Every week for the sixth season of AMC’s post-apocalyptic drama The Walking Dead, Lenika Cruz and David Sims will discuss the latest threat—human, zombie, or otherwise—to the show’s increasingly hardened band of survivors.
Cruz: Before the last three seconds of Sunday’s episode, there were a million things I wanted to talk about. How relieved I was that Abraham, Daryl, and Sasha were heading back to Alexandria relatively unscathed in the cab of a working van. How silly and unnecessary that girl’s death was at the hands of the grave zombies. How intriguing the faceless members of another post-apocalyptic, code-oriented society were. How I hoped Daryl would indeed make the folks who stole his beloved motorcycle and crossbow sorry. But then I heard, through the crackle of static, the word “Help.” All I could think was: Glenn’s alive.
Not that this came as a shock. But it was the first concrete (albeit ambiguous) indication of his fate from the show itself—not from AMC or Chris Hardwick or Twitter or Scott Gimple or the Walking Dead subreddit. My excitement dulled somewhat at the realization that the show probably won’t offer too many answers next episode. (I could be wrong though!) For now, this obscure walkie-talkie message is enough to placate me; that was a cliffhanger done right. And thankfully, “Always Accountable” proved a much better episode than “Now,” one I would have enjoyed even if it weren’t for that final moment. (It’s always such a roller coaster ride with you, Walking Dead.)
Less than a minute into the episode, the gunfire began, which totally caught me off guard. The chase with Sasha, Abraham, and Daryl kicked off a series of genuinely suspenseful sequences this episode—galvanizing the show after last week’s boredom. I’d assumed their assailants were the Wolves until I remembered the Wolves who attacked Alexandria didn’t have firearms—only one guy made off with a gun, and no one got into the armory—nor did they appear to have a fleet of cars like the new attackers did. Per Sasha and Abraham’s discussion later, it seemed like they were waiting to ambush the strange runaway trio Daryl bumped into later.
Speaking of which, Daryl finally got some well-deserved screen time again after weeks of being in the shadows. When the firefight forced him away from Sasha and Abraham, it seemed like a lame contrivance to make viewers worry about the fate of yet another major character. But the encounter proved informative: The group was on the run from a society obsessed with paying for what you take. (They made me think of that pair Morgan bumped into, who silently offered him a can of food and a bullet in exchange for their lives.) The trio had also been involved with razing an entire forest of zombies—an impressive and relatively low-risk scheme, compared to Rick’s disastrous quarry plan. Plus, they earned their respect when the man said: “We thought that’s what everyone was doing. Fighting it. We’d all win together.” Yes, unnamed guy, that’s what everyone should be doing. Hopefully Daryl relays the message that you can exterminate walkers by lighting them all on fire when he gets back to Alexandria.
Meanwhile, Sasha and Abraham had a slightly less compelling time staying put and waiting for Daryl to track them. Have you ever noticed, David, how popular mixed-metaphor, idiom-heavy speeches are in the zombie apocalypse? “You don’t have to throw yourself out of a moving car to feel like you’re calling the ball,” Sasha soberly informed Abraham. “You jump out of an airplane, you don’t have choices after that. Maybe you play some chicken with the ground. But you pull the ripcord, you live.” I’m generally not fan of the writing the show does in these one-on-ones, but Sonequa Martin-Green and Michael Cudlitz are strong enough performers to sell subpar lines.
I rolled my eyes at Abraham trying to grab the RPG from the busted-clavicle zombie—it felt on-the-nose after his convo with Sasha, but there was also no tension to the scene. It was obvious he wasn’t going to get bitten, just like it was obvious nothing would happen to Daryl when he was struggling to pull his crossbow out of the duffel back. Such are the myriad repercussions of not faking Glenn’s death. It’s nice that Abraham underwent some character development this episode, but the whole “major character puts himself in danger to feel alive and have an epiphany” trope has been so played out. As Sasha put it so aptly: “Self-awareness is a beautiful thing.” The Walking Dead could use a touch more of it at times.
