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"The Walking Dead" Recap: "Being Afraid Sucks," and So Does Manipulative Storytelling

"Being afraid sucks," Denise tells Tara midway through "Now," Sunday's episode of "The Walking Dead." You know what else sucks? Watching a bunch of people talk about how afraid they are for almost an hour straight. Unfortunately, that's what makes up most of this episode.

To be fair, that fear does eventually lead to some mobilization among the Alexandrians. After Rick returns to the gates with half of the walker horde in pursuit (looks like he escaped the broken-down RV on foot), he gives his neighbors some tough love on what needs to happen for them all to survive. Darryl, Sasha, and Abraham will hopefully be back soon to lead the zombie away with their vehicles. Until then, everyone needs to stay strong and defend the community, if necessary. "The wall's going to hold together," Rick tells the townsfolk. "Can you?"

We then get about 45 minutes of the Alexandrians asking themselves that very question, with pretty much everyone taking some minor action to show that they are indeed willing to fight for their home, or at least take a more optimistic outlook towards their severely altered lives. Let's start with Denise. Initially accepting that Scott's infected gunshot will lead to his death, she's able to figure out how to stabilize the wound by draining the fluid. She's so invigorated by the ordeal that she musters up the strength to kiss Tara, perhaps sowing the seeds of a new relationship.

Elsewhere, Jessie kills a reanimated Alexandrian who killed herself with confidence (also leading to a kiss, this one with Rick), Ron asks for shooting lessons from the sheriff, and Deanna finally realizes that being a good leader means more than just drawing up blueprints for reconstruction. When she gets attacked by a Wolf walker who hid under the porch while dying, she snaps out of her grieving stupor and into full-on berserker mode, rabidly hacking at the corpse with a broken bottle. When Rick stumbles across her still stabbing away, she looks up at him with undead blood dripping down her face. "I want to live," she tells him.

While that's a refreshingly far cry from her male counterpart's more frantic fate in the comic (no spoilers here), and it's absolutely necessary for the Alexandrians to have a change in attitude (and fortitude) so the show can move forward, it's also ground that's been well-covered before. We've seen Rick's group come to these exact realization of "We need to fight" time and time again, which makes the aforementioned cliches all the more tired. There's also the problem of the Alexandrians themselves. I don't hate them at all as characters, but outside of Deanna and maybe Aaron, none of them are well-developed enough yet to make this kind of hemming and hawing about survival interesting. And yes, maybe this is all part of their development, but we just came off another quiet -- though admittedly fantastic -- episode, plus there's a bigger, much more exciting elephant in the room that still doesn't get properly addressed.

That would be the survival or death of Glenn, of course, and no, it doesn't get resolved here. While Maggie's convinced that he's been killed -- so much to where she writes his name on the makeshift memorial wall -- Aaron, perhaps as a result of coming clean about his role in the Wolves' discovery of Alexandria, views things more positively. He convinces her to accompany him on a trudge through the sewers, a shortcut to the outlying town where Glenn and Nicholas (RIP) were last seen. The journey itself is a thrilling and squirmy one, bubbling with waste-ridden water and two skeletal walkers coated in human excrement. When they spill from the sewer walls, Maggie gets a fistful of shit when she tries to push one of them away, her hand caving in on the walker's mushy ribcage. Aaron's able to dispatch both zombies, but when they get to the sewer exit, there's an undead group blocking the grate. Defeated, the duo returns home.

Aaron still manages to keep their spirits high by the episode's end, inspiring Maggie to erase Glenn's name from the wall and joking about naming her baby -- which we hear about for the first time in "Now" -- after him once her husband returns. And he will return, he assures her. It's meant to end the episode on an uplifting note, but because of how poorly Glenn's in-flux fate was handled in "Thank You," the whole thing still feels like a cheat. It all comes down to those intestines, silly as it sounds. If director Michael Slovis and writer Angela Kang had ended that episode more ambiguously, the outrage from fans and critics wouldn't exist. For example, if the last we saw of Glenn was him tumbling into the walker mosh pit with a prompt cut to black, we'd accept the possibility of him being alive or dead as equally realistic.

Or, even if we saw him on the ground with the walkers descending on his body, also with a cut to black, that would be acceptable, too. But because Slovis and Kang went to great lengths to show us actual viscera being (seemingly) ripped from Glenn's chest, it's clear that they wanted their audience to think he was dead, no question about it, only to say "gotcha!" later on when they've maybe kept him alive.

So when Maggie's told she should keep faith at the end of "Now," I'm not cautiously optimistic-I'm just pissed off. Either we know he's dead and are meant to view her hope as all the more tragic, or we know that he may or may not be, and can join in on her vigil. But because the show has taken on the impossible task of having it both ways (the sly interview responses from the showrunners certainly haven't helped), we're left with a storyline that's grown sluggish and a TV series that incorrectly thinks it's smarter than its audience. Hopefully, next week will put the Glenn question to rest (not to mention the Alexandrians being soft) and get back to the season being one of "The Walking Dead"'s strongest.

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