The Walking Dead
Let’s be honest — even though this second-half premiere starts off with a cave full of zombies, it’s a slow episode at first. We catch up with Daryl’s search party, which was on the lookout for Lydia (remember her?) and the location of the Horde, but thanks to Carol’s vengeful rage, ended up trapped with an army of the undead. What follows for the most part is some Frogger-style rock hopping, Negan’s unfortunate encounter with the Whisperers shit pit, and more infuriatingly selfish behavior from Carol.
So let’s also cut right to the pivotal moment of the episode, and perhaps the entire season: Negan and Alpha getting freaky deaky. I saw it, I just said it, and yet I’m still at a loss for how to process it. Woodland sex certainly did not seem inevitable, as we first see Negan very much not blending in at Whispererville. Alpha’s rightfully concerned there’s a spy in her midst, and as Negan sits back and listens, I’m convinced he’s still loyal to the Alexandrians. Seems that his long con is deep cover within the Whisperers; he’ll eventually turn on them at a key moment to prove he’s left his Savior ways behind for good.
That’s when things get really interesting. Neegs finds Alpha popping a squat at the edge of camp and tries to give her some advice from a former psychopathic cult CEO to a current one: Gamma is probably your snitch, and also, if you start thinking you’re untouchable, you’re in trouble. Alpha thanks him for his sage wisdom by placing her hunting knife betwixt Negan’s thighs and giving him a poke that knocks him backward into an enormous pile of human feces. (Mystery of the night: How did Negan clean off his leather jacket?)
Negan’s theory is confirmed when Beta says the sister-killer has vanished. He thinks Gamma was captured, but Alpha has an alternate theory: “Oar, she eees the spah!” Alpha dispatches Beta to find her, then marches Negan deep into the woods. (“Looks like Mom’s mad at me,” he says to a stonefaced Whisperdude.) Could this be an initiation, or as Negan wonders, “Am I going to get my skinsuit and finally learn the Whisperer secret handshake?”
The situation goes from bad to worse when she orders him to strip naked; even for Alpha, this is an odd pre-murder request. Neegs gives a quick summary of his place in apocalyptic history, then spins around to reveal two surprises: his terrible collection of tattoos, and Alpha wearing nothing but her mask and her birthday suit. Opting to go full kink, Negan is cool with Alpha leaving her mask on. What’s more disturbing, as we see them embrace from a distance, is their black socks. Badass baseball bat brain-crusher and the leader of the Unshowered are going to knock boots with their socks on so their piggies don’t get chilly? Totally killed the mood.
The rest of the time is spent with Daryl’s crew, trapped with what seems like hundreds of zombies, their groans and moans echoing to maddening effect. As a final F-you, Alpha peers down at them. That bit of one-uppery triggers Carol, of course, who lets out a primal roar and resumes her lust for vengeance. If you recall in episode eight, Daryl saved Carol from a trap and said this: “Can you stop this shit, please? You want her dead so bad you don’t even care what happens to you … She’s not worth it … She’s a dead woman anyway. We have a future. Don’t let her take that too.” He attempts yet another heart-to-heart in the cavern. “People you care about are starting to get hurt,” he says. “We fight for the future. We don’t fight for revenge.”
Both of Daryl’s pleas for sanity were mere minutes apart in TWD time, yet Carol seems to have amnesia on top of her claustrophobia. Once again, for what seems like literally the 573rd time, she does something utterly rash and stupid: as they’re on the verge of escape, Carol doubles back to grab a stick of dynamite and blow up the walkers. Maybe it’s a suicide mission, but we know Daryl isn’t going to let that happen. And that’s not some average boomstick she grabs, it’s a very “sweaty” explosive that could detonate at any moment. Carol’s grief also seems to have turned her into a klutz: she stumbles hopping across the rocks, and then fumbles the dynamite, which explodes.
Now the whole cave-mineshaft complex is crumbling, and for the second time, Jerry looks like he’s on the verge of death. Earlier, he got stuck crawling out of a tunnel, and somehow his boot was stronger than the jaws of the walker that chomped his foot. Now, he’s pulling an Atlas and single-handedly holding up the roof so everyone can crawl out. Everyone, that is, except for Connie, who heads back to help Daryl and Carol, and Magna, who suddenly decides to stop being a mope and lend a hand.
Carol should be the last to leave, but since she’s all clausty, Daryl exits first to help her out. Jerry finally gives up and escapes, leaving Connie and Magna to fight off some Whisperers who seem to think fighting in a collapsing cave is a good idea. Then blammo — the stanky dynamite explodes, burying the entire complex in a mountain of rubble. With Connie trapped, Daryl seems to have finally had it with his bestie and storms off in search of a way back inside. Aaron and the rest of the group walk away in silence, leaving Carol bloodied, in tears, and alone. We, too, are left to confront the awful cost of what’s transpired here, when grief gives way to blind vengeance, and perhaps even worse, when a lust for power and pleasures of the flesh leads to skin-mask-and-socks sex.