And still. “Always Accountable” felt like a success by any standard, because it moved the current story along, while effectively teasing the possibility of a new future arc. It was a pleasure being confused about this new dystopian society—Who are they? What do they want? How are they different from Woodbury or Terminus or Alexandria? Will Wayne be the new Governor? Even after a second watch, I didn’t have a reasonable grasp of who they are, but I’m fine with waiting until after the midseason break to find out. With the winter finale approaching, there are still plenty of threads to address. The next two episodes will likely deal with a Glenn rescue effort, maybe another encounter with the Wolves, or some conflict involving Carl and Ron, or a Morgan crisis. But it’s unlikely we’ll see a repeat of “Now,” because “Always Accountable” finally raised the stakes again.
Sims: I want to begin with some larger praise on this half-season: It’s now clear that, outside of Morgan’s flashback, all eight episodes are going to revolve around Rick’s plan to clear the zombie pit and how it went wrong. I’m amazed at how well the show has stretched out this plot, a gambit that has failed in the past, and is using it to serve both as a referendum on Rick’s leadership skills and an exploration of the wider world around Alexandria. Abraham and Sasha don’t have the most compelling character arcs, and like you, I felt a little derisive of Abraham’s “big moment” with the RPG-zombie, which was some poorly manufactured tension. But I nonetheless enjoyed spending half of the episode with them—something I wouldn’t have said about the lower players in this show’s ensemble just a couple of years ago. Watching Abraham squeeze into an ill-fitting military uniform made up for any other false dramatic notes.
I’m even more interested, though, in the seeds this episode is planting for the show’s future. The easiest route for The Walking Dead post-zombie horde attack/Wolves ambush would be for the gang to move somewhere else. Alexandria was a fascinating setting, but now that it’s a smoldering ruin, perhaps it’s time to move on to whatever strange new location lies on the horizon. But now that we’ve met these strangers who Daryl tangled with, so intent on refusing to “kneel” to some unnamed tyrant, I think we’re staying put. The Walking Dead is doing some serious world-building, and it’s putting out breadcrumbs while the gang tries to solve this crisis. The zombie horde will be dispatched somehow, but with the arrival of the Wolves, and now this other threat, it turns out they were the least of Rick’s worries.
This episode was also another indictment of Rick’s “drive the zombies 20 miles down the road and leave them there” strategy—yes, that means the pit horde is not Alexandria’s problem, but it’s going to be someone else’s, and Rick seems surprisingly ignorant of the concept that there might be other communities forging their own ways nearby. I hope that the rest of season six sticks to this and opens up the world around Alexandria more. As the post-apocalypse enters into its next phase, things should feel more lived-in, and settled communities might have to interact with each other more formally. So far, almost every big location in The Walking Dead—Hershel’s farm, Terminus, Slabtown, Alexandria—has been a closed system, an enclave fighting for its own survival. Maybe there’s more drama to be wrung from watching communities fight and negotiate with each other for survival (like the arc with the prison and Woodbury).
That was the crux of Daryl’s decision to return with the insulin, right? He could have abandoned those poor folks after absconding with their medicine, but he decided to do the right thing, as he did a few episodes before when he rejoined Abraham and Sasha—a decision with fascinating repercussions. Both sides of that conflict between Daryl and the mysterious trio made sense, and both teams’ approaches to getting rid of zombies had their merits and flaws. When they took his bow, it didn’t feel like some evil betrayal, but a sadly predictable final outcome in the world of the show.
Now, about Glenn. I’ve been less hooked by the big Glenn question than you this season. I thought I watched him die, but I’m perfectly willing for the show to prove me wrong, as long as it does it well. But I’ll admit, like you, when I heard that croak of “help” on the walkie-talkie, I sat up with a jolt. Not so much because it confirmed Glenn might be alive, but because of its haunting delivery. There are only two episodes to go this half-season. If the show can swing back around to Glenn’s predicament in a way that flows with the story it’s already telling, that’ll be a mighty achievement, and it’ll come on top of a bunch of other new themes that have been fleshed out this year.
The lesson from this episode, and from the season so far, is that Rick’s claim of experience is really one of tactics and brutality. He can clear a zombie pit, and he can execute invading villains, but he (and everyone else) has no concept of trying to think of a larger world around him. It’s been a long time since anyone had to do that. That’s going to be the next big challenge.