Spoiler Alert: The following discusses plot points from Sunday night's The Walking Dead Season 6 episode "Twice As Far."
Editor at Large Aaron Sagers and Contributing Editor Tara Bennett give their reactions to this episode written by Matt Negrete and directed by Alrick Riley
Aaron: After we dissolve through a few pre-credits scenes of the daily routine in Alexandria, post-Savior showdown from last episode, we head off on the co-existing storylines that see weaker members of the Safe-Zone attempting to be proactive. As the story cross-cuts between Denise and Eugene, I was thinking, at first, The Walking Dead was going to deliver a very important message about the value of the less-physically-inclined survivors, aka the brains.
But no. I half expected Denise to die horribly from how much attention she was being given in this episode, but still convinced myself she was safe (because I’ve been really enjoying what Merritt Weaver has been doing with this character). So when she got an arrow to the head -- which was intended for another character in the comics -- I was genuinely surprised.
Let me be clear: I think it was a terrible decision to kill Denise. Her relationship with Tara added diversity to this show, and she’s been an excellent example of a woman who can survive and bring something to this team, despite not being a warrior. But, as far as eliciting a response from me, and keeping me on my toes, the show succeeded.
Tara: I'm with you on the surprise of Denise's murder, but I firmly put that entire scenario in the Lowlight category (see that subhead for more of reaction). As for what I did enjoy this week, I like the technique of the repeated montage at the start of the episode to establish what life is like for the Alexandria citizens weeks after the Savior encounter. There's a bucolic vibe that the "rinse, repeat" with slight variations scenario portrays effectively. Patterns and expectations are allowed to take root in the new Safe-Zone society and it's important for the audience to get that, and it's done in an interesting way.
Aside from that, I was struck by how much Carol's arc has profoundly moved me. After the gut-wrenching realizations last week for Carol (seeing so much of who she's become reflected back at her in Paula (Alicia Witt) and not liking it at all), this episode plays her ensuing remorse, guilt and soul-searching so subtle as to almost miss it. That is, until the devastating end. It starts when she asks Daryl about letting the guy who took his bike go. You can see in that moment how much Carol counts on knowing that Daryl will always make the right moral call. So when he tells her that he should have killed him, that's the moment she understands this world is ruining everyone she loves, and what's left of the person she still wants to be deep inside. If she can't rely on the fact that Daryl is still open to doing the right and moral thing, then what's the use of living with these people, who have become her family, anymore? Because it's only a matter of time before they all become a cold husk like Paula, or Molly, and maybe even Rick at this point. Watching all of that play out in Melissa McBride's face in this scene, and as she helps Daryl bury Denise in the last minutes was the kind of acting married with character exploration that gets into your head and doesn't let go. I've been deeply thinking about Carol's entire arc since the fade to black on this episode and that's when you're reminded that television, genre or not, can sometimes truly transcend.
Aaron: Another interesting highlight for me is that we’re right around issue #98 of the comics. In that title, I recall the insanity surrounding fandom when a crossbow showed up, and people thought Robert Kirkman might be introducing Daryl Dixon to the comic-verse. But nope, it was only Dwight. So it worked for me that Dwight returns now -- after stealing Daryl’s crossbow in last November’s “Always Accountable.” The now-scarred member of the Saviors is back, and we witness the show dovetailing with the comic.
What’s more, Daryl’s act of mercy is indirectly responsible for Denise’s death. After the bit of foreshadowing where Daryl finds Dwight’s woodcarving, Carol complimented/admonished Daryl that being a good guy was just in his nature. But will he now transform into a killing machine?
Tara: In some ways, hasn't he already? What he and Rick and some of the others have done to "protect" the family makes them no better than the Saviors, so I'm still desperately hoping Carol's leave is a tipping point moment for them all. It's a moral exploration I want to see not presented as a weakness, but as a basic need to save humanity. Deanna wasn't wrong to try to keep her citizens moral. She was wrong in sheltering and babying them, but there has to be some common decency retained. I am deeply interested in knowing what moral balance is going to be restored despite as Carol says, "the next threat to take what I have."
Aaron: There's also Eugene. Josh McDermitt keeps adding depth to this oft-comedic character. I miss the mullet, but I’m pleased the show allowed him to adapt and survive -- and that his bromance breakup with Abraham is not permanent.
And hey, nice to see Daryl get his crossbow back.
Aaron: So, the Denise death. She finally takes out a walker; finds the soda Tara has been mentioning in her sleep; opens up about her love for Tara; offers an inspiring speech about the strength, resiliency, and sincere goodness about Daryl (with whom she had a budding friendship I never quite bought) and Rosita; demonstrates her own inner strength about her ability to psychologically survive in this messed up world. Then, an arrow through the head.
Seriously? The Walking Dead just killed off one of its lesbian characters after her big moment. It was cruel and ill-timed. Is the message this series is sending that only the physically adept can survive? Denise had value as a character, and yes, I am invested enough to miss her – and maybe that means the show did something right – but it strikes me as unnecessary and cruel. And cheap, quite honestly.
