No show likes to troll its audience quite like The Walking Dead. Game of Thrones may kill off people you love, and Homeland may test your patience, but there’s something unique about The Walking Dead’s ability to get you invested, hold your hand through long stretches of dialogue-heavy character building, and then blow it all to hell. It’s enough to make you wonder why you’re watching in the first place, so during this season of The Walking Dead, we’re tracking our reaction to each and every episode, to see whether the show is giving us enough to keep going, or whether it’s time to leave the zombie apocalypse behind altogether.
Warning: There will be spoilers.
The metric we’re using is Quitting Likelihood. The QL score starts at zero — that’s when we’re all-in and there’s no way we’d give up — and scales all the way up to 100. At that point it’s just time to go watch some old episodes of Scandal.
Our Quitting Likelihood after last week:
Bryan Bishop: Last week the people that nabbed Carol and Maggie were mysterious voices on the other end of a walkie talkie, but this week’s episode starts with how that all went down. There’s Alicia Witt’s Paula, the hardened leader of this group, the older woman Molly, and a couple of others. Negan is certainly not with them, but from the way this group behaves it’s obvious they are just as matter-of-fact in the way they deal with murder as Rick’s group has become.
They decide to buy time, even though the man that Rick has captured is Primo, their doctor. They’re scary, but not because they’re larger than life. They’re scary because they’re so recognizable.
QL Score: -5
"You’re not the good guys."
Bryan: This episode is firmly focused on the trauma women suffer in the zombie apocalypse, and nowhere is that more evident than in the interrogation between Maggie and her captor. First Maggie is called out for the violence her group has committed — "You’re not the good guys," she’s told — before discovering that her captor’s boyfriend was one of the Negan disciples blown to hell by Daryl a few weeks back.
It's about the fragility of human life
The knife turns just a little bit more when Maggie discovers that the tattoo of "Frankie" on the woman’s arm wasn’t a nod to that dead boyfriend, but rather a remembrance of a baby she was going to have and ended up losing. It’s an extremely quiet scene, and one that didn’t actually sway my QL score either way. But I’m including it here because the entire point of this episode isn’t about plot twists or kills. It’s about the fragility of human life, and the idea that how these characters fight to protect and honor it will dictate who they’re going to become.
QL Score: null
The Carol we used to know
Nick Statt: Carol’s shift from dependent mother and survivor of abuse to ruthless killer is arguably TWD's strongest character arc. So it was beyond strange to watch Carol play the weak counterpoint to her fellow female captors this episode in a dose of brilliant acting from Melissa McBride, who manages to keep viewers’ heads spinning throughout the entire exchange.
Is it all an act? At first, you believe it has to be. But the more you watch Carol and Paula pick each other apart, the more you start to realize the Carol we used to know has always been there, holding onto her basic humanity the whole time.
QL Score: -5
The Great Escape
Bryan: When Carol started cutting through her bonds with the rosary, I felt an incredible sense of relief: yes, after all of the back and forth with Alicia Witt’s character, she had just been bluffing after all. But then when she helped Maggie get free, it was obvious things weren’t so clear. Carol wanted to just escape, but Maggie drew the hard line. "Carol, we have to finish this," she said. "We have to."
Maggie's ruthlessness is breathktaking
The ruthlessness with which Maggie started her attack was breathtaking; first setting up a zombie trap for The Smoking Lady and then brutally beating her skull in, her mouth snarled while blood spattered on the camera lens. It was the inverse of the scene with her interrogator: here was Maggie, a fierce and protective mother, making sure nobody could do any harm to her child. It was animalistic, sure, but that’s the point we’re getting to now in the show: as much as these characters are trying to hold on to their humanity, they’re being stripped of it moment by moment, until only their most basic survival instincts are left. It’s disturbing, but I do think showrunner Scott Gimple is going somewhere with all of this.
QL Score: -5
Carol’s regrettable return to form
Nick: Carol tells Maggie in a moment of exasperation that she’s killed 18 people, and then corrects herself. "20," she says. Those two extra kills told viewers that throughout Carol’s terror-stricken dialogue with Paula, she was always more scared of what she’s become than what would be done to her.
