LOL, just kidding -- we've known that literally the entire time. But for some reason, the show decided to drive that point home once again during tonight's episode, "Now," as if this was a brand new revelation. Get a load of this: These people have lived a coddled, sheltered life, have no idea how to fight zombies, and are suspicious of Rick and his gang! I mean, color me shocked.
Excuse the sarcasm, but, c'mon, "TWD." This episode was bursting with a-ha! moments that turned out to be anything but, framing big character developments (Spencer, who started out as an a-hole, is still an a-hole! Jessie, who started out as a wuss, is still kinda a wuss! Carl, who started out as the worst, is still pretty much the worst!) as revelatory, game-changing plot points, when they were anything but. Even Maggie's dramatic revelation that she's pregnant, a moment that showrunners surely hoped would surprise, fell a little flat, especially since it made lots of sense and plenty of people saw it coming. (That knowing look she shared with Glenn in the season premiere, when he refused to let her join the Zombie Parade Party, clued me in.) The anguish that she's no doubt feeling now that Glenn's fate is so up-in-the-air is perhaps meant to mirror the audience's own anxiety over finding out what exactly happened to our potentially-disemboweled survivor, but let's be real: It's pretty much a guarantee that he'll be back, in one form or another, and that certainty drains all the drama out of this storyline.
For proof, just take a look at the episode's title, "Now." That's a specific, telling choice. The season premiere used a "Now" and "Then" gimmick, and the device popped up last week, too. Showrunners have promised that there will be plenty of playing with timelines in this batch of episodes, and I'm betting that an installment called "Then" is coming down the pipeline soon. Perhaps producers are saving it for the midseason finale. Either way, we're going to see the flip side to this current action, and that can only mean one thing: Glenn's alive, and we're going to find out not only how he survived, but how he finds his way back to Maggie. We'll also probably get an explanation of how Rick escaped from the camper as the zombie horde approached, as well as find out what's up with our current parade leaders Daryl, Sasha, and Abraham.
Knowing that all that is down the road made me enjoy this episode a lot less, especially since the stakes of everything that happened were just so incredibly low. Oh no, the Alexandrians are trying to raid the pantry! Oh no, Jessie actually stabbed a zombie in the head! Oh no, Dr. Denise is tired of being a doctor and just wants to make out with Tara instead! (Actually, I really am upset about the latter option -- Denise could do a lot better than dull-as-drying-paint Tara.)
The Jessie development I actually found pretty funny, especially since "TWD" already made a big show of her stabbing that Wolf in her kitchen back in episode two, a moment that for many people would have been a turning point. But not for Jessie, apparently. No, she then has to take out a walker -- one trapped in a house, that she gently jabs with her knife through a cracked door -- to really know What Things Are Like. She actually tells her horrified neighbors -- who all inexplicably came running at the slightest hint of a zombie growl (from indoors, no less) and were hilariously over-the-top in their weeping and pearl-clutching reactions to this walker kill -- "This is what life looks life now." Just in case they didn't get the memo. Then again, these simpletons need all the point-driving they can get, it seems.
Take the attempted pantry raid, led by blowhard Bruce (another blue-shirted buffoon who's likely not long for this world) and the aforementioned pearl-clutching redhead lady. They gang up on poor Olivia (who bonded with Carol over her casserole skills) and demand more food -- because apparently, they're all going to starve, despite the fact that mere weeks earlier they were throwing lavish dinner parties for Rick's crew, discussing the finer points of pasta makers, and cranking out casseroles for the community's elderly. What a difference a few days makes, though. Suddenly, the Alexandrians are convinced they're all going to waste away because they can't score an extra jar of tomato sauce and a few cans of corn. They fail to realize that after the Wolf attack, there are considerably fewer community members to go around, and rationing food shouldn't be an issue. But again, these people are as dumb as the reinforced posts protecting Alexandria's walls -- perhaps dumber, since the posts held against the Wolves' truck battering ram, but these people are crumbling left and right.
Spencer steps in to scold his hungry neighbors, bragging that he helped stop said battering ram thanks to putting a bullet in its driver's head (carefully omitting the fact that he wussed out on actually putting down the driver-turned-zombie). Allowing Alexandria's residents to revolt now -- even in this small way -- will "start us down a road where nothing matters. Where no one else matters," Spencer tells them. "And then we'll all look back at this moment, right now, as when we destroyed this place."
It's a noble speech and one that made me momentarily admire Spencer, until we later learn that after he plays the morality card, he raids the pantry himself, snatching booze, crackers, kosher pickles, and other goodies to scarf down alone in his kitchen. "I stopped that little run at the bank, I deserve a reward," a drunk Spencer slurs to Deanna, acting every bit like Uncle Billy in George Bailey's clothing. He then verbally attacks his mother, blaming her for all of Alexandria's current problems, and landing some low blows about their fallen family members.
"We were never safe here," he spits. "But you didn't see that. You didn't want us to see that. You just wanted to dream. What happened -- to Dad, to Aiden -- that's all you."
Those are some harsh accusations, though they're not without some merit. But it's hard to stand on a soapbox when it's filled with stolen merchandise, and Spencer fails to understand that.
Deanna doesn't pose much of a challenge, though -- she's a catatonic mess throughout this hour -- and it's clear she's no longer fit to lead Alexandria. She's lost her spark, and she later tells Rick that she thinks the community needs him more than it needs her. The fact that this declaration comes after she tries and fails to kill a zombie -- slashing it everywhere except the head, soaking herself in blood, until the constable comes to save her -- says it all. Rick makes quick work of the walker, and it's clear that he's more well-equipped to lead this new world order. And now Deanna truly knows it.
