the walking dead, 608, midseason finale, michonne, start to finish I'm pleased to report that the producers of "The Walking Dead" have apparently heard my repeated pleas for someone, anyone, to eat Judith Grimes, and delivered a hilarious fake-out during tonight's midseason finale, in which Rick thought a zombiefied Deanna was about to make a meal out of his daughter. Thankfully for the constable, that didn't happen, but I appreciated the nod to the plausibility of such a scenario, considering how poorly attended that poor toddler has been over the past few seasons. (Not to mention all those Alexandrians with baby flesh lust in their eyes.)

Unfortunately for viewers, that moment was one of the most dramatic things to happen during this ho-hum hour, which didn't address nearly as many of the plotlines I'd hoped it would, and had incredibly low stakes, despite the loss of a (somewhat) major character, and the presence of all those zombies milling around outside – and now inside a few houses, too. It makes sense that the walkers' eradication will be a long, slow process, considering the strength of their ranks, and it also made sense to linger for a bit on our various survivors' reactions to their invasion, since for some (Jessie, Sam, Ron, Deanna), this is a brand new experience. But such a micro focus pulled attention away from other macro problems that I think could have – and should have – been better served. Tonight's episode felt less like a midseason finale, and more like a penultimate episode; the pieces were put in place, but not enough of them moved forward for my taste.

Take the demise of Deanna, for instance, whose death was surprisingly emotional, considering what little time we've spent with this character. I was glad to see her come to terms with her eventual transition into zombiehood, and offer to off herself so that no one else would have to. And she officially made Rick HBIC, telling the constable that everyone in Alexandria was "his people" now. But did we really need two separate scenes of her ruminating about her life, "Start to finish"? (A phrase that also served as the episode's title.) Deanna seemed to be passing her idealism torch to Michonne, and that will no doubt be an important character arc for her moving into the second half of the season; but asking her several times "What do you want?" seemed a bit ill-timed. There's a walker invasion happening right outside – right downstairs, in fact. Surely, planning Alexandria's expansion can wait?

What can't wait is addressing the serious mental health problems of Sam and Ron, who both have separate breakdowns this week. Ron goes off the rails and finally attacks Carl, breaking a window and attracting the walker horde, which eagerly comes to investigate. Rick rushes in to save them, and Carl lies to cover up their argument, though he later confronts Ron, demanding the teen turn over his gun and getting in another good dig at his foe. "Look man, I get it – my dad killed your dad," Carl says of their mutual dislike. "But you need to know something: Your dad was an asshole." Look who's dropping truth bombs. Is Carl kind of awesome now? (I don't know who I am anymore.)

Not so awesome is Sam, who's still refusing to come out of his room, leaving his favorite food, cookies, unattended so long that a colony of ants has set upon a discarded dish in the corner. (The ants streaming in through his window represent the walkers streaming in through Alexandria's crumbled walls, in case that metaphor wasn't heavy-handed enough for you.) Setting aside the fact that his dad is dead and his house was just recently attacked by Wolves, what seems to be consuming Sam the most is his conversation with Carol last season, in which she threatened to lash him to a tree and let the walkers have him if he snitched on her stealing from the armory. Listening to a record playing "Tiptoe Through the Tulips" (every 11-year-old owns a portable turntable and a stack of vintage novelty singles, right?), Sam happily sketches himself in that harrowing scenario, as if he's completing an application for Ms. Peletier's Home for Peculiar Children. (Previous enrollees included Lizzie and Mika, and we all know how that worked out.) His mother seems to have completely forgotten that he's even in his room until it's time for them to leave, drenched in zombie guts, at which point she pleads with him to "just pretend you're brave." Way to shade your own kid, lady.

Turns out she had reason to worry about Sam's stiff upper lip, though, since he immediately starts freaking out as the group gingerly steps off the front steps and attempts to make its way through the walker horde undetected. Judith, a literal baby, isn't crying, but the tween can't stop whining for his mommy. What would Carol say?

