As the penultimate episode before the season six finale, “East” raises significantly more questions than it answers. The cold open is an abstract tease of a confrontation between Carol and a group of Saviors, a showdown we’ll see later although even then, we won’t get the information we really want. Then we jump back slightly in time to see Carol preparing to leave Alexandria and having a last night with Tobin. If Tobin wasn’t such a non-entity, and if he didn’t actually say “Everything’s gonna be okay” on a show where this has been demonstrably proven to never be the case, this last scene might be touching. As is, it fills in a blank space that probably should’ve been filled in last week.

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So: Carol’s gone. And rather than take that sitting down, Rick and Morgan go looking for her. Daryl also leaves in a huff, still upset over Denise’s death and his part in it (he let Dwight live), and Michonne, Glenn, and Rosita go after him. Tactically speaking, these aren’t great plans. For all Rick’s talk about not making mistakes and being preparing for what comes next, a large portion of Alexandria’s best fighters head out into the wilderness at the same time, with the same difficult to fulfill mission. What if Carol and/or Daryl don’t want to come back? They left of their own free will, after all. Is the plan to knock them out and drag them home?

For anyone frustrated by the show’s slipshod approach to tactics, “East” should offer plenty of cringe-worthy examples. The most notable is that final scene, where Daryl and Rosita find a tied up Glenn and Michonne and manage to get themselves captured (and Daryl shot) almost immediately. The problem with saying our heroes are supreme badasses is that they can only be amazing so long as the story will allow it; as soon as we need some suspense, the Saviors suddenly up their game and nothing makes sense anymore. It’s the same reason those Saviors have been so inept (up until now). Rick’s running on an adrenaline rush of overconfidence, and the more successful he is at fighting this new enemy, the bigger the crash when that enemy finally gets the upper hand.

I’m not sure how that will work at this point. We’ve been building to Negan’s arrival for months now, and when he does show up, I’m sure it’ll be horrifying and nasty, and we’ll almost certainly lose a major character. But what then? We’ve seen Rick and the others go mental with a need for revenge before, we’ve seen them be hardasses, we’ve seen them be afraid of violence. Apart from the immediate shock of whatever it is Negan does in the finale, it’s hard to know how much story potential there is in yet another psychotic despot running roughshod over our heroes. Maybe if the Saviors had something distinctive about them, apart from being snippy assholes—maybe if they seemed interesting as anything more than a foreshadowing device, this might have worked. And credit where it’s due, the show has at least tried to give them more depth. But precious little of that depth has stuck, and apart from Dwight, the only Saviors we know anything about at this point are dead.

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But that’s for the future to worry about. For now, we at least get some good character beats and one shining moment of ass-kicking, albeit a moment which has severe emotional repercussions for the character doing the kicking. Carol’s struggles with murder remain a sudden, and not entirely organic, shift to me; it’s not impossible, or even implausible, that she would feel this way, but the change as it has played out has felt less like a natural evolution of who she is than the result of writers deciding they needed to give her something to do. That said, her panic attack before wiping out most of a truck full of Saviors is the first time her angst has really come into focus for me; it wasn’t a ruse, or a trick, but just a woman who knows what she’s capable of, desperate not to have to put more red on her ledger.

It’s a cool sequence that’s also kind of sad, and then things get all ambiguous when Carol has to take out one more guy, and we don’t see what happens to her after. The manipulation here is bordering on the cheesy. Rick and Morgan show up, case the scene, and then follow a trail of what may or may not be Carol’s blood into the fields. They find a zombie woman and briefly wonder if it’s Carol—it isn’t—and then run into a dude in a barn who may or may not be one of the Saviors.

There better be a good explanation for what’s happened to Carol next week, and I hope we get some answers as to why Maggie collapses in pain at the end of the hour. And I’m sure there will be closure on the Glenn/Michonne/Rosita/Daryl captivity situation, although who knows how cruel it will be. (Points where they’re due: Dwight says “You’ll be fine” after shooting Daryl, just so we don’t have to spend a week freaking out over that.) “East” feels more like a held breath than anything else, a hammer we can’t see waiting to fall down and break everything no matter how many times Rick says he’s got it under control.

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It wasn’t bad, though. Clunky and kind of ridiculous in places, but not bad. I was especially fond of the scenes between Morgan and Rick, especially the one where Morgan tells Rick about the Wolf he saved. Confession scenes are great because they create intimate spaces between characters where connections can grow stronger or break off completely. Rick handles it well enough, and when Morgan decides to go looking Carol on his own, Rick even makes it a point of making sure that Morgan will be coming back to Alexandria. I think that one line is the most I’ve liked Rick in a while. Even his canoodling with Michonne is tainted somewhat by his excessive faith in his own dominance. But that one single request—delivered like an order, but one even he must realize he has no power to enforce—made him seem actually human again.

Stray observations

  • It’s an easy trick, but any time this (or any other) show uses Johnny Cash for a montage, I’m happy.
  • Aw, Glenn and Maggie showering together.
  • “That woman, she’s a force of nature.” -Rick, re: Carol
  • Were Dwight and his men just hanging out in the woods? Or did they expect Daryl to come back?
  • God, the Saviors are all such smug assholes. I don’t know why this bothers me, but there’s something so generic about their nastiness at this point.
  • “I don’t take chances anymore.” -Rick
  • “It’s all a circle. Everything gets a return.” -Morgan
  • “But now I think I’m that much more ready to tear the world a brand new asshole.” -Abraham in love

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