revealed that Jessie’s husband was physically abusive, thus justifying the killing; now, only a couple of days (in show time) after burying the guy, and Jessie’s subsequent plea for a little space from her husband’s murderer, Jessie seems to have overcome her reservations. Even more implausibly, so has her son, who went from the expected bitter resentment at his father’s murderer to asking him to teach him to shoot in what, a weekend?
So I guess we’re back to square one: Rick is wearing the unscuffed white hat once again.
Calling the episode “a absolute mess,” Forbes’ Erik Kain weighs the dramatic stakes of Maggie’s revelation that she’s pregnant:
This is important but not surprising. It raises the stakes of Glenn’s survival enormously and it places Maggie in a more precarious situation than ever. Being pregnant and on the move in this world is nearly impossible. That’s one reason Rick needed to settle down at the prison—to find a safe place for Lori to give birth. If they can’t find a way to save Alexandria (which is pretty much the perfect place to give birth) then we’re on the road again, which is bad news for Maggie. In any case, beyond this one revelation and a couple kissing scenes, this episode was little more than filler. The season is long and I guess if you don’t have enough good material to fill the entire thing, inserting an episode like this will have to do. I just wish they’d at least stop treating us like we’re stupid. Giving us no explanation for the whereabouts of Michonne and Carol (not to mention several others in Rick’s group) isn’t something fans are going to miss. The Wolves just attacked and killed a bunch of people! Carol isn’t going to just sit around twiddling her thumbs when Rick gets back. Hopefully next week we get back to the good stuff. The first three episodes of this season were edge-of-your-seat good. Exciting, scary, action-packed drama. The fourth was a terrific character piece. But this? Let’s just hope this is an exception to the rule.
Vulture’s Richard Rys considers Deanna’s predicament:
The harsh reality of life in the “roamer” apocalypse finally begins to sink in for the Alexandrians, who believe (rightly, it seems) that their days are numbered. Deanna has become utterly paralyzed, wandering the grounds in a daze and watching in silence as anarchy threatens to break out. As townsfolk raid the pantry, Deanna’s son, Spencer, steps up with an impressive argument against self-destruction. For a minute, it looks like he might be ready to fill Deanna’s shoes. Then we see him boozing and munching on crackers — stuff he stole from the pantry after his speech about sticking to the rations plan. A leader he is not. Spencer’s drunken rant against his mother is so brutal — blaming Deanna for how soft they’ve all become and for the death of Reg and his brother — it seemed to have crushed what was left of her spirit. Deanna had scribbled some expansion plans and a message in Latin, dolor hic tibi proderit olim, which translates to “This pain will be useful to you.” But when she runs into Rick, she’s broken, asking him if her notion of utopia was truly “pie in the sky.” In a moment of compassion, Rick says no. Deanna seems comforted by his words, but she knows her time as the top dog is over. This is Rick’s show now — a fact that’s reinforced by Aaron, who reminds everyone that without the quarry plan, there would be twice as many walkers at their gates. (It’s worth noting that the only time we see Morgan is when Rick gives his speech about how they need to live now that they’re surrounded by flesh-eaters. “There will be more to talk about,” he says, looking squarely at Morgan. So the war-versus-peace debate is on hold, for now. Also — if Rick really cares about Deanna, he should fill her in on the “stab the zombies in the head” rule.)
