When you think about what poses the greatest threat to one’s survival in the zombie wasteland, zombies probably sit at the top of the list. In second place, it’s the human beings who’ve either given in to their most savage instincts or are just plain sick in the head. Tetanus might be third, because where are you getting your booster shots these days? And then there are the dangers of one’s own mind, as your sanity slips away due to the horrors of everyday life, exhaustion due to the horrors of everyday life, and the pills you’re taking to cope with the horrors of everyday life. (Dark horse candidate for fifth on the kill-your-ass-dead list: rabies. Think about all the zombie meat that your average feral animal is eating. I’d be just as afraid of raccoons as walkers. Maybe more.)
It’s the terrors of the mind that mostly dominate this episode, as Carol struggles to cope with the death of Henry while his executioners not only stumble about as they please, but also completely run her world. Yet we begin with threats of the old-fashioned kind, as a timeline of violent events is laid out in dramatic detail. For those who missed the nuances of the opening sequence, here’s a recap-within-the-recap:
6:00 A.M. HOUR 1: Big windmill, Carol’s alarm goes off, she downs the first of many, many uppers.
HOUR 2: Walkers are on the move.
HOUR 4: Some dude with a spear and the tatted blonde ex-Savior kill zombies and goof around.
HOUR 6: This walker business is getting serious.
HOUR 11: A-A-ron gets jumped by a crispy zombie; scores of dead undead on the ground.
HOUR 13: Wave after wave of undead swarm A-Town. Is this what Beta was doing last week, rounding up walkers and sending them toward the survivors?
HOUR 14: Still more zombies. Michonne and Daryl look concerned.
HOUR 19: Killing zombies at the fence in the dark.
HOUR 22: See above.
HOUR 24: Daybreak; slaughter continues.
HOUR 31: Full sunlight, zombies impaled on fence. Daryl busts out the crossbow.
HOUR 37: Nighttime again, Aaron scores some spear kills.
HOUR 44: Still dark; Daryl still slaying. Funny that Gabe looks exhausted because we haven’t seen him kill a damn thing. Michonne stops by to see the kids, but Judith barely has time to ask “Is it safe?” before she gets an emergency call on the walkie.
HOUR 49: Two walker posses coming from different directions. Michonne lowers binoculars and seems to think “WTF,” as do we.
The point here, people, is that a lot of zombies are relentlessly laying siege to A-Town, which seems like a no-brainer Alpha move — except Gamma strolls in to tell them it isn’t, and invites them to what sounds like a not-very-optional meeting with the boss. It makes sense that Alpha is not orchestrating the zombie assault; Daryl estimates the Whisperer “hoard” he witnessed numbers in the tens of thousands, so if she wanted to wipe out A-Town, she would have done it by now. After a town-hall meeting in which Michonne tells a bloodthirsty Highwaymenwoman to basically shut the F up, they decide to — surprise! — split up. Two groups will fight off the walker waves, while a smaller envoy meets with Alpha.
Predictably, the summit does not go well. Carol, who’s poppin’ pills and packin’ heat, is on edge as she returns to the site of her son’s headsicle. Alpha makes a grand entrance and lays out her case: Carol’s peeps have crossed into her territory three times — during the satellite fire, through last season’s snowstorm, and when Michonne and Aaron searched along the river. Punishment is due, she says, “but I considah con-text. There will be no bloodshed this time.” Instead, Alpha sets a new border, one that strips the survivors of their hunting grounds. When Carol gets mouthy, Alpha steps to her and goes full Alpha: “Blond boy … he screamed your name just before we took his head.”
Carol pulls her snub-nose pistol and would have shot Alpha point blank if not for Michonne’s lightning-fast reflexes. But Alpha curiously gives Carol a pass — “mother to mother” — before telling them to go on and git movin’ ’cause this is her land now. Later, when Michonne tries to calm her friend down, Carol doesn’t mince words: “The bitch has to die.” Well said. (BTW, I don’t know if it’s the sea captain’s life or the drugs, but Carol is not only talking fierce, she’s looking fierce. You work those sleep deprivation lewks, gurl!)
As usual, Carol’s group seeks shelter somewhere creepy and finds the home of the Fighting Foxhounds, a school that provides the perfect setting for Carol’s horrific hallucinations. The highlight of the episode is her vision of the home-economics textbook with her on the cover, serving flapjacks to all of her dead kids. Daryl tries to talk some sense into her by telling her a story about his old man seeing things — or does he? Turns out that was a fantasy, too, as was the well-timed jump-scare when someone appears behind her with a knife. Even worse, Carol literally walks into a Whisperer trap and suffers a nasty wound in the process. Hard to blame her for not wanting to sleep, but can her nightmares be any worse than her state of semi-reality?
A few subplots offer some distraction from Carol’s crumbling psyche, though Siddiq isn’t doing much better with his own demons. The new doctor dude lightens the mood by telling a tale about an Iraq War veteran he knows, some “Adonis-looking cat” who struggled with PTSD — the twist being that he is in fact said cat, which gives the otherwise traumatized Siddiq a good laugh. Meanwhile, out in the wilderness, Negan and Aaron have a power struggle and wrestle with each other and the notion of who’s keeping it realer — the newly badass Aaron with his spiked mace hand, or the newly docile Negan who’d rather farm than fight. The testy debate ends with Negan saving his work-release manager and even helping him recover from hogweed blindness. (Who knew?) Then there’s Eugene, who somehow still thinks he’s got a shot at being “re-zoned into Lovetown” with Rosita. Dear Eugene: Please stick to the overwritten one-liners and the inexplicable ability to provide essential intel — from zombie head counts to weather patterns — whenever needed.
Two things appear to be true in the end: The zombies were drawn in by the satellite crash, and Carol isn’t completely bonkers. She swears she saw Whisperers in the woods and at the school, and sure enough, when we see the undead bodies strewn across the gym floor, one of them is the Whisperer who inspected Carol as she hung upside down. Carol squeezed off one last shot before she cut herself loose, and the Whisperer appears to have a bullet wound. Looks like Alpha wasn’t kidding when she said she’s always watching them. To answer your question, Judith — no, it definitely isn’t safe. Stay awoke, kid.