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THE WALKING DEAD Review: “JSS”

THE WALKING DEAD Review: “JSS”

Beware of Spoilers! Proceed with caution, survivors.

By the end of last season, there was little doubt in my mind that Carol and Morgan had become the two most fascinating characters on The Walking Dead. (Sorry, Daryl and Michonne, I’ll always love you.) But it was only a matter of time before their diametrically different viewpoints on surviving a zombie apocalypse would clash. Now, in “JSS”, the two get an entire episode devoted to that ideological clash, and it proves to be every bit as thrilling as the long-awaited conflict between the Wolves and Alexandria…

After last season’s revelation that the Wolves had photographs of the town and its defenses, we finally see their plan come to life. As Rick and the others are away, herding hordes of walkers, the human (a.k.a. deadliest) enemy launch an attack on Alexandria. Sparing no one, and taking clear delight in slaughtering the helpless citizens in the most gruesome manner imaginable. Axes, machetes, and knives meet brain tissue over and over and over again. With only Carl, Maggie, Carol, Morgan, and Rosita to protect them, the Alexandrians make it clear just how helpless they are in the face of a threat that Rick and his people have faced time and again. Yet no matter how many times they’ve faced it, and how skilled they’ve become at doing so, the emotional price they pay grows higher with every life they take. Nowhere is this clearer than when Carol kills a Wolf who’s slashed an Alexandrian, then plants her knife in the brain of the still living victim, whom she cradles in her arms. The look on Melissa McBride’s face as she pauses for a moment to sit and breathe in the weight of what she’s done is later echoed when she sheds a tear while handling the first Wolf victim’s cigarettes (which she went outside to smoke at Carol’s request); and it proves once more what a superb actress she’s become on this show. I still shake my head in amazement that this woman was little more than an extra in the The Walking Dead‘s first episodes.

While Carol demonstrates that, much as she might wish otherwise, she’s grown as proficient on the battlefield as she once was in the kitchen, Eugene and Tara do their best to provide moral support to Alexandria’s latest and most reluctant physician, Denise, who only “kind of wants to throw up.” Kudos to the writers for finding, in the midst of this week’s mayhem, character moments like Eugene’s advice to the new doc to not let fear dictate her life.

But the Morgan/Carol dichotomy is by far the greatest achievement in “JSS”, and the episode wastes no opportunities in examining it. There’s even some layered symbolism when, at one point, Morgan allows himself to pretend to be Carol’s captive as she infiltrates the wolf pack. Then he realizes he was also pretending to himself when he thought he could go along with her plan, and runs off to rescue Father Gabriel — preferring the role of savior to assassin. By the end of “JSS”, however, Morgan learns something Carol told Rick in the season 5 finale: he doesn’t get to choose.

Further symbolism (or perhaps foreshadowing) rears its head when Maggie gifts a still distraught Deanna with seeds, quoting Reg as she does so, and counseling her to resume her role as Alexandria’s leader. Methinks the farmer’s daughter may assume a more prominent leadership role in the days to come.

And Carl? Oh, Carl… Though he becomes the recipient of this episode’s titular advice (“Just Survive Somehow”), courtesy of Enid, he remains The Walking Dead‘s most potentially terrifying character for the levelheadedness and efficiency he shows during the Wolves’ attack. The closing moment in which he casually removes Carol’s dish from the oven after the timer goes off, reminds us that things change so quickly in this series’ universe that calm itself becomes foreign and strange.

There’s no greater example of this than in the episode’s final shot, when a quiet surrounds Carol and Morgan as they pass each other in the street in the wake of the attack. They take no notice of one another, so haunted is each by the fact that they’re now seeing the world through the other one’s eyes.

The Walking Dead 2

Undead Afterthoughts

— Did anyone else find the turtle-eating in this episode’s opening to be more disturbing than any people-eating we’ve seen in some time?

— “I made some miracles happen with water chestnuts.”

— Have we seen the last of the Wolves? If not, just how many more are out there?

— The character with the biggest question hanging over him at the end of this episode is Ron, whom I cared little for before “JSS”. After watching his mother slaughter a wolf, is he more likely to understand her feelings towards Rick? Less likely? The kid’s a plot firecracker just waiting to go off.

Eugene’s Evergreens

— “You’re my first patient and I’m pretty sure I can’t kill you.” “I mean, it is possible, if you miss a hematoma or something.”

What did you think of this week’s episode? Let me know in the comments below or on Twitter (@JMaCabre).

Image Credit: AMC

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