This review contains spoilers.
The Walking Dead‘s best character has been Carol Peletier, and it’s been that way for a couple of seasons now. She started out as the happy homemaker—the very role she’s playing around Alexandria—taking canned food or raw game and making it palatable for finicky modern taste buds. Carol is consistently showing off the skills she learned in the years before the apocalypse, from making cookies without refined sugar to turning celery soup into something edible via the magic of paprika and water chestnuts. She’s worked a little of that kitchen magic on herself, too, transforming from a meek mouse into a wolf in sheep’s clothing, as dangerous and deadly as the gang of attackers scaling Alexandria’s walls.
After Carol’s impromptu cooking lesson, the episode lingers on some domestic drama. After all, Rick executed a guy in front of the town last season, and they haven’t seen that type of behaviour at all. Jessie is dealing with a cranky teenager with a knit cap, Eugene and Tara are hanging out with the new doctor Denise Cloyd (Merritt Wever), and Maggie and Who The Hell Is Deanna are discussing expanding the town, planting crops, and restoring some normality to the town. Then Molotov cocktails start flying over the grate and everything quite literally devolves into screaming, stabbing, and shattering. Thanks to good luck, careful wall manufacturing, and skillful diplomacy, Alexandria has been spared conflict, but they’re about to get their first bloody nose, and it comes at the hand of a group of survivors so horrible that even Rick and his gang will be hard-pressed to handle them: the Wolves. Or, Rick and his gang would be hard-pressed to handle them, if they were there. Instead, it’s Rick’s B-team, plus Carol, who have to turn back the attacking horde of raggedy rapists and limb-choppers.
Splitting Rick’s group up usually pays dividends, and this episode is no different. You separate the folks up a little bit and give them some new Alexandrians to play off of, and you see what happens. After all, Rick’s mission is really important, so it makes sense there wouldn’t be a lot of other people left behind. Having untested Alexandrians left Rick’s group vulnerable; being outnumbered leaves Carol’s group vulnerable. At any point in the first episode, someone other than Ethan Embry could have died; this week, anyone from the group of Carol, Eugene, Carl, Tara, Rosita, or Maggie could die. Fortunately, they have Carol, and that’s all you really need.
First Time Again was a lot of teasing. Zombies shuffled on and off the path, and at any moment you felt like everything could boil over. The sounding horn was just the thing needed to lure thousands of undead to a delicious dinner of canned Alexandrian. JSS is a feast of violence. From the moment the Wolves show up to do their thing, there’s nothing but fight scenes, building up to fight scenes, or fleeing from fight scenes while people get chopped up. It’s awesome, because Carol gets to do the thing she’s best at and Morgan gets to put his stick-fighting skills to good use (plus a bonus Carl not staying in the house).
In the hands of director Jennifer Lynch (who worked with Seth Gilliam on Teen Wolf and directed episode 5.14 Spend from last year), Carol becomes the lead character in an action video game. She skulks behind coverage, watching chaos all around her, but only striking when the time to strike is right. She’ll gun down four Wolves in a row while on the move, stab another Wolf from behind, and much like she did in last season’s staggering premiere episode, No Sanctuary, she does it all from behind a disguise. Sure, the Alexandrians might be figuring out that Carol is a bad-ass in disguise, but she needs the element of surprise, particularly when Morgan is doing dumb things like letting raiders live.
I’m not sure what Morgan’s game is, and Seth Hoffman’s script doesn’t make it clear, either. He’s all about giving people second and third chances. I’m not sure if that’s because of his time as a crazy person or because he needed a second chance after that, so he’s giving other folks an opportunity to redeem themselves. There seemed to be some kind of recognition between Morgan and some of the Wolves, though. Their paths must have crossed at some point, aside from finding the occasional severed zombie head with a W carved into it. Morgan’s kindness is weakness, and I think we’ve been through enough to realize that letting anyone get away from Alexandria is probably a bad idea, but… maybe it’s also a good idea?
Consider it: if you send a force of troops out and they never return from the target, maybe they mutinied, maybe they got eaten by zombies, maybe they just all caught dysentery from bad canned goods. If you send out a force and a few stragglers return, beaten and bloodied with tales of the black Shaolin monk and the middle-aged Housefrau Rambo who killed or clobbered a dozen hardened killers between them, what’s more likely to have you sending out reinforcements or another raiding party? A clean sweep might bring doom; survivors might bring a little respite.
Of course, looking at this through the lens of television, I know that survivors alive means the Wolves will come in force and attempt to take (or just take) Alexandria, assuming the horde of zombies doesn’t get there first. That’s the best thing about how this season has been unfolding. All the while Rick and company are struggling to keep the town safe, it’s getting attacked. Just when Carol feels like it’s safe to exhale, there’s a horde of thousands of zombies headed right towards them. Tension, explosion… another explosion? Out of the frying pan and everyone’s on fire?
US Correspondent Ron Hogan is really surprised that the sixth season of The Walking Dead might be even better than the fifth season, yet here we are. Two great episodes in a row, with hopefully another on the way. Find more by Ron daily at Shaktronics and PopFi.
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