"The Walking Dead" Recap: It's the Action, Not the Arguing, That Makes "Heads Up" Work

You don't need me (or even tonight's episode) to tell you this, but as revealed on tonight's installment of "The Walking Dead," Glenn's very much alive. You already knew that. Is there anyone out there who didn't? And not only is he alive, he survived exactly how most fan theories said he would: The walkers descended on Nicholas' corpse, which was on top of Glenn, and disemboweled him (yep, those were Nicholas' guts we saw a month ago in "Thank You"), thus giving Glenn the chance to crawl under the dumpster they were just standing on for safety. He's there for at least one night (maybe more) before the zombies have dispersed and Enid comes to his aid by tossing him a bottle of water. We find all of this out before the credits. I stand by my constant grumbling about how Glenn's fate was handled (see previous recaps for details), but at least writer Channing Powell gets it out of the way early. More importantly, the character's survival makes for one of the most powerful moments of the series, even if the path there is a little clunky.

So let's talk about the journey first, before we get to that big finale. While Glenn and Enid make an interesting pairing, Powell nearly wastes the opportunity by having them debate about the same ideologies the show has been exploring for quite some time now. Glenn believes the world is worth saving. Enid doesn't. Glenn wants to go back to Alexandria. Enid doesn't. These back-and-forth exchanges feel like they're reaching for profundity when they're really just treading the same recycled water without ever causing any real conflict. Just as you know she will, Enid starts to soften and reluctantly accompanies Glenn back home. To be fair, there are a handful of individually resonant moments along the way. For instance, Glenn finds the zombified corpse of David still clinging to a gate before their travels, meaning he can dispatch him and deliver the man's final note to his wife. But for the most part, he and Enid have the same old argument as so many others from the show, just on a different day.

Back in Alexandria, the storytelling has more momentum, if only because its citizens have managed to move past the to-survive-or-not-to-survive question they kept jawing over a couple of weeks ago. Things seem to be going well enough for Denise at her makeshift emergency room that Morgan seeks her out for some medical help. At first, she thinks it's for him, before he reveals it's for the Wolf he's still keeping locked away. After Carol sees them mysteriously disappearing together to tend to the enemy, she confronts Morgan on his hazardous compassion. "Who the hell do you have in that cell?" she asks him. The scene cuts away before we hear his response.

Part of why her question feels so tense -- aside from the obvious safety concerns of the Wolf's imprisonment -- is because it comes shortly after she, Morgan, and Rick have a lengthy discussion about Morgan's outlook. But unlike Glenn and Enid's scenes, it's a debate that gets treated with a refreshing nuance we don't always get during "The Walking Dead's" more understated scenes. Just like Morgan makes it clear that he's growing unsure of his own semi-pacifistic outlook, Rick shows later on that his more cutthroat majority-rules ethos isn't an absolute either. This becomes clear when village idiot Spencer tries to shimmy across a cable outside of the wall to get to one of the vehicles, hoping to divert the horde away from Alexandria. Instead, he slips (duh), and Rick and Tara have to save him. In addition to pissing off Rick with his usual boneheadedness (good-intentioned as it is), Spencer's stunt is especially aggravating because his fall gives Rick the chance to climb down the wall when the walkers are distracted and get to the vehicles himself. It would have cost Spencer his life, but it could have saved the lives of many others.

But Rick doesn't do that. Instead, he opts in the moment to save Spencer, only expressing some hesitant regret at doing so later. When Deanna thanks him and asks him why he did it, he tells her it's because Spencer's her son. "Wrong answer," she tells him. She's right. Rick decided to save Spencer not because of who his mom is, but off of pure compassionate instinct, an instinct that proves he's still a human and not an infallibly practical machine.

The tragedy of all this is that everyone would be a lot better off going into next week if Rick had let Spencer die. And that's where that knockout moment I mentioned earlier comes in. As everyone's feeling good about all the good fortune in the air -- Rick's saving of Spencer, Denise's improving medical skills, the infrastructure repairs in Alexandria, etc. -- the lookout tower, still damaged from the crashed truck in "JSS," collapses. And with it comes a huge portion of the wall.

Director David Boyd frames the disastrous sequence the same way he framed so many episodes of "Friday Night Lights," using serene, almost dreamlike composition. But here, it's not to give viewers hope, but to downplay the onslaught of terror. And of course, that makes the events all the more terrifying. First comes a hopeful image: Enid releasing her balloons in the sky to let everyone know that Glenn has returned. The green orbs look like giant, plucked grapes as they float against the clouds and Maggie comes running down the street with unbridled happiness. Then, a crack. A look of worry across Rick's face. All of the sound cuts out except for the peaceful music (reminiscent of "FNL" mainstays Explosions In the Sky and W.G. Snuffy Walden, it's worth noting), and the tower falls silently, almost majestically. Cut to black.

By not drawing attention to the doom, by overriding it with beauty, Boyd makes you curse the characters (in a good way) for not keeping track of every last threat to their livelihood. Everyone forgets to check on things like the structural stability of the tower and the mental stability of Ron -- who steals some bullets and takes to stalking Carl through the streets with a gun -- not because they're stupid (except for maybe Spencer), but because they've taken some time to breathe and try to enjoy their lives. Unfortunately, that comes with a price, a price that also proves Rick might not be as cold and calculating as he thinks he is. It's his compassion that led him to teaching the teenager whose father he killed how to shoot. It's his compassion that led him to save Spencer and not draw the walkers away from the wall for good. It's his compassion that might save his soul, but not the community of Alexandria.

Jesus, now that the more pessimistic wheels in my head are turning, I'm wondering if Glenn and Enid are as safe as we think they are. What if the balloons are in the air not because they willingly released them, but because they got attacked? What if the captured Wolf escapes? What if Ron decides to pull the trigger on Carl? And what if all this happens as the walkers storm the town? Hell, that last one's a given. It looks like compassion may make for the most devastating midseason finale yet.

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