Beautifully constructed television at its finest, the sixth season of The Walking Dead has come out firing on all cylinders. Whether it was the zombie-heavy hour last week that featured the A-Team characters or the Wolf attack on the B-Team back in Alexandria that defined this hour, the pace is relentless and the buffet full. There is something in these hours for everyone, whether its the lovingly-detailed makeup on the zombies, the cinematic direction, or the small character moments (you know, like Jessie letting her lethal repressed rage out on a Wolf that invaded her home).
The horn that derailed Rick’s grand scheme last week was indeed, as speculated, a result of the Wolves’ attack on Alexandria. But in a slight twist, it was Deanna’s last surviving son Spencer who caused the sound when he prevented a truck from breaching the community’s gates. Spencer manages to get to the truck but can’t bring himself to kill the zombie. Fortunately, everyone’s favorite character Morgan’s stick (oh, and Morgan too) arrives to kill the zombie and turn off the horn.
It began as a normal day in Alexandria. With Rick leading a group on the supposed dry-run of his plan (which unbeknownst to the residents was being executed right then), it left Carol, Maggie, Tara, Eugene, Rosita, Carl and Gabriel behind with the less-able Alexandrians. All is not well with the Andersons; Sam has to be sternly told off by Carol and Ron is having none of his mom’s haircuts or excuses. Carol sets a hour timer to bake a casserole. Maggie does her best to rouse a despondent Deanna with platitudes and metaphors about gardening (if you couldn’t tell, I wasn’t with that scene at all).
Enid, who’s backstory (she saw her parents eaten alive from her car window and spent months surviving solo before arriving) was shown in the pre-credits sequence from whence the episode’s title, “JSS,” conveniently chooses then to say goodbye to Carl after he sees her hugging Ron. Apparently, this was always in the cards with her because Alexandria is too big and weak or something.
Of course, she only mentions her concerns once the Wolves attack. And attack they do, offing Alexandrian redshirts left and right. We knew little about this group prior to the episode, other than their likes: Ws, zombie traps and dislikes: bathing. They’re revealed to be little-more than savages, people who reverted to a primal state upon the zombie apocalypse. They revel in the violence, wielding hand-held weapons like machetes and hatchets rather than guns and sadistically mutilating bodies far past death.
The two who held Morgan up in last season’s finale “Conquer” returned to confront him separately. One led five surviving Wolves away after Morgan implemented his mental jiu-jitsu on them. He picked up a Chekov’s gun on his way out. The other, the Alpha leader, sought to ambush him in a house. Morgan laid the smack down on him until it dawned on the savage psycho. “You won’t do it, will you?” He smirked. “You should’ve.” Morgan replied with an “I’m sorry” and, I thought, killed him but its possible he merely knocked him unconscious.
Morgan continues to form the emotional spine of this season as the only character to figure prominently both weeks and how his “all life is precious” approach differs with the “take no prisoners” approaches of Rick last week and Carol this week. The latter’s dichotomy was played up this week, with Carol flat-out killing a prisoner Morgan had painstakingly bound. Of course, we know what happened the last time someone on this show decided to let their enemies go (*cough*cannibals*cough*). On a side note, I hope they avoid the trap of having Morgan repeat similar notes of Tyreese’s storyline which also concerned a peaceful black dude who absolutely did NOT want to fight or kill.
Carol’s timer goes off and Carl removes the food, a clever reminder that the episode happened more-or-less in real time. Enid made good on her promise to leave, revealing the titular acronym “Just survive somehow.” A little underwhelming but ok.
Wandering the bloodied streets, Aaron discovers his backpack – the same one he left behind in last season’s finale that enabled the Wolves to attack Alexandria. Actor Ross Marquand makes the most of his limited screentime this episode (who doesn’t love a badass gay after all?) and this moment was a perfect example of the deft touch that Scott M. Gimple has brought to this drama since he took over in Season 4.
No longer are characters allowed to remain sketches to be erased via zombie tool. These are people and we care about them and their future. That, above the action, the direction, and the pace, is what makes the start of The Walking Dead‘s sixth season the best in the show’s history.