“No one gets to clock out today, and hell, this is a story people are going to tell”.
What a way to kick off the latter half of season 6. The Walking Dead has always been strongest when the crew are scattering smaller character moments within a big action set piece, and “No Way Out” mostly played to those strengths, showing off an improved, more confident set of Alexandrians (particularly Denise) as they stepped up to the plate when others (particularly Sam) stepped down and threatened to bring it all tumbling with them.
Handled with a necessary urgency, Director Greg Nicotero does a fine job zooming in and out of the various situations between the ensemble cast, and Seth Hoffman’s script is full of fan-satisfying dialogue, including highlights from Glenn, Father Gabriel, and nice one-liners from Denise, Eugene and Abraham. Although, there are still a few issues here and there that, while understandable, keep “No Way Out” from being the excellent episode it should have been.
With so much happening and all at once, there isn’t much room for anything but clumsy pacing that requires some suspension of disbelief, particularly the ‘big scene’ from the comics, where in one quick succession the characters of Sam, Jessie, and Ron are wiped off the map and Carl is seriously injured. There’s a lot to take in here and though time is slowed a bit so we can really get the gravity of the situation, it’s unbelievable that some walkers would stay away just to basically let these characters have their scene (walkers are not polite). That teaser at the end of episode 8, with Sam yelling out for his mother in the crowd of walkers should have meant a more immediate chain of events, rather it was stretched to the middle of the episode, a contrivance that unfortunately dulled the impact of the shocking scene, along with the very strange choice to flash up these images of Jessie as if we had to be reminded that she meant something to Rick, only to have those images turn red when he freed Carl from her grasp with his axe. And to think all of this might have been avoided if Carol didn’t troll Sam with all those stories about monsters.
Contrivances are really what brings many of the scenes down in the end. The Walking Dead is a cash cow right now, it is one of the most salient slices of pop culture that television has seen in a decade and that means there are many different audiences – of all ages – that the show needs to cater to. For such a big, anticipated return like a mid-season premiere, The Walking Dead needs to twist and turn itself to produce those fist-pumping, Michael Bay-esque moments; moments like Daryl taking out a guy behind a truck without anyone knowing and then saving Abraham and Sasha with a rocket launcher (admittedly a very cool surprise); moments like Abraham and Sasha then showing up at the very last second to mow down walkers with assault rifles and save Glenn’s life (because teasing Glenn’s death is one of the show’s biggest cards now); moments like Daryl’s ‘ingenious’ plan to light the lake on fire and distract all the walkers, attracting them to their death despite previous episodes indicating that fire doesn’t kill walkers. These obvious stabs at tension-relief are great to see at times, but there are just too many of them in “No Way Out”.
Though, one that does work is Rick going absolutely insane on walkers, thereby inspiring all of Alexandria to knuckle up and take on this overwhelming herd head-on. It’s helped along by zingers like the Eugene quote seen above, and a more wordy speech by Father Gabriel, who confidently tells others that god has given them the courage to face up to the walkers.
This ‘Alexandrians stepping up’ set works because it’s been built up carefully ever since Rick and his group joined the community. Up until that point most of the Alexandrians were cowardly and ultimately unlikable, but in that very instant all that changed and we, as viewers, felt a surge of excitement. It was handled well with graphics of each character having a little hack-and-slash with the herd, a good choice as opposed to watching them kill walkers one by one – there were just too many of them.
Carol and Morgan’s current situation was handled well, but again there were pacing issues and a little nugget of unnecessary expository dialogue (“you turned back for me, maybe it was because you needed a doctor, or maybe you’ve changed”) as if the show felt the need to spell out the whole reason for the arc and mollycoddle viewers (again, a product of it’s popularity). I like how subtle the wolf’s ‘humanising’ was handled as he essentially saved Denise’s life and in a way validated Morgan’s philosophy, and then there was the poetry of Carol killing him anyway. Again, this brings it back to plot contrivance as Denise needed to survive to be in the infirmary to treat Carl. Had she not been needed at the moment and at that time it would have made for much more interesting TV if we spent a little more time seeing how Morgan may have been right about the wolf all along.
“No Way Out” was a good mix of tragedy and triumph but the need to make this a big, adrenaline-rush of an episode did hold things back at times. There is no way anyone could put up a serious argument about this not being an entertaining hour of television, but it’s hard to ignore the issues which plague these ‘big’ episodes of The Walking Dead and will continue to do so as long as there’s a need to live up to the big commercial reputation this show has.
Review Score: THREE STARS (OUT OF FIVE)
- Alexandria taking these walkers head on
- Glenn willing to sacrifice himself for Maggie
- Father Gabriel being useful
- Morgan may have gotten through to the wolf (but we’ll never know)
- Sam and Ron finally biting the dust
- Denise determined to save Carl
- Daryl’s rocket launcher
- Strange pacing at times
- Contrived scenes
- Execution of the ‘Carl getting shot’ scene took away some of the drama; walkers kindly letting it unfold without attacking.
- Not much talk between Morgan and Carol
- I’m not sure what time it was when Rick, Michonne etc started their gut-covered slow-walk through the herd but the show switching from day to night may indicate that it took hours and hours to even get halfway, which would in turn mean the wolf and Denise were crouching in that townhouse for hours on end. The pacing just feels off.
- If those walkers died from walking into that fire then the show has a big consistency issue on their hands.
- When talking to Enid, Glenn mentions a few lost ones that he’s still living for – but he doesn’t mention Noah, the most recent loss and one which had a big effect on him. He doesn’t mention T-Dog either, and he <i>loved</i> T-Dog. That was an oversight.
- That’s the SECOND time Glenn has almost been overwhelmed by walkers only to be saved by a round of AR fire. The first was in Season 4 when he was in the cave with a trapped Tara.
Episode MVPs: Rick and Daryl.
The Walking Dead airs on FX every Monday at 1:30pm and 7:30pm.