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The Walking Dead season 6, episode 12: 5 things that made this the best episode in months

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Finally, an episode where Rick Grimes isn't 100 percent right all of the time.

Rick proposes a plan that might lead to disaster, and it goes a little bit wrong. Finally!
Rick proposes a plan that might lead to disaster, and it goes a little bit wrong. Finally!
Emily St. James was a senior correspondent for Vox, covering American identities. Before she joined Vox in 2014, she was the first TV editor of the A.V. Club.

The Walking Dead's biggest problem has always been that Rick Grimes is never wrong. Yes, he's the protagonist. Yes, he's been through a lot. And, yes, he's always the guy leading the charge. But the show rarely addresses the fact that sometimes his ideas are terrible.

My most fervent hope is that "Not Tomorrow Yet," the 12th episode of The Walking Dead's sixth season and one of the best episodes in ages, will mark a turning point for the show in this regard. The hour sees Rick unleash a plan that is simultaneously completely understandable and completely horrifying — and by episode's end, he realizes just how badly he's miscalculated.

My deepest fear is that "Not Tomorrow Yet" is just a temporary low point for Rick and the gang, that Rick's disastrous plan will be resolved via improbable means and everything will return to normal, with nobody ever questioning Rick's plans again.

Yet I can't help but think there's no way Rick gets out of this without losing the faith of at least some of his followers. The events of "Not Tomorrow Yet" are big enough that they should reset the status quo entirely.

Here are five ways "Not Tomorrow Yet" improved on what's been a listless half-season so far.

1) It really did make Alexandria seem like a place worth fighting for

Carol makes beet cookies.
Carol's beet cookies are an absolute delight.

The first few sections of "Not Tomorrow Yet" are set in Alexandria, right before Rick and his group return from Hilltop. And they're surprisingly delightful, largely because they're centered on Carol, whom The Walking Dead has shunted toward the background a bit this season.

Carol wanders around Alexandria, making cookies out of beets, toasting acorns, and dressing up in nicer clothes. She's having a great time just living her life, and we get a taste of a romance that's been building between her and Tobin, an Alexandrian man. (The relationship is actually one of the episode's sour notes, considering how little foreshadowing we've had for it.)

But the boost Alexandria enjoys in "Not Tomorrow Yet" goes beyond even Carol's cookie adventures. Consider the very sweet moment between Tara and Denise, with the former telling the latter for the first time that she loves her. Or the pain on Morgan's face when he realizes what the group is going to do to defend Alexandria. And even though Morgan can't condone it, he also doesn't try to stop it, not really. On some level, he wants this place to survive too.

2) The episode's centerpiece sequence is nauseating

Glenn kills someone for the first time.
Glenn contemplates the horrible thing he's about to do.

A lengthy portion of "Not Tomorrow Yet" focuses on Rick and his compatriots silently moving through the Saviors' compound and killing people in their sleep. And instead of trying to pump up viewers about how this is a great development, the key to saving Alexandria, director Greg Nicotero lets you feel every single terrible moment of the raid.

In particular, Nicotero focuses on Glenn, who has never killed a human being before, as he murders two, both of whom are asleep and completely defenseless. Sure, once the Saviors are awakened (after one who's gotten up in the middle of the night stumbles upon the Alexandrians and sounds the alarm), they're a formidable fighting force. But in their sleep, they're as susceptible as anybody else.

Nicotero takes his time, focusing on the sleeping soon-to-be corpses. And then, instead of showing us the gore of their demise, which could feel too celebratory, he cuts away to the faces of the people who are killing them. It's a disturbing series of images, one that seems engaged with the horrors that Rick and his friends are perpetrating. If the Saviors strike back in full vengeance mode, they'll have no one to blame but themselves.

3) The big action sequence is ... chaotic

Glenn and Heath
Glenn and Heath pause in firing, hoping they're safe.

If there's one big mark against "Not Tomorrow Yet," it's that everything that happens after the one Savior sounds the alarm and before daylight breaks is complete chaos, and not in a particularly helpful way.

I suspect Nicotero intended for this sequence to reflect the utter terror felt by Rick and his gang as they tried to flee an unfamiliar compound while also killing as many of the Saviors as possible. In a situation like that, battle plans would fall apart. Everyone would be forced to fend for themselves, and it would be incredibly disorienting and messy.

But the problem in "Not Tomorrow Yet" is that the audience gets lost as well. When the characters are racing for the outside, it's never immediately clear where they are in proximity to each other, let alone the exit.

At the very least, knowing the former would help a lot. Even if we can't see how close the characters are to the exit, just knowing where they are in relation to each other would help instantly position us when the episode cuts between the various small groups of them.

It's still an exciting, tense sequence, but all that pandemonium only serves to undercut the dramatic stakes.

4) Morgan comes back to the forefront

Morgan on The Walking Dead.
Morgan doesn't agree with what Rick proposes doing.

After The Walking Dead's midseason finale, I fretted that Morgan's desire to stop the Alexandrians from killing anyone would be done for, now that the Wolf he had tried to save had proved duplicitous in the end.

Fortunately, "Not Tomorrow Yet" more or less revives Morgan's reasons for his philosophical bent. Not only does his "maybe we don't need to kill anyone" philosophy feel a little starker in the face of what Rick and company do to the Saviors, but his commitment to what he believes has weathered that earlier test and stood firm.

Even in the face of everyone trying to tell him how wrong he is, Morgan maintains his convictions. This philosophical debate hasn't been the most interesting part of The Walking Dead's sixth season or anything like that, but it's been better handled than most of the show's other forays into this territory, and I'm at least tentatively interested to see how it all turns out.

5) The cliffhanger is actually exciting for once

Somebody's watching the gang.
Somebody's watching...

As the episode ends, we learn that the Saviors have Carol and Maggie. Maggie's kidnapping is visible from a mile away (thanks to the fact that people keep telling her she shouldn't be along on the mission), but Carol's is a surprise. She's been so capable for so long that I guess I thought she was infallible.

Heading into the season's final four episodes, then, The Walking Dead seems to have shaken off its malaise, at least a little bit. It's possible we'll just drop right back into stories about how the residents of Hilltop settle political disputes, but I somehow doubt that will be the case.

At its best, The Walking Dead balances the hope of a better future against the brutality of its zombie-infested present. "Not Tomorrow Yet" wasn't perfect in this regard, but it was as close as the show has gotten to it in season six.

Did you like this episode too? Join me at noon Eastern for our weekly culture chat. Ask me your questions in comments!

Eugene on The Walking Dead.
People not to have an emotional moment in front of include Eugene.

Think I'm crazy to enjoy this episode so much? Tell me! I'll be by at noon Eastern for 90 minutes to chat about Walking Dead and all other culture-related topics. And answer my question as well: What TV show do you think is most improved by binge-watching it?