the walking deadWell, it had to end sometime. After weeks of pretending she was nothing more than a mild-mannered housewife in sensible slacks, Carol "I used to make miracles happen with water chestnuts" Peletier finally had to drop the ruse and once again assume her rightful mantel of badassery on "The Walking Dead." It's just a shame it took watching one of her frenemies get hacked to death with a machete to do it.

Yes, Shelly, cigarettes really will kill you, as the unfortunate Alexandrian learned when she went out for a smoke and was suddenly and viciously attacked by an invading Wolf. Truth.org couldn't have written a grimmer anti-smoking ad. Earlier, Carol had chided Shelly about her "disgusting habit," noting that there were already enough things out in the world trying to kill them. And then, those things showed up in the form of a giant pack of Wolves.

It was them behind the honking horn that disrupted Rick's zombie parade last week, though that was more of a coincidence than any specific desire to strike while the sheriff's deputy was away playing walker wrangler. Instead, the Wolves found their way to Alexandria most likely thanks to finding Aaron's abandoned bag at the food factory, which he lost back in the season five finale; in it, he had lots of photos of Alexandria's walls, no doubt making it easy for them to locate and infiltrate the community. (Or, it could be because they've been there before. We'll see.)

No matter why they chose this specific moment to pounce, it was clear that they were planning on making their attack count, quickly stabbing and butchering anyone that crossed their path. From the carnage they caused (and the mounting pile of body parts), we now know for certain that they're the ones who destroyed Noah's former home in Richmond; it's just still not entirely clear why. As one wild-eyed Wolf told Morgan, they didn't choose this life. So how, exactly, was it foisted upon them? The Wolf who met up with Morgan in the season five finale explained back then that the group represents a return to the time the area was originally settled, when Native Americans believed that people were wolves transformed into men. The animals were wiped out, the Wolf had said, but now, they're making a comeback; vengeance seems to be the name of the game for this pack, but it remains to be seen just who exactly is the target/source of their ire.

Whatever caused the invasion, it caused Carol to snap out of her Stepford act and spring into action, wielding a knife again with ease and laying waste to Wolves left and right. She was too late for Shelly, and too late for her other friend, too, the one who told her earlier in the episode, when lauding her cooking prowess, "You're an honest to goodness hero." She never got to see just how true that statement is, but Carol clearly lived up to it throughout the rest of the episode. Even her gruff speech to Sam, pre-attack, was accolade worthy, if only for its amazing bluntness (and correctness). "Your dad used to hit you, and then he got himself killed," Carol told the glum-looking kid as he sat on her stoop. "It happened. Now it's done."

Sam, understandably, was less-than-comforted by this little pep talk. Also dealing poorly with his terrible father's demise is older brother Ron, who sasses his mom when she attempts to give him a haircut (a ruse to get him to talk about his feelings). "This is bulls—t!" Ron declares as Jessie pleads with him. They're both Acting with a giant A in this eye roll-inducing exchange, though the significance of Jessie's scissors comes back into play when she later discovers a Wolf in hippie's clothing in her home, and goes berserk. She grabs the pair and savagely stabs the intruder -- perhaps the way she's always envisioned stabbing Pete, but never had the guts to do? -- and Ron walks in on his blood-soaked mother, maniacally thrusting her makeshift weapon. Not the best way to persuade her eldest son to get a haircut, methinks.

Also in desperate need of a haircut (and if we're being honest, some scissor impaling) is Carl, who makes his first significant appearance this season. The show keeps trying to make us care about him, and by giving him a crush on fellow sullen teen Enid, we find the source of the episode's title, "JSS." The installment begins with a flashback to how Enid ended up in Alexandria, as her parents are killed and she's forced to survive on her own. The shot of her feasting on that poor turtle (RIP, little guy), her mouth rimmed with blood, was both gross and a nice parallel to all the similar scenes we've seen of zombies making meals out of whatever flesh they can find. As she winds her way through the countryside and eventually to the gates of her current community, Enid traces over and over the letters "JSS" -- into dirty car windows, into the ground, onto her grimy hand, even fashioning the characters out of turtle bones (once again, RIP). As she later reveals in a note to Carl, they mean "Just Survive Somehow," a mantra (there's one of those again) that's become her saving grace over the years – and one that could easily apply to anyone on the show now.