Plus, where was Tara’s reaction?
Tara: Sadly in 2016, this is a trope that is still grievously being over-used. Another current major genre series (title omitted for spoilers) just did this to the show's only lesbian couple and it's not ok. If we lived in a world where there was complete parity in heterosexual and homosexual relationships in film and television, we could argue that writer's have the freedom to explore any death that will directly impact another character's ongoing arc. But we don't live in that world. Healthy LGBT relationships portrayed over a length of time in television are still in the minority, so when you portray a strong one and then subsequently wipe it out, it says something very negative to everyone watching, intended or not. And no, it doesn't mean that the lesbians are equal in experiencing loss like the heterosexuals. Denise and Tara have already experienced plenty of loss. Why make them suffer more when wiping out beloved characters is just about a weekly occurrence now? Why not keep them together on the show to illustrate what their love can achieve in a post-apocalyptic world that needs as much love as possible to show it is worth living? It's a tremendous waste of fresh, original storytelling on the series, and for what Merritt Weaver and Alanna Masters could have done with that storyline.
Aaron: Another lowlight was the departure of Carol. Since this wasn’t really a Carol episode, her exit lacked impact. She had a moment with Daryl before the credits – and it was great seeing these two chat, if for a few scant seconds – but then she’s gone.
I recognize Carol has been experiencing a crisis of faith lately. She had become an efficient, calculated killer, and the pendulum has recently shifted into her being more hesitant about taking life. In the last few episodes, she's wanted to reclaim her moral center after tallying up the number of human lives lost at her hands. That story arc could, and should, have continued. Put her in a situation where she has to protect Daryl, or against the odds with just Morgan at her side, and then test her resolve and morality.
Dear John Dear Tobin and Alexandria departure fell flat. Abrupt. Additionally, I'm left wondering if she is gone for good this time. If Carol disappears, only to unexpectedly pop up later, it will be a repeat of her earlier re-appearance. If she stays gone, it will be an unsatisfying exit for one of the show's strongest characters. I expect we will see her again, but worry about the series re-treading familiar ground.
And the entire presence of Morgan building his cell (because “It’ll give us some choices next time”) was a forced piece of groundwork-laying. He could have been entirely excised from the ep.
Tara: One, we don't know if Carol's storyline is done. With two more episodes left this season, I'm not going to assume that, and as I stated above, I felt her reason for leaving and how she chose to do it completely worked for me. To clarify, I'm not in the least bit happy IF this is the end of her story in the series. McBride's Carol is the standout arc of the entire show and losing her as an actress and what she brings to the dynamic is irreplaceable. If her permanent absence proves to be the case, how she chose to exit does make sense at least. This has been percolating since Morgan basically entered to burst their bubble of moral superiority when it comes to their violent actions. Actually, it's been coming since her conversation with Tyreese in "The Grove" and her choice regarding Lizzie. If you have a soul and a conscience, there is a price to bear for the horrible deeds done. Carol has been trying to justify it all inside her head for a long time and she knows in this situation, on this path, she's can't do it anymore. She's not dead. She's survived by herself before and I find a lot of comfort in knowing she, of all of them, could do it again.
As for Morgan, I read it as Carol judge him very hard for his moral compass, and she's come to her own decision that he's been right (to an extent) all along. Of any of them inside those walls, Morgan is the only one of them that can live with his actions to date. He may have regret about other people's violent choices but his choice to not take a life is one that allows him to retain his soul. He's seen Carol's internal torment and I'm interested in if he will try to find her despite her request to be left alone.
“Oh S—t!” Moment
Aaron: Again, this has to be Denise’s death. Such a bummer. It was a shocker, even if I don’t think it was good storytelling.
Tara: Carol leaving was my shocker. Despite my getting it, I didn't see it coming. With Denise, she was basically doing Sam Jackson's Deep Blue Sea rant when she got murdered and we all know the characters on the peripheral who get center stage might as well be wearing a red shirt.
Aaron: I'll add Eugene’s failure to dispatch the tin-man walker was a nice visual component to the episode, but I really felt the mother/child walker combo in the apothecary. I saw a version of this coming (though I wondered if they’d pull a Z Nation zom-baby), but it was nonetheless pretty wrenching. Also, excellent visuals of that “hush” mom walker.
Tara: There was some smart technique this week and Carol's decision was the most earned emotional moment of the season. But Denise's killing again has me asking if I'm seeing a reason to want to survive in this world when there's less and less hope to hold onto. Watching weekly walker butcherings and massacres aren't why I tune in, it might be for many others, but not for me.
Aaron: Although there were elements I appreciated in the episode, I’m going to call this week a fail for me. People die in this show, and I have come to expect it. But the dispatch of Denise was second to Glenn’s fakeout demise in terms of this series’ more egregious offenses. She died for no reason. And who the hell is going to be the doctor now?