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.
David Sims: There comes a moment in every season when The Walking Dead kills time in preparation for a blockbuster finale. “Twice as Far” was it. It was a meandering hour, focusing on fringe characters and dwelling on plot developments that largely occurred off-screen, during the time jump between episodes nine and 10. It included a fairly unnecessary death and the baffling return of a character from the first half of season six, a one-episode villain who escaped with Daryl’s crossbow the last time we saw him. It grasped for emotional weight, but came off as confusing. It was, in short, a bad episode.
For some reason that final minute, and Carol’s voice-over monologue breaking up with her boyfriend Tobin, chafed the most of all. A lot of this season has focused on Carol’s tentative experiments with domesticity since arriving in Alexandria, and her relationship with Tobin was part of that (along with all her cookie-making). But Carol and Tobin’s romance has played out almost entirely in the background—I still have to think for a second to even remember his name—and whatever crucial decision they made to move forward as a couple, it happened during the months the show skipped, in between the pit of zombies and the war with Negan’s Saviors.
After Carol’s traumatic time fighting Negan’s lieutenants in the last episode, things have seemingly returned to normal in “Twice as Far,” with everyone now home safe in Alexandria and plotting their next move. But Carol is still haunted by the horrific murders they committed, particularly her battle with Paula, and can’t shake whatever survivor’s guilt she’s brought home with her, telling Tobin she has to leave him because she can’t kill for him, whatever that means. This all feels like bait for the audience more than anything, a sign that Carol could be marked for death in the upcoming season finale, but while last week’s episode was wrenching viewing, this week felt like an afterthought.
That’s especially strange considering an Alexandrian was killed off this week—the friendly town doctor Denise (Merritt Wever), who died in sudden, shocking fashion at the hands of the avenging Dwight (who claimed he was aiming to kill Daryl, but shot Denise in the eye instead). Denise is another character who made huge plot strides during the time jump, getting into a serious relationship with Tara that seemed very sweet but came largely out of nowhere. Wever is an Emmy winner and a super-talented actress, but the show never had much for her to do except fumble through medical supplies and seem out of place among the show’s constant misery and violence.
That’s mostly what she did this week, going on a supply run with Rosita and Daryl and trying to become more comfortable with zombie-murdering. That prompted a reckless encounter with a walker that saw her nearly getting bitten, but that whole suspenseful episode was another bit of audience misdirection, setup for her shocking death. I’m sad to see Denise go, but I’m even more frustrated with how cutesy her departure was—there’s nothing shocking about The Walking Dead offing a recurring character at this point, but the writers still seem to think there is. Denise was killed by Dwight, the burn-scarred bandit that Daryl encountered back in season six, episode six—he had a diabetic wife and survived only because Daryl took pity on him.
I had basically forgotten Dwight existed, so his return didn’t feel too shocking—mostly just confusing. Perhaps there’s a lesson to be learned here about Daryl’s survival instinct, but this episode felt too random to be united by one common theme. Yes, Denise was trying to hone her survival skills, but that wasn’t what got her killed; in a pointless B-plot, Eugene got in a fight with Abraham over his own developing prowess, claiming he no longer needed Abraham’s help to dodge zombies. Then he was promptly captured by Dwight. Great job, Eugene.
In general, I was left confused and frustrated by “Twice as Far,” an episode that worked within the margins of the show and came off feeling pretty marginal. Lenika, am I being too harsh? Was there some grander theme to pick out here that related back to the show’s recent, strong run?
Lenika Cruz: I’m relieved you feel this way, David, because—even after three pretty terrific episodes—I found myself straining to care about anything that happened this hour. I really tried! When Rosita hooked up with Spencer. When Morgan talked to Rick for eight seconds about building a jail cell to give the group “options.” When Denise found the “Dennis” trinket and talked about her long-lost twin brother. When Abraham and Eugene had their falling out. When Denise’s inspirational, heavy-handed speech to Rosita and Daryl sputtered out thanks to the arrow that materialized in her eye socket. (That scene achieved comic levels of violence, as did Eugene’s inspired penis-biting attack. Blergh.)
The bookend scenes of vaguely idyllic life at Alexandria gestured at a degree of meaningfulness that was brutally absent this episode. “Twice as Far” seemed to try to reexplore the old contrast between the hardened survivors (Abraham, Daryl, Rosita) and the “weaker” but more intellectual ones (Eugene, Denise). Unfortunately, since Denise was neither a faceless secondary character, nor a beloved mainstay, her death had a weaker emotional impact than it could have, had the show waited a bit longer.
Still, her loss will have serious implications for the group, which now no longer has a doctor to tend to the many fatal injuries that are certain to arise in the future. After all, Rick and the gang have a rotten track record when it comes to steering clear of the most deranged post-apocalyptic survivors. Perhaps this could foreshadow the Alexandrians’ need to continue their relationship with the Hilltop colony, which at least has an obstetrician.
While the last few episodes advanced the characters and their situation in significant and novel ways, “Twice as Far” felt like a regression to the show’s old hangups. Far from just being lackluster, this episode was often plain confusing, as you pointed out, David. The return of the man who stole Daryl’s crossbow yielded more of a “huh?” than an “ah!” Even the more interesting moments were delivered in plodding fashion: The meh Eugene/Abraham storyline, for example, introduced the possibility of the Alexandrians venturing into ammo-manufacturing, since their supply is running low. This kind of world-building almost always enhances the show, but the ensuing dispute between Abraham and Eugene felt incredibly contrived and weighed down their scenes unnecessarily . Just to avoid being a total bummer: The highlight for me was easily the zombie with the metal-melted head. Say what you will about the show, but it’s virtually never at a loss for cool walkers (sewer zombie, fire zombie).
If “Twice as Far” is the one real dud of this half-season so far (along with the mid-season premiere), I can be okay with that. I just hope that the missteps of this episode don’t spill in to the next two weeks—the penultimate episode and then the season finale. It’s simply too late to begin stumbling, and a showdown with Negan and the Saviors looks inevitable at this point; Rick and the crew have far too much Savior blood on their hands to get away from this without losing more of their own.
The looming question is, of course, who will likely be killed off in the coming weeks. There are convincing cases to be made for Glenn, Carol, and/or Daryl meeting their end in the next couple weeks. Sadly, The Walking Dead isn’t great at concealing who’s imminently marked for death. But beyond the routine bloodbath to be expected, I’m excited to see how the show sets up its stakes for the next season. As the series heads into its seventh season, I’m hoping it chooses to become more ambitious in scope, more fully exploring the world and what it has become, rather than focusing so narrowly on a few people going through the same challenges and internal conflicts again and again. After all, the past few episodes have proven the show is more than capable of it.