In any show where flesh-eating monsters and murderous human scavengers lurk around every corner, there's hardly ever going to be such thing as an "uneventful" episode. If you're halfway into any given Walking Dead and nothing notable's happened yet, brace yourself. Some dire shit's about to go down. For example, take this week's episode, "Twice as Far": It's practically sedate for most of its first half. And then everything takes a turn for the terrible — and the mess piles up so fast that it's hard to know where to begin digging.
We should probably start with poor, doomed Denise. The downside to the show being willing to kill characters indiscriminately is that a lot of viewers probably pegged Meritt Wever's character as a goner the moment it became clear that she was the star of the episode. That didn't make it any less nerve-wracking though to follow her around during her last day on Earth. Director Alrick Riley and writer Matthew Negrete did an especially fine job of making each moment this week feel fraught with potential danger.
When Alexandria's resident doctor joins Daryl and Rosita on a supply run to a nearby apothecary, her companions treat her like excess baggage. Worse, they keep leaving her on her own in situations that seem to be only one stray walker away from turning fatal. Then Denise stumbles on a scene that's gruesome even by TWD standards — an emaciated, hobbled zombie mother, collapsed next to a blood-stained changing-table with the word "hush" smeared repeatedly on the wall — and she's embarrassed by her horrified reaction. So much so, in fact, that she later risks her life to pry a cooler full of soda-pop from some undead hands. The other two try to lecture her in this show's usual overwrought way, talking about how she's "not ready" and needs to be "strong"; she lectures them right back … and then, mid-sentence, catches a crossbow bolt through the eye from a passing Savior.
Was this a good death, dramatically speaking? Though Wever's a strong actress, the show has never really given her mousy medical porfessional much to do. Her getting killed only matters in that it leaves the Safe Zone without a doc, and thematically, it mainly reiterates the same old Walking Dead message: that weakness is a liability. Plus, it's yet another example of a TV drama callously dispatching a lesbian character — and just a few weeks after The 100 stirred up controversy by doing the same.
If "Twice as Far" had to off somebody, wouldn't it have been more shocking (and perhaps more meaningful) to kill Eugene? The opportunity was certainly there. In the episode's other half, he and Abraham head out on a different mission, to scout out a foundry where our mulleted scientist thinks he can manufacture bullets. The scenes between the two of them are partly a competition to see who can come up with the most colorful, roundabout way to express himself. (Abraham gets the edge, with, "You about ready to spill the pintos?" and "You'd have better luck pickin' up a turd by the clean end.") But their little excursion also mirrors the one with Denise. Both are about one of the series' nervous weaklings trying to prove themselves.
For all his bravado, Eugene still gets kidnapped by the Saviors, provoking a standoff that brings the two main storylines together, right at the moment when Denise gets skewered. Her death is predictable. But his might not have been — especially since the scene of him escaping by biting his captor Dwight in the crotch comes straight from the comic books. It could've been a good twist, to leave the docto alone and lose the fake scientist, right when he's starting to become a real contributor to the survivors' cause. Or, alternately, Abraham could've been the one assassinated (which also would've jibed more with the comics).
That's not to say that this is a bad episode. It has a satisfyingly full arc, starting with the lulling normalcy of the daily routine in a newly fortified Alexandria, getting tenser during the dual expeditions outside the walls, then turning cruelly momentous in its final third. (Also, there's one scene with a zombie that has molten metal fused to its head … and who can knock an hour of TV that features a steel-helmeted ghoul?) But honestly, given all that happens after Denise gets killed, her death feels insufficiently weighty, if not borderline frivolous. It's overshadowed by two bigger developments: the introduction of Dwight, and the disappearance of Carol.
Actually, technically, it's the re-introduction of Dwight, who first appeared in last year's "Always Accountable," but didn't give his name — and thus didn't tip off that he's the Dwight who plays such a major role in the comics. Here, he returns and wreaks havoc, making Daryl feel worse for not killing him when he had the chance. He also lets the Alexandrians know that the Saviors are still a force that they're going to have to reckon with.
The renewed threat is also what prompts Carol to bail, after leaving a note saying she can't kill anymore — which means she can't properly express her love for her friends. This is … weird. It's also somewhat abrupt, despite the show spending much of the last two episodes setting up this sudden departure. Most of what The Walking Dead is doing right now is in line with its source material: As human society rebuilds, two of the strongest tribes are heading toward war. But Carol's a wild card. She's long-outlived her literary counterpart, and her character's been transformed in the process.
So who knows what the show's writers have in mind with this latest turn? At the moment, it doesn't make a lot of sense. But then with only two episodes left this season, a lot of the narrative balls that are currently in the air are bound to start dropping soon. And if "Twice as Far" is any indication, they're going to land with a splat.
Previously: Ladies First