The Walking Dead 6.12 (written by Seth Hoffman) was a multi-faceted episode, playing like a character drama and action movie all at once, while never letting up on the tension. “Not Tomorrow Yet” asked more of those unanswerable questions about humanity and morality, exploring what happens when survivors are forced to make agonizing choices in the most unimaginable circumstances. In the end, we learned those choices will almost always have unforeseen – and dire – consequences.
It’s interesting to see what’s happened to our main group members since they arrived in Alexandria. Carol, who started out playing a part as Suzy Homemaker in order to infiltrate the community, seems to have found some comfort in actually embracing the role. She bakes acorn cookies for The Safe Zone residents, actually taking the time to speak with them, and quietly lays one at Sam’s tombstone. She even finds a little romance with Tobin, who marvels at her ability to do what’s hard. In the privacy of her bed at night, she keeps a running tally – now at 18 – of the people she’s killed. Carol’s always had the humanity to feel the weight of what she’s had to do in this world. But now, she seems to have found a place that has humanized her all the more.
Rick, however, who at one time just wanted to be a pacifist and farmer, has come to the conclusion that protecting his family and the walls that now surround them is worth any price. But his shoulders are a lot lighter than Carol’s. Whether he’s indignantly asking “What?” to the Hilltop residents after killing one of their own, or justifying a preemptive murderous strike against another community, he seems resigned to the notion that survival in this world means perpetrating brutality on others.
In this episode, Rick gathers the Alexandria residents into the church an makes an impassioned speech about the benefits of proactively attacking Negan and The Saviors, calling up what happened to Daryl, Sasha and Abraham on the road and the situation with The Hilltop Colony. It’s pretty clear that Negan and his people are violent animals – the bullies of the zombie apocalypse. But is it inevitable that they would make their way to The Safe Zone? Is it worth taking that chance? Rick and his people definitely have a dilemma. Rick’s solution – “We kill them all.”
Surprisingly, everyone is on board – except Morgan, (which, of course is no surprise). Morgan wants to talk to Negan and warn him to stay away from their group, but Rick, who initially asked everyone to speak their peace, shoots Morgan down and basically tells him he doesn’t have to kill, but he must accept the plan – or leave the community. Turns out Rick wasn’t all that open to people speaking their minds, after all.
What followed were a lot of interesting character beats as everyone prepared for the raid. Glenn and Maggie discuss it (including what Maggie’s role should be), which is the way they handle everything – together. Abraham breaks Rosita’s heart in the most callous of ways. This goes along with the brusque nature of who he is, but he’s written especially cold here for a reason, I’m sure (Softening the blow of what’s to come, perhaps?) Tara declares her love for Denise, but more as a distraction from facing the upcoming mission. Denise, however, won’t reciprocate until Tara comes back from her two week run, probably in order to give her a reason to stay safe and return. As an aside, the whole two week run is kind of silly, obviously put into the story to accommodate Alanna Masterson’s pregnancy at the time. It would have been much easier, though, just to have her not show up in later episodes. It wouldn’t be the first time characters drop out of scenes without explanation.
After Andy draws a map of The Saviors’ compound, Rick and the others make a plan of attack. They decide to use a zombie head similar looking to Gregory’s so The Saviors will think Hilltop upheld their end of the deal. As luck would have it, they find three fresh walkers to choose from that all resemble Gregory. It was an eye roll moment, but it was easy to look past given the rest of this memorizing episode.
Carol’s changing attitudes are exemplified further as she tells Rosita to keep quiet about The W Man and Morgan, knowing Rick would surely exile him for sparing The Wolf. Carol also wants to protect Maggie and her unborn baby, scolding Rick for letting Maggie go in the first place. Carol’s perspective on the value of violence vs the cost is clearly shifting.
In another area, Abraham and Sasha get into a fight with an awakened Savior, but before they kill him, the guy pulls the alarm, alerting the entire compound. Everyone is now literally fighting for their lives, and we see more powerful character beats. Writer Seth Hoffman did an amazing job with these moments, providing perfect dialogue during these confrontations, from Aaron’s telling one Savior “if it wasn’t us, it was gonna be you” as he kills him, to Gabriel’s prayer recitation before he shoots a Savior at point blank range (ending with an “Amen”), to Jesus (staying behind to help the Alexandrians), declaring “This is the next world” before shooting an injured Savior in the head.
The use of irony in this episode was also strong: Heath was spared the trauma of having to kill one person, only to kill a half dozen (though in self-defense) when he and Glenn get trapped behind closed doors. And Carol, in her efforts to protect Maggie by having her stay on the compound perimeter, actually ended up sealing both of their fates when Negan’s people snuck up behind them and captured them.
The power and grisliness of this episode was right up there with Season 4’s “The Grove.” which also dealt with having to commit horrific acts for the group’s survival. Both episodes drove home the point that our group members now live in an unceasingly violent landscape. In order to survive, unthinkable decisions will always have to be made.
And what of those unanswerable questions I mentioned earlier? Did Rick and his people commit mass murder? By definition, they did. They premeditatedly killed a compound full of people. But, is murder justifiable if it increases your chance of survival? Would Negan have attacked The Safe Zone? Would it have been worth the risk of being attacked in order to avoid killing? Morgan thought so (especially judging by his tears as he welded a jail cell door at the end of the episode). In this world, are some people’s lives worth more than others? We were very clearly told and shown that Negan and The Saviors are bad people (remember their murder of the 16 year old Hilltop resident and the pinned photos of victim’s heads bashed in?) Is it wrong to eliminate those who would do such harm to others? The fact is, there just aren’t any easy answers. But the questions posed made for an incredibly gripping episode. In fact, that’s what makes The Walking Dead so compelling as a series: It makes us put ourselves in Rick’s place, or Maggie’s, or any of our survivors. It lets us see the whole skope of the human condition, including the struggle to make difficult decisions. And even if we ultimately don’t find any answers, we get to watch the ramifications of survivors’ decisions play out – without the threat of getting eaten by zombies, and from the safety of our living rooms.