After being on hiatus since November, The Walking Dead returns for its midseason premiere.
Last episode we saw ended on a cliffhanger with Daryl, Carol, Aaron, Connie, Magna, and Jerry trapped inside Alpha’s zombie horde cave. Let’s see which characters are important enough to make it out alive, shall we?
Leap of Faith
We open on our group still in shock over how they walked into such an obvious trap. As the surrounding walkers moan and reach toward them, Alpha appears overhead on a ledge. She makes eye contact with Carol, who screams at her in frustration.
Satisfied that she’s pissed off her Momma Bear rival, Alpha leaves and instructs her minions to make sure no one gets out, tossing her torch onto the ground for good measure.
Back inside the cave, the group tries and fails to get Magna onto the nearest ledge. After noticing that water is flowing from the other side of the cavern, Aaron and Daryl decide the best plan of action is to hop across a bunch of elevated pillars like they’re playing a real-life version of the 8th level of Super Mario Bros.
Daryl decides to go first. Admittedly, this leads to the first time I’ve actually feared for the safety of a main character on this show in a very long time.
Once Daryl makes it across, the rest of the group follows with varying degrees of agility and success. Luckily for them, the zombies are all polite enough to barely make any effort at grabbing or biting–and the few that do make sure to only attack one at time.
Once everyone is across, Daryl begins looking for a path out of the cave. Carol starts to become short of breath, which Daryl tells everyone it’s because she’s claustrophobic (probably could have handled that better, dude). He then locates the path and instructs everyone to follow him.
After traveling for a while, the group finds a conveniently spacious alcove and decide to take a rest.
Magna, who is the exact type of person you shouldn’t give matches to when she’s bored and frustrated, asks Daryl for matches, which he gives to her. After she leaves to do who knows what, Carol sits down next to Daryl and asks how he knew she was claustrophobic. Daryl responds with a genuinely great line:
“If I only knew what you told me, I wouldn’t know s**t.”
He follows that up by saying that he feels like he can never turn his back on her lately because she might do something crazy–and that he wants to be there for her, but he doesn’t know how.
Carol admits that she can’t stop obsessing over her desire to get revenge on Alpha. She doesn’t just want to kill her–she also wants to make her suffer. Daryl insists that she needs to let that go and makes her promise him that she’ll start focusing on the future, instead.
Magna goes off by herself to search for an exit, which predictably leads to her being attacked..but not by zombies. Instead, it’s a group of Whisperers, which Daryl and the others dispatch with ease. Despite the group almost dying in an ambush, the attack turns out to be a net positive since it confirms that there is a way out of the cave. The group also decides that they should stick together from now on (duh).
Later, they find a narrow tunnel that leads them closer to freedom. Carol struggles to muster the courage to go through, but Connie is able to calm her down enough to try.
Daryl makes it through first and encourages the rest of the group as they crawl through an opening so small that it honestly made me uncomfortable to watch. Carol freezes up, but Daryl helps her make it to the other side. With only Connie, Jerry, and Aaron left, it looks like clear sailing for the rest of the group…which of course means that they are attacked by a group of ninja zombies slithering behind them.
Despite Jerry getting stuck and having his shoes chewed up, the rest of the group manages to make it through. After taking a moment to gather themselves, they see that there’s an opening to the surface just a few hundred feet away. Unfortunately, their path to freedom is on the other side of a huge ravine filled with walkers.
Off the Pot
Back at the Whisperer camp, Alpha informs Beta and Gamma about their zombie horde cave being discovered. This leads her to deduce that they are being spied upon. After telling Beta to make sure patrols are increased, she tells Gamma to send a message to the Whisperers watching the border: They have failed.
The next morning, Negan walks in on Alpha taking a dump, which he handles with the exact amount of tact you’d expect. He also informs her of his theory that there aren’t any spies lurking in the woods–the spy is actually Gamma.
