Whew. I’m not usually one for collectibles, or whatever monstrosities Funko Pop can churn out by the minute, but lord, if Carol shouldn’t’ have at least five new action figures by the end of the week. A wolf in sheep’s clothing! A wolf in sheep’s clothing, wearing literal Wolves’ clothing! Masked vigilante Carol!

There’s a statement going around from creator Robert Kirkman that he’d never kill off Carol, given how far the character has differentiated from her comic counterpart, as well as her value among the fanbase, and while I wouldn’t place too much stock in her enduring safety, “JSS” cements her as the series’ MVP. Despite its breakneck pace, tonight’s outing offered an embarrassment of riches for Melissa McBride, between baring a few claws in the domestic circle amongst the other women, mixing in real memories of Ed, and turning on a dime to action hero, even clashing with Morgan over the necessity of killing.

For the second week in a row now, The Walking Dead Season 6 seems to be concentrating on action beats moreso than character work, an understandable pickup after last week’s cliffhanger, albeit one that offered another opportunity for some needed experimentation. If nothing else, tonight’s all-out Wolves assault may have served as some stealthy table-setting, thinning out the extras of Alexandria, and sweeping away any remaining doubt of Rick’s people, without whom all of Alexandria would surely be lost.

What’s most refreshing is to see The Walking Dead eking out of its comfort zone a bit, last week playing with flashbacks and scale, and this time around with much more claustrophobic action, and so few* of the main cast’s heavy-hitters. From the moment one Wolf sweeps into view to cut down Carol’s neighborhood rival, the frenetic pace rarely lets up on chaos and confusion, simultaneously infusing some much needed fear for the weaker characters. Not only that, but this makes two or so major Wolves encounters without Rick, Daryl or anyone else, building up a much more pointed conflict when they finally do meet.

*The explanation went by a bit quickly, but are we to understand that Rick’s group sent only Morgan back to Alexandria to stop the horn, and continued on with the parade as best they could? Granted, the siege would have been much worse if Morgan hadn’t silenced the horn, that’s still an awfully big risk to take, considering how little they knew of what was happening back home.

Though if a “cheesemaker” taught Morgan, imagine how terrifying the man’s actual cheese must be.

The Wolves themselves seem an interesting breed of menace, far less calculated than the few we’ve seen, alternating between claims of freeing Alexandrians from the past, and ferally snapping at them. The wonderfully quiet moment of Aaron realizing his lost photos had brought them there reminded of at least some organization within their ranks, as did those who accepted Morgan’s offer to flee the community, so can the emergence of a leader be far behind?

A few other bits proved more hit and miss, including the emphasis on Enid’s past, and bizarre efforts to say goodbye in the middle of an attack. Ron too showed some strongly teenage decision-making in refusing Carl’s offer of protection, while Gabriel proves a difficult character to redeem in the audience’s eyes, no matter what. We also got our first interactions with Merrit Wever’s Dr. Denise Cloyd, who went from sweetly nervous to downright jaded after losing her first real patient in the attack, an efficient establishing point for the character going forward.

It seemed inevitable that we’d shift focus from the zombie herd back to the chaos at Alexandria this week, and while “JSS” capped off a great one-two punch for the first two outings of the season, hopefully next week will slow down enough to at least get the characters in one place, circle the wagons and figure out a clearer arc for the six weeks to come.

AND ANOTHER THING …

  • One beat I hadn’t necessarily picked up on, that cements Season 6’s interest in playing with format, the Wolves’ invasion unfolded over exactly 45 minutes in real time, as defined by Carol’s casserole timer.
  • Whether or not we needed Enid’s backstory, that turtle moment was especially gross. I’m also unclear on their output of bones with which to spell “JSS.”
  • Carol, always taking a spare moment to terrify and berate poor Sam.
  • Overshadowed, but the scene between Maggie and Deanna gave some much needed reality to the community’s mood.
  • Eugene spoke of building a lab in the church space, but I’m not certain how much The Walking Dead has done to establish Eugene’s exact level of intelligence. Is he good with words and improvisation, or does he actually have a mind for science?
  • Seriously, f$%k off, Ron.
  • Had the “A” on the porch reminded Carol of the Terminus train car (which I’m aware she wasn’t actually in)? Is there a significance I’ve missed?
  • So did Morgan finally kill that Wolf, or no?
  • In case anyone missed it, the blonde “Holly” who died on Denise’s operating table (and whose face we curiously never saw) was a character from the books who formed a relationship with Abraham, after being rescued at the construction site.

The Walking Dead will return next Sunday night on AMC with “Thank You.”

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