I recall not being that excited about this year’s mid-season finale of ‘The Walking Dead’. In fact, I didn’t even realize until this past weekend that it was time for the show to come back. As I settled in for this latest episode, I didn’t expect a whole lot to happen. Boy, was I wrong. Once again, the show clears the playing field for the next big storyline… and, as is true of most ‘Walking Dead’ seminal episodes, our heroes don’t get out of their mess unscathed.
This week’s entry picks up where the mid-season finale left off, starting with Daryl, Abe and Sasha confronting Negan’s biker gang (which doesn’t include the mysterious Negan, by the way). The leader of the pack (sorry, couldn’t resist) tells our heroes that everything they own now belongs to Negan and sends one of this thugs to go with Daryl to the back of the tanker truck to retrieve any extra materials they may be hiding. With Daryl out of sight, the leader threatens to shoot Abe and Sasha. Just when it looks like he’s about to pull the trigger on one or both of them, a large explosion blows up the entire gang. Daryl has come to the rescue. He killed the thug guarding him and used the rocket launcher on the rest.
Back at Alexandria, Rick and the others in his group move slowly among the Walkers. (They’ve covered themselves in Walker blood and guts to block their human scent.) Rick makes a change in plans and decides that instead of going to the armory as originally intended, they should try to get to their vehicles. Gabriel volunteers to take baby Judith back to his makeshift church to watch over her. Jesse wants him to take young Sam as well, but Sam insists on staying with his mom and the group. After he whines enough, Jesse agrees. Big mistake, mom.
Morgan, Carol, Rosita, Tara and Eugene are still holed up together waiting for the right opportunity to make a break for it. Meanwhile, Glenn and Enid go into a church outside the town walls, where Glenn hopes to find some weapons. Glenn wants to find a way to distract the Walkers surrounding Maggie (who’s stuck up on one of the community lookout towers) so Enid can help get her down.
The bigger question here is how many churches does Alexandria have? There was clearly a church earlier this season where the steeple collapsed and broke part of the wall surrounding the town. (That’s how the Walkers got through in the first place.) Now we see this fully intact church (there’s an exterior shot and it’s undamaged, steeple and all), plus Gabriel is making use of a building for his own church (although, at one point at least, he clearly had two other options).
The best scene in this week’s episode happens at the mid-way point. When night falls on the town, Rick, Jesse, Carl, Michonne, Sam and Ron move their way slowly through the swarm of Walkers. Sam suddenly remembers what Carol told him earlier (about how he was going to get eaten alive) and starts to panic and cry. Sure enough, a couple of Walkers chomp down on him. This freaks Jesse out and, in turn, she’s attacked by Walkers as well. Jesse has a firm grip on Carl’s hand and won’t let go, so Rick uses his hatchet to chop off Jesse’s arm and free his son. This outrages Ron, who pulls his gun on Rick. Michonne, however, impales Ron with her katana, killing him… but not before a shot goes off and blows out Carl’s right eye. Picking up his son, Rick rushes him to the town’s infirmary.
However, Alexandria’s only doctor, Denise, isn’t currently at the infirmary. She’s been taken hostage by the big, bad Wolf who Morgan had been watching over (only to have him escape in the prior episode). After hiding out for a while, the Wolf decides that he and Denise are going to make a break for it, only to get his arm bitten while he’s out among the Walkers. Denise promises to save him if they can get back to the infirmary, but Carol sees them going by and shoots the Wolf. Denise manages to make it to the infirmary on her own, where Aaron, Spencer and Heath have been staying during all the chaos. Rick finally makes it there with Carl, and Denise immediately goes to work on his damaged eye. In a state of shock over what has happened, Rick heads outside and he uses his hatchet to kill as many Walkers as he can.
Rick’s act of insanity soon turns into a stand of heroics as the other members of the Alexandria community (including the three guys from the infirmary and everyone in Carol and Morgan’s group) join to help him. Even Gabriel goes outside to join in as well (he gets others in his church to watch Judith), claiming that God has saved them by giving them the courage to save themselves.
During the big fight, there’s a wonderful montage (the episode was directed by special effects guru Greg Nicotero) where everyone fighting the Walkers gets a pose shot in the action, which proves to be a nice nod to this series’ comic book origins. As Rick and the others are battling, Glenn distracts the Walkers around the lookout tower so Enid can help Maggie. Glenn gets surrounded up against one of the community’s walls, and just when it looks like he might be a goner (again!), machine gun fire wipes out the Walkers around him. It’s Abe and Sasha, who have arrived to save the day. Daryl is back too, and pumps the gasoline from the tanker truck into the small pond in the middle of the community – setting it on fire and luring the remaining Walkers (who love fire so much they’ll walk right into it) to their deaths.
The next morning, with the streets of Alexandria literally filled with dead Walkers, Rick watches over an unconscious Carl in the infirmary. Carl’s eye and head are now bandaged up. Rick tells his son how he had hoped to create a new world for him, and the final shot of the episode has Carl squeezing his father’s hand.
This is a fantastic episode and will probably be remembered in the Top 10 once all is said and done with this series. It has a lot of great action, some surprising deaths (guess Rick will need to find a new love interest now), and is one of the few entries in this series where viewers come away with some real hope about these characters, despite all the tragedy around them.