walking dead recap east daryl shot
Courtesy of AMC

Spoiler warning: Do not read on unless you’ve seen “The Walking Dead” Season 6, Episode 15, titled “East.”

The penultimate episode of “The Walking Dead” Season 6 certainly ended with a bang, but we’ve seen enough fake-outs on this show to know that Daryl may have been shot, but he won’t be dead when next week’s supersized season finale rolls around. That has been the main weakness of this season’s generally solid back half — the specter of Negan’s arrival has hung heavy over the show since it returned from its midseason break, and episodes like “East” can’t help but feel like the writers are spinning their wheels just to kill time before the big bad makes his long overdue debut.

Was there any logical narrative impetus for Carol to freak out and leave Alexandria in the dead of night, or for Daryl to impetuously race out to seek revenge on Dwight, aside from the desire to draw the rest of our warriors out from behind Alexandria’s sturdy walls and put them in harm’s way? The tension is mounting inside the safe zone — we all know a storm is coming, characters and viewers alike, and it’s frustrating that the show continues to delay the inevitable just to squeeze a little extra anticipation out of Negan’s entrance.

Glenn gave voice to the possibility that while they were out wandering the woods, the Saviors could be attacking Alexandria, but the episode pretty clearly telegraphed that something was going to happen to one of our groups out on the road, and now the Saviors have Michonne, Glenn, Daryl and Rosita as leverage when they roll up to Alexandria’s doorstep. To make matters worse, something’s obviously wrong with Maggie and the baby, and, oh shucks, the show just killed Alexandria’s only doctor in a completely unnecessary way, how unfortunate! Could that possibly necessitate an emergency trip to Hilltop, which conveniently happens to have an obstetrician still alive and well? Too bad there’s a bunch of angry Saviors between Alexandria and there, huh? I wonder what’ll happen next!

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There’s nothing wrong with laying narrative groundwork, but these plot threads have been hung together so haphazardly, it can’t help but feel a little perfunctory, like these generally practical characters are just pawns in service of a much larger game, logic be damned. We need our group weakened and divided, so let’s have Daryl make an impulsive decision when he clearly knows better; ditto Carol, whose decision to remove herself from the chess board right when she’s needed most still seems suspicious, if she’s not pursuing some larger, Negan-killing agenda. (I still think she is — she may have told everyone that she was leaving because she couldn’t kill anymore, but as Rick told Morgan, and as she ably demonstrated with the Saviors who stopped her, “she could, because she had to. Sometimes, you have to.”)

“East” also gave Rick and Morgan and opportunity to get back on the road and rehash the morality debate they’ve been having all season, with Morgan finally coming clean about sparing the Wolf and keeping him inside Alexandria’s cell, enabling him to later save Denise, who in turn saved Carl. “It’s all a circle,” Morgan said, echoing Eastman’s wisdom. “Everything gets a return.”

Rick seemed dubious (understandably so, given how many times the “right” choice has bitten his group in the ass in the past), but also didn’t attempt to argue Morgan out of his opinion, as he has for much of the season — even allowing Morgan to stay out and search for Carol without him, a level of respect that demonstrates the bond that these men have, even if they fundamentally disagree on apocalypse survival strategies. Rick even admitted that Michonne did steal Morgan’s protein bar — a welcome moment of levity in a relationship that has become far too terse of late.

Overall, “East” was a servicable episode, if one that suffered under the weight of expectations for the season finale; it was frustrating to watch some of our most strategic characters make such questionable choices simply because the plot demanded it of them, but the hour still did a solid job maintaining the tension leading up to Negan’s arrival. Only one question remains: Who’s going to make it out of the finale in one piece, and who’s going to have an unfortunate meeting with Lucille?

“The Walking Dead” airs Sundays at 9 p.m. on AMC.

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