At this point in “The Walking Dead,” it seems ludicrous that there are characters who, until very recently, haven’t killed another human being, let alone a character who hasn’t killed a walker. But they’re out there — right in Alexandria, in fact.
I suppose if there’s any Alexandrian who’s going to be pacifistic even when it comes to the undead, it’s Denise, which made tonight’s episode a test of her own bravery. As she tells Daryl and Rosita, she’s found an apothecary on the outskirts of town that may have a large amount of medical supplies she needs. The two accompany her to the location and do most of the dirty work along the way, breaking through the front door, prying open the pharmacy shutter with a crowbar, and even gathering the meds themselves. Meanwhile, Denise can’t even bring herself to kill a crippled walker she encounters in the nursery, especially when she discovers that it’s eaten a child. Instead, she freaks out and runs outside.
Then, while following a railroad shortcut back to Alexandria, she sees another walker trapped in a car with a cooler. Somewhat foolishly, she opens the vehicle’s door, refuses her companions’ help when the zombie’s about to chow down on her neck, and drives her machete into its skull. The soda in the cooler will now taste that much sweeter, a symbol of her tiny yet significant leap of courage.
Then, an arrow from The Saviors shoots right through the back of her head and out her eye.
From an audience perspective, it’s a cruel gesture, even more so when you consider that this is actually the fate of Abraham in the comics. Why take an innocent, largely peaceful character like Denise and off her once she’s finally demonstrated some fearlessness? Either the writers have some huge plans in store for Abraham, or they want to further drive home how little mercy is in their world. Or maybe they’re simply trying to up the threat posed by The Saviors.
Either way, the death feels justified and effective. In the land of “The Walking Dead,” sometimes the bad guy wins. Sometimes generosity and bravery get you nowhere. Also, Denise’s demise shows that Rick’s actions towards The Saviors are starting to have some serious consequences, and if a more traditional badass like Abraham had been slain by the crossbow bolt of Dwight — who now has his half-burned face from the comics and has rejoined the enemy — it wouldn’t have as cold an impact.
Although we get all of this from the episode’s central mission and the death itself, writer Matthew Negrete overdoes it when trying to deliver an emotional gut-punch. Minutes before Denise dies, she details some of her troubled childhood and relationship with her twin brother to Daryl and Rosita. She then describes why the quest for medicine was important to her, how she had to conquer her fear if she wants to survive in Alexandria. This all comes out in a series of clunky monologues, which are quickly becoming a cheap, go-to way to make us feel for a character that’s about to bite the dust on “The Walking Dead.” But the writers should give themselves more credit. Half the time, we’re already invested in the journey of the characters. We know Denise is scared. We know that she wants to prove herself. We don’t need to be reminded of it moments before she goes down.
Once that happens and The Saviors reveal themselves, with Eugene in tow as a hostage, he gets his own moment to shine. Fans of the comics will recognize him biting Dwight’s crotch as being straight from the pages of Robert Kirkman and Charlie Adlard. That probably reads like a sequence played for physical comedy, but it’s surprisingly brutal and fist-pumping when surrounded by a hail of bullets from both sides of the tracks.
There’s also an extra weight added to the scene, thanks to what’s happened before it. While checking out a factory where they could possibly manufacture their own bullets, Eugene gets angry with Abraham when he saves him from a walker. Like Denise, Eugene insisted that he do it himself, thus creating another parallel to their stories, a parallel that becomes heartbreaking when considering their polar-opposite outcomes. Where Denise kills one walker and gets killed shortly afterwards, Eugene bites a guy’s dick and sends the enemy running back into the woods (with help from Abraham, Daryl, and Rosita, of course).
In the final subplot of the night, Carol has a change of heart that’s a complete 180 of Denise’s and Eugene’s respective arcs. Unlike them, she’s a character who has lots of experience with killing other human beings. After the events of last week, however, she no longer wants to fight, causing her to leave Alexandria and go back out on her own.
As I stated in my review of “The Same Boat,” Carol’s sudden reluctance to kill feels unconvincing to begin with, and her decision to depart the community she loves ends an otherwise riveting episode on an odd button. Or maybe my critique simply comes from fear for the show’s characters. With only one episode left until the season finale, Alexandria’s going to need all the warriors they can get.