Okay, Walking Dead. You knew you had something to prove after Glenngate stalled the first half of this season. We don’t need every story line tied up neatly — that ain’t the kind of world these folks inhabit — but you reveled a little too much in that “Is Glenn dead?” debate that dragged on for weeks. The mid-season finale left us with a few tantalizing loose ends to ponder, but nothing that had me white-knuckling my couch since November. How far would Rick’s gore-suited gang make it before Sam had a meltdown? Would Daryl’s tanker get past the poor man’s Sons of Anarchy? Where will they all go after Alexandria falls? My level of suspense, in a word: eh.
Well, here’s my slow clap. “No Way Out” isn’t just a much-needed shot of adrenaline — it’s one of the most exciting episodes of the entire series.
Before we dig into the gory details, consider a keen observation by Eugene: Rosita calls him out for being a useless fleshbag, but the mullet man insists he’s finally ready to fight. “No one gets to clock out today,” he says. “And hell, this is a story people are going to tell.” There’s a real-world parallel here, given that Alexandria was the site of the Civil War’s first casualties. In a sense, the zombie apocalypse is a second civil war. If humanity somehow survives and society is somehow rebuilt, you can imagine tales from the Battle of Alexandria being taught in future history classes — that grim day in which all seemed lost, until two groups of survivors united to reclaim their overrun town with some old-fashioned butt-whooping and military-grade weaponry.
The opening scene sets the tone for what’s to come: Life-threatening peril, unexpected death, and a big-ass explosion. Daryl, Sarge, and Sasha have been tanker-jacked by some bikers who answer to a dude named Negan. (For fans of the comic, this is a huge moment. The Negan of the comics is so villainous, he makes the Governor look like a concerned dad who got carried away with swords and gunplay.) Sarge hesitates to hand over his gun, and the gang spokesperson gives him a colorful lecture that sounds like something he’d say himself: “If you have to eat shit, best not to nibble. Bite, chew, swallow, repeat. It goes quicker.” Just when it looks like Sasha and the Sarge are about to eat lead, Daryl makes use of that RPG, blowing the bikers to pieces. Moments before we see the mouthy henchman’s charred severed head, the Sarge gets the last laugh: “Nibble on that.”
From there, we’re back inside Alexandria, where the odds of survival seem Powerball-slim: Zombies are everywhere, the survivors are scattered, Maggie’s alone on a lookout tower, Denise is in the clutches of a Wolf, and Sam is freaking out. We even get a moment of unintentional comedy when Gabe steps up to protect Judith, so Rick can lead the Hands Across Alexandria crew out of town. (Remember how Sam was listening to “Tiptoe Through the Tulips” in the last episode? Clever foreshadowing.) The look on baby Judy’s face seems to say, “Uh, dad? You’re leaving me with this guy?” Even funnier is when Jessie tries to pawn Sam off on the priest. (Hey Sam, you’d be so much safer staying here. Remember how you wanted to be a babysitter? Now’s your big chance, buddy!) She senses what we know: Sam is a ticking time bomb.
You could argue that everything that follows is kind of Carol’s fault. It quickly gets dark, and all Sam can hear is Carol’s horror stories in his head. Can you blame the kid for freaking out? He knows that he’s zombie food. Sam freezes, starts whimpering, and eventually, a couple of walkers realize it’s dinnertime. Annoying as he was, it’s tough to see a child get his face chewed off (though I’m sure a few of you sickos cheered). Jessie screams in horror, and within seconds, she’s draped in undead too. (The lesson: When you hook up with Rick Grimes, you’re a goner.) Rick doesn’t have much time to reflect on his lost love, though; Jessie has a literal death grip on Carl. Out comes his ax … desperate times, indeed.
So, let’s say you’re that punk-ass Ron. You’ve watched Rick shoot your father, cozy up to your mother, then concoct a plan that turned her and your little brother into a zombie buffet before your eyes. Oh, and Carl stole your girl. Naturally, you’re going into vengeance mode. The good news: Michonne runs Ron through just before he can fire his gun. The bad: Carl takes a bullet to his right eye. How does Carl survive after getting shot in the head at point-blank range? It’s really no less logical than a psychiatrist saving his life. Details, details.
The rest of “No Way Out” toggles between the other survivors: Glenn and Enid on a mission to save Maggie; Carol and Morgan’s crew laying low; Aaron, Spencer, and Heath in the “Alexandrians we still care about” camp; and Denise with her Wolf kidnapper. Like Morgan, Denise is determined to save him — homicidal tendencies, the worst teeth this side of the grave, and zombie bites be damned. For a moment, it seems like she’s getting through to him. Cue Carol and her heater! Morgan still believes Carol hasn’t lost her humanity, despite her cold-blooded moves and tough talk. If he’s right, though, Carol is holding onto it by a thread and losing her grip.
As Carl lays in the makeshift ER, Rick’s sorrow and white-hot rage take over. Axe in hand, he wades into the zombie horde and chops away like a madman. Of course, Michonne is compelled to save him from himself. But then, a funny thing happens. Everyone from Father Gabe and Eugene to Carol’s crew to the lily-livered Alexandrians join the melee. (If TWD were a musical, this would be the climactic tune, as the survivors rush out to stand shoulder-to-shoulder and fight. It’s the Jets versus the Sharks, people! Let’s work on a treatment.) The montage of rage is one of the episode’s most inspired moments — quick cuts of each survivor furiously hacking and slashing, the carnage speeding up until we end, fittingly, with Rick.
Yet the odds still favor the dead. Rick’s gang is backed up to the wall. Glenn has lured the walkers away from Maggie, but he’s surrounded. Just when it looks like he’s really doomed, Sarge and Sasha mow down his attackers, Rambo-style. (How does Glenn not take a bullet or two with all those shots flying? Let’s not worry our pretty little heads about such matters.) Thanks to the tanker attack and another well-timed RPG from Daryl (who needs a crossbow when you’ve got that thing?), the survivors live to see another dawn in Alexandria.
As you’d expect, though, this all has an effect on a guy. (You try watching your girlfriend get eaten alive, chopping her arm off, seeing your one-eyed son nearly die, and single-handedly killing about 1,739 zombies.) At Carl’s bedside, Rick explains how all that sweet bloodlust-y combat — er, teamwork — has made him see things differently. No more running. Like Deanna said before she ate it, it’s time to rebuild together. Carl squeezes his hand and for a brief moment, there’s hope … at least until Daryl fills him in on this Negan dude.