But it's going to take some convincing for the rest of the community, and it seems obvious that the show is now positioning Spencer as Rick's main competition for head honcho. Deanna still believes in Alexandria's promise, as her Latin-infused fever dream drawing indicates. As she sketches a detailed plan for the community -- barley and alfalfa crops, a mill, an education and training center, and plans for elections, expansion, and exploration -- she punctuates it all with the phrase, "dolor hic tibi proderit olim." Those words from Ovid (which she's conveniently memorized) translate as "someday this pain will be useful to you," and it's clear Deanna is determined to use horrifying recent events as fuel to further drive her dream forward. Unfortunately, it seems like we're heading toward certain doom for this way of life.
"What I wanted for this place -- was that really just pie in the sky?" she lamely asks Rick shortly after her zombie encounter.
"No," he replies, barely able to keep a straight face.
- Another week, another conspiracy theory to throw on the pile (and no, I'm not confined to "Walking Dead" theories, either). This time, I think Ron, Jessie's eldest son, could be joining Enid as a member of the Wolves, thanks to some strange interactions with Rick and Carl, and a disappearing act later in the hour. First, Ron has a shoving match with the younger Grimes (nothing like a good teenage angst-fueled dust-up, said no one ever), after Carl pledges to go after Enid, who he thinks is trapped by the zombies surrounding the wall. Ron says Enid -- his girlfriend, in case you didn't know, Carl -- can take care of herself, and forbids Carl from searching for her, quickly spitting out, "I'mnothelpingyouCarl" in a hilariously dismissive way. Later, Ron snitches to Rick about Carl's plans, and Rick asks where his son is now; Ron replies that Carl's back at the house with Judith. A couple problems with this: One, Ron would have no way of knowing where Carl is, since Carl shoved him to the ground and stormed off before Ron went running to Rick. And two, as I mentioned a couple weeks ago, there's a good chance that the Wolves kidnapped Judith, and therefore, Carl couldn't possibly be with her. If Ron's telling the truth, then that obviously pokes some holes in my kidnapping theory. But if he is indeed a Wolf, he'd have every reason to lie in order to throw Rick off Judith's scent. Which brings me to my next point.
- If Rick saw that baby food on the dead Wolf's body, how did he not make the connection that the Wolves could possibly have Judith? And furthermore, when he came running through the Alexandria gates, why didn't he immediately go check on Judith (and okay, sure, Carl, too)? Maybe we missed out on a tearful reunion scene because Judith is indeed missing. But if that's not true, then Rick is just a crappy parent. Not that he's been Father of the Year or anything, but seriously – a brush with death is bound to make you want to hug your loved ones closer, right?
- Then again, Rick had other emotional (a.k.a. sexual) needs to fulfill, as he finally made a move on Jessie, making out with her in her garage at the end of the episode. These two have basically zero chemistry, but okay, sure, the show is trying to make this happen. What was also head-scratching about this moment, though, was the glaring absence of Ron, who seemed poised to bust in on his mom and make a petulant scene. But he was nowhere to be seen during the latter half of the episode, not answering Jessie's knock at his bedroom door. And the last we saw of him, Rick had handed him a gun and was teaching him how to shoot. What if he took that gun and ran off to join Enid?
- Jessie's poor parenting (something aside from her spit that she shares with Rick) certainly set the stage for Ron's disappearing act. She seriously has no idea where her eldest son is, after her community has been viciously attacked and most of her neighbors have been slain? And then, she tries to force her younger son – who's probably, what, 11? – to get over his fear of being held prisoner in his own home (after his father abused him and his family for years, mind you) to come down and enjoy some cookies. Sam is clearly reluctant and uncomfortable, and instead of heading upstairs and hugging him, Jessie simply shrugs and leaves. Way to be there for your kid, lady. And your cookies probably aren't anywhere near as good as Carol's, either.
- Speaking of Carol, she was absent from this episode save a passing mention from Rosita (who's had almost nothing to do this season). "The Walking Dead" is always better when there's more Carol (and not completely ignoring its supporting female characters).
- Supporting females really have been misused lately. Maggie has survival skills mansplained to her by Aaron, then can't even fend off a couple sewage-covered zombies on her own? That's so wildly out of character for her, it's ridiculous. She also refuses to go outside the sewer grate, wearily telling Aaron that she doesn't get to know what happened to Glenn. But you can! You had a chance to make it and you inexplicably freaked out instead! Gah! This show is so frustrating sometimes! (And don't worry Maggie -- we probably only have to wait a handful of weeks before Glenn's improbable survival is simplistically explained away.)
- I did find her eventual return to optimism believable, though, especially the nice moment she shares with Aaron when they wipe Glenn's name off of the impeccably-inscribed "In Our Memory" wall. The constant back-and-forth discussion about Glenn's fate is pretty much just trolling fans at this point, but it makes sense for her character. (But seriously, Aaron -- you can leave Nicholas's name up on that wall. We don't ever need to see him again, thanks.)
- "I just want him to live, and the roamers to go away, and a doctor to show up at the gates, so I can go back to my apartment and keep reading 'War and Peace.'" -- Denise's version of Netflix and Chill in the apocalypse.
- Aside from the aforementioned s—t-soaked zombies, Denise's syringe full of pus wins in the gross-out category this week.
- Denise settles down to brush up on her "Gray's Anatomy" textbook, and I couldn't help but compare a certain ABC series with our zombie drama. Both have ever-evolving, sprawling casts of characters, led by frustrating, flawed individuals who excel in some areas and are woefully inept in others. One's been limping along for 12 seasons, zombie-like; the other has had so many stops and starts in momentum that it's hard to tell if I just want the zombies to end it all already. I'm hoping the next few weeks will make me root for the humans again.
Photo credit: Gene Page/AMC