The Walking Dead Recap: Hostile Takeover

Austin Nichols as Spencer Monroe. Photo: Gene Page/AMC

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With tensions running high, the crowd gathered could wait no longer. At the first sign of an opening, they rushed in, overwhelming everything in their path and trampling whatever stood in their way. This was likely the scene at your local shopping mall on Friday, and was most certainly the scene last night at Alexandria, as the wall came tumbling down and we witnessed the beginning of the end of the safe zone. As mid-season finales go, this one was tantalizing and tension-filled, but didn’t quite deliver.

For starters, we knew someone had to die (a hunch all but confirmed by a commercial announcing an unnamed guest on Talking Dead). If there’s a god watching over all this undead misery, there would be a mercy double-killing of Eugene and Gabriel, who combined are only slightly more useful than Judith. Alas, no such luck. As the zombies swarm Alexandria, Deanna comes to Rick’s aid and gets chomped in the process. Let’s be honest — she’s looked like the walking dead for a couple episodes now, so it wasn’t much of a shock to see Deanna’s time was up.

In the aftermath of the zombie jailbreak, the survivors split into three groups — Rick, Jessie, their kids, Michonne, Gabriel, and Deanna hole up in Jessie’s house; Rosita, Tara, and Eugene take cover together; and Carol and Morgan hide out in the house with Denise and the Wolf prisoner. That leaves Spencer unaccounted for (and weirdly not mentioned by Deanna until she gives Rick those good-bye notes) and Maggie — after an intense ladder fail — stranded atop a lookout platform. The episode bounces back and forth between those three groups, along with a brief appearance by Glenn, who’s staying busy lecturing Enid and looking for a way into Alexandria.

Least exciting of the trio is Eugene’s crew, who do almost nothing until the mullet man reveals that he can pick a lock. The door they open leads them to a very ugly scene involving two unconscious pals and a hostage situation. In a classic Carol move, she faked a concussion — or at least faked a slow recovery — to catch Morgan off-guard and make a break for the Wolf. This seemed like a rather bad time to settle the matter of Morgan’s captive, given the once-peaceful town is now lousy with undead. Yet Carol would not be denied, and made it clear she’s willing to kill Morgan if that’s what it takes to drive her combat knife into the skull of that Wolf. Any thought she might be bluffing went out the window when Carol and Morgan threw down. Once again, Carol proved she would do just about anything if she thinks it will keep her people safe.

After Morgan knocked her out with a brutal body-slam, the Wolf — who’s clearly not as tied up as he should be — clubbed Morgan with his staff. There’s a creepy moment when Denise begs for mercy and the Wolf laughs as he tells her, “You’re what I like about people.” We never get an explanation for that line, thanks to Tara and Rosita’s failed ambush.

But the biggest shitshow is the scene at Jessie’s house. Carl tries to talk to Ron, who decides it’s time to get his revenge on the Grimes clan. The ensuing tussle is way more satisfying than their first slap-fight a few episodes ago. It’s also far more disastrous as Ron’s shovel breaks a window, giving the walkers outside easy access to the house. Carl then does some un-Carl-like stuff — wisely covering up for Ron so as to not create another distraction at this worst of times, and then pulling a total baller move on his nemesis. At gunpoint, Carl takes Ron’s piece, then drops some truth: “I get it. My dad killed your dad. But you need to know something. Your dad was an asshole.” Preach.

It doesn’t take long for the zombies to overrun Jessie’s house, leaving the survivors trapped upstairs with the second-scariest sight in Alexandria — Sam, who looks like he hasn’t slept in days (thanks, Carol) and has been listening to “Tiptoe Through the Tulips” on repeat. (Kudos to the subtle opening sequence, where we see an army of ants has invaded Sam’s room, much like the zombies will soon do to Alexandria.)

With Rick’s plan to make a run for the armory now in jeopardy, it’s time to reach into his old bag of tricks. Zombie-entrails camouflage, anyone? As Rick and Michonne start carving walkers like Thanksgiving turkeys (so seasonal, this episode), Gabe looks like he’s going to hurl, and Jessie and Ron look at Rick like he’s lost whatever’s left of his mind.

One of my favorite moments comes when Sam emerges from his bedroom. When was Jessie planning on letting the kid know that the Get the F Outta Here Express was leaving the station? Also love her pep talks — Sam, let’s pretend you’re actually brave and not a little fraidy-cat wussbag.

Miraculously, Judith remains silent underneath Carl’s gut-covered tarp as the poncho posse makes its way through the crowd. Of course, the same can’t be said for Sam. You had one job, kid: Shut your cookie hole. Yet the moment they’re off the porch, Sam starts yapping: “Mom. Mom!” Seems like their cover will be blown. And Rick, if he’s smart, will realize that no matter how hot Jessie is or how tight her lid reductions are, those two kids of hers are total deal-breakers.

As the action comes to a head, Michonne has a touching moment with Deanna, who encourages the sword-swinger to figure out what she wants out of this life. I never liked Deanna as much as I think TWD wanted me to, but she showed me something in her final moments — cracking wise about Rick’s beard, telling Michonne to “give 'em hell,” and deciding to use her last bullets to take out a couple walkers while letting out one last barbaric yawp. Meanwhile, the Wolf takes off with Denise at gunpoint and seemingly nowhere to go but into the zombie fray. And then there’s Glenn, who climbs a tree and sees Maggie stranded.

Perhaps the biggest lingering question — and the episode’s biggest letdown — was the absence of Daryl, Sasha, and the Sarge, who are driving a bomb on wheels and armed with a case full of RPGs. If you thought this trio would come cruising into Alexandria and create a much-needed diversion, well, that may not be so easy: As seen in the “prologue” for the next episode, an apocalyptic Sons of Anarchy stops their fuel truck. The biker gang’s leader is a sharp-tongued dude who banters like a Quentin Tarantino character. He calmly informs them that literally everything they own now belongs to someone by the name of Negan. Could that be the fellow who tracked down the couple who stole Daryl’s bike and crossbow?

(Fans of the comics know Negan as someone who may surpass the Governor in terms of sheer villainy. No potential spoilers here, but in the print series, Negan takes the life of a key character in a very violent way. Also, a brief note to AMC: This sneak peek ran during a commercial break of Into the Badlands. It’s rough enough that Talking Dead now airs at 11 p.m. instead of right after TWD. This scene felt less like a prologue for episode nine and more like an epilogue for this one — a major story line that was otherwise ignored, now addressed, and perhaps the night’s most mouthwatering moment. Enough with the cheap stunts to promote the network’s other shows, please.)

That’s a lot of loose ends, but none of them are jaw-droppers. Glenn will likely save Maggie. Most, if not the entire, poncho posse will survive. Rick’s armory plan will work well enough to at least allow them to get the hell out of Dodge. Morgan and Carol still have some business to settle, and it will be interesting to see who Rick sides with — his old pal, or the one survivor who’s even more ruthless than he is. Curious to see how this is all resolved, but these threads can wait until February to be tied up.

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