The spider’s web in the opening scene serves as a fitting metaphor for an episode about captivity — Connie trapped in a house of horrors, and Daryl all tangled up in the schemes of the Reapers. Pope’s psycho ex-military crew is formidable, but as villainous gangs go, they don’t rank up there with the Saviors or the Whisperers in terms of muscle, mayhem, or a charismatic leader; most of the drama in that storyline thus far is carried by Daryl and Leah, as we wonder if she’s too far gone to be redeemed. But here, it’s long-lost Connie and Virgil who deliver one of the show’s most harrowing, genuinely frightening tales in a long, long time.
Let’s briefly examine what’s happening with the Reapers and Daryl’s budding acting career. Still playing the role of a drifter with no allegiance to Maggie’s group, he’s quick to help Pope interrogate Frost for info on her whereabouts. But when fingernail torture quickly escalates to severing fingers, Daryl struggles not to break character. His efforts to get Frost to spill is almost laughable: “So just say a location so we can all walk away happy!” Why won’t Frost just make something up? Sure, he might be a dead man later, but at least it could buy him and Daryl some time. Instead, Frost reveals the actual location of the safe house. His reward for honesty: Pope eventually kills him and ties his zombified body to a tree.
Almost as tense as the search of Maggie’s safe house is the constant bickering between Daryl and Carver, Leah’s right-hand hitman. The two Reapers have a tight bond, having pledged always to have each’s other’s back, as they say. Carter seems to have feelings that run deeper than battlefield bonding, but then again, as Leah notes, he also let her walk into a shack that was about to be set on fire. To be fair to Carter, his instincts are rather on point: He’s suspicious of Daryl’s motives (as he should be) and thinks something’s not right inside the house (as proven by the trap door he discovers under a rug). Carter’s antagonism forces Daryl to step up his thespian game: He promises Leah that he’s only here for her and admits that although Pope scares the shit out of him, Daryl will trust him if Leah says to do so. This speech buys Maggie’s crew enough time to flee, but Daryl and Leah’s future isn’t looking rosy. As Frost writhes on that tree, Daryl looks just as concerned about her ruthlessness as his pal’s demise.
Hiding from a Reaper search party seems like an Ibiza foam party compared to what Connie and Virgil find when they take shelter in a creepy abandoned house (which is basically every house these days, really, but not like this one). You may recall that after Michonne left Virgil behind on Bloodsworth Island, he eventually showed up at Oceanside, found a horse, and then found Connie. Now he’s trying to get her home, which is especially challenging because he doesn’t know sign language. Making matters worse is Connie’s horde cave PTSD and her lack of sleep — a perfect recipe for hallucinations (something Virgil is familiar with if you recall his trippy time with Michonne).
It seems like Connie is paranoid when she peers into a medicine cabinet and sees a yellowed eyeball staring back at her through the wall. After all, she’s been flashing back to the zombie cave thanks to a sleep-deprived stupor. There was a definite Night of the Living Dead vibe about their nighttime arrival at the house, along with a Hitchcockian tension in that string music playing in the background. Even more effective is the use of silence, which throws the viewer into Connie’s point of view as she cautiously inspects the house. The portraits with eyes gouged out seem more camp than terrifying, though. If only Virgil could convince her to get some rest …
That’s when the shit gets real. Connie’s concern is justified as a secret panel is revealed, separating her from Virgil. The audio drops out again, and we watch in silence as she claws at the wall. Something moves past the camera, but we only hear a muffled whoosh as Connie feels her way around. Then we see and hear some monstrous, human-like creature bounding toward her on all fours. The sound is back. We hear it growling, then furiously pounding on a door she’s trying desperately to keep closed.
Connie ends up in a room full of human bones picked clean of all flesh and nearly gets stabbed by Virgil, who mistakes her for a creature hiding behind a wall. Meanwhile, there’s another creepy crawler sneaking up behind Virgil: “Hungry!” it cries out before Virgil stabs it in the chest. Even the way it skulks off into the darkness after suffering a critical knife wound is shudder-inducing.
Virgil is shocked by the notion that these monsters herded them “like prey.” Given the odds they face, he wants Connie to run for it alone — it’s his way of paying forward the second chance that Michonne gave him, and he’s willing to sacrifice himself to provide Connie with a shot at finding her family. Connie — being an angel walking among us — refuses to leave him alone, signing “Together” as a response to his plea to leave him behind. Virgil takes out two of the creatures, but then one comes flying in from atop a cabinet like it’s the top turnbuckle of a WWE ring. With Virgil in bad shape, Connie thinks fast. Her genius move: Cover herself with guts, open the door, and let the walkers amble past them to feast on the freaks. Connie watches in disgust as moments later, everyone’s eating everyone.
Outside, two creatures manage to escape the zombie bum-rush, and it’s Kelly and the rest of the search party from A-town, to the rescue. The sisters have a tearful reunion just feet away from a house full of ravenous undead, while Virgil may be on the verge of breathing his last. It’s a fittingly harrowing return for Connie, and the whole house sequence is arguably one of TWD’s best moments of genuine horror and suspense since the cannibals of season five.