Remember all that stuff I said last week about piece-moving episodes, which exist just to force characters into place for big events to come?
Somehow, "East," the penultimate episode of The Walking Dead's sixth season, makes those mistakes to an even larger degree. It's a better episode than last week's "Twice as Far," largely because it's not trying to do nearly as much with one hour of TV.
But it's also an episode that exists almost entirely to get everybody out from within the safe confines of Alexandria and into the wide open, where the Saviors can round them up. It makes all of the characters seem phenomenally hot-headed and stupid.
It's certainly not the most promising setup for a finale The Walking Dead has been hyping since before season six began. To be sure, some of that isn't the show's fault — fans of the source comics have been buzzing about what seems likely to happen in next week's finale for years — but it's still a weird position to be in. Essentially everything is riding on one episode of television, and that's never a good thing for a show as inconsistent as The Walking Dead.
Here are five big questions "East" left me with, ranked from most to least serious.
1) Everybody in Alexandria knows the Saviors are still out there, right?
At the very least, Daryl, Rosita, Abraham, and Eugene know there's a threatening group of unknown size, which has no intention of playing nice with our gang. You'd think this knowledge would cause everybody to hang out behind the walls of Alexandria, where they would theoretically have a better chance at staving off an attack.
Daryl races off into the middle of nowhere to have his revenge, and others follow. Meanwhile, Rick and Morgan chase after Carol (who left under somewhat random circumstances in the last episode).
The latter makes some degree of sense — Carol could probably seriously injure all of the remaining Saviors just by thinking about doing so (and pretty much does when she meets a few out on the road), and that would make her a valuable person to have around.
But sending so many other characters (most of whom chase after Daryl) to face the Saviors feels like a pretty big cheat. It's obvious that The Walking Dead needs to put as many regular characters as possible in harm's way, in the name of maximizing suspense for the finale. And it's not afraid to cut corners to get there.
2) Just how many Saviors are left anyway?
This question is actually a compliment in disguise. One thing I like about how this arc has transpired is the way the characters have genuinely had a reason to believe they've mostly killed off the Saviors, only to find that's very much not the case. The group that Dwight commands is sizable, and it stands to reason there are others out there.
I kind of like the fog of war aspect of this particular storyline. Rick's plan to preemptively kill off the Saviors seems to have backfired, with the large numbers of them who keep pouring out of the woods, and he may have found himself stuck with a conflict that he started but didn't expect to run this long.
A few weeks ago, one of you suggested in comments that this particular storyline was running parallel to the history of US foreign policy after the 9/11 terrorist attacks, right down to the gigantic crisis that began when a tower collapsed in Alexandria. And it's easy to see how Rick's preemptive strike on the Saviors can now be seen as a quagmire of a war he can't get out of, all because he overestimated his ability to quash the Saviors without a hitch.
3) Is Daryl going to make it out of this one alive?
As "East" ends, Dwight aims a gun at Daryl, then pulls the trigger. It might seem, at first, like another example of the show putting a character in danger for a cheap cliffhanger, something similar to how Glenn found himself nearly eaten up by zombies earlier in the season. (Remember that?!)
But the scene is also sort of hilariously overcompensating for the Glenn reaction, because not only do we see that Dwight is aiming low enough that Daryl will probably just have some killer pain and a new bullet-shaped souvenir in his shoulder, but we also hear (over the black of the episode's final cut to black) Dwight assure Daryl that he's going to be alright.
So the answer to whether Daryl will live seems to be, "Yes." But on a larger level, I'm starting to wonder if Daryl isn't running out of time. Season six has seen The Walking Dead cast about for something for him to do, and the more it seems at a loss, the more I think it might just send him away forever.
4) Is The Walking Dead just coupling everybody up to start killing characters off?
Last week's episode killed off Denise (which frustrated many in the show's fandom, who are tired of lesbian characters dying so often and so meaninglessly on TV). As I reflected on that death, I realized something: For a show that has often seemed completely bored by sex and romance, The Walking Dead has sure featured a lot of it lately.
And with Denise's death, we see one big reason why shows pair characters off: They figure they can get some quick emotional resonance from killing one half of a happy couple. Denise didn't just die; she died after finding the can of Orange Crush that had so eluded her all season long, the one she was going to use to make Tara happy.
Many of the characters the Saviors have captured by episode's end, including Michonne and Glenn, are in couples either long-established or recently established on the show. It's starting to feel like the season six finale might tug mercilessly at the heartstrings, which could be an ace in the hole.
Warning: Major comic spoilers follow. Abandon ship! If you want to take part in this week's live chat, scroll past. I won't put anything major in the subhead.
5) Is Negan going to break the show?
For as tired as I am of the Walking Dead death pool, it seems certain that the show will have Negan (who will be played by Jeffrey Dean Morgan) kill off a beloved character when he first appears in the season six finale airing April 3. My money (in case you haven't already guessed) is on Daryl, but Glenn, the character he killed in the comics, is also being held by the Saviors.
Michonne is also in captivity, but I can't imagine the show killing her off at this point in time. So it's down to the two guys, and since The Walking Dead likes to zig where the comics zag, that puts Daryl in line to be the next character to leave the show in unceremonious fashion.
More importantly, however, I'm wondering if Negan will ruin the show in the same way he did great harm to the comics.
The show has never been great at developing human antagonists, and as written in the comics, Negan is less a character than a collection of violent tics and vaguely sociopathic tendencies. He seems, at all times, like a blatant attempt to one-up the Governor, and may I remind you that the show completely failed to do anything interesting with the Governor?
Negan barely worked in the comics. I just can't imagine the show doing anything worthwhile with him. But I'd love to be proved wrong!
Agree? Disagree? Tell me what you think in comments. I'll be here from noon Eastern on to talk about this show and pop culture with you.
Please answer my question as well! Who's a character added relatively late in a show's run whom you just love? I'll have my answer down in comments.