It's been a few weeks since last we enjoyed the adventures of Daryl Dixon, Zombie Drover, so imagine our relief seeing him at the start of this week's Walking Dead, more or less exactly where we'd left him: on a motorcycle, playing the grand marshal in a walker parade. But he doesn't stay there long. Even before this week's episode — "Always Accountable" — hits the opening credits, the easy rider and his herding cohorts, Sasha and Abraham, get knocked off their route by passing, unknown assailants. Bullets are flying, hungry monsters are everywhere, and Daryl's zooming around, barely in control. Now that's the way to start a show.
As it turns out, this episode's cold open is its high-point — although overall this was still a significant improvement over last week, if only because we spent time with folks we already know and like. If anyone's going to run in place for an hour, it may as well be three of the series' coolest characters.
Director Jeffrey F. January and credited screenwriter Heather Bellson concoct a smart structure for this hour, which helps disguise some of the middle-act inertness. In that opening sequence, the trio gets separated, and for the rest of the episode we stay with either one group or the other, switching between after every commercial break. First, we watch Daryl explore a scorched wilderness, where he gets captured by three jittery survivors who believe he's an assassin sent from the place they've just fled. Then we go back to Abraham and Sasha, who've found a secure office and have decided, rightly, that they're better off holing up and waiting for their biker friend to find them. And so the story plays out, as a series of alternating vignettes.
Of the two halves of this little drama, Daryl's has the advantage of being much more suspenseful. He quickly escapes his captors, then circles back when he realizes that, by taking their duffle bag, he's also swiped some medicine they need. Then the people that the deserters feared in the first place show up, and with new acquaintances in tow, Daryl listens carefully as the hunters make oblique references to the dictatorship they abandoned. After an encounter with walkers that leaves one of their traveling party dead, our hero eventually finds his way back to his motorcycle — only to have the remaining two hijack the vehicle and steal his weapon. This is why we can't have nice things during the zombie apocalypse, people.
Meanwhile, a few miles away, Abraham crawls out onto a collapsing section of fence on a highway overpass, in order to retrieve a rocket-propelled grenade-launcher strapped to an undead soldier. Not only is the scene gripping, it's also loaded with metaphorical import, since it comes not long after Sasha says that her partner craves crisis because it eliminates the need for him to make any choices or long-range plans. And there he is again, putting himself in a risky situation where living or dying is almost a coin-flip.
The conversations between these two are nice — especially since the latter seems to be taking elocution lessons from his pal Eugene — as well as advancing a long-teased romantic subplot. There's also some nice staging and tense near-misses in the Daryl scenes, although given the recent death (maybe? possibly? perhaps?) of Glenn, there's never much real worry that Mr. Dixon's in any permanent danger. Ultimately, everybody meets back up and starts driving to Alexandria in a recently discovered gas truck. They try to call home, hear a cry for help on the other end — Rick? Aaron? GLENN?!? — and roar off.
So is there any real point to "Always Accountable," given that it ends with the characters just a little bit further down the road, and not much worse for wear, minus the loss of one motorcycle and one crossbow? For one, the episode brings Abraham and Sasha closer together. More importantly, it introduces the idea that there's a much meaner version of the Alexandria Safe Zone not too far away… and one so well-populated that even its own residents don't know everyone by sight. That's bound to be a relevant piece of information very soon.
Also, mirror imagery abounds this week — some of it involving literal mirrors. Sgt. Abraham finds a zombie in a military uniform. Daryl tumbles past a walker in a motorcycle helmet. A young woman named Tina discovers the burned-out shelter of some old friends, who rise from their plastic suicide-bags and eat her. There's a lot of "there but for the grace of God"-ing going on, including the brief, none-too-warm relationship Daryl and Dwight, the dude who steals his stuff.
The thief keeps trying to lecture our guy about the core values of independence and honor. (Cue hilarious irony.) Daryl counters by asking for a tally of how many zombies Dwight has killed, and how many humans. What's becoming increasingly clear this season is that merely clearing out walkers isn't enough. Rick's team can't afford to passively react to threats from other survivors any more, because it's been costing them too much personnel. We may be gearing up for a war against Evil Alexandria. Thank god Abraham scored some rockets.
Previously: Slow and Low