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I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: when The Walking Dead finds that sweet spot between character development and brutal action sequences, it is among the best shows on television. And “JSS” pretty much nailed it. Personally, I could have done with a little less dismemberment by the Wolves, but I’ll take it if it means that we get an episode as deep and interesting as this one.
One of the more complex themes tackled by The Walking Dead has been the ways different people adapt to the world they are living in. We’ve seen Rick go from a man who advocated for the measured response in the face of massive threats to one who has become far more like Shane than he ever believed he would be. While Rick has been our central barometer for how to weather the zombie apocalypse, we have also been privy to how this reality can change people- for good and for ill. In “JSS,” the show offers a lesson on what it takes to survive against those who threaten order and safety. And, unfortunately for Morgan, it appears that mercy is not the way to go.
When we last saw Morgan, before his arrival in Alexandria, he was a man alone losing his sanity. He believed in shooting first and asking questions later. Now, he’s a trained fighter who abhors the idea of taking the life of a living person. When he first encountered the Wolves last season, he chose to spare their lives. While I don’t think he was responsible for the attack being as successful as it was (that honor goes to Aaron for leaving that backpack out in the wild), had he taken out the two Wolves when he had the chance, perhaps it would have allowed a few more Alexandrians to make it out alive. But the episode is less concerned with placing the blame on one person (I’m sure that will come down the road). Rather, it focuses on how one needs to act to “Just Survive Somehow” in this world. And “JSS” has endorsed the Carol Peletier plan for continued survival.
Since the prison, Carol has accepted that sometimes you have to kill people in order to ensure the survival of the greater whole. It was a stance Rick took umbrage with, and it resulted in her being banished for a time. Well, as we saw in the season five finale, Rick has come around to her way of thinking (sorry not sorry Pete). It was Carol’s quick thinking and ability to blend into her surroundings that once again saved the group from total annihilation. This is a kill or be killed situation. The Wolves are horrific people and certainly the most violent and deranged that we have seen thus far in the series. They kill without thought, enjoy the kill, and dismember the bodies. That’s something we haven’t really seen (sure, Terminus dismembered people, but somehow the cannibals seem more civilized than these monsters). And when fighting the unreasonable, you have to stoop to their level.
Despite clearly advocating in favor of the kill or be killed mentality embraced by Carol (and Carl, Maggie, Jessie, and Rosita), the show did something rather spectacular. It made sure we saw what embracing that thought process does to a person. While Carol may be able to present a stoic face to those around her, adapting into this new role of lead executioner has taken something out of her. Deep down inside, there is still the kind mother we first met back in season one. She hasn’t lost her humanity yet, but it’s clear that being able to turn on the cold and dispassionate fighter is slowly breaking something deep within her. The lingering question now is how much longer Carol can hold onto her humanity before she fully evolves into a dispassionate shell of who she once was. It was an incredibly powerful scene.
Equally as powerful was seeing Morgan take a step back down the path of killing. Yes, he saved the lives of several Wolves (which I’m sure will come back to haunt him later), but when push came to shove, Morgan was willing to kill another human to save himself. How this aligns with his new personal mantra, we don’t yet know, but it will surely have personal repercussions for him down the line. Killing others, as we have seen, can change a person in a fundamental way. I’m eager to better understand how Morgan has become who he is now.
— Enid is the perfect example of how to properly handle a sullen teenage character. I was never once annoyed with her in “JSS,” just intrigued. She seems pretty darn self-sufficient, but I do worry for her out in the wilderness. I can’t help but think we haven’t seen the last of her.
— I can’t be the only one hoping Ron was going to get it, right? He’s just so annoying. Congrats Carl, there’s someone worse than you on the show now.
— Deanna really is a good leader. She correctly realized she would only be a liability in the town. Although, she better get some training moving forward.
— Loved Eugene’s scenes again this week. They’ve really found the right mix for that character.