Alpha responds to this by shoving a knife against Negan’s nuts and threatening to cut them off if he shares his theory with anyone else. She drives her point home further by knocking him into the Whisperer poop hole, which probably ruined his leather jacket.
When Alpha returns to camp, however, she tells Beta that she suspects Gamma may be the spy and instructs him to bring her back to camp. She then goes to fetch Negan, forces him to march out into the woods, and commands him to get naked in front of her.
For maybe the first time ever, Negan looks legitimately scared and humiliated. When Alpha orders him to turn, however, she’s naked as well. To his surprise, she offers to have sex with him as a reward for alerting her to Gamma’s treachery, which he gladly accepts (ew).
The cave group finds a mine shaft and begins digging toward the surface. Despite Kelly nearly killing everyone when she finds some old/unstable dynamite, the group makes it through and begins digging a hole to the surface.
Unfortunately, Carol totally reneges on her promise to Daryl and takes off with a stick of the dynamite. When Daryl finds her, she’s attempting to light it so that part of the cave will collapse and take out the horde…which seems like an INSANELY stupid thing to do while your friends are still underground. Carol nearly falls in, but is rescued by Daryl. Unfortunately, the dynamite does fall, causing a cave in to start just as Kelly reaches the surface–where she is promptly attacked by a group of Whisperers. She manages to fend them off exceptionally well, allowing Aaron to also reach the surface and join her.
While all this is happening, more Whisperers are somehow able to attack the group from underground. Magna holds them off while Connie goes to help Daryl with Carol and Jerry preventing a giant wooden beam from collapsing onto the rest of the unstable dynamite.
Daryl is able to get himself and Carol out as Jerry struggles to hold up the beam. Just when it seems like Jerry’s strength is going to give out, Aaron reaches in and pulls him up to safety. Unfortunately, Connie and Magna remain trapped underground when the rest of the dynamite explodes, sealing them in and leaving their fate unknown.
Daryl immediately begins the futile task of trying to remove the debris. Despite her overwhelming (and understandable) grief/anger, Kelly reminds everyone that the explosion was likely to bring a host of walkers and Whisperers to their location. They needed to move.
A distraught Carol begs Daryl to admonish her for what she did, but he refuses, instead declaring that there has to be another way into the cave and heading out to find it. The others follow, all of them refusing to acknowledge Carol as they pass her.
From a technical standpoint, this episode is very good–maybe even great.
The scenes inside the cave are appropriately claustrophobic and highly effective. The acting is exceptional all around. And as far as the dialogue is concerned, the script is great. Daryl and Carol’s heart-to-heart and every single moment involving Negan is about as good as it gets anywhere on television.
Unfortunately, we still have the story to deal with, which is a complete mess.
Once again, Carol is reduced to a narrative device based on stupid, out of character decisions. I get that she’s grieving about her son, but there’s no way the Carol we know would put the lives of her friends at risk for a plan that MIGHT take out part of Alpha’s horde. Even if she wasn’t thinking clearly, setting off the dynamite while her friends are STILL INSIDE THE CAVE is all types of idiotic.
As far as the Alpha and Negan subplot goes, it could have been all types of interesting if the show didn’t decide to go for the shock-value weirdness. Alpha’s decision to offer herself to him makes a strange kind of sense, but not in the compressed timeframe it was presented. Gamma certainly looks guilty due to her absence from camp, but you’d think Alpha would wait for confirmation before trusting someone…like the new guy who just waltzed into their group after living in Alexandria for years.
And don’t even get me started on the Ninja Zombies and Polite Zombies. I know we’re supposed to suspend our disbelief, but c’mon…
An argument could be made that I don’t care enough about the characters anymore, but the aneurysm I almost had due to how poorly Carol was written says otherwise. In the end, it feels like this show is getting to a point where characters doing things that are out-of-character could be the go-to way for moving the plot forward.
I certainly hope I’m wrong…and that Connie survived the cave in (and Magna, I guess).