It ends with neither a bang nor a whimper — more like a geyser of blood, spurting crudely all over the screen, like a dye-pack after a bank-robbery. But whose spew is it? Does it belong to Daryl, who ends this week's Walking Dead on his knees, captured and disarmed? Rosita, who was patrolling right alongside him? Dwight, the man who got the drop on them both? Glenn, who … well, no, scratch that. It's probably not Glenn. Even though the show's most affable character is bound and gagged nearby — right next to Michonne — his recent dead/not-dead fake-out is still too fresh to believe that he'd be a goner.
Given how dramatic the last shot of this episode — titled "East" — is, it's tempting to take a forensic, frame-by-frame look at it in order to figure out from which direction this misty gore exploded. But there's not really much point to that. If this show has proven anything this season, it's that whatever we think we've seen can be undone, easily. So we may as well wait for next week's finale before we try to interpret, or even react to, whatever just happened.
In fact, this episode overall feels like a bunch of "just wait 'til next week" moments. Will Maggie's pregnancy survive her sudden cramps at the end of the hour? Is Carol okay on her own out on the road? How many cliffhangers can one cable drama squeeze into a season's penultimate chapter?!? Granted, this is what potboilers do: They simmer along, enticing fans to keep waiting for the dish to be ready. But TWD has been serving an awful lot of leftovers lately. Last week's episode puttered in low gear for half its running time, then wedged in as many major events as it could muster: Denise dying, Dwight returning, Carol abandoning Alexandria. Tonight's installment, on the other hand, mostly circles back over ground already well-trod, reminding us of everything we already know. It's the TV equivalent of a cram session, before the big exam.
The main business it tries to settle (or at least to dredge back up) is the philosophical divide between Rick and Morgan. After Carol splits and Daryl zips off on his motorcycle to confront the Saviors, multiple search parties embark from the ASZ. This is a pretty moronic thing to do, given that the community is bracing for a Savior attack at any minute, but no matter. The point is that time alone on the road finally gives our zen master the opportunity to confess about the Wolf he let live — and to tell his friend that saving that one life set off a chain of events that ended with Carl being shot through the eye. This conversation about destiny and certainty is worth having, even though this show's debates about compassion are starting to feel like the ultimate case of "agree to disagree."
But the main reason why Morgan brings up the subject in the first place is because he's just stopped Rick from shooting a passing stranger in the head. Give credit to the writers for realizing that the kill-'em-all vibe that our heroes have been giving off lately is making them harder to cheer for. But there's no reason to believe that anything's ever going to change with these people, no matter how many parables they throw at each other. They're all still making dangerous decisions out of self-righteous anger — see Daryl's determination to avenge Denise even if it puts everyone at risk. And despite Carol's sudden crisis of conscience, most of the Alexandrians seem to be moving slowly but surely toward Rick's shoot-first mentality. Even sweet, sweet Glenn has a spark of self-awareness and delivers a speech to Michonne about how they were lucky to find each other and to learn how to survive together … but how now, those skills alone won't do.
Though "East" is mostly set-up, it does have a few highlights. Glenn's monologue is one. It's also nice to see him and Maggie share a tender, sensual moment in the shower, during a montage of daily life (set to Johnny Cash's "It's All Over," which may be some ominous foreshadowing).
The best scene, however, involves Carol, who drives away from in one of the community's walker-defying spike-cars, and runs into a gang of Saviors who intend to use her as their ticket through the gates. Dropping back into her "I'm just a meek nobody" routine — and calling herself "Nancy from Montclair" — she keeps the group off-guard long enough to catch them by surprise with something up her sleeve. (In this case, a machine gun.)
The scene is so strong, in fact, that it's too bad the episode pretty much spoils it, with a brief pre-credits sequence that shows the aftermath of Carol's wrath. What's the point of that teaser? For that matter, why does this hour begin with a jump back to Carol leaving town, which is information already delivered last week? As disjointed and clichéd as last week's episode was, at least it featured important developments. Nothing happens in "East" that won't be rehashed at the start of next week's 90-minute finale (with that extra length presumably meant to make room for all the plot left out of this one). Not until we know whose blood just flew toward our faces can Season Six's endgame really begin.
Previously: Call the Doctor