This review contains spoilers.
6.9 No Way Out
The talk during the mid-season break for holidays and gridiron football was that the second half of The Walking Dead‘s sixth season was going to be an action movie. Promises were made about stomach-turning violence, action, suspense, a non-stop thrill-ride, blah blah blah. In the few interviews I’ve read, the common thread has been the show turning things up to 11 and finishing the season off in spectacular fashion. If the first episode back is any indication, they’re not telling tall tales.
It seems that every time Greg Nicotero directs an episode, I say essentially the same thing: the episode looks great and he gets really good performances out of the actors. However, No Way Out might be his best episode since the brilliant Carol-as-Rambo season 5 premiere, No Sanctuary. It’s really a great episode for Nicotero, who cut his teeth on horror movies and once again uses every trick in his visual playbook to get the absolute most out of every moment of this episode. Even when there’s a breather, there’s not really a break. Sure, Rick and the gang might huddle up to discuss what to do with Judith, but the zombie moans in the background make it clear they don’t have a lot of time to wait. Daryl might save the day in impressive fashion, but there’s still the fact that there are other armed groups out there looking for trouble, and apparently this group is more trouble than the Wolves.
However, for all the tension in the first half of the episode with Daryl, Abraham, and Sasha squaring off with our first glimpse of Negan’s group, the tension of Denise and the Wolf sneaking around, Glenn and Enid sneaking around, and Rick’s group doing a very slow creepy-crawl through the infested streets of Alexandria; the best part of the episode is the second half, where all the creeping ends and the killing begins. The first part is intense, with some great intercutting between similar situations with Denise and the Wolf versus Glenn and Enid, and then the cap blows off the pressure cooker and all the little groups come together in spectacular fashion.
It’s hard to fault Nicotero this episode, as he makes the best of both the writing and the special effects, with some killer sequences. Sam’s paranoid daydreams of zombie attacks are great, and the way Nicotero used the ending montage of the episode to call back to Sam’s nightmare—the gray nebulous space, the splattering gore, the screaming, open mouths—suggests that our heroes are as robotic in their violence as their tormentors. The brilliant montage is a capper of a really great, well-choreographed fight scene, with Rick, Michonne, and some of the others slowly fighting their way through the streets, drawing Alexandrians out of their homes as they go, bringing other people into the fight (even Eugene!). It’s kind of a nice moment for Rick when he’s at his lowest, and it’s some much-needed redemption for a lot of the Alexandrians who have heretofore been on the sidelines letting other people do the killing.
There are going to be lots of debates among fans and followers of the show about the way some of the events of the episode play out, and most of that blame would probably be placed at the feet of credited writer Seth Hoffman. Hoffman’s big talking point event makes sense, kind of… the groundwork was laid in the previous episode as a cliffhanger, but it just feels a bit too random. Another issue would be with the way people seem to just randomly show up in time to save the day—deus ex machine gun is a common event this week, as people seem to just show up at the best time to save someone else’s bacon, or crucially, try and fail to do said bacon-saving. That said, when someone does randomly show up at the perfect time, it’s executed really well by Nicotero, and they usually have some kind of a funny line to delivery after playing hero.
The questions raised by the episode are understandable. There are lines crossed this week that the show previously was very delicate about crossing, but these lines aren’t hinted at, they are explicitly crossed. And the show then compounds that decision by going the rest of the way, not cutting away from the brutality. It’s kind of shocking given how restrained the show has been with violence against children, but you an argue that no kid has deserved this treatment more than the kid who gets the treatment. I don’t think it’s inappropriate, and it fits with the show’s tone and general world view that everything’s not going to be all right in the end, but it’s truly stunning to see it play out live.
Is it a step too far? I can see why people would think that way. It’s not a line I’m concerned that they are crossing, because it makes sense. This is a terrifying situation, and there’s no way that they should escape unscathed, especially considering the psychological frailty of the Alexandria survivors. They might come together and take ownership of their future, but there’s always someone who isn’t able to cope, someone who can’t take living in this new zombie-filled world, and there will always be people who simply can’t adapt. It’s bleak, and the way the show depicted it can be quibbled about, but… that’s one of the most real things a show about a zombie apocalypse can depict.
It’s also one of the boldest moves The Walking Dead has ever made.
US Correspondent Ron Hogan is glad to see that the Alexandrians are able to actually take care of themselves, even if they do need Rick Grimes to nudge them in the right direction by losing his mind. Find more by Ron daily at Shaktronics and PopFi.