The Walking Dead 6.2 “JSS” continued the action from last week’s premiere – only in a most surprising way – pausing the walker battle to focus on the Wolves infiltration and murderous rampage of Alexandria, and juxtaposing Carol and Morgan’s clashing methods of defense inside the community’s walls. The hour was explosive, chilling, and morbidly compelling, driving home the show’s point yet again that humans – with a built in capacity to premeditate heinous acts – will always be as big a threat as the zombies that roam the barren landscape.
Oddly enough, the episode started with backstory on Enid, who watched her parents get killed and subsequently eaten by walkers. This forced the young girl out on her own, hiding wherever she could and foraging for any food available (luckily for her turtles are slow). Throughout it all, Enid incessantly formed the letters JSS, which would remain an unknown acronym (of sorts) until the very end of this episode. It was a bit curious that the writers chose this installment to focus on Enid, but perhaps she has some connection to The Wolves which may become clear later on in the season. In any case, Enid’s loneliness and despondency, yet fierce determination to keep going (until she stumbled upon the walls of Alexandria) was movingly conveyed in those first few moments of the hour.
The episode then switched over to life in Alexandria while Rick and the gang were away herding walkers. We see Carol and some of the other ladies chatting in the kitchen about soup, until Carol lets a bit of her acerbic wit sneak out with a comment about Mrs. Neudermeyer’s smoking habit. And that’s before spotting Jessie’s son Sam and telling him to just get over his father’s death. Carol is all about priorities and reality, and her actions early on in the episode were just a teaser to what we would see from her once the Wolves showed up. Because before long, while Carol looks outside her window to see Neudermeyer smoking outside, she witnesses a guy come out of nowhere and murder her neighbor, bashing in the woman’s skull. It was a truly shocking scene – one of the most effective “gotcha” moments the show has ever done. And it was only the beginning of what was to come for the Alexandrians, who were never really as safe as they thought they were.
As The Wolves invade the community, Carol springs into action immediately, enlisting an already armed Carl to keep Judith safe, before running off to take on as many of the violent intruders as possible. For Carol that means kill or be killed, so she shows no hesitation in taking these people out. In fact, when a stabbed neighbor falls into Carol’s arms screaming, Carol gently soothes her before plunging a knife into the base of the woman’s neck to silence her. It was a déjà vu moment from when Rick performed the exact same act with a dying Carter. Carol truly is Rick’s protégé.
Meanwhile, Enid makes a strangely calm visit to Carl’s house, seemingly unfazed by the vicious Wolves outside, claiming “they’re just people.” But Carl is all too knowledgeable when it comes to human brutality, so he promises “they’re going to die. All of them.” If Carol is Rick’s protégé, then Carl is truly his father’s son.
Outside, Spencer is on watch and manages to shoot a Wolf driving a truck, and as the guy dies, his body falls onto the steering wheel, blasting the horn and solving the mystery from last week in an unexpected and clever way.
When Spencer can’t take care of the walker the Wolf has now become, Morgan has to intervene. But before he leaves, he gives Spencer one word of advice – “hide.” Soon after, Morgan comes face to face with a Wolf with an ax, but Carol – who has ingeniously donned a wolf disguise – kills him before Morgan has a chance to “reason” with the guy. When Morgan tries to tell Carol that they don’t have to kill people, her exasperated “of course we do” says it all. Morgan may be a pacifist, but Carol just wants to race to the armory to get more guns.
As Alexandria is thrown into chaos, we see old and new inhabitants forced to make life and death decisions. Denise, the new town doctor (after Pete’s death) gets her first patient when a wounded Alexandrian is brought in. Denise has a Grey’s Anatomy “I’m not a good enough doctor” type moment that was the only low point in the episode. Exactly what was Denise so afraid of? Killing the dying girl? She literally could only make things better. But the scene was redeemed when Eugene poignantly told Denise not to be a coward. The character of Eugene doesn’t have many lines, but the ones he does have pack a punch, either comically or touchingly.
Elsewhere, Jessie and Carl both kill Wolves, ironically in defense of both of Jessie’s sons: Carl saves Ron’s life, just as Rick did last week (and Ron is just as ungrateful this time too), and Jessie kills a Wolf who enters the Anderson home. Jessie was protecting her son, of course, but her wild eyes and primal screams as she repeatedly plunged a pair of scissors into the Wolf’s chest were clearly indicative of a massive amount of unvented rage as well.