Carol, with her quick-thinking plot to pretend to be a Wolf (complete with bloody W christening her forehead), already seems well-equipped to JSS. Morgan, not so much. After a couple false starts over the years, he's done alright for himself, transforming into the bo-wielding badass we were introduced to last season. But as his reluctance to kill proves, he's not quite ready to completely accept that the world he once knew is truly lost and gone forever. The last time he said the words, "Everything gets a return," he was face to face with a Wolf; this week, he meets the same Wolf again, and he realizes, sadly, that something needs to change. The Wolf taunts Morgan, telling the man he should have killed him when he had the chance. Morgan doesn't make the same mistake again, apologizing as he delivers the fatal blow. He must survive, somehow. The manner in which he chooses to do so (or perhaps, chooses not to) will almost certainly evolve as the season does.

Other thoughts:

- That whole scene with Carol and the other Alexandria homemakers was great. From the way Carol claimed to be a whiz with cream of celery soup, to telling Shelly she would teach her how to make homemade pasta if Shelly promised not to bring her stinky cigarettes inside -- just flawless. Did anyone else think they all pronounced "paprika" oddly? And did anyone else catch the hilarious throwback to the pasta maker mentions from last season's 13th episode, "Forget"? Turns out that Shelly was the one clamoring for Aaron and his fellow supply runners to be on the lookout for the magical machine (and annoying Sasha by talking about it at Deanna's house party). Too bad she never got to take her fellow Alexandrians on that "tour of Tuscany."

- Another throwback to "Forget" this week was Sam clutching his "A" stamp, which he gave to Rick at the house party, and which he and his family proudly sported throughout that episode. Carol shoos Sam away from her stoop, and after the attack she sees he's left an A behind on the railing. The folks over at Pajiba have some interesting theories about the significance of that letter (tying back to the season five premiere), which may come into play later this season, as the Wolves' motives are revealed.

- Speaking of poor Sam, my heart just about broke when he pleaded with his mother to stay with him as the Wolves descended on their home. And the fact that Jessie had already fashioned a hiding spot -- complete with lock -- for times when Pete was on the prowl, was especially agonizing.

- Eugene, referring to something that annoys him: "It hams my biscuits." Never change, Eugene.

- "I only kinda wanna throw up." -- New character Denise (the delightful Merritt Wever), talking about her sudden responsibilities as the community's only doctor, now that Pete is out of the picture. She also later tells Tara, who complains of a headache, "I'm pretty sure I can't kill you." Eugene's amazing response: "I mean, it is possible, if you miss like a hematoma or something."

-- Father Gabriel sidles up to Carl and promises he's changed his tune when it comes to Rick's crew. Later, he fails spectacularly at his attempts to learn survival skills, getting cornered by a Wolf and then not understanding how to use a gun. There are not enough facepalms in the world for this guy. (The fact that Morgan later saves him made me groan. Not my first time when it comes to Gabriel, and almost certainly not my last.)

- Morgan tells Gabriel he learned his skills from a cheesemaker. Morgan may be frustratingly obtuse when it comes to details about his past, but if he can come up with a similarly amusing new answer to this query every week, I'll let it slide.

- One thing I can't let slide, though: The group of Wolves that Morgan allows to escape, one of them grabbing a gun as he flees. (And once again, Chekhov's gun makes a cameo on "TWD.") In addition to their knives and machetes, they now have ammunition, too -- and have even more reason to be pissed, since so many of their comrades have been killed.

- I had to laugh at Carl carefully removing Carol's casserole from the oven, post-attack, as if nothing had happened. Then again, a teenage boy's gotta survive somehow -- even if it's on a cream of celery casserole.

Photo credit: Frank Ockenfels 3/AMC

The Walking Dead
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Based on 25 critics

Based on the comic book series written by Robert Kirkman, this gritty drama portrays life in the weeks and months following a zombie apocalypse. Led by police officer Ric... Read More