(Warning: this post contains spoilers.)
With so much anticipation for next week’s “Last Day on Earth,” it’s difficult to focus only on the second-to-last episode of the season. Ignoring as much as possible the imminent arrival of Negan and Lucille teased in the promo for the upcoming finale, “East” both closes the sixth season’s philosophical narrative and sets the stage for massive events that could drastically alter the dynamic of the show (as such, the last episode may seem like an introduction to a new, even more brutal series). In “East,” this feeling of finality is reinforced by the autumn scenery under heavy grey skies and every conversation between characters reads like a warning of some reap-what-you-sow reckoning doubtlessly underway.
“It’s all a circle: everything gets a return,” Morgan tells Rick after he stops Rick from killing an unknown man. In the episodes since Rick’s preemptive attack on the Saviors, the characters have quietly awaited their comeuppance. Most explicit in deliberating the toll of her actions, Carol has wrestled with her slow transformation into a calculating killer, and her reluctance to kill again -— a reluctance influenced in part by repeated moral sparring with Morgan -— leads Carol to slip away from Alexandria toward some uncertain fate. Morgan and Rick follow Carol’s trail, a path which results in Morgan’s confession to Rick that he chose to let the Wolf live and the Wolf, in turn, saved Denise during the zombie horde’s attack on Alexandria, ultimately enabling Denise to save Carl when Carl was shot by Ron. Conversely, Daryl chose to let the Savior named Dwight live, and Dwight then killed Denise with Daryl’s crossbow, so it’s clear that good deeds are not universally rewarded. But for good or bad, the return is inevitable, and Morgan’s words to Rick carry an implicit caution.
What will the return be? “It’s going to go wrong out here,” Glenn warns, shortly before he and Michonne become Dwight’s prisoners and bait in a trap set for Daryl. Most likely, the price to be paid will be the death of one or more beloved characters at the hands of Negan and his men. As the episode closes, Dwight shoots Daryl (most likely in the shoulder), Maggie collapses in pain (most likely from her pregnancy), and, in the words of Johnny Cash whose song played over the opening scenes earlier in the episode, “It’s all over.” The finale might be a week away, but we already know that it’s all over. We just don’t know yet for whom.