When "The Walking Dead" introduced the walker herd in its season six premiere, I didn't expect the conflict to last longer than a few episodes. Now, with only one left to go before the midseason finale, it looks like we're in it for the long haul. The slow burn has paid off, for the most part. By building the first half of the season around one central event, the writers have been able to branch off into several locations and storylines that explore different characters. While that results in the occasional slog about people who we're not completely invested in yet (see last week), it also gives us brilliantly self-contained short stories like "Here's Not Here" and tonight's "Always Accountable."
Actually, let me back up for a second. Daryl's arc -- while certainly satellite to the greater narrative -- still isn't completely self-contained, as it involves him trying to reunite with Abraham and Sasha when they got separated by a group of unknown attackers. After getting shot at on his motorcycle, he crashes in a scorched forest littered with the charred skeletons of walkers. He's soon captured by the source of the flames (or so they say): three strangers who have split off from their group, the same group that may have fired at him. Were he, Sasha and Abraham their primary target, or did they get caught in a crossfire? I expect it's the latter, for as we soon discover, the three escapees (the only one mentioned by name in the credits is a young diabetic woman named Tina) have caused some serious damage in their wake. We don't get all the information, but we know that, in addition to starting the forest fire, they've (accidentally, it appears) let a group of walkers into a fueling plant and stolen from their former community.
That community seems to be the main purpose of the Daryl thread: to introduce us to a yet another human threat, one that makes the Wolves look like nothing more than a pack of rabid dogs. When a truck comes barreling through the woods in search of the three travelers, its passengers are clean, ruthless, and quick-thinking. As they sniff out the hunted to take back what's theirs (one again, the details of what went down between the two parties are purposely left vague), Daryl baits one of them into getting bitten by a trapped walker. The man screams for his partner to sever his arm, and he does without hesitation, hacking it off with a machete, then taking them both back to their camp.
Hmmm. This looks familiar. Where have we seen such focused practicality before? Where have we seen such cold organization? If you've read the comics and the recent announcement that Jeffrey Dean Morgan has been cast as Rick's most formidable foe of all, Negan, then I'm sure you share my suspicion that these guys are part of the Saviors. It also makes sense given the three strangers' general incompetency. The male in the group admits to Daryl that he's never actually killed a human, and Tina makes the stupid move of mourning over the corpses of two of their friends (they blame themselves for their deaths, and once again, the details are murky). Of course, the two bodies spring to life and mortally bite her, making Daryl's earlier efforts to bring back her insulin after breaking free of his captors completely pointless. I can't expect such vulnerability and clumsiness would have gone over well with the Saviors, if that is indeed who we're talking about (and I'm pretty sure it is). Even though the two remaining survivors steal Daryl's bike at the episode's end, I don't expect they'll live for too long.
As much as I don't really care about these new characters, the situation remains compelling since we know as little about their circumstances as Daryl does. Everything unfolds gradually in classic show-don't-tell methodology -- a huge departure from the overwrought speechifying of last week. And once again, the trio's brief appearance exists solely to unveil a new potential rivalry, one that, if the comic series has told me anything, will make for one of the most invigorating storylines on the show. Imagine if the Alexandrians eventually have to deal with the walker horde and the Wolves and the Saviors. Or, even worse, imagine if some of the folks in Rick's camp actually find the Saviors' efficiency appealing? Some of them have already been drawn to people like the Governor, although the Governor was mentally unstable. Then there were the Hunters, but the Hunters were cannibals. Negan and his followers are neither, which in many ways makes them all the more dangerous.
Abraham and Sasha's story is less important to the greater narrative in terms of plot, but, like the extended Morgan flashback, takes on a considerable weight for both of their characters. Once separated from Daryl, they discover an abandoned office building with a walker who barricaded himself behind a locked glass door before he died. This sets up the two of them for a twisted version of playing house. Realizing they have air conditioning, beer, and plenty of supplies in the surrounding area (and very few walkers to deal with), they entertain the thought of just staying put, with one of them scouting for goods and the other babysitting the walker at all times.
The whole situation is a sort of epiphany for Abraham, who decides that he still wants to enjoy life after embarking on yet another suicide mission. This time, it comes in the form of an undead soldier who's impaled on a suspended fence. Abraham wants the rocket launcher strapped to its back, but instead of stabbing him in the head first, he recklessly reaches for the RPG while the zombie is still (sort of) alive. He even grunts and gnashes his teeth at the walker, practically goading it to bite him. Just as he's about to get too close, he realizes how idiotic he's being, and backs away. The fence collapses, sending the walker to the ground below and leaving the rocket launcher hanging on the fence for him to take. Sometimes things are that simple. All he had to do to get the weapon was wait a little bit. It didn't require him senselessly risking his life.
This appears to mark the end of Abraham's self-destructive streak, a revelation he confesses to Sasha upon returning. Not only does he want to live -- he wants to get to know her "a whole lot better." I'm not sure what that means for Rosita, but I'm left wondering if Alexandria's two resident kamikaze loners are going to find their way back to their slightly dark version of domestic bliss, with Abraham playing husband, Sasha playing wife and that cooped-up zombie playing son.
First though, they have a lot to deal with, and not just Abraham's already existing relationship. Once Daryl scouts them out in a fuel truck he found in the woods, they get a disturbing transmission over the walkie talkie. "Help," croaks a distraught voice. It sounds a lot more like Glenn than Rick, but regardless of who it is, it's clear there's more trouble than ever on the horizon, this time from three separate groups. While it may be one of the quieter installments this season -- more reminiscent of an isolated short story than a traditional "Walking Dead" episode -- "Always Accountable" is all about slowly building up dread from all directions. Alexandria seems more doomed than ever.