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My problem, I think, is I keep expecting The Walking Dead to have a consistent narrative philosophy. I don’t mean in some kind of high-minded, “what does this all really have to say about America?” kind of way. I just want there to be a point behind the misery and death and seemingly endless stream of gore. And maybe that’s not fair of me. The series has been on for six seasons now, and things change over time. Maybe sticking to any one intention would’ve been too limiting. I should be willing to embrace all the potential facets of a show about people killing and sometimes getting killed by ambulatory corpses. A single message would be too limiting for an experience as rich as this.

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Still, it would be nice if things made sense from one minute to the next. For every nicely handled character moment here (the rise of the Alexandrians, and Rick finally accepting that he can make these people into bad-ass murder machines was decent), there’s some weird plot flailing that’s so clumsy that it borders on camp. This is all very serious stuff, as we’re reminded multiple times in “No Way Out,” thanks to the brooding, melancholy score and a lot of grim monologues about survival and what not. It’s also an episode in which Daryl is apparently a super hero.

Seriously, he manages to silently murder someone not twenty feet away from a group of well-armed (and presumably on their guard) thugs; then he takes out those thugs with a rocket launcher. Later on, he uses the fuel from the fuel tank and the rocket launcher to set fire to a lake in Alexandria—the fire draws in the zombies, and they all die. This is borderline ridiculous. Maybe not “Glenn hides under the dumpster” ridiculous, but c’mon. Has it always been this easy to kill the walking dead with fire? This isn’t a trap. They literally see their death and walk toward it.

As for the death of the Neganites, well, there’s something to be said for an occasional burst of goofy violence. It makes for a nice change of pace, especially seeing as how close their leader was to shooting Abraham and/or Sasha. But there’s a definite bait-and-switch vibe to the whole thing, given all the build up. Negan will undoubtedly be a problem for Rick and the others down the line (Rick now wants to make something out of Alexandria, so of course everything has to go even more to shit), but hopefully the next time his name pops up, it won’t be another tease of things to come. At least now we know he’ll be really, really mad at our heroes.

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All of this made sense, more or less, even if I’m not sure it was necessary. It’s hard to argue the same thing about the death of Jessie and her entire family. Yes, the writers made it a point to remind us over and over again that Sam wasn’t handling the zombie situation well (thanks, Carol), and Ron’s issues with Rick had come up before. But while I won’t miss Ron or Sam (Jessie was nice enough), their deaths are nearly laughable, a clumsy, forced way to get rid of three supposedly important characters in one fell swoop. At a certain point, it’s hard to be upset about all this death; at a certain point, it turns into slapstick. It breaks the world of the show, especially when we’re supposed to worry about Carl getting shot in the eye seconds later. The Andersons are wiped out of existence with all the care and thoughtfulness of letters on a dry erase board. The twist this time is that Rick has to chop off Jessie’s hand while he’s having sad memories about her, but who cares.

That was the feeling I couldn’t shake in the episode’s worst moments: who cares. The Wolf who kidnapped Dr. Denise has a borderline change of heart, only to be shot by Carol; which I guess teaches us that Morgan wasn’t wrong after all, and at least Dr. Denise got out of it okay. But Carol is still upset. And so what, really. Are we going to have to watch a scene where Rick yells at Morgan for trying to change a Wolf? Maybe he’ll be exiled. I do not care. Enid realizes the value of teamwork and Glenn nearly gets killed saving Maggie, only then he doesn’t, because of machine guns. Who cares.

This is harsh, and arguably harsher than “No Way Out” deserves. The sight of the Alexandrians teaming together to beat back the herd of walkers was at least sort of inspiring, and it’ll be good to have Rick trying to protect them rather than dismiss them as a waste of his time. But there is nothing exciting or scary about zombie fighting anymore. At this point, it’s just attrition: who will the writers decide is expendable during this latest attack. They’re not a threat, they’re a plot mechanic that’s outlived its usefulness, and while I don’t expect the show to give up on them anytime soon, we’re going to need some more interesting pressure to keep this from being even more of a slog than it already is. Rick has lost an astonishing number of people over the years. Threatening that he might lose even more is no longer a useful trick. And stop pretending you’re going to kill Carl, show. Nobody buys it.

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Stray observations

  • I’m a bit sorry that the guy leading the group threatening Daryl, Sasha, and Abraham is dead. He was fun. “If you have to eat, best not to nibble.”
  • Father Gabriel and Rick are finally friends again. That’s nice.
  • We’re running low on recognizable Alexandrians. If this keeps up, the writers are going to have to spend time developing all new disposable people.

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