Critics called the mid-season return the best episode of the entire series and in many respects, it was. The season-long process of splitting the narrative into isolated perspectives finally paid off with a courageous battle for Alexandria that brought together all of the primary and secondary characters, united in their fight against a massive herd of walkers. Even if the episode fell slightly short of such high praise, fans were treated to a finely crafted exploration of the series’ primary themes of loss, redemption and unification.
The spectacle and emotional elements did not disappoint, either. Daryl upgraded from a crossbow to an RPG launcher in the first five minutes – and immediately used his new weapon to undiplomatically solve the confrontation with Negan’s men; Glenn and Maggie reunited once more, and, most importantly, none of the characters fans really, really care about were killed. As an added bonus, one or two of the characters who otherwise might have made for welcome zombie-fodder (that is to say, Eugene) even managed to earn some measure of admiration.
Surprisingly, the most remarkable character of the night might have been Father Gabriel. After carrying Judith beneath his zombie poncho to safety early in the episode, Gabriel declared his epiphany to his flock: “God will save Alexandria because God has given us the courage to save it ourselves.” He then bravely led the similarly untested Alexandrians in the climactic fight to defend their city.
Despite mega-villain Negan’s looming introduction coming sometime in season six, this was not an episode centered on greeting new characters or saying goodbye to old friends. New characters’ deaths still struck hard, but hardly came as a shock: Jessie, her unpleasant sons, and the nameless Wolf were the only on-screen casualties. Doubtlessly, the Wolf shot dead by Carol in the moment of his redemption – and later killed by Morgan after reanimation – will feature greatly in the brewing conflict between Carol and Morgan.
Somewhat unnervingly, the darkest sequence in “No Way Out” recalled one of the funniest scenes of season five. When Sam froze with fear at the sight of the monsters all around him, he heard the grim truth in Carol’s darkly comedic threat to leave him to fend for himself. This time, however, he could not choose the easy path of cookies and silence. As Sam experienced the agonizing death Carol had unwittingly foretold, Jessie’s cries for her son revealed her to the walkers, bringing about her death as well.
In that instant, Rick saw glimpses of his brief romance with Jessie and mourned in silence for the love that might have been. Grieving and in shock, Rick was forced to chop off Jessie’s hand to free Carl before Ron, with no family left, raised his gun at Rick. To save Rick, Michonne quickly stabbed Ron from behind, but not before Ron fired an errant bullet that struck Carl in the eye.
Luckily, Denise, whose life was saved by the Wolf (and who was preparing to save the Wolf’s life before Carol killed him), quickly tended to the unconscious Carl in the infirmary. Unable to further help his son, Rick returned to the streets, determined to wipe out every walker he could.
Near the damaged wall, Glenn and Enid succeeded in their mission to save Maggie from the platform on which she had been stranded and just when it appeared as though Glenn had once again met an untimely end, Daryl, Abraham and Sasha returned with ammunition and a plan. By pouring fuel into a lake and setting it ablaze, Daryl created a distraction to draw the walkers away from Rick, Michonne and the others (Eugene!) who had joined the fight.
As the sun rose over the reclaimed city, Rick, his people and the Alexandrians -— now one people united by their shared grief and triumph as Deanna said they would be -— gathered in the infirmary and bandaged their wounds. Rick held Carl’s hand and shared his epiphany: “Everything Deanna was talking about is possible. It’s all possible and I see that now[…] I want to show you the new world, Carl. I want to make it a reality for you.”
For the first time in the series, it seems the characters will rebuild rather than run. But, based on the trailer for the next episode, perhaps not everyone in Alexandria will share Rick’s vision.