“No Way Out,” the title of tonight’s midseason premiere of AMC’s “The Walking Dead” points to the characters being trapped in Alexandria. And in a way, they still are by the time the credits roll, even though they start off the episode trying to escape the neighborhood, or at least break past its perimeter so they can get to their vehicles or some more firepower.
But only about 30 minutes in, Rick and co. have barely made it down the street when they’re forced to turn back and come up with a much simpler, albeit riskier plan: stick together, stay where they are, and hack the walker horde to bits. That’s a far cry from the complex zombie-shepherding mission that took up most of the first half of the season, and yet it also proves to be far more effective. As always, the efficiency of the group is kickstarted by Rick, whose more primal approach ends up being spurred by a truly awful event.
That would be the loss of Carl’s eye. But you already know that, right? Fan sites have been loudly whispering about it for months, with several spoiler pages predicting exactly when and how it would happen. Here’s a rundown anyway: as Rick and his party navigate the legion of the undead, smothered in a disguise of walker guts, Sam starts to crack, just as we saw him doing in the closing moments of the midseason finale. This alerts the walkers of everyone’s presence, and all Hell breaks loose on the tree-lined streets of Alexandria. Sam becomes a zombie buffet, as does Jessie when she tries to help him. Meanwhile she’s grabbed a hold of Carl’s arm, forcing Rick to hack off the limb of his (now worm-meat) lover to save his son. Ron, insufferable little shit that he is, aims his gun at Carl, prompting Michonne to run her katana blade through the teenager’s chest right as he fires. She ends up preventing Ron from getting off a fatal shot, but he still manages to hit Carl directly in the right peeper as the breath slips out of him for good.
As familiar as all of this sound to some of you, director and longtime “Walking Dead” renaissance man Greg Nicotero keeps the events shocking by never shying away from their brutality. One of show’s most effective tools is its unflinching depiction of violence, the camera continuing to linger on a grisly event when you think it’s going to turn away. Seeing several walkers directly chomp down on the top of Sam’s head is queasy enough, but it’s the frame of Carl with a gaping hole in his head — strings of gore and optic nerves hanging sloppily over his cheek — that’s the the coup de grace.
I say that not because the sequence is compellingly exploitative — quite the opposite, actually. Because the violence towards Carl (and, in a lesser sense, Jessie) is so blunt and horrific, we completely believe that, after the survivors have brought him to Denise at the infirmary, his father would run headfirst into the horde and start slashing away. His body exhausted, his eyes glazed over, this is a man who’s just seen another romantic partner eaten alive and his son barely fighting for his life. This is a man who, at this point, doesn’t know what else to do. This is a man with nothing to lose.
Fortunately for Rick, his numbness turns to raw rage once he starts attacking, a rage that inspires everyone else to join him in a seemingly impossible fight. By the morning, all of the walkers have been butchered, thanks in part to a Hail Mary attack by Daryl, Abraham and Sasha. At the top of the episode, the three manage to best The Saviors (sorry, likely no Negan until the finale) via a rocket launcher in the back of their RV. That same weapon allows them to save the last denizens of Alexandria later on when they return to the community.
So it looks like we’ll be in the suburbs for at least a little while longer. In the opposite of what we’ve come to expect from the show, the undead that have invaded Alexandria — and everyone’s subsequent conquering of them — has encouraged Rick to stay put for the time being. Granted, his son’s life still hangs in the balance, but his reasons for continuing to try and lay down roots goes beyond familial love. After the events of “No Way Out — the destruction of the walker horde, the reunion of Glenn and Maggie, Denise managing to survive her Wolf captor by playing to his hidden compassion — it’s clear that he has a greater respect for the Alexandrians. They’ve become stronger, more strategic, more unified. They’ve slogged through a hard-won fight for their home.
If there’s one frustration I have with “No Way Out”, it’s the swift end of all three of the Andersons. I recognize that they’ve been one of the weakest parts of season six (as noted, Ron has been particularly grating as a character), but they’re also indicative of “The Walking Dead’s” impulse to clean house when it comes to lacking storylines, rather than try to fix them. Sure, Sam had become too sniveling, Ron had become too unlikeable, and Jessie had become… well, nothing at all, really. But they’re each played by a strong actor, and I’m left wondering what their future in Alexandria would have been like, had they survived. Ron, in particular, was a source of conflict, something that’s always good for a show-runner to keep in their back pocket. Then again, The Saviors (not to mention The Wolves) are still out there, and surely pissed off after Daryl blowing several of their troops to smithereens. Maybe “The Walking Dead” already has enough conflict after all.