This review contains spoilers.
I am going to confess something that I find a little bit shameful. I am having a lot of trouble remembering the names of all the characters from Alexandria. Some of them I remember; Aaron springs to mind pretty well, and Deanna is hard to forget thanks to her name being turned into a meme. However, when it comes to the rank and file, I’m hard pressed to keep track of anyone else. I’m aware that Carl’s little frenemy is Ron, but it takes some digging despite being the best name anyone could ever have. Most of the others are boiled down to simple descriptions: the doctor girl, the pantry lady, that balding guy, Alexandra Breckenridge…
I’m not sure if the issue is me or the characters themselves. I get that we’re supposed to be in the shoes of Rick and Daryl and the rest; we’re meeting a whole host of new people and expected to remember who they are, just like they are. They’re not the familiar people; even someone relatively underdeveloped like Tara or Rosita is more familiar than the average Alexandrian, and that seems like also part of the design. We don’t know the characters because they don’t know themselves; the survivors are battle-tested and tempered by violence and bloodshed, but the Alexandrians are soft, still stick in a pre-apocalypse mentality. Maybe I don’t know who they are because they don’t know who they are? Or maybe I just don’t know who they are because they’re not terribly memorable (or they don’t say their names often enough).
However, they’re slowly starting to trim the Alexandrian fat and give the characters more memorable traits. That’s important, because this episode is based heavily on the Alexandrians and how they’re responding to the sort of certain-death situation that Rick and the gang have been involved with dozens of times at this point. Food slowly running out, tension all around, and zombies stacked against the walls 20 deep. Just like the prison, there’s tension in the ranks, and it manifests itself in a lot of different ways depending on who is involved. Since Deanna is nominally in charge, she’s involved all over the place.
Part of what makes Deanna’s current situation work is just how well Tovah Feldshuh is able to project her character’s despondency without it coming across as blankness. She’s silent, walking from trouble spot to trouble spot, but the expression on her face is acute pain. She witnesses the attempted looting of Olivia’s pantry and does nothing. She witnesses her son’s meltdown and does nothing. She watches Jessie kill a suicide zombie and does nothing. She walks through the entirety of the episode in a fugue, until forced to act to save her own life, during which she has a Rick-level psychotic break and absolutely slaughters a zombie Wolf with a broken bottle.
It’s a great performance from Feldshuh, and it’s great writing from Corey Reed, the guy behind tonight’s script. The show also tiptoes very delicately around the Glenn situation, showing the audience what the characters are thinking about it in an indirect way, except for when Lauren Cohan and Ross Marquand get to have a great discussion around their respective failings and Glenn’s disappearance in the sewer tunnel sneaking outside of town. It was wonderful work from Cohan, and while it just confirms what everyone’s expected all along about just why Maggie has been staying home all season, it’s still really well done because Aaron is a great character and we’re all invested in Glenn and Maggie’s relationship. Feldshuh and Cohan, to of the stronger non-Carol female characters on television, deliver two really stand-out performances that couldn’t be any more different.
One of the brighter spots this week is director Avi Youabian. He’s an editor by trade, and he’s edited for the last few seasons of the show, so like Greg Nicotero, he comes to the chair with a different set of skills. The pacing this week is really sharp. The episode moves briskly, and scenes seem to last just long enough before something happens or someone moves or things are cut away from. Last week was a little more indulgently paced; this week is much more economical. That helps add a bit of punch to the speech-heavy episode, and everything slows down when it’s important (like when the sewer zombies show up).
One of the more underrated aspects of the show in general is the sound design. There’s no shortage of crunches and squelches and other terrible noises, but this week’s episode seems to make that a focus. The beginning has Deanna essentially spying on Michonne and Maggie, the dialogue barely audible. When the Alexandrians gather outside for their meetings, the sound of the zombies on the other side of the wall is a low, rolling groan, punctuated by the occasional thud of a hand on the wall. It’s an attention to detail that not all shows would think about, and one that this show has occasionally forgotten about, too. It goes a long way to helping reinforce just how the Alexandrians, who have never been involved in anything like this, would be completely hopeless when finally confronted what with has to sound like certain death.
It’s strange to see that Rick and the gang are the hopeful, positive people, while the sheltered Alexandrians are ready to start panicking and rioting. That’s the power of perspective, but it looks as though the Alexandrians are going to find that out the hard way sooner or later. Meanwhile, the fate of Schrodinger’s Glenn continues to hang out in space, both alive and dead at the same time.