The difference in Carol and Morgan’s perspectives is brilliantly laid out during the scene when the pair are making their way to the armory. They both see Father Gabriel being attacked by a Wolf, but whereas Carol impatiently yells “Leave him” Morgan drops the armory plan and rushes to save the priest. For Carol, Gabriel’s betrayal of her group is deserving of a death sentence, even though he lives among the group. Or maybe she just sees her group’s survival as more important than one outsider’s life (which is not surprising considering what Carol did during the prison outbreak). But Morgan won’t stand by and watch one person being killed, even if it means jeopardizing the larger group’s safety. It was a “What would you do?” moment, but that’s nothing new for this show. The Walking Dead has always posed difficult questions about morality and humanity through the actions of its characters, but this episode was particularly noteworthy for managing to do it so powerfully in the midst of such heart pounding action.
Carol ends up making it to the armory on her own, taking out a few more Wolves in the process. Outside, Morgan and Gabriel have a Wolf tied up and are getting some clues why the attack on Alexandria may have occurred: “We’re freeing you” the guy says, “You’re trapped. People don’t belong here anymore.” The message was very cryptic, and of course Carol came out and shot the Wolf, so we’ll have to wait for future episodes to learn anything else about them. But hopefully there’s more to their story than they’re just a mob of murdering psychopaths, because we’ve been there and done that with this show already.
Morgan ends up getting cornered by five Wolves, but he’s so repulsed by seeing Carol’s quick trigger finger that he could only see fit to keep the killers at bay while issuing them a stern a warning to leave, lest they succumb to the huge amount of firepower contained within the community’s walls. Umm, Morgan? You may be all Zen-like now, but did you have to spill the beans about the armory? Eventually The Wolves heed Morgan’s advice and do run away (but not before one grabs a gun from a dead Alexandria resident), but Morgan’s choice in sparing all their lives may come back to haunt him and the entire Safe Zone (just as it already did because he let two go last season).
Ultimately, Carol, Maggie, Rosita, and Aaron fight off the Wolves, but the bloodshed takes its toll on everyone. As Carol sits on the steps of Rick’s porch with one of Mrs. Neudermeyer’s cigarettes, she wipes the W off her forehead and finally breaks down. When Aaron finds his backpack on a dead Wolf and sees his own envelope with the photos of Alexandria, the realization of what led to the Safe Zone massacre quickly spreads across his horrified face. These two subtle but highly emotional moments effectively illustrated just how much damage was done to the living, as well as the dead.
Back in the house, Judith is safe and Carl can breathe again, so he looks for Enid, but she has already taken off – her only goodbye a three word note to “Just Survive Somehow,” finally revealing the meaning behind JSS. And then, as if nothing had happened at all, Carl hears the oven timer and takes out Carol’s casserole – careful to use oven mitts so he doesn’t get a nasty burn, of course. It was irony at its fullest, much like the sign welcoming the walkers home in last week’s premiere.
Before the episode ends, Morgan has one last showdown with a Wolf – the same one he let go in the season five finale – and so his decision has come back to haunt him once more. When the Wolf won’t let up his attack, and even tells Morgan he should have killed him, the Zen master finally relents to save his own life, and apologizing, (presumably) takes the guy out once and for all.
And as Morgan and Carol pass each other on the street – walking opposite paths – we see in an impressive overhead shot the mayhem the Wolves have inflicted on the Safe Zone.
As good as the Season 6 premiere was, it paled in comparison to what the show accomplished in “JSS.” This episode strikingly illustrated the brutality of the Wolves and the sheer helplessness of the regular Alexandria residents – proving Rick’s point last week that some people just can’t survive in this apocalypse. But in addition to the intense action, we also were privy to the interiors of several characters – most notably Carol and Morgan’s, but Aaron, Deanna and newcomer Denise’s as well. The whole episode was like a short war movie, powerful and draining to watch (in that entertaining sort of way). And all of this was accomplished without the major star of the show and main character of the story (and even without fan favorite characters like Daryl and Glenn). It was a very impressive feat.
These last two episodes have been amazing to watch, and it’s exciting to imagine where the story goes from here. Next week, we see how Rick and the crew get the walkers back on track, and most likely their reactions to the bloodshed in their community. But through it all, here’s hoping our group will find a way (and please forgive the triteness) to just survive somehow.