One kill, a bullet to the head of the Savior who almost stabbed Maggie in the stomach, was quick and painless. Paula’s death, on the other hand, was one of the show’s most gruesome. Without even wasting a breath, Carol picks up her walkie talkie, imitates Paila’s voice, and sets up the rescue crew to be burned alive on the aptly named kill floor. "Nervous little bird … you were her, but not now, right?" Paula asks Carol before her unpleasant demise. Despite her rising kill count, Carol seems to disagree.
QL Score: null
Reunion and Execution
Bryan: I’ve never felt my emotions swing so quickly. First, Maggie opens the door to the outside and sees Glenn and her friends waiting there for her. It’s instant relief, and Maggie tells Glenn that she can’t fight or kill anymore. Carol is also clearly shaken by her own actions, and when Daryl asks if she’s alright she doesn’t even bother trying to put on her usual mask of detached stoicism.
Drawn into buzzsaw that goes by the name of Negan
Rick, on the other hand, continues to act with cold efficiency. He turns to the character that we, the audience, know goes by the name of Primo, and asks him about Negan. "I’m Negan, shithead," Primo says, and Rick promptly shoots him in the head.
The final shot is blood trickling from Carol’s hand as her rosary cuts into her clenched fist. She, of course, remembers the moment earlier in the episode, where The Smoking Lady explained that in this group’s philosophy, they are all "Negan." She understands that Primo was likely just spouting the party line. And she realizes that this round of violence isn’t over, and that Rick and her group are slowly, inexorably being drawn into a buzzsaw that goes by the name of Negan.
It’s not going to end well.
QL Score: -5
The Scoring Dead
Bryan: If last week’s episode was most of the group giving up their basic humanity in the name of self-preservation, this week was Carol and Maggie being presented with the same set of choices, and picking cold, brutal murder. I don’t think they had a choice, and in the end it is easy to argue that their actions were justified. But there’s an air about this episode that makes it feel like the show itself doesn’t agree.
Given the intense focus on Carol’s character this week, I also have a very uneasy feeling that she won’t be long for this world.
Nick: The show certainly took last week’s icy, war-torn tone and tried to infuse a little empathy into the situation by exploring Maggie and Carol’s internal conflicts. But it did feel a bit contradictory that we spent 35 minutes becoming intimate with four of the Saviours only to have them all each suffer a death more horrible than the last. Perhaps that was the point: Carol knew she would ultimately have to kill these people, regardless of who they were. Whether or not it was all an act, or maybe Carol truly drawing on the version of herself that she used to be, it was jarring to see her lose her grip for what feels like the first time in a long time.
Bryan: I actually liked that we spent so much time with the new characters — Maggie establishing a bond as a (potential) mother, Carol with Paula as a fellow spirit that was set free by the apocalypse. It’s exactly why they were both so upset by what happened. They saw the people they killed as comrades, in a sense, and dispatching them all so ruthlessly pushed both Carol and Maggie to the brink.
If our heroes do that, what's the point of even living?
The question is, where does it all stop? They started a runaway train with the executions last week, and "we have to finish this!" can now be used as a justification to take out every single person they run across from here on out. Though maybe that’s part of the idea behind "we are all Negan," as well? Everyone out there has the potential to be in service of a nefarious post-apocalyptic supervillain. There’s reason to murder every single person on the planet that hasn’t sided with Rick and his friends. But if our heroes do that, what’s the point of even living?
Nick: Agreed. TWD isn’t leaving much room for alternatives, and I’m finding Morgan’s pleas for pacifism (or at least some form of measured dialogue) slightly more appealing with each fresh kill Alexandria puts under its belt. The final scene was shocking not because Rick decided to shoot someone in the face just mere feet from his traumatized companions, but because Carol’s dismayed expression communicated how savage she knew it was. How bad can Negan really be, if this is what Rick and even Maggie are willing to do without hesitation?
Then again, the show has been building us up for this train of thought, teaching us to think there’s this disappearing divide between Rick and Negan. I’m getting more anxious — I share the uneasy feeling about Carol too — that the entire point of this half-season is to shatter our expectations about what humans are capable of doing to one another. So maybe Negan is worse than our wildest imaginations. All I can say now is it looks like TWD is getting better every week.
Our Quitting Likelihood after "The Same Boat":