For a minute there, it looked like life was about to settle down for the Alexandrians. Rick hatched a plan to keep the neighborhood walker-free. Maggie was getting all Grapes of Wrath and ready to start farming, like her Pa taught her. Carol — Miss Peletier, if you’re nasty — was teaching her cooking club the wonders of celery soup and spring-cleaning casseroles. Now if Shelly would just stop smoking those gosh-darn cancer sticks!
One thing you’d think Rick’s group would realize is that the moment they get comfortable, disaster is just around the corner. Right on cue, the Wolves decide it’s time to mount a full-scale assault on the not-so-safe zone. And this is one sick bunch of unwashed, edged-weapon-wielding mofos. These dudes (and a few Ladywolves) don’t just stab you to death — they enjoy dismembering your corpse. (Hey, it’s hard to find a hobby these days.)
We learn that the air horn blast from last week was not intentionally set off. Instead, it was Spencer, Deanna’s son and a lousy watchtower sniper, who inadvertently derails Rick’s Pied Piper plan. His instincts were sound — take out the driver of a big rig that’s about to ram through the wall — but the result was a crash that jammed the truck’s horn on full blast. Meanwhile, the Wolves are everywhere. A Molotov cocktail takes out Richard, the wall guard, and sends him to the ground in flames. Inside, it looks like a scene from Texas Chainsaw Massacre — corpses and blood and hacking of limbs. Turns out Carol was right about Shelly’s dangerous habit, too. If she’d been indoors learning how to make pasta, Shelly wouldn’t have been chopped up on her front lawn. (A lesson for all you smokers out there.)
The assault on Alexandria makes for an action-packed episode that’s light on character development. It’s also more disturbing than your average Walking Dead chapter, thanks to the savagery of the Wolves and the human-on-human murder. Killing a groaning flesh bag isn’t such a grotesque act anymore — it’s an essential survival skill. But shooting a human in the face or stabbing one to death is something different, even when the victims are psycho killers themselves.
We soon learn how far the key survivors are willing to go to defend the town. Deanna and Spencer don’t have the stomach for it; the former Alexandria leader is so paralyzed, she hides out in the truck while her people are butchered. Surprisingly, Gabriel wants to help — if not for the Wolf raid, he would have had a sweet 3 p.m. machete lesson with Carl. But it’s Morgan who, like last week, refuses to bend his moral code and kill people.
His pacifism doesn’t sit well with Carol, who is, when the Wolf shit hits the fan, a total boss. (A bloodthirsty one, but a boss nonetheless.) Cloaked in a Wolf’s hoodie, bloody W on her forehead, she’s got a simple plan we’ll call Operation: Teen Spirit — get to the armory, load up on guns, bring her friends. At one point, she’s running down the street blasting Wolves, then takes out one at close range as blood splatters across the camera lens. There’s a moment of dark comedy when Carol finds one of her cooking buddies in the armory closet and gives her a quick gun-toting tutorial (“Squeeze and you don’t stop until they’re on the ground.” Easy!). Clearly none of the Alexandrians expected to see Betty Crocker turn into the Punisher.
Carol wins the body count (and props to Carl for his crack shot at a running Wolf in pursuit of mopey Ron). But it’s Morgan who wins the all-around badass award. His showdown with a bearded, ax-wielding Wolf — sort of a poor man’s Khal Drogo — looked epic, until Carol runs up and guts the Wolf like a carp. Morgan swiftly disarms another invader to save Gabriel, and once again, Carol plays executioner. Also pretty sure Morgan wasn’t too psyched to play the role of Carol’s captive. But all along, he sticks to his principles while still being the coolest dude to rock a staff since Gandalf. He even, rather improbably, talks a lead Wolf leader — one he’d met last season, out in the woods — into fleeing (but not before the Wolf engages in a gross bit of lip-smacking). Of course, while lecturing, Morgan beats the snot out of four Wolf-pack punks. (Despite multiple rewinds, I could not understand Morgan’s reply when Father Gabe asks where he learned those kung fu moves. From the “change-maker”? A “chain-maker”? A “chaise-maker,” like a crafter of lounges?)
Lest anyone start feeling optimistic for the future, the episode ends on a series of downers. After being talked into duty, Denise, the panic-attack-prone-psychiatrist-cum-surgeon, loses her patient. Tara’s only parting words: “Get her brain.” Aaron finds the knapsack he lost with those photos — detailed pictures of Alexandria he’d once shown to Rick’s gang. He starts to shake. Aaron knows he gave the Wolves a blueprint for staging their assault. After spending most of the episode in a closet, Jessie finds her inner savage and brutally stabs a Ladywolf to death with a pair of scissors, much to Ron’s horror. Even Morgan seems to give up on peace during his tussle with one final, old familiar Wolf. “I’m sorry,” he says, before delivering what looks like a fatal blow.
It seems impossible to take Morgan’s stance in a world so unstable, so treacherous, and as Rick said last week, so insane. The question of whether one can be a hard-charging, kill-or-be-killed survivalist while still maintaining one’s sense of humanity comes up frequently. It’s not really a choice, though. Morgan was right when he observed that Carol doesn’t like to play Wolf slayer. You see the toll it takes on her when she sits on the porch alone and has a quick cry. But it’s necessary. Rosita tells Spencer that if he wants to keep living, “make sure you’ve got something worth dying for.” You’d better have something worth killing for, too.
There won’t be much time for a philosophical debate (or for working on Eugene’s sweet-ass game room). With the Wolves vanquished, at least for the moment, there’s that little matter of what could be a thousand walkers headed to the now very compromised gates of Alexandria. Turns out it’s Enid who has some words of wisdom to consider. In her rather inconsequential origin story that opened the episode, we learned the poor girl watched her parents get eaten alive, then started munching on turtles and tagging “JSS” on everything she could find. When Enid ghosts Carl, she leaves behind a simple note: “Just survive somehow.” (Surely there is a Taylor Swift song to be written about their tortured crush.) It’s a “by any means necessary” kinda world. If you’re not a Rick or a Carol, you’re a Carter or Enid’s turtle — food for the zombies, the Wolves, and the rest of what’s left out there.