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:
So much for suburbia
(Gene Page / AMC)
Bryan: One of the things that I’ve really been enjoying this season is the way the writers use the cold opens as little "calm before the storm" vignettes (even if they’ve also been used to cover some gaping plot holes). This week, it’s all about Carol making a batch of acorn and beet cookies and delivering them to her neighbors in the idyllic suburban refuge of Alexandria. Seriously, there could have been a paperboy pedaling down the street shouting, "Mornin’, Ms. Peletier!" and it wouldn’t have seemed out of place.
With subtle sparks flying between her and Jason Douglas’s Tobin, it looks like life for Carol just could be approaching something like normal, but then Rick has to show up and break the news that he’s just pledged everybody to take down Negan’s gang. So Carol does what anybody that’s just about had it with the zombie apocalypse would do: leave a cookie at the grave of poor little Sam and deny to Morgan that she’s ever had any second thoughts about her kill ‘em all philosophy. It’s necessary storytelling that pays off with later beats. When Carol talks to Rick you can practically hear her thinking here we go again. As the audience, we do, too.
QL Score: +5
Morgan’s pacifism fails again
Viewers have no reason not to show Morgan the same disdain Carol does
Nick: While I realize it may make sense to comic book readers, the show is squandering Morgan’s character by turning him into a pestering pacifist. Nobody listens to or really understands his pleas to simply "talk it out" with the Saviors. So Morgan is left twiddling his thumbs while Rick leads a group of two dozen or so Alexandrians with assault weapons to hit Negan before Negan hits them.
There should be a counter-argument to Rick’s belligerent and hawkish approach to diplomacy, but Morgan is more often than not making nonsensical appeals to non-violence. He doesn’t articulate why characters shouldn’t kill, so viewers are tempted to show him the same disdain as Carol does. At least he’s building a jail — Warden Morgan would at least have a purpose.
QL Score: +5
Assault on Precinct Negan
(Gene Page / AMC)
Bryan: TWD is full of moments where Michonne, Daryl, and Rick show off how brutal, merciless, and just downright violent they can be. What we don’t often get is a full-on action movie infiltration scene, but when they approach the mysterious compound of Negan and The Saviors (album coming this Christmas), we get exactly that. The protracted, nerve-racking prelude — the guards deciding whether that decapitated head really is the leader of Hilltop Colony — is pure tension.
Then Daryl and the team sweep in to take out one guard, dispose of the body, and quickly disappear back into the shadows. It’s like Mission: Impossible, but with swords and crossbows and, well, no Tom Cruise. But it’s all brilliantly executed both in front of and behind the camera, and as the second guard is taken out and the team pours into the compound it’s clear that director Greg Nicotero has been doing his action movie homework.
QL Score: -5
Glenn joins the Saviors Massacre
Nick: One of the reasons viewers have such unfettered love for Glenn is his role as the moral compass of TWD. Whenever Rick leads the group into a depraved and violent situation, Glenn is either the voice of reason preventing unnecessary slaughter or the one who refuses to participate. As such, he’s the only main character across all six seasons who hasn’t committed murder. So it was unsettling to watch Glenn shed that persona and come to terms with just having stabbed a Savior in the face.
The Saviors Massacre is one of the show's darkest moments
The Saviors Massacre, as I’m calling it, was one of the show’s darkest moments, showing just what Rick’s philosophy of protect-at-all-costs means when faced with a threat that isn’t simply the undead. The assault on Negan’s base resulted in an alarming body count. Glenn was forced to gun down another half dozen people alongside supporting character Heath, and even Father Gabriel notched his first, scripture-narrated kill.
All in all, the preemptive strike against Negan’s crew felt disturbingly transported out of a war movie set half a century ago. It was the first time in TWD where I wasn’t rooting for Rick and crew, even with what I know about the Saviors. What Alexandria did crossed a serious line, even within the context of the show’s savagery.
QL Score: +5
Jesus gets to what really matters
Bryan: It appears that Jesus doesn’t actually have magical powers, but despite his kinda-sorta-maybe good guy actions last week, when he protected Rick from the petulant fury of the Hilltop crew, I still didn't trust him. And to be fair, I don’t think showrunner Scott Gimple necessarily wanted us to trust him — having a wildcard like Jesus in the mix ramps up the tension whenever things get dicey.
