“Going to war, to prevent war, was the most stupid thing I’d ever heard,” sang The King Blues. While they may have been right about the current Middle East conflict, there are still points to be made in favor of the pre-emptive strike. If a violent conflict is as certain as night following day, then don’t wait for your enemy to roll up at your gates with a tank or launch a mass assault while most of your fighters are away dealing with another problem. You take the fight to them before they even know it’s started. At least that what Rick Grimes would have you believe in March 2016 as he looks to go Rick 3:16 on The Saviours.
Not Tomorrow Yet – Rick returns to Alexandria with news of their Hilltop deal but not everyone can get behind his “kill them first” philosophy. The group still makes their move against The Saviours in a daring night raid against their compound.
Well, despite a gentle going first half, this episode may just be the most nervous and tense episode of The Waking Dead to date! Removing hands from animals, small children and loved ones that don’t deserve a bit it is strongly recommended as soon as the group roles up on The Saviour’s compound. The pulsing soundtrack and slow creeping movements of the group all grind everything together into a giant nerve-stretching tease over just when things will hit the fan. Then, there are killings themselves, which are nothing short of horrific, and director Greg Nicotero really captures the emotions involved. Despite several indicators in this episode alone, that these a seriously bad people, the tone does not detract away from the murderous approach being used as Saviours get knifed in their sleep (building on the great early reference about Rick being even scarier than them). Glen and Heath’s scene sells this for best as they both find themselves having to make their first ever human kills with no shortage of hesitation. Then by contrast, once all hell breaks loose, the action becomes frantic, desperate and absolutely captivating. It delivers a worthy payoff to all the build-up with shock and awe aplenty. The very surprising MVP of it all turns out to be Father Gabriel in his new outlook of being useful but still seeing himself as a priest. Quentin Tarantino would have been proud of his feature scripture-quoting moment. The way he becomes so deeply unsettling while staying soft spoken is a delightful kind of psychotic. In barely a minute, he completely atones for all his many blander episodes because this end game is most definitely worth suffering through all that.
The really great thing about this episode is that for all the action, horror, and tension, there’s a hell of a lot of good comedy amongst it too. In cases, it’s even superbly dropped into the more serious moment, especially concerning a certain featured walker head: from Rick’s facial reconstructive surgery to the guard’s improv puppetry, it’s as funny as Prisoner of Azkaban’s talking head but without that annoying Jamaican accent. It really speaks to the strength of Seth Hoffman’s script (also penned the mid-saeson premier, No Way Out) of how easily it can switch between serious and silly modes. There really isn’t a mistep this week. Some of Morgan’s pacifist angle feels weaker but still has overall purpose in balancing out the morality of Rick’s “Us or them” approach. Similarly, the relationship developments between Tara and Denise aren’t as satisfying as others this week but particularly Tara’s later confessions deliver some really human moments (you have to love her confessing to both a priest and Jesus). These few lesser effective moments are much like Carol’s cookies. They may not have the immediate appeal of double chocolate chip but their acorn and beet filling is still sweet and satisfying if you’re willing to take a bite.
Any episode that gives Carol a significant role will be rewarding, and this is no exception. It’s a mixture and parody fun on the duality of her personality as she goes into full housewife mode with the opening musical montage. Yet it’s a later efforts and drilling down into the emotional side of her “Rambo mode” that really gets interesting. In the past, Melissa McBride has made it feel like Carol has a Lt. Commander Data like ability to switch her feelings off when her more specialized skills are required. Instead, we see that it does have ramifications on her mental state and despite dismissing Morgan’s concerns, she does feel some degree of guilt from actions. Although it’s Tobin that makes the most interesting observations about Carol as despite being terrified of her capabilities, he speculates that she can do them because she sees herself as a mother figure to the group. A momma bear prepared to do whatever it takes to protect her own (just ask Leo). This even turns into an interesting conflict with mother to be Maggie. When Carol tries to stop her joining the fight, it’s symbolic of Carol examining herself and not wanting Maggie to become like her because even the biggest momma bears will always get killed eventually (just ask Leo). The apparent pairing of Carol and Tobin could have been a hard sell but it works well for both characters. It brings Tobin back into a significant role within the group, and it’s enjoyable to see Carol finding some happiness after everything she’s endured.
Things are much more abrupt and brutal when it comes to Abraham and Rosita’s separation. It comes as no surprise after Abraham discarded her necklace last time, but even by the big guy’s standards, it’s a sub zero departure. As much as we’re feeling for Rosita (Christian Serratos has her best scene ever on the show as she falls apart), the script does make an interesting point about the difficulties of love in surviving an apocalypse, “When I first met you I thought you were the last woman on Earth.... you’re not”. It’s still one of the most brutal dumping lines ever committed to the small screen but at least we get some idea of the big guy’s thought process.
In their recent honest trailer, the guys at Screen Junkies claimed you only get 2 great episodes per block of 8. Well with this and No Way Out, that makes it 2 out of 4 magnificent episodes, and we haven’t even seen a certain baseball bat wielding villain yet. So it looks like that theory has been firmly smashed right in the junkies. This is once again the Walking Dead at its very best: able to rip your heart out one minute before laughing your ass off the next. Maybe it isn’t tomorrow just yet but today is one hell of a day.