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The Walking Dead sends everyone to reflect on a post-Alpha world

Illustration for article titled iThe Walking Dead/i sends everyone to reflect on a post-Alpha world
Photo: Jace Downs (AMC)
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I swear, characters on this show see more dead people than that little kid from The Sixth Sense. Carol finally got what she’s been lusting for all this time—the death of Alpha—and yet she promptly gets haunted by a vision of the deceased Whisperer leader, taunting her for her inability to protect the people she cares about. The death of Henry tore a hole through Carol’s center, leaving her perpetually running away from confronting either her emotions or the concerned faces of those who love her. So she returns to her boat, ready to sail away for however long she can, but a timely collapse of the roof leaves her pinned in place, both metaphorically and literally, to confront her demons. “I wanna be alone,” she cries to spirit Alpha. “Yeah, that’s not it,” the specter dryly retorts. It’ll take more than running away to be free of this demon: Carol needs to dislocate her shoulder.

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Everyone’s favorite grey-haired badass isn’t the only one goes on a transformative emotional journey this episode, however. “Look At The Flowers” (a nice callback to the phrase Carol told young Lizzie right before she put a bullet in the kid’s head) finds nearly everyone dealing with the fallout from the assault on Hilltop and Negan’s subsequent murder of Alpha. And in an unexpected turn, a good portion of it worked at least reasonably well. This is partially thanks to a script that only overcooks half of the dialogue scenes, wisely letting a less-is-more dynamic dictate the exchanges between Daryl and Negan, Jerry and Ezekiel, and even the ludicrous reveal of Beta as being a famous country crooner in his former life. His carrying around Alpha’s severed head until he could play his old records, attract a bunch of walkers, and thank her for all she did for him was ridiculous, but at the end of it he’s got a shiny new bifurcated mask and renewed purpose—which it’s probably safe to say is something like “murder Negan as hard as possible.”

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Looking at each subplot in descending order of quality, the most effective was Negan and Daryl’s gradual détente. When the ex-Savior returns to the shack where he hid Lydia, she’s gone, but Daryl’s there to confront him. The tracker is rightly pissed off and blames Negan for the disaster at Hilltop, which is at least somewhat fair, given the path to Oceanside wouldn’t have been blocked off had it not been for Negan sharing information in his long-con effort to gain Alpha’s trust. (Probably best not to think too hard about his plan, and why it didn’t involve him snapping her neck when she was standing right in front of him naked.) But eventually, Daryl realizes Negan was doing right by Carol, and it’s tough to cast aspersions on someone who entered the lion’s den as a favor to the woman Daryl loves. Still, what makes it work is Jeffrey Dean Morgan, alternating between somber and silly as only he can get away with. When the other Whisperers arrive and take Daryl prisoner, hailing Negan as the new Alpha, Morgan delivers one of the most satisfying laughs the former nemesis has ever uttered. “Daryl, kneel to the Alpha” he says with unconcealed glee, and when he quickly kills the Whisperers and frees Daryl, the point has been made: Negan’s on the side of the angels now. Sure, he admits there was a temptation to stay with Alpha—to feel important and valued once again—but some rules can’t be broken. You don’t kill kids.

Illustration for article titled iThe Walking Dead/i sends everyone to reflect on a post-Alpha world
Photo: Jackson Lee Davis (AMC)
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Of course, don’t tell Carol that. She’s trying to clear her head and get out of town now that her mission of seeing Alpha dead has been fulfilled. But her vision of Alpha taunts her with every brutal death of a loved one she’s had to experience, bookended with her daughter Sophia (remember that mic-drop reveal that she was in the barn the whole time?) and her adopted son, Henry. She can’t run from her own feelings—and more than that, the people who care don’t want her to go. “Being on your own…you’ve tried it before. They always pull you back,” Alpha smirks, and by the time Carol is trapped beneath wooden beams on her boat, a walker slowly approaching, the spirit forces her to acknowledge the worst truth of all: that no matter what she does, people she cares about are going to die, and hell, Daryl could be next. We’ll see if her return to Alexandria finds her in a more accepting headspace (or if community life will still be a tough sell for her), but dislocating her shoulder and freeing herself to get back home seems like a good start.

Eugene finally tells everyone about his secret conversations with Stephanie, and despite the logical response (which can be roughly summed up as, “Dude, what the fuck?”), a loyal voicing of support from Ezekiel helps the engineering whiz get the confidence to sell everyone on his trip to Charleston, accompanied by a newly Magna-less Yumiko and the King himself. The less said about Ezekiel’s slow succumbing to illness, the better—let’s pretend Yumiko’s earnest “I’m here to find out what’s possible” speech of self-help to the guy didn’t happen—but the progression into the city became increasingly bananas, as the trio pass by caged walkers, then walkers tied to chairs, café tables, even motorbikes and cars. Luckily, the show knows this is ridiculous, and Ezekiel cracks up at the absurdity of it all. It doesn’t make it any less silly, but the bare minimum of acknowledging how dumb it is helps it along, at least until the woman with an automatic weapon and Manic Panic hair appears and exclaims, “Oh my god, hi!”

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Illustration for article titled iThe Walking Dead/i sends everyone to reflect on a post-Alpha world
Photo: Jace Downs (AMC)

Which leaves us with Beta. There was probably never any way the introduction of his past as Half Moon, legendary crooner of soulful country ballads, was going to be anything but goofy; but having him gently cradle Alpha’s severed head, jaw forever going up and down, under his shoulder while he set off to play some of his records and while away the night in his old live-music joint sure didn’t help. At least we can dispense with that particular mystery, and let the show get back to his drive for revenge. Kudos to episode director Daisy Meyer for keeping all this ruminating and reflecting fleet and diverting enough that it never drags, but she also didn’t have much to work with between “ponderous” and “silly,” a common-enough problem on this show. With only two episodes left, enough changes are in motion that it might actually retain the sense of forward momentum generated by the back half of this season. And if not, well, there’s a brand new city full of ridiculous locked-down walkers to explore.

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Stray observations

  • I did like how Jerry brings Ezekiel up short in the middle of his complaints about why his former right-hand man doesn’t want him to go with Eugene: “Because I’m gonna miss you?” Although the music underneath the scene made it sound like Ezekiel was preparing to leave the Shire.
  • Even if The Walking Dead does grossly overuse the “vision of a dead person” tactic, I’ll take more Samantha Morton however the show wants to offer it.
  • It was nice to briefly see the flashback to Carol letting Negan out of his cell, and Negan agreeing to kill Alpha, because Alexandria will never forgive his past actions—“unless you do something that’ll make them forget.”
  • Similarly, Negan summing up what it was like spending seven years in a tiny cell: “Man, it sucked.”
  • Beta’s new mask is awfully on-the-nose, symbolically speaking, for a guy who performed under the moniker “Half Moon.” Also, I guess the walkers don’t need to be fooled by verisimilitude any more?
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Alex McLevy is a writer and editor at The A.V. Club, and would kindly appreciate additional videos of robots failing to accomplish basic tasks.

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