That changed for me during this episode, when he was sitting in the car along with Tara and Father Gabriel. Tara confessed to the pair that she’d recently told her girlfriend that she loved her for the first time — not because she was overwhelmed with emotion, but to cover up the fact that she had been involved in something like the Saviors Massacre before, and hadn’t liked it. "Do you [love her]?" Jesus asked. Tara nodded. "So you know what you’re fighting for," he said.
It’s another small moment with enormous weight. Jesus showing compassion, understanding, and the ability to help a friend cope with the horror of this new world while still keeping the focus on the things that matter most. Pass the Team Jesus t-shirt; I’m on board.
QL Score: -5
If it seems too easy...
Bryan: It was brutal, it was bloody, but as Rick and the team made their way out into daylight, The Saviors Massacre also seemed incredibly… easy. Building up the specter of Negan all half-season, only to have his entire group destroyed without even a face-to-face? Things are almost never that simple on TWD, so of course the minute Michonne asked which of the dead bodies could have been Negan a mysterious biker emerged from the compound.
But, oh no, that wasn’t Negan, either. Nor, I suspect, was the voice on the other end of the biker’s walkie-talkie, telling Rick and everyone else to lower their weapons because Negan had captured Carol and Maggie.
Those Polaroids of brutally beaten heads were there for a reason
You know that sick feeling of dread in the pit of your stomach — the one that you just got from realizing that Maggie’s pregnant, and Glenn would do anything to save her? The one that is getting worse when you connect the dots between Carol’s newfound vulnerability, and the fact the Daryl would probably pretty much do anything to save her, too? That same feeling that you can’t shake, because you can’t stop thinking about those polaroids of brutally beaten heads that Glenn saw hanging in the Saviors compound?
We feel it too.
QL Score: -10
The Scoring Dead
Bryan: Well, then. I found this to be one of the best episodes we’ve seen yet this season. Taut, terrifying, and morally complex to a degree that I don’t think the show has ever gone for before. As Rick and his team made their way through the compound, I couldn’t help but think back to seasons past, when I was first trying to wrap my head around The Governor and the depravity he was demonstrating. I never really could; he always remained some sort of one-eyed boogeyman to me. But in this episode, I saw what Rick and Glenn were doing, and it turned my stomach. But the worst part of all is that I understood why — and it seemed utterly reasonable.
Nick: The transformation of Rick and the rest of the Alexandria into what are effectively villains from the perspective of other survivors is the most fascinating element of the show right now. It’s a throwback in ways to what happened to Terminus’ Gareth, who only became a despicable cannibal because of what was done to him and his friends while in captivity. Rick has learned what it means to show restraint and mercy, and he’s not doing it again. It’s a tough line to walk, though, because TWD risks further tainting its characters with acts of brutal violence, as it did with Glenn this week.
The show has somehow become an even darker and scarier place
Bryan: Is that a risk, or is that part of the point? Glenn committed murder in this episode, and that could easily be seen as justification for his (hypothesized; we’re not spoilering here) death in the show’s larger moral universe, should it decide to go in that direction. There’s also the question of the audience surrogate. Because Glenn had never killed, he’s been a "safety valve" character for the audience to latch onto: you could find yourself in the zombie apocalypse, sure, but Glenn was proof you could survive without killing. That’s no longer the case, and the show has become a scarier, more dangerous place as a result.
Nick: It’s undoubtedly improving the show to see characters morph into uglier versions of themselves, even if it hurts to watch. TWD is handling anti-heroism in an interesting, perhaps even more realistic way than most modern dramas, sans zombies. We’re typically asked to reconcile the actions of a morally bankrupt individual with having once respected them and their motives — hello Walter White — or forced to confront a character’s jumps between sociopathy and genuine self-reflection, like Tony Soprano.
Not often do we get characters who feel and act pragmatically, as viewers would, who seem like they’re carrying the weight of decisions made only out of impulse or survival instinct. Glenn may not be the same person after taking a life, but it’s refreshing to know he’s probably taking it harder than the audience is right now.
Bryan: Perhaps that explains this week’s scores. After an episode in which a beloved character took his moral compass and chucked it out the window, our QL score is at one of the lowest points it’s been this season. On to next week. Negan awaits!
Our Quitting Likelihood after "No Tomorrow Yet":