The A.V. Club’s Zack Handlen likes the idea of this season’s extended mission more than the execution:
The Great (Doomed) Zombie Migration is a good hook, but in the premiere, it seemed like a crisis that would be resolved in a couple of episodes. But here we are, five episodes in, and the crisis is on-going. Oh sure, the boundaries have changed; we’re now dealing with a splinter group that broke off from the main herd (splitters!), and the quarry itself is no longer relevant. But it’s only been, what, a day? two? since Rick had his big idea. That’s impressively slow. The slowness has given us more time to get to know the Alexandrians, and to delve into Morgan’s backstory, with mixed results. As discussed last week, “Here’s Not Here” was an absolutely fantastic entry, one of the best episodes the show’s ever produced, and learning just what’s driving Morgan feels like it will be extremely useful for as long as he remains on the show. (Please may that be forever.) When it comes to the Alexandrians, though, the problem remains that most of them just aren’t that interesting to watch. In setting up a conflict between them and our main cast, the writers pushed hard to make sure one thing, and one thing only, was clear: the town folk are soft and unprepared for the real challenges of the post-apocalyptic world. They were the comfortable elites existing in their own snug universe, and then Rick and the rest crashed into that fantasy, crushing it just as everything started to fall apart. That’s fine for a one off story, and the show hasn’t been shy about thinning the Alexandrian herd to make a point. The trouble comes when we’re expected to care about any of these people, when nearly all of them are little more than walking stereotypes.
Alan Sepinwall of HitFix concurs:
The decision to have the entire season, up to and including this episode, take place in the same day hamstrings a lot of the different beats “Now” is trying to hit. That same-day structure has allowed the show to go back and forth between what’s happening inside Alexandria and what’s happening elsewhere (I assume we’re due for a Daryl/Sasha/Abraham road trip episode in the next week or two), but the events and conflicts depicted here felt like they needed to play out across a longer time period to really hit the mark. That Alexandria’s routine order is descending into chaos — including an attempt to loot the pantry, and a suicide by a woman who just can’t deal anymore — only 20 minutes or so after the locals realize they’re surrounded by zombies doesn’t have nearly the impact it would if the episode had spanned even, say, a week. Yes, it says something that these people would give up that quickly, but the sheer amount of things that are happening in the space of 12-15 hours is now threatening to turn this season into “Wet Hot American Summer.” A lot of aspects of the episode felt like they needed to have spanned at least a few days, if not longer. Sam’s refusal to come down from upstairs, for instance, seems like much less of a big deal only a couple of hours after the Wolves literally invaded his home than it would even a day or two later. Similarly, why is Denise freaking out already over her latest patient’s injury and his inability to wake up when Michonne and Heath can’t have brought him in more than an hour or two ago? And even though Pete was killed a few days ago in “TWD” time — and, for that matter, even though Rick and Jessie have been circling each other pretty much since he arrived in town — it still seems abrupt, given recent events.
And Rolling Stone’s Noel Murray thinks Maggie’s arc in the episode points the way forward:
As with a lot of Season Six so far, the primary function of all this worrying, blaming, and shaming is to reiterate a theme: It’s time for survivors to abandon any hope of ever regaining the civilization they once knew, and instead to work toward a new way of being, halfway between savage and enlightened. In recent weeks, the writers have woven that message through tense sequences of conflict and raw terror. Here we just get a lot of scenes of people stating out loud their new understanding that, “This is what life looks like now,” and, “If we don’t fight we die.” Put it this way: This season’s first four episodes could all stand up to multiple viewings. It’s hard to imagine too many fans eagerly cueing up a second round of “Now.” Thankfully, by the end of the hour, most everyone seems to be on the same page, which means The Walking Dead may be ready to move past all this hand-wringing toward something more constructive — or at least more entertainingly pulpy. The most promising conversations in this episode involve the heroes owning their choices, as well as their mistakes. Spencer admits that he’s to blame for the breach of the ASZ, but points out that he also stopped the Wolves' truck from knocking down the wall. Aaron defends Rick’s botched zombie-funneling plan, noting that even though they’re surrounded by monsters, more than double that number would be snarling outside if they hadn’t taken action. The most persuasive person in this regard is Maggie, who has a touching moment where she talks about all the promises she and Glenn had made to each other, and how it’s been impossible for them to know from day to day or hour to hour whether they’re doing or saying the right thing. And yet they keep making commitments and forging ahead anyway, because that’s what it means to be alive. The alternative is paralysis…followed closely by consumption. As soon as the other characters come around to that way of thinking — as it seems they very slowly are — the quicker The Walking Dead can get back on track.