The Walking Dead: "JSS" (Season 6, Episode 2)

Flabbergasted

Two for two. The Walking Dead has come out swinging with another tension-filled hour of action riding a brilliantly simple through line.  

This week is the flip side of last week. We see what was going on in the Alexandria Safe Zone while the gang was out trying to lure that immense horde of Walkers away. And yes, we do find out how that deadly horn sounded.

This episode opens with one of those almost silent vignettes The Walking Dead does so well, the ones that detail the past of a character or a particular chain of events. In this case, the focus is on Enid, the girl Carl has taken an interest in. It's the evolution of a survivor. We watch her lose her parents in a manner short, shocking and gruesome. The sight of her trapped in a car with their blood smeared on a window afterward is almost too much to bear. Then she's on the road, dodging walkers and eating raw turtles. All the while she writes the acronym JSS on the ground. Eventually, she reaches Alexandria.

The intro bit is brilliantly haunting and evocative. In a span of several minutes, you come to know the character intimately. That's genuine art. It also sets an appropriate mood of dread for what follows.

Back in real time, it's just another neighborly day in the safe zone. Right up until Carol looks out her window to see a woman on the street get taken down with a machete wielded by some guy coming out of nowhere. That's it for this episode--0 to 60 in ten seconds flat. The Wolves from last season have arrived. They seem to be a broken bunch of nihilists who are freeing people from a world in which they no longer belong. Today they're running rampant among the sheep of Alexandria. You won't find raw chaos done much better.

We criss-cross the battlefield for the rest of the episode.

Carl guards baby Judith in a house, with Enid arriving midway through. He takes out one of the wolves chasing Ron, Jessie's teenage son. Jessie is also in a house with her youngest son, where she's eventually forced to kill a female Wolf with scissors. That's more impressive and gut-wrenching than anything in Die Hard.

Outside, Rosita and Aaron wander between houses, bagging several wolves on their own, one of whom takes five shots to go down. The tower lookout takes out a truck approaching. Unfortunately, it rams into a wall and dies with its horn blaring, the same horn we heard last week. Tara and Eugene bring a wounded woman into the doctor's office. Alas, with Pete the wife beater having been killed, the office of physician has devolved onto a psychiatrist who last cut into a body in med school. As you might guess, she's having a crisis of confidence.

Maggie plugs a few wolves after making it back inside the walls. Morgan returns to turn that damn horn off and start using his fighting staff to solid effect. The star of the night, however, is once again Carol.

Carol gets it. You don't just want her on your side. You need her on your side.

She kills one wolf with a knife before holding his dying victim in her last moments. Then she's all about the armory. Carol instantly tumbles to the fact that this whole battle will turn on who gets control of the armory. Give her points for that, but give her the biggest points for what comes next: she dips her finger in the dead woman's blood and draws a W on her forehead, the same as The Wolves. Dresses like one, too, in an old scurvy coat with her face partially covered. That gives her a crucial second of surprise over everyone of the enemy she encounters. Blam, blam, blam. Carol is the Terminator. She makes the armory, bags up some serious firepower and even puts a guard on duty after explaining how to point and pull the trigger. "If anyone comes through that door, shoot until they stop moving."

The one part of the episode that doesn't quite work is Morgan's pacifism. He doesn't want to kill. I get that. It's noble enough, but it doesn't really work when he can see his adversary hacking people to death right and left. I mean, come on. One of the best bits is when Morgan has just finished painstakingly tying up a Wolf. Carol walks by and shoots his captive in the head without even slowing down.

"We don't have to kill," says Morgan.

"Of course we do," answers Carol.

I'm with Carol tonight. Morgan gives in by the end by killing one particularly vile Wolf. He does say "I'm sorry" when he does it.

Dude. Carol is sorry about all this, too. You can see it when she sits on a porch at the end, hands shaking. The difference is that Carol probably saved the life of every Alexandrian still standing. The Wolves were a particularly nasty piece of work, and you know what we do with rabid dogs. We don't ask them nicely to leave.

Survivor Enid never really believed Alexandria was safe. She doesn't believe anyplace is safe, and maybe she gets it, too. She appears to have headed out on her own at the end of the episode, after leaving a note for Carl.

"Just Survive Somehow."

JSS.

Good stuff. Too bad a good chunk of that Walker herd is still headed directly for Alexandria.      

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