Our resident badass was busy continuing her tradition of delivering tough love, confronting Morgan in an attempt to finally force his hand over his pacifist attitude. She fakes a concussion to seek out and slay the Wolf Morgan has hidden away, and finds the prisoner with Denise, who had been inspecting his nasty wound. (And also trying to talk him down from his monstrous machinations. Bless your heart, Denise, but your wide-eyed innocence here is concerning.) Carol and Morgan have a circuitous conversation in which they each argue their point (Morgan: "We can be better than them." Carol: "We are better than them." Morgan: "Not if we kill." Carol: "They made us kill."), before Carol lays down the (clumsily-worded) law. "I will kill you to kill him, because I don't want anyone else to die," she says, thrusting her knife at Mogan. Morgan snaps, batting the weapon away and wrestling with Carol before body-slamming her to the floor. The Wolf, sensing his moment, pounces on Morgan, taking him down and pulling a knife on Denise, who he then takes hostage as a horrified Tara, Rosita, and Eugene look on (after giving him all their weapons. Because that's not a stupid idea at all).

Sadly, Denise's potential death doesn't really hold any importance, no matter how much I like her as a character. Her presence on the show is still purely peripheral, and randomly entangling her in the Wolves' storyline doesn't suddenly change that. Instead of finding out if Glenn and Maggie ever reunite, or if Maggie survives her trip atop that wobbly platform, or whether or not Daryl, Abraham, and Sasha ever make it back from their mission, we're left with a lot of loose ends in desperate need of tying. Not everything can be solved in an hour, of course, and the whole point of a midseason finale is to build tension and anticipation for the next batch of episodes. Alas, the show's approach this time around has only made me shrug. I can certainly wait 10 weeks to find out how the storylines addressed this week shake out; the point is that I shouldn't be able to. The show would do well to remember that sense of urgency.

Other thoughts:

- Daryl, Abe, and Sasha did make an appearance, however, in what was dubbed a "prologue" for the midseason premiere, which aired during "Into the Badlands." (AMC is trying everything in its power to get people to watch that series, it seems, even delaying the massively popular "Talking Dead" for its sake.) The short clip featured the trio coming across a group of bikers – no doubt the same ones who gunned them down in episode 6 – who demand they turn over all their gear. "Everything belongs to Negan now," the lead baddie says, the first time the villain's name has been uttered on the series so far. Negan is a major antagonist from the comics (more background on him can be found here, though major SPOILERS abound), and now it seems his introduction is imminent. He and his group are particularly evil, and should make some big waves as season six continues.

- Eugene seems to be the one that Daryl, Sasha, and Abraham heard calling out for help on the walkie talkie.

- Maggie's harrowing escape from the walkers and climb onto the watch tower was almost an exact mirror of Glenn's scene on top of the dumpster, down to the overhead view of her perched above the frothing horde below. It should also be noted that there have been several similar shots this season of bodies splayed out like Maggie's (scenes involving Ron and Daryl come to mind), and I'm wondering if that's a significant, specific choice signaling a grim end for any or all of those characters.

- As they watch the wall crumble, Glenn and Enid have another conversation about how Enid shouldn't give up on the world. I just couldn't bring myself to care.

- Kudos to the makeup people for making that Wolf look as gross and clammy as you'd expect a murderous psycho with a gaping, infected wound to look.

- Deanna explains to Michonne the meaning of the Latin phrase, "Dolor hic tibi proderit olim," that she scrawled on her map of Alexandria. Sometimes I forget that they don't have Google in the zombie apocalypse.

- Jessie's penchant for creating elaborate metal sculptures comes back to bite her: The walkers knock it over, and the sound attracts more to her house. The unexpected melodrama caused by her craftiness tickled me.

- Loved the shot of Eugene reading a World History textbook by lighter light. Deanna would be proud that he made education a priority.

- Father Gabriel is supremely grossed out by the drenching-ourselves-in-zombie-guts plan, but later assures Rick that he will not bail on them. If you have to make that promise out loud, it's probably not one you're going to keep, dude. Way to continue to be a waste of time and space on this show.

- The shot of everyone standing shoulder-to-shoulder on Jessie's porch, wearing their walker innard ponchos, struck me as a family portrait of sorts – albeit an extremely strange, strained, and smelly one.

- The return of that device, by the way, once again begs the question: If this is such a surefire method of getting zombies to leave you alone, why on earth have they only deployed it a handful of times throughout the series's run? It seems that Rick and co. should keep a pile of zombies on hand at all times just for such occasions, right? Then again, that solution would just be too logical for this show.

And with that, we're wrapped until February 14. See you for the midseason premiere, everyone.

Photo credit: Gene Page/AMC