Spoiler warning: Do not read on unless you’ve seen episode 606 of “The Walking Dead,” titled “Always Accountable.”
Mysteries abound in the latest installment of “The Walking Dead.” Did we just hear Glenn’s voice calling for help over Daryl’s walkie talkie (EDIT: Norman Reedus says no), or does that panicked plea belong to another lost soul trapped somewhere outside Alexandria? We know that Glenn was in possession of one of the group’s walkies before the zombie horde descended on him, but this week’s episode also saw the introduction of another group of survivors carrying radios, in addition to three people who seemed to be trying to get as far away from them as possible.
Another lingering question: Did the show just introduce the Saviors? That name is well known to fans of the “Walking Dead” comics, and their arrival would make sense, given the recent casting of Jeffrey Dean Morgan as a pivotal comic book character, but the episode went to great lengths to obscure the identities of the mystery men.
Whoever they are, it doesn’t seem as though the group is affiliated with the Wolves, given their use of guns and cars (and their general cleanliness and lack of W markings). The man calling the shots in the small search party we saw this week, Wade, also seemed a little more open to conversation than the Wolves we’ve encountered so far, and was overheard telling a comrade, “He only wanted to take this so far — he only wants ass that’s willing.” That’s a position that stands in direct opposition to what a number of Wolves have said in their encounters with our group this season — that they don’t have a choice in what they’re doing.
This week’s episode wasn’t too concerned with giving us any tidy answers — a choice that has become a hallmark of season six so far, and perhaps its greatest shortcoming. Previous seasons have experimented with structure by splitting up the group and following one or two characters’ narrative threads per week, which, when executed well, can provide some of the most satisfying episodes of the show (like last season’s Daryl and Carol Power Hour, “Consumed“).
But coming on the heels of a manufactured cliffhanger like Glenn’s apparent death, that ponderous approach seems less like organic storytelling and more like purposefully baiting the audience. While Morgan’s flashback in episode 604 was a compelling and long overdue showcase for the character, many viewers likely failed to appreciate its nuances because they — much like the ravenous walkers who descended on Glenn — were starving for any morsel of information about the character. This Lucy with the football approach does a disservice to the talented actors, writers and directors laboring on each thoughtfully-crafted episode (because there clearly is a lot of thought being put into every narrative choice this season).
And while it’s not the job of the producers to cater to the short attention spans of modern viewers, who crave answers because binge-watching has trained them to expect instant gratification, there does seem to be a purposefully provocative rhythm to the way the season is progressing, especially given the way the show manufactured a lot of the speculation about Glenn’s fate by emphasizing its ambiguity on “The Talking Dead,” in the following episode’s credits and in subsequent interviews with producers. Had Glenn’s apparent “death” occurred in a vacuum of the episode itself, without Scott Gimple’s cryptic “Talking Dead” comment muddying the water immediately afterwards, it’s debatable whether anyone would’ve questioned the fact that the character appeared to be as dead as Lori, Shane or Tyreese.
So is “The Walking Dead” just trolling the fans at this point, to borrow Internet parlance? While aspects of “Always Accountable” may prove to be important down the line if the episode does indeed mark the introduction of the Saviors, I had no interest in spending time with the three traumatized survivors who robbed Daryl (twice), when we were all painfully aware that more pressing matters are occurring elsewhere.
Likewise with Abraham and Sasha’s bottle episode segment; while it was useful to get some insight into the duo’s troubled psyches (especially Abraham, who has been behaving like he has a death wish pretty much since the moment we met him), those were conversations that could’ve easily been conducted elsewhere, in truncated fashion, as part of a less passive episode. And Abraham’s newly acquired interest in Sasha throws into stark relief just how underdeveloped his current romantic partner, Rosita, has been — it feels like the poor woman has only had four lines this season, and has been relegated to weeping silently for her missing man and lurking in the background of other people’s stories.
The episode did serve to illustrate just how far Daryl has come — the character would never have given three strangers the benefit of the doubt once, let alone twice, just a few seasons ago — but he recognized that the escapees were good people, despite their survival instincts getting in the way of their consciences. In “The Walking Dead,” we’ve learned time and again that good people often have to do bad things, and if that lanky Ryan Gosling lookalike is the one calling Daryl for help at the end of the hour, I wonder if Daryl would consider going to his aid after being twice bitten? (Most likely yes, if only to retrieve his beloved bike and crossbow.)
We’re barreling towards the show’s midseason finale, but since Daryl, Sasha and Abraham succeeded in finding a gas tanker this week, I’d like to see the next couple of episodes put the pedal to the metal, because as it currently stands, the show is in danger of running out of juice right when it needs it most.
“The Walking Dead” airs Sundays at 9 p.m. on AMC.