By Nicole Prieto | The Duquesne Duke
Those without plans for Valentine’s Day might have tuned in to the anticipated midseason premiere of “The Walking Dead.” Season 6’s midseason finale left off with a record number of cliffhangers: Negan’s gang debuted, Alexandria was invaded by the Mega Herd, the Wolf took Denise hostage and Deanna faced down a hallway of walkers, just as Rick and company made their way out of an overrun house.
Here is a spoiler-heavy rundown of the good, the OK and the ugly for “No Way Out.”
The episode admittedly starts off slow, with the first 20 minutes devoted to each group getting its bearings. The major exception to the lull, however, is Daryl’s use of a rocket launcher to dispatch Negan’s goons in the first 5 minutes, just as their leader is about to shoot Sasha and Abraham.
The suspense is appropriately high in this scene, though perhaps the happy resolution should have been predictable. Nonetheless, Beth’s shocking death from Season 5 was another very clear sign that main characters are not immortal. Still, Daryl coming to the rescue à la bazooka was a pleasantly unexpected solution.
Another unforeseen development was who was actually left standing by the end: Denise, Alexandria’s fearful de facto doctor.
The show has a bad habit of painting obvious death targets on minor characters. She could have had a cheap death, especially given her vulnerable hostage situation while in the middle of an ocean of walkers. While she hardly has main character immunity, at least the audience gets to see her frantically treat Rick’s danger-prone group another day.
Suspension of disbelief gets tested when Rick’s group, heads and necks fully exposed, slowly inches its way through the herd without any reaction from the walkers literally brushing elbows with them. Scented ponchos or not, no self-respecting zombie should be able to resist chomping down on clearly living meat at such close range.
The implausibility only gets worse with Glenn’s deus ex machina rescue. TWD cemented Steven Yeun’s presence for at least another half-season with his character’s latest string of luck. When Glenn gets cornered by a mass of walkers, Abraham and Sasha arrive just in time to mow them down with machine guns, right before anyone can get a bite in.
Unfortunately, barely believable character development also rears its ugly head as “No Way Out” nears its climax. Ron’s character arc is on-and-off for the short time it is around. It was nice to see the Carl-Enid-Ron love triangle take a permanent backseat to the action. As Rick’s group gets ready to head to the quarry, Carl reaches out his hand to Ron, and he holds onto it without any fuss.
That concession gave some hope that he could live for another episode and prove himself as an OK guy. It was thus disappointing when, instead, he later points a gun at Rick and Carl to avenge his family. Granted, this is after his mother and brother get devoured in front of him, so it is hard to hold it against the kid.
The episode’s biggest weaknesses can be summed up by the words “pacing” and “romance.” Early Season 6 turned Rick into an overbearing, authoritative presence—so much so that it was hard to figure out what Jessie ever saw in him. Their instantaneous fling became the icing on a cake of questionable narrative decisions.
Still, having her die is hardly a great way to off the relationship. Her sudden demise alongside both of her sons is too much too soon. Barely 2 minutes elapse between Sam getting bitten, Jessie get bitten and dismembered and Michonne skewering Ron.
Carl then turning around with his eye shot out is excessive drama on top of the drawn-out carnage. The entire mess just comes off as shock value that is at once adrenaline-pumping and eye-roll inducing.
A so-so middle notwithstanding, the episode comes to a satisfying end. The Alexandrians emerge from their homes to take on the walkers closing in on the main cast. Setting the lake on fire to distract the herd was a great touch on top of everyone taking down zombies in a powerful, gruesome montage of solidarity. By daybreak, the battered group rests outside of the infirmary.
Meanwhile, Rick once again realizes the error of his shortsighted ways and tells an unconscious Carl about his hopes for the future. “Today, I saw what [the Alexandrians] could do,” he says, “what we could do, if we work together.” If nothing else, this might finally signal an end to the aggravating reign of the “Ricktator.”
TWD is, overall, as watchable as it has ever been. For those looking for effects outclassing any zombie flick and for more of Rick’s dramatic soliloquies, the remainder of Season 6 looks like it is going to deliver. Episode 10, “The Next World,” airs on Sunday